Sunday, 28 March 2010 19:06

Facebook and Syphilis: unlikely bedfellows?


A report from the UK's Telegraph quotes a public health official's staff finding a link between 'social networking sites' and the spread of the sexually transmitted infection Syphilis, but surely the practises of unsafe sex are more at cause than any one social networking site.

Social networking sites are meant to bring people together and facilitate communication, but if a report from the UK's Telegraph is anything to go by, social networking sites such as Facebook are bringing people's sexually transmitted infections closer together, too.

The linked article above doesn't have the quoted Professor Peter Kelly or his staff actually using the word Facebook, and simply speaking of 'social networking sites', with the newspaper itself seemingly making the connection between the high users of Facebook and other social networking sites where Syphilis infection rates have been highest.

While Facebook is clearly one of the most popular social networking sites around, if not the most popular, it certainly isn't the only one. The other well known site is MySpace, Microsoft's own Windows Live social networking pages and of course a range of dating sites helping adults find 'friends' and more.

But with Facebook still the social networking site of the moment, it's easy to point the finger at Facebook and try and parlay to it some of the blame.

Still, if Facebook is just an easier way for people to meet each other, rather than down at the pub or through dating sites which usually require some form of payment to contact others in your local area, then it's still the people themselves who are to blame, not social networking sites.

After all, if people go around having unprotected sex, then surely they are at risk of getting an infection, or initiating a pregnancy, or even both, no matter how the people actually met.

So what did Facebook reportedly say to the Telegraph in response to a query on the issue?

Please read on to page two.

The Telegraph contacted Facebook and quoted a spokesperson who exclaimed that: 'The assertion that Facebook is responsible for the transmission of syphilis is ridiculous. Facebook is no more responsible for STD transmission than newspapers responsible for bad vision.

'Today's reports exaggerate the comments made by the professor, and ignore the difference between correlation and causation.

"As Facebook's more than 400 million users know, our website is not a place to meet people
for casual sex - it's a place for friends, family and co-workers to connect and share.'

As noted on the previous page, any social networking site is designed for people to share, but what it is they are sharing when they meet in person is beyond the responsibility of the social networking sites in question.

Clearly, if people are taking advantage of social networking sites to become more social with others, then they'll need to take the standard precautions anyone must take when meeting new people for the first time.

Throwing caution to the wind because you've met someone on the Internet is hardly a safe policy, as is having unprotected sex, while blaming it on Facebook seems pointless.

Should Facebook now issue strong warnings to members who might choose to meet up? Is that even their responsibility? Whatever happened to personal responsibility, or even simple common sense?

Perhaps it's an opportunity for some smart cookie to start making T-Shirts with the slogan 'I joined Facebook and all I got was a lousy Syphilis infection'.

On the back might be written 'Because I left my brain and condoms at home before I went out to meet people in the real world and have sex with them.'

Or maybe not.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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