The most popular social network right now – Facebook – has begun leaving traces on Czech social life. Globally, this internet network attracts 150 million people for at least two hours a day to the screens of their computers. Even in the Czech Republic, we have interesting proof of the network’s power. Within one day, for example, 16,000 people joined a group supporting the construction of Kaplický’s library. Shortly after that, a demonstration attended by several thousand people was organized through the online group. While Facebook supporters were demonstrating in support of the blob by the avant-garde architect, a commissioner for justice, freedom, and security, Jacques Barrot, warned against internet community networks. Especially against young people exposing information about themselves.
Not only sandals
“I found my cousin from Vienna here, whom I haven’t seen for 10 years. We have been in contact since then and we even visit each other,” said Filipa Šebová, who created her Facebook profile as one of the first Czechs almost two years ago, when she found out about the new trend from her friend from Cambridge College. Thanks to this community network she is today in contact with family and friends all over the world: “I would never write letters to my distant aunt in Columbia,” she said, “but on Facebook I can see not only what she’s doing, but sometimes I even exchange a few words with her.”
Facebook first saw the light five years ago among students of the Harvard University. “The Czechs discovered Facebook later and in contrast to other countries, it is mostly older people between 25 and 35 years of age who are using it, altogether up to 250,000 people. Younger Czechs are still mainly using established Czech sites like libimseti.cz and lide.cz,” said Patrick Zandl, the editor-in-chief of the internet magazine Lupa.cz. Teenagers are interested in meeting someone new through internet social networks, while young adults want to stay in touch with their current friends. And not only that. In the Czech Republic, people use Facebook for various causes as well.
“We started using this type of communication to call demonstrations to help save an asylum house in Prague, and it proved to be very effective,” said Karel Matějka, spokesman for the SOS-azyl initiative. “We founded a group on Facebook and one click is sufficient for a person to join and support us”. Although most of the supporters remain only in virtual space, their number represents a big moral support for the organisers.
Not all of the one thousand interest groups on “Czech” Facebook obviously fight for fundamentally good causes. Ten thousand users of one group are lobbying to ban wearing socks in sandals, while others are expressing their admiration for a particular beer brand etc.
“I was surfing through Facebook and reading how people spend their time chatting which leads to nothing. That’s why I decided to found a group that would be doing something meaningful,” said Jitka Horáčková, who founded the group “Najde se milion Čechů, kteří podepíší petici proti komunistům?” [Is there one million Czechs who would sign a petition against the Communists?]. The group soon had 28,000 sympathizers. Another new group, “Facka Rathovi stojí sto tisíc. Složme se a pojďme mu dát přes hubu” [A slap across Rath’s face costs one hundred thousand. Let’s collect the money and punch his lights out], which attracted more than 2,000 fans within a day, has also aroused excitement and currently has several thousand members. Each of them wants to send a few crowns to a special account, and then a winner will be selected in a draw and will get to “slap” David Rath across his face.
Reveal yourself on the net
She was born in 1985, works as a teacher at a school in Ostrava, likes to dance, spent one week in the Alps in January, has just arranged meeting her friend Zuzana and is currently upset with all boys, because – as she writes herself – she has to repeat things ten times and they still don’t understand. All this can be revealed about Miss Ilona through a single click (of course including all addresses) through a random choice. The content of the profile of this black-haired girl in a blue boa is by no means an exception. Especially children and teenage users often say too much about themselves on the internet.
Children see that on TV the disclosure of one’s privacy can result in wealth and popularity. However, there’s nobody to tell them about the risks connected with it. The European commissioner Jacques Barrot has therefore recently suggested launching an education campaign for children on this topic that should help them secure greater safety on the internet. The Czech Office for Personal Data Protection also has a similar plan, which is, however, is still in its infancy.
The problem is that the Czech society has not gone through what the west already has on the internet and so it does not feel to be threatened. News about “sexual predators” stalking naïve children on the internet, which have been haunting British and American parents and have made politicians write laws strictly limiting access to social networks, are not heard in the Czech Republic. The other news, and according to western experts, much more serious threat in the form of the so-called cyberbullying, has seemingly not reached this country at all.
American research shows that approximately one half of pupils have personally encountered cyberbullying; many states have adopted laws sanctioning it, and a federal regulation is also being prepared. Last year, Lori Drew (49), was sentenced to three years in prison for having driven a neighbour’s 13-year-old daughter to suicide by employing cruel manipulation and the false identity of a 16-year-old boy on MySpace, another social network.
Cyberbullying is a hot topic in the western world. Experts say parents can play a key role. Not only can they support their child in hard times when their mobile phone, email or MySpace profile are being bombarded with anonymous insults, but they can above all make sure that their child is using the online network in a safe way. It is in this point that Czech children are at risk – a recent Eurobarometer survey has shown that Czech parents not only do not understand the internet much, but in comparison with other Europeans, they also pay only very little attention to what their children are doing on the internet.
At the beginning of February the European Commission agreed with 17 web companies (including Facebook, MySpace and YouTube) on a detailed plan that would help protect children from bullying and abuse. “Social networks have an immense potential for development in Europe, they can boost our economy and interconnect society more,” the commissioner for information society and media, Viviane Reding, said, announcing the joint agreement. “However, it is necessary that children and teenagers can trust these networks and have the right tools on hand to remain safe online.”