One would have thought the first mention of Facebook in The Irish Times would be in the tech, media or business news, perhaps a story about an interesting or exciting social network upstart. But Facebook’s first notable appearance in the newspaper, on Friday March 10th, 2006, was much darker than that.
Journalist Denis Staunton, then in Washington, first wrote about Facebook in the context of three students being arrested in Alabama for a string of church fires, “after admitting the attacks started as a joke that got out of control”. The three suspects, Staunton wrote, “had their own pages on facebook.com, a popular student networking website, and Moseley’s [Benjamin Nathan Moseley, one of the suspects] page included this guest book message posted by Cloyd [Matthew Lee Cloyd, another of the suspects] on January 9th: ‘To my dearest friend Moseley: The nights have grown long and the interstates of Alabama drunk driverless, the state troopers bored, the county sheriffs less weary, and the deer of Bibb County fearless. 2006 is here, it is time to reconvene the season of evil! Only one problem stands in our way. I got a new cellphone for Christmas and I no longer have your number, so send it to me and evil shall once again come to pass! May our girlfriends be concerned about our safety, may our parents be clueless, may our beers be frosty, may our love lives be fruitful, may our weed be green as the freshly-mowed grass!’”
On December 4th, 2006, a special supplement in the newspaper called Virtual Ireland, examined Web 2.0. Some of the articles display how fickle the social networking business really is, with praise reserved for Rupert Murdoch’s “hugely prescient” purchase of MySpace, which, of course, turned out to be a woeful financial decision. “Business users have a similar networking service called LinkedIn,” John Collins wrote, “In Ireland, MySpace’s popularity is outstripped by Bebo, while the really tuned-in teens are now using Facebook.”
A week later, Belinda McKeon was writing about the American essayist Sven Birkerts and how “communities are being replaced, he says, by complex networked social entities”. McKeon also mentioned Facebook, “which allow members to search for one another by school, and say online the hello which shyness or circumstance might render difficult in the outside world”.
In her end of the year review in 2006 on December 29th, Karlin Lillington looked at the seven wonders of the tech year. In the number one spot was “Web 2.0/social networks”. Lillington wrote: “Web 2.0 shifted from a trendy term primary used in small circles of technology bloggers and hardcore web users to the mainstream as interest in and use of social networking technologies blossomed across the net. From mashups to wikis, Flickr to Bebo, MySpace to YouTube, blogs to FaceBook [sic], the web’s hottest spot is where people converge to create and share their own content.”
In that same day’s newspaper, Collins wrote about how the previous October’s deal – when Google bought YouTube – was a landmark one, and that MySpace was still to the fore: “Along with other major social networking sites, bebo.com and Facebook (whose founder reportedly turned down a $1 billion bid for his company from Yahoo), MySpace is the public face of Web 2.0 for most internet users, particularly teens and those in their early 20s.”
By 2007, Facebook was frequently appearing in the newspaper. In July 2007, Collins was writing about a topic that now dominates conversations about big tech: privacy. Assessing the publication of Privacy International’s report on internet companies, he wrote, “The draft report . . . identified a number of companies including AOL, Apple, Facebook, Windows Live Spaces and yahoo! as posing substantial threats to privacy. Google ranked lowest of all 23 services and was classed as ‘hostile to privacy’.”
A media and marketing column by Siobhán O’Connell in August 2007 raised what would become another key issue with regards to Facebook – advertising. “Vodafone recently pulled its advertisements from facebook.com,” she wrote, “after they were placed on the British National Party’s profile page.”
A few days before that, a short report in the technology section of the newspaper detailed the behind the scenes wars at Facebook, with a US federal judge delaying a ruling on whether to throw out a lawsuit filed against Mark Zuckerberg regarding whether the founder stole his idea from the creators of a rival social networking website.
“Judge Douglas Woodlock gave ConnectU founders Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss – who are twin brothers – and Divya Narendra until August 8th to flesh out their allegations against Mr Zuckerberg, which include fraud, copyright infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets.”
As silly season set in in 2007, the people power of Facebook was being applauded for managing to convince Cadbury to bring back Wispa bars, “Popular social networking site Facebook hosts no fewer than 93 ‘Bring Back Wispa’ groups with almost 14,000 members.” Oh, to remember more innocent times online.