When Mark Zuckerberg and his friends invented #Facebook as an online method for their fellow students at Harvard University little did they dream that not only would it make their fortune, but that it would become a source of entertainment and controversy around the World. Even less would they have been able to imagine that it would be an important part of an American presidential campaign and allegedly also involve the Russian government.

Of friends and trolls

Facebook has allowed people to build up international networks of friends, both real and virtual, and also to allow a wide level of discussion on any and all subjects with people around the world.

The success of these discussion groups covering every field of activity has led the creation of “trolls” who take their enjoyment from disrupting discussions, or offending people and they have become the bane for those seeking simple entertainment and light hearted political debate.

In fact, the recent Presidential campaign won by #Donald Trump was followed as much on discussion groups around the world as it was on television or on television. The Facebook pages of all the major newspapers of every country provided platforms for opinions to be heard and anyone who takes a quick check on the profiles of these users will see that they come from all over the world.

While this may sound like a new form of Democracy giving voice to everyone the online debates have become virtual reality political battlefields where the debate is often less than civil and the antagonism becomes almost childish.

In fact these pages often seem more exchanges between football fans before a vital game rather than discussions of subjects that touch people around the world.

Leftards, rightards and now even Russians

The antagonism between users has seen uncomplimentary nicknames for the candidates such as “Killary” used by opponents of Hillary Clinton and the “Orange Cheetoh” by those who oppose Donald Trump.

In addition, the users have begun using epithets for those with opposing views that seem more suited to primary school yards than between grown adults with the use of words such as “leftard” or “rightward”. All this has the seen the deterioration of serious debate online.

These seemingly harmless exchanges took on shades of seriousness with the allegations that began circulating regarding possible Russian hacking of the November presidential election and now under investigation.

The presence of trolls that quickly cut and paste already prepared replies on certain subjects also indicates a level of organization that is more than mere interest. It has been interesting to see how some contributors disappear, together with their profiles, when they are accused of being trolls and this only confirms these suspicions.

Liberal or liberal?

At times these debates become heated due to differences of political expressions, particularly between English speaking countries. The word “liberal” in the United States has a hugely different definition from that used in British Commonwealth countries and this can cause serious misunderstandings in discussions.

Interestingly the international exchange of new information, combined with regular exchanges between political parties with similar political agendas such as Australia’s Liberal Party and the American Republican Party, has also had the effect of changing political debates in many countries.

An example of this is the use of terms such as “Second Amendment rights” by some political exponents in Australia which is a clear reference to the American Constitution as such amendments and rights do not exist in the Australian constitution.

Facebook has shown that there is a real and useful role for such a wide range means of communication, yet it must be handled carefully, not only to avoid serious misunderstandings, but also to avoid it being used for other reasons, political and non which are not at all open. Long may it live, but always within the limits of civil behaviour.