Is this creepy or what?
By Ed Hammond
Published: November 5 2007
One evening in March, library assistant Graham Mallaghan was leaving work at the University of Kent in Canterbury when he noticed a group of people hanging about outside the exit. Some of the group started shouting abuse. “Wait till he comes out, we’ll kick his f****** head in,” one of them yelled.
For Mallaghan this incident was part of a confusing pattern, in which he increasingly found himself being intimidated and threatened with no apparent explanation. No explanation, that is, until an acquaintance told him to look on Facebook, now the most talked about of the online social networking sites.
When Mallaghan logged on, he found a group called For Those Who Hate The Little Fat Library Man, dedicated to insulting him.
One of Mallaghan’s responsibilities is to enforce the library’s noise regulations, and he believes the group was set up by students unhappy with his efforts. Mallaghan, who is 37, says that it quickly began to have an impact on all aspects of his life: “At its peak the group had 363 members. Both my wife and I had the brakes on our bikes cut. People would run up to me and take photos on their phone – at one point there was a competition on the group for who could get the best close-up.”
Websites such as Facebook and MySpace are the primary exports of the Web 2.0 revolution, which brought user-created internet content to the fore. The biggest of the sites, MySpace, launched in August 2003 and now has more than 200 million accounts worldwide. Facebook has gathered more than 49 million accounts so far, including more than five million in the UK, its third-largest market. Globally it is adding 200,000 users a day. The MySpace audience is mainly composed of teenagers, while Facebook’s users are older – dominated by college students and young professionals.
The sites have grown exponentially over the past four years by offering a fast, free and easy way for people to come together online and coalesce into an ever-shifting network of social connections around hotspots of friendship, work and shared interests. This can lend new energy to existing friendships and seed new ones at an astonishing rate. All you need is the patience to create your own homepage on one of these sites and the lack of inhibition required to start sharing details about yourself, your life and thoughts with the world. The doors of the social network are thrown open.
The networking currency is “friends” – online camaraderie expressed in the links that users create between their homepages and the pages of others members of the network. And because you never need leave your computer to stay in touch with your friends, you can have many hundreds of them.
Mallaghan remains perplexed by his experience and believes the huge number of people bullying him had to do with the medium in which they began doing it. “It was as if they compartmentalised online and real life. But I couldn’t do that – their behaviour online had a profound effect on me.” He believes sites such as Facebook “lend themselves to this kind of thing” and worries about how people behave when “something gives them false courage, and they don’t imagine they’re going to get caught”.
When I approached – through Facebook – one of the group administrators, or presidents, of the For Those Who Hate The Little Fat Library Man group, she responded with a statement. “Other than my name being put on the website I had no part to play in this event whatsoever. I do not want anything to do with your story as I had no part in this at all. Do not put my name in any article whatsoever.” But once you are out there on the network, all sorts of unwelcome visitors can come calling, and there is not much you can do about it, except perhaps to stay silent and hope they go away. The founder of the group, Jaspreet K. Hunjan, did not respond to my Facebook advances.