Blame the user, not the tool

We’ve all read newspaper stories about various unfortunate saps who have thrown parties whilst their parents have been away, only to find out that the quiet (in comparision to the outcome) gathering turns into a fairly hefty insurance claim and an indefinite grounding because word of mouth meant that lots of other people turned up as well.

When that word of mouth is the internet the number of uninvited guests can go up by at least one order of magnitude – and perhaps even two or three. But how does news of a social gathering for a smallish group of friends end up on the internet in the first place?

Because it was set up on Facebook of course. As ZDNet reports:

In March 2011, an Australian schoolgirl named Jess had to cancel her sweet 16 birthday party after her Facebook invitation went viral and over 200,000 people said they would show up at her house in Chatswood, New South Wales. She was lucky because Facebook made a point to help her out.

Last month, a young girl made the same mistake by posting a public invitation to her 16th birthday party. Around 1,500 to 1,600 uninvited guests turned up to her party in Hamburg, Germany. 100 police officers had to be deployed, and they detained 11 attendees on charges of aggravated battery and property damage. One police officer was injured, as were dozens of people who wore flip-flops and accidentally stepped on shards of glass from broken bottles. Two small fires had to be extinguished.

Shortly after, a spontaneous party in Wuppertal, Germany attracted some 800 guests, 41 of whom were taken into police custody and 16 of whom were injured. Hamburg authorities are currently preparing for a Facebook party planned for September 30 and are expecting an influx of up to 19,000 partygoers.

However rather than blame the social media behemoth – after all it is all about keeping people in contact – why not look at the person who set the event up in the first place?

Yes, Facebook does display the event creation page with the ‘Anyone can view and RSVP (public event)’ box checked by default but that is hardly a difficult thing to turn off, is it now? Indeed the author, in a spot of quick research (approximate duration one second), learnt that when that that box is unchecked a further, this time unchecked box, ‘Guests can invite friends’ is displayed. Now I realise that inherent laziness and unthinking stupidity doubtedly played a part in all of the incidences mentioned above but is unchecking a box on the internet really that difficult*?

Sadly, in isolated cases it seems so. However bar suggesting that Facebook doesn’t enable the ‘Anyone can view and RSVP (public event)’ box by default I can’t see any way to stop such acts of silliness.

Clearly then I am not cut out for elected office, at least not in Germany anyway:

“If public safety and order are endangered, then Facebook parties will have to be banned beforehand,” Lower Saxony’s Interior Minister Uwe Schünemann told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, according to Deutsche Welle.

He is not an isolated case of stupidity either:

North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Minister Ralf Jäger agreed. “If, in advance of an announced Facebook party, there are concrete indications of a danger to the participants or third parties, then it is the duty of the local authorities to ban the party.”

Whilst yet another apparently wishes to put the cost of any post-party clear-up on to the person whose event it was:

Bavaria’s Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann warned that a harmless birthday invitation can quickly turn into a “massive security problem.” For the host that can sometimes lead to “immense costs,” as many simply want to go on a rampage, he claimed. “If there is an investigation into criminal offenses, the initiator should if possible pay for the costs of the police operation,” he told the same newspaper, according to The Local.

Thankfully there does seem to be at least one politician with some common sense:

“The simple fact that excesses happen on the sidelines of such events does not justify a general ban,” Wolfgang Bosbach, the chairman of the domestic affairs committee in parliament, told the daily Kölner Stadt Anzeiger, according to Spiegel. “There are also riots on the sidelines of football games and demonstrations but that does not mean that we should completely ban them.”

Still, if he can’t ban them then Herr Schünemann has a back-up plan: recommending the introduction of an “Internet Driving License” in schools that would explain the dangers of Facebook as he says that “Young people often don’t realize what they are getting into”.

That youngsters often don’t consider consequences of actions is hardly an earth shattering revelation but, unless they are terminally stupid, lessons, such as those taught by self-inflicted stupidity, tend to be learnt.

As one commentator on Slashdot summed it up:

This is all part of the German silly season (“Sommerloch”) – a period in summer when many political institutions are on vacation, so politicians which would normally be ignored can make it into the news – just because nobody important is active.

The statements in the article were all by conservatives in Germany (CDU + CSU). Given that it’s interesting that Dorothee Baer – secretary general of the CSU – has asked that “comments about the Internet should be made only by those who are familiar with it”. Sound advice.

And no, Germany is not considering banning facebook parties, this is just an attempt by some politicians to get noticed.

Seems strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

* I have no idea what Facebook’s accessibility is like so the visual-impaired will have to confirm if it is any more difficult for them than the average sighted user.


  1. Vir Cantium says:

    Well spotted.

    Yep, ban Facebook. While they’re at it they should ban the whole Interwebs, ‘cos it’s only used for grooming by them filthy paedatricians. Oh, and ban cars too, ‘cos they get used in all sorts of crime.

  2. JuliaM says:

    Our ‘Silly Season’ is far more civilised, consisting as it does of reports of alien big cats and UFOs…