The tragic death of beautiful and talented 16-year-old Grade-10 student Venusha Imanda Bandara who hanged herself with a sari at her home in Kurunegala raises many issues related to Facebook (FB). This is not the first case of student suicide in Sri Lanka and certainly not the last. A few years ago a girl from [...]


Sunday Times 2

Facebook – the good, the bad and the ugly


The tragic death of beautiful and talented 16-year-old Grade-10 student Venusha Imanda Bandara who hanged herself with a sari at her home in Kurunegala raises many issues related to Facebook (FB). This is not the first case of student suicide in Sri Lanka and certainly not the last. A few years ago a girl from a leading school committed suicide in the school toilet over a mobile telephone issue.
When Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and their colleagues founded the FB in February 2004 in California, they perhaps never thought that in 10 years there would be 1.23 billion FB users in the world and that FB would have such a tremendous impact on lives of people.

When my daughter introduced me to FB in September 2009, I did not think of the usefulness and value of it. I have met my classmates whom I have never met since I left school, through FB. I met medical faculty colleagues and doctors whom I met or worked with in England through FB.

Camille Mathurasingh stabbed to death by her ex boyfriend: Pic courtesy PA

A few months ago, a lady from London sent me a request to be an FB friend. As I did not know her I sent a message asking whether we have met before. To my utter surprise she replied stating that I treated her when she took a drug overdose as she had a marital problem in 1998.

In one of the courses I conduct in the university, the students have an FB page to communicate and express their views.

I have met some couples happily married after meeting each other in FB.

This is the ‘good’ about FB.

When I think of its ‘bad’ side, a number of murders and suicides come to my mind.

A former member of the French Foreign Legion, Mercante, had been living together with Claire in Tenerife, Spain, since 2005. But problems developed in their relationship and she left him to return to England after a visit from her mother. He saw on FB that Claire had another man and Claire had asked for a divorce.

Mercante flew to Manchester airport in England and went straight to Claire’s residence and attacked her 66-year-old mother and her brother. He stabbed her to death and injured the brother.

The story of 40-year-old Mercante did not end there.

After the gruesome killing he drove 30 miles to a multi-storey car park in Manchester. Then he cut his wrist and left the message “F*** U Claire” in blood on the wall and jumped from the eighth floor to his death! Early next morning, his body was discovered at the foot of the car park.

Camille Mathurasingh, 27, had been working for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he met Paul Bristol, 25, an IT technician for the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Administration. They became friendly but Camille returned to her family in London in 2008.

She tried to end her relationship with Paul and did not tell him about her new boyfriend. Bristol saw pictures of her with new love Besim Haxhia on FB.

Bristol got on a plane and flew 4,000 miles from Trinidad to England. He went to Camille’s home in East London and stabbed her in the kitchen before cutting himself and crashing her car.

At the murder trial in Old Bailey, Simon Denison QC, prosecuting, told the court, “It would appear she tried to bring about the end of her relationship and did not tell him about her new boyfriend. Their relationship continued through emails and telephone calls after she returned to the UK in 2008. But last year she began having doubts about their future and decided to go out with new boyfriend. He could not accept it was over and he decided to come here to see if he could win her back.”

Convicting Bristol, Judge Timothy Pontius told him, “‘Camille was a highly intelligent and ambitious young woman — beautiful and vivacious, caring and loving. Clearly you were eaten up by jealousy. She had fought frantically and desperately for her life. Having found out about her new relationship, you could not accept that she was not only working thousands of miles away, but that she had moved on in her life. You could not accept that the life you had previously had gone. You were determined that no other man should replace you in her life. You attacked her with such repeated savagery and horrifying ferocity that it was your intention to kill her.”
The jury took only an hour to convict Paul Bristol of murder. He was ordered to serve a minimum term of 22 years.

When I think of the ‘ugly’ side of FB, a number of cases flash across my mind. One such case was that of Chamindi, a 19-year-old girl from Negombo, who was attending a private higher education institute in Colombo. She was admitted to a hospital under my care after she took a poison. When I asked her why she did it, she remained silent. I asked her mother and she said she also did not know why. I then referred her to a psychiatrist and Chamindi confided her everything.

She met a 22-year-old boy from Colombo through the FB. The first time they met, he insisted her to go to his grandparents’ Dehiwela house which was vacant at the time. They went there and had sex. This continued every week and one year later Chamindi got a sexually transmitted infection. When she told this to the boy he ignored her and did not go with her to a doctor, as requested by her. She did not know what to do and decided to take a poison. Chamindi got the necessary treatment for her poisoning as well as for her infection. (Chamindi is not her real name).

According to a study by the University of Michigan, FB users wound up feeling worse about themselves after two weeks, and their moment-to-moment mood darkened the more they browsed the social medium. It did not seem to matter how big their network was, how supportive they thought their friends were, nor why they went to FB in the first place.

But other studies have suggested FB can evoke envy of others’ activities and profile, leaving users with diminished self-images. Another study suggested that people with low self-esteem do not reap a benefit from tinkering with their online image, either.

FB’s rise has been checked by criticism over the lack of privacy, child safety, the use of advertising and the possibility of identity theft.
So what is the future of FB? Is it a useful tool?

It depends on how one uses FB and how careful one chooses his or her friends. Children and some adults certainly need advice regarding the use of FB.

Is FB at fault when one considers the suicides and murders? Should it be banned?

Certainly not.

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