Is Facebook Really To Blame for STDs?

Facebook, already blamed for a variety of social ills, is being unfairly singled out for contributing to a rise in syphilis cases.When in doubt, blame it on Facebook. The social network, which has been fingered by the media for causing divorces, Internet addictions and other social ills, now is being unfairly singled out for contributing to rising cases of syphilis.

Media reports say cases of the venereal disease have increased fourfold in Sunderland, Durham and Teesside, the areas of Britain where the social networking site is most popular, according to the U.K.'s Telegraph. The resurgence of syphilis cases among young women shows Facebook has become a new way to for people to hook up for casual sexual encounters with multiple partners, says Peter Kelly, a local public health official, in the article. A headline in the tabloid The Sun screams: "Sex diseases soaring due to Facebook romps."

In reality, there are many reasons for rising STD rates besides social networking. A 2008 study by the UK's Health Protection Agency attributed the gains to increased unsafe sexual practices, along with increased rates of testing and improved diagnostic methods.

19 Million New STD Infections Annually

STDs are a serious problem. Rates in the U.S. have been on the rise for years, predating Facebook's birth in 2004. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there about 19 million new STD infections each year -- almost half of them among young people 15 to 24 years -- costing $15.9 billion a year to treat. Syphilis, a common STD, "is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore," says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As Facebook surges in popularity, it seems to be getting blamed for an increasing number of social ills. A U.K. law firm found that one-in-five divorce petitions mention the site. Similar claims are no doubt being made in the U.S. where the faltering economy pushed divorce rates up in 2008 (the latest available statistics). Local media reports are chock-full of stories about the "dangers of Facebook addiction," people who have been "robbed" by their friends and others who claim that Facebook saved their lives.

Facebook, which says it has 400 million users, denounced the STD reports as ludicrous and claims Kelly's views have been misunderstood.

Facebook Calls STD Claims 'Ridiculous'

"The assertions made in newspaper reports that Facebook is responsible for the transmission of STDs are ridiculous, exaggerate the comments made by the professor, and ignore the difference between correlation and causation," the company says in a statement sent to DailyFinance,"Our Web site is not a place to meet people for casual sex -- it's a place for friends, family and coworkers to connect and share."

There is no doubt that Facebook to some is little more than an electronic singles bar, the perfect place to find Mister or Miss Right or "Right for Now." There are plenty of positives about the site, of course. Facebook is great for keeping in touch with friends, relatives and former co-workers. It is neither good nor evil, but it does create the illusion of intimacy that entices the lonely and depressed to log in for hours at a time. Like many users, I have found that some people are far more friendlier on the site than they were to me in the real world.

Facebook is far from perfect. Security continues to be a source of concern. A recent report found the site to be the top security threat to corporate networks. But blaming Facebook for rising STDs will only distract people from attacking the root causes of a very complex problem.
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