Culture & ideas Media and Multimedia

Estonia: Two-thirds reject privacy-busting Facebook

28 May 2012
Postimees Tallinn

Although they pride themselves on being a wired nation, statistics show that only a third of Estonians have registered with the leading social network. For the other two thirds, it is a question of privacy.

Sometime ago, Alar Sikk, the Estonian mountaineer who rose to fame when he climbed Everest, was chatting with Estonian TV celebrity Vahur Kersna, about his expedition to Mount Kazbek [in Georgia]. Sikk remarked that many of the potential participants in the expedition gave up on the project when they learned that the journey would take nine days. For them, the idea of spending that much time away from Facebook was simply unbearable.

Fans of the social network will be very happy to read these lines, and will no doubt conclude that here is yet more evidence that the world is their oyster, that all the hype about the recent IPO was justified, and most importantly that life is simply impossible without Facebook.

Media hype

Estonian writer Andrus Kivirähk has never felt the need to register on Facebook, even though most of his friends, and, of course, his children, have already signed up. “I don’t have the courage to communicate so much on the Internet”, remarks Kivirähk. “I am already very accessible. Everyone has my mobile number and I have several email accounts”. At the same time, Kivirähk points out that he does not necessarily want to have instant access to information on what people are eating.

Nor does he want Facebook to remind people of the date of his birthday: “I would like friends to call or send me messages directly. It’s much more intimate and a lot warmer that way”, adds Kivirähk.

Notwithstanding the media hype that surrounds Facebook, people who have not registered with the network have no reason to feel that they form part of an excluded minority. On the contrary: they are in the majority. Facebook’s statistics page says the network has 460,000 users in Estonia, which roughly amounts to one third of the population. In itself this figure may be exaggerated because there are several accounts under some names.

Stubborn conservatism

TV presenter Vahur Kersna has never thought of putting his picture and his name on Facebook. “I don’t want to be constantly accessible”, he explains. “When I need to communicate with people, I do it over the phone or face to face.” He acknowledges that this refusal to join the network is in part motivated by a certain stubborn conservatism.

In any case, Kersna, who is in his fifties, would not be included in the statistical category of active user. More than two thirds of Estonian Facebookers are less than 34 years old. Kivirähk remarks, “my children think adults on Facebook are strange. They feel it’s bizarre to find them there.” Then there is the issue of all of the hours that are whiled away on the network. As the managing director of the Estonian Leasing Association, Reet Hääl, points out: “I am always amazed at the amount of time people spend on it. And I ask myself, what is the point in sharing your life with everyone”.

Hääl does not want people to know everything about her, nor does she have any desire to participate in discussions on topics, which under normal circumstances, would not merit discussion. She does not need to be “liked” by a thousand friends: “I am not a hundred dollar bill,” she says.

High maintenance and insecure

According to Facebook’s statistics, the development of the network has slowed over the last three months in Estonia. Then there are users who have decided to close their accounts. Toomas Pindis, a senior official in the border police, left Facebook, because he found the service to be high maintenance and insufficiently secure.

All the invitations, the adverts, the need to be online all the time, the viruses, the spam: all of these were factors in his decision to throw in the towel. “I don’t have time to write and in fact I’m not allowed to log on in the office. My job requires a certain sense of what is appropriate, so it is best to stay away from Facebook”, he adds.

Although Estonia prides itself on its “e-government”, a good many of the country’s cabinet ministers – like Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, Finance Minister Jürgen Ligi and Defence Minister Urmas Reinsalu – have no registered Facebook accounts.

The idea of creating a page for the Prime Minister has already been discussed, but according to the government’s communications advisor, the PM believes that the other structures for communicating with the country’s citizens are sufficient in themselves.