Erica Albright's a bitch. You think that's because her family changed their name from Albrecht or do you think it's because all B.U. girls are bitches?

Folks, for the record she may look like a 34D but she's getting all kinds of help from our friends at Victoria's Secret. She's a 34B, as in barely anything there. False advertising. - Mark Zuckerberg blogs about his ex in The Social Network.

Just a week ago, in Wellington, Joshua Simon Ashby, 20, was jailed for, among other vengeful behaviours, posting a naked picture of his ex-girlfriend on her Facebook.

The conviction coincided with the New Zealand opening of the movie The Social Network, in which Facebook inventor Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is dumped by his girlfriend and writes nasty words about her on his blog for all to see.

Life imitates art based on real life - or what passes for it in cyberspace.

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Zuckerberg went on to create Facebook - the internet phenomenon now used by 500 million people worldwide and worth, according to a Bloomberg report last week, about US$41billion ($52.7 billion).

Joshua Simon Ashby got four months. Actually, the real Zuckerberg didn't break up at all - he's been dating the same girl since 2003. But since when has Hollywood ever let facts get in the way of a good screenplay?

The geeky founder of Facebook does admit he knows what it's like to be dumped by girls. It's also true that in the pre-Facebook era, in his sophomore year at Harvard, he created a vicious website called Facemash, which subjected female students to male ridicule.

To do so, he hacked into the protected areas of Harvard's computer network and copied the private ID images from nine students' houses. "We're ranking girls," Zuckerberg explains in the movie. "Why?" asks his friend Eduardo. "To watch the bottom 200's heads explode," he says. "You think that's such a good idea?" says Eduardo. For something known as a "social" network, there can be a lot of anti-social activity going on.

Good idea or not, Zuckerberg ploughs on with algorithms to rate girls as hot - or not. In the movie his technical prowess is seen as all the more impressive because not only has he hacked into Harvard's systems in a couple of hours and set up a website in one night, he's done it while drunk.

Alcohol was involved in Ashby's case too.

Judge Andrew Becroft said Ashby acted in an "irresponsible drunken jealous rage", according to a Dominion Post report on the Wellington case. Emotions which led him to use Facebook to humiliate his ex-girlfriend.

His parents, in court to support their son, hope the jail term will deter others from the "dark side" of Facebook.

The dark side - whether Facebook, the internet, human nature or a toxic mixture of all three - is something Netsafe development manager Sean Lyons deals with all the time.

About three years ago the cybersafety organisation noticed a distinct shift. The calls it was getting changed from being mainly about children's safety online to issues concerning adults. "We started getting calls about when a relationship had gone sour," says Lyons. "Typically one partner was in possession of photos taken while they were in the happy confines of their relationship but were now using them in various different ways."

Sometimes that involved sending photos by email to others or putting pictures up on their own Facebook. "Every now and again you get a situation where somebody has gained access to their ex-partner's Facebook and put the pictures there. Or set up a false profile using the person's name because they didn't have a Facebook." He's talking about identity theft that's variously used to humiliate, bully or hurt someone.

Netsafe gets about six calls a week that can be broadly classified as ex-relationship harassment via the net - hardly an epidemic, but enough to be a concern. Lyons agrees the damage done by such behaviour can be extremely harmful, but says Facebook isn't inherently at fault.

As an expat Scotsman, he's been using Facebook for about three years and, like many, finds it a great way to keep in touch with people on the other side of the world. "I've never had a negative experience with Facebook."

Facebook wasn't the only factor in Ashby's case either. He pleaded guilty to a charge of distributing indecent matter, but also threatening to kill, wilful damage, theft of the woman's clothes, and assault.

Text messages sent to his ex-girlfriend included: "I'm going to kill you" and "dead bitch". At the same time as the Facebook incident, Ashby stole two of her dresses, soaked them in water and cut them up.

Erica:

It didn't stop you from writing it ... The internet is not written in pencil, Mark, it's written in ink and you published that Erica Albright was a bitch. Right before you made some ignorant crack about my family's name, published my bra size and rated women on their hotness. Why don't you say it to me now, why don't you say it to my face?

Mark:

I don't want to.

- The Social Network.

The paradox of the humiliation promoted by Zuckerberg in his Facemash and carried on by some in the way they use Facebook is that while the impact of the act is felt on an indelibly public scale, it's somehow regarded as less real because it's online. "If someone was posting naked images on a billboard on Newmarket's Broadway we would see the impact and the damage," says Lyons. "But somehow because it's just on a computer it's a thing nobody cares about."

In the movie, when Zuckerberg has finished Facemash and made it live, he sends out a few emails to get people to visit the site. "Who are you going to send it to?" asks Eduardo. "Just a couple of people," he says.

"The question is, who are they gonna to send it to?" In a very short space of time the site has attracted 22,000 hits and generates so much traffic it's shut down by Harvard IT staff. Zuckerberg was charged by the administration with breach of security, violating copyrights, violating individual privacy and faced expulsion, but ultimately the charges were dropped.

The remarkable aspect of the Ashby case is how quickly his ex-girlfriend's Facebook account was shut down - within 12 hours - most likely because of the involvement of the police. Nevertheless, that was still time enough for Ashby, who had taken control of her Facebook, to "share" the picture widely. Initially 218 of her friends had access to it, but then Ashby changed her password, locking her out of her own Facebook, and altered the settings to "share with everyone" - meaning potentially millions of people worldwide could see the image.

Lyons agrees that 12 hours is remarkably quick - most people caught up in similar cyber nightmares face several days of waiting, if not longer, before action is taken. Even then, there's usually no notification - the Facebook account simply disappears from the web. Parents wanting to take action are frustrated by being unable to talk to anyone - all reporting of Facebook abuse is done via filling in online forms. The situation can be further complicated by also losing access to the email address associated with the Facebook account - often a gmail or hotmail address. Once again reporting the abuse has to be done online.

"From our experience, you may get a gmail account suspended, but you won't get it back," says Lyons, who finds hotmail isn't much better. The problem is that the couple often know each other's passwords or know the person well enough to guess the security question for resetting a password on a hotmail or gmail account.With email access they can then search their messages for clues to access Facebook - although in many cases people make access very easy by using the same password for both email and Facebook.

Once again, says Lyons, it shows how people see their digital identity and possessions as less significant than the physical forms. "You would worry if an ex-partner knew the alarm code to your house, or had the keys to your car, but for some reason we don't worry about our online profiles," says Lyons.

Cameron:

Well we've been working for a while on ad idea. It's called HarvardConnection. You create your own page. Picture, bio, interests, friends.

Tyler:

People can see your bio and request to be your ...

Mark:

Yeah. How's this different from MySpace or Friendster?

Tyler:

Harvard-dot-EDU

- The Social Network

Zuckerberg's newfound campus notoriety following Facemash attracted the attention of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss - two Wasp students, both champion rowers and of a Harvard elite that would never accept someone like Zuckerberg.

"The Winklevi" wanted him to program a snooty, Harvard-exclusive, social-networking site. Zuckerberg wasn't interested in elite and adapted the basic idea, but then expanded to create the social network of all time. The rest, give or take a few lawsuits, is history.

One of the many extraordinary aspects of the Facebook phenomenon is that it's modelled on American campus life. The name stems from the colloquial term for the book given to students at the start of the academic year - with the intention of helping students to get to know each other better. The social structure of American colleges - especially ones like Harvard - have all sorts of weird rituals such as getting "punched", which is when an envelope is slipped under your door inviting you to join one of the college's elite "final" clubs.

As Zuckerberg puts it in the movie, "Relationship Status" and "Interested In" are the two things that drive life at college. "Are you having sex or aren't you? It's why people take certain classes, sit where they sit, go where they go, do what they do ... that's what 'the Facebook' is gonna be about."

Bizarre rituals, animal instinct or not, Facebook clearly works. "Facebook me" became a common expression at Harvard after two weeks and today users regularly talk about Facebook compulsion, addiction and how much time they spend on the thing. Some students tell of having to deactivate their account during exam time in order to study without being distracted.

The movie also outlines what Facebook has become: "A place where you view pictures that coincide with your social life. It is the true ... digitisation of real life. You don't just go to a party anymore, you go to a party with your digital camera and your friends relive the party on Facebook. And tagging. The idea you could tag anyone you wanted to in those pictures so that people could find themselves. The digital log of every change in a person's life,

broadcast to all their friends simultaneously." By now many will be asking "why?" But the widespread appeal of Facebook - 500 million users - gives the answer: because you can.

The mass appeal is also what provides such potential for harm.

Lyons talks about helping repair the damage done by social exclusion. "Seeing others encouraging individuals to 'unfriend' you or remove you from a group - being mass 'unfriended' by a whole lot of people on Facebook is a distressing experience."

For parents, who feel they don't understand the technology, Lyons has a simple message: "Just realise what they are doing is communicating with each other. Think: 'I can help with problems that arise in communication'. Adults have those skills and can use them to look after their kids."

He says it's important also to trust that the social network does have rules and that generally friends will behave as friends - and take down a photo when another asks because they feel it is unflattering. More often than not, when there's a falling-out, friends resolve the conflict - often helped by other friends.

But Lyons is also encouraged, that when things go too far - when there are threats of physical harm - our laws can reach into cyberspace and act. In the Wellington case Judge Becroft was able to draw on the rarely used "Crimes against morality and decency" section of the Crimes Act.

The photo Ashby posted on Facebook became a charge under the "distribution or exhibition of indecent matter". Allowing Ashby to be photographed as he was being sentenced, the judge said, gave "a certain symmetry to it".

As Facebook marches on to world domination, questions remain about what happens to the concept of privacy. With employers now routinely using Facebook to vet prospective employees, are those antics at your mate's funny hat party really wise? Others suggest those who don't have a Facebook may be regarded with suspicion.

That the lack of a public profile indicates something to hide.

Lyons says people using Facebook should do so with eyes wide open - understanding that the commercial enterprise is compiling a global database of personal information; that the company owns the information forever and that it uses the information in various ways to make money.

"People will say I have digital blind faith, but I haven't felt or experienced any breach of my personal privacy. I make an informed choice as to what I share at the point that I share it."

Many agree there is a shift in what the next generation regards as privacy and that the behaviour that flows from the use of Facebook and other internet communications like Twitter are changing the privacy landscape. As Zuckerberg told an audience thisearlier the year: "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time."

Once a generation has shared their profiles, photographs and sometimes a lot more, and it's no longer an invasion or breach of privacy to be there looking at them, the age of privacy may indeed be over.