Have Facebook, will travel?
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Friday, 19th June 2009
Throw away your passports!

Well, maybe not quite yet, says Yeoh Siew Hoon, I heard something last night that made me sit up and put my ice cold beer down.

"One day, Facebook will become a more powerful tool of authentication than our passport," declared a friend working in travel distribution.

His reasoning is that Facebook will become a more powerful validator of who we are, than our passports, because while passports can be faked, our social networks cannot be.

"On Facebook, you've been validated by your friends who say they know you from somewhere and you can't pretend to be someone you're not," he said.

"If someone has only three friends, then maybe there is reason to be suspicious but if someone has more than 100 friends or so, there's a pretty good chance that that person is who he says he is," he added.

I asked, "Does that mean one day we will travel with our Facebook account rather than our passports?"

Wouldn't that be cool? No visas that take up whole pages, no forms to fill, just our Facebook page on our hand-held device which we just show to the immigration and customs officers who can then check our network of friends, our photos – be sure to delete those of compromising situations involving compromising substances – the books we have read – you have read "The King Never Smiles" and you have watched "The King and I", so you cannot enter Thailand; etcetera, etcetra, etcetra …

"No," he dismissed my suggestion with a flick of his finger, the same finger I presume he uses to tweet and check his Facebook updates.

"So passports will be the state authority and Facebook the social security?" asked another friend listening to the conversation.

"Yes," he exclaimed, obviously pleased that someone at the table at least got it.

While I find the notion intriguing, the idea that if you have only three friends and therefore you're more likely to be a fake than someone who has, say, 2,000 friends is a bit hard to swallow.

Firstly, it goes against the grain of what wiser people have told me about friendship – that at the end of your life, if you can count on one hand the number of really close friends, you have led a pretty good life.

I am also not sure I want to know someone who has 2,000 friends – I mean, do I just want to be a little fish in his big pond of little fish? No, I'd rather be a big fish in a small pond of big fish.

Secondly, can we honestly say that we know well everyone who is in our social network? We call them friends, but are they? Some come to us via friends of friends and some via friends of friends of friends. I have some requests pending because I honestly don't remember I know them. Then on a weak day, you check "common friends" and you find maybe you have one or two friends in common and you say yes, and voila, your circle of friends has expanded.

Are you then more yourself because of that?

On the other hand, social networks can be a good way to find out about people who contact you out of the blue for business or personal reasons.

A friend who works in public relations told me that he got an email from two blokes who claimed to be working for an American television network and needed help with some introductions.

He looked them up on the web and found their social network page. One of them had this posting, "Going to Singapore, Indonesia. Know any likely ladies we could meet?"

I don't know whether it was the poor knowledge of geography or the likely request that put him off helping them but yes, there is something to be said for the notion that sites like Facebook or MySpace are a truer representation of ourselves than our passports.

With friends like these, who needs enemies, eh?

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com

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