We’re going to start off with a brief description of the history of Facebook and its popularity. From there we present a like and dislike feature set – thumbs up and thumbs down. After that we will offer some general recommendations and alternatives.
On February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook with his college roommates and fellow students at Harvard University. At first it was limited to Harvard students, but expanded to include colleges in the Boston area and then gradually it included support for students at various other universities before being open to high-school students and then anyone aged 13 and over. When registering for a Facebook account, the user needs to claim being 13 years or older although proof of age is not a requirement. A valid email is required however. You can then proceed to create a “personal profile” – personal data and a profile image that identifies you to other users.
Once you are an active user you can begin to add “friends” who are also on Facebook and you can exchange messages. You also are able to join groups that you identify as sharing a common interest. To date, Facebook has over one billion users although numbers are difficult to ascertain as some of these are considered fake. We’ll cover that later in the article. Suffice it to say:
With respect to its value, in January of this year its market capitalization rose to over $134 billion. There are over 1.2 billion active users on the site every month and more than 75% of these are mobile device users. As of February 3rd, the company celebrated its tenth anniversary.
On Top or Losing Ground?
While Facebook is the top social network at present, one study has shown that teenagers are making the move to other social networking services. While older users continue to saturate Facebook, younger users are making a shift. This younger age group is not so concerned about whether the alternative services are on par or better, and they are not concerned about whether their personal information is being used commercially or as part of surveillance practices. It would appear that the biggest motive is that youth of this age group are getting friend requests from their parents and are looking for more freedom to express themselves.
However, for those over 18 in the U.S., Facebook remains the king of social networking. It is reported that 71% of adults in the U.S. are using Facebook and among those that only use one networking site, 84% are choosing it as their sole social network.
With that many people onboard it’s got to be a good thing right? Well let’s point out some of the positive aspects of social networking and Facebook.
Connected: While many of the posts and newsfeeds are full of items that are specific to one person and speak to what they are having for dinner or some sporting event they are attending, there are news feeds that relate to current events, personal health tips, and social injustices that may not be covered by news media. This form of passing news stories is gaining acceptance as even mainstream media reports on the particular social news items that go “viral” in terms of being shared by many people worldwide. Many of these items are posted in an attempt to gather as much “likes” as possible and to simply be shared perhaps in an attempt to be noticed.
Regardless of the content, it is a way of being connected to what over a billion people find interesting. Some of the news items may not even be covered by top media broadcasting corporations. The fact is, Facebook is a way of connecting:
Another benefit to Facebook users is being able to reconnect with friends you might not have seen since your early high school days. For some, this may not be such a desired feature depending on who sends you a friend request. However, it does provide the ability to do a search for long time friends you may have lost touch with.
Rights and Responsibilities: Facebook clearly points out the agreement between you and them in a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. In this they state that your “privacy is very important” and they provide a link to the Data Use policy. If you go down the rabbit hole you can get to the page: “Information we receive and how it used”. It is a long page of information but you can get a full description of the data that you make available to Facebook and how you can choose to adjust your settings so that it is shared by the public or shared only among friends or some customized filter. The real issue for some people is this one item:
Two positive aspects can be stated here: for one, Facebook is very thorough in laying out these terms. With some items such as safety, account security, and protection of other’s rights, Facebook points out that they cannot do it alone (for example, they cannot guarantee to keep Facebook safe). They elicit the commitment of their users to not bully, to not post content that is hate speech, pornographic, or is violent. They ask that upload material is free of multi-level marketing, viruses, and malicious code. They also emphasize that you will not post other’s personal identification or sensitive financial data. The list of these items is a lengthy one and, while there is some policing of what is displayed, to a large part the ethical participation of its users is required. Secondly, these terms can, and have, been subject to change based on user feedback.
Creation of Groups: Say you have a group of people you want to connect with – family, friends, a social group of some kind. You can easily create a group and invite them to join. Once everyone is all aboard you can have a central place to swap stories, post links, and share photos and video. This is so much easier than trying to get messages to a group by email. The down side… everyone needs a Facebook account and not everyone wants to join up for one reason or another.
With this in mind… we look at the aspects of Facebook that are not favorable.
There are a few items that stand out as being difficult to some people when signing on and getting tangled in the Facebook network and these need to be understood.
Backing out: While there are a few hoops you have to jump through to get a Facebook account started, we find opting out to be even a greater challenge. When you want to deactivate your account your profile and “Timeline” disappear and people will not be able to search for you. However, there is some information that remains including messages you have sent and Facebook saves your information including friends, photos, interests, and the like. They do this in case you change your mind and want to come back. To permanently delete your account “with no option for recovery” you have to log in and contact them. What users have found is that they need to manually delete the content that they have posted and shared. As pointed out by Wikipedia:
Zeus: A report last year pointed out how a somewhat nasty malware called Zeus, was being used from Facebook. Zeus is a Trojan horse that stays dormant on your computer until you log into a bank site and then it steals passwords and empties the bank account. Facebook was notified of this but according to the report their response was not sufficient.
Fake Accounts: There are many reports about fraudulent Facebook accounts. In these situations, an imposter uses another person’s profile such as name, photo, and personal information in an attempt to access the victim’s friend list. The reasons for doing this can include attempting to data mine you or even to attempt an emergency scam with your friends and family. For example, “This is Joanne. I’m in Cancun and I just got mugged and need some money sent to me right away”). If this happens you need to report it to Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/help/167722253287296/) right away.
Fake Likes: One other area of criticism is how Facebook’s revenue is based on false likes. There are those that may want to promote their Facebook page so that more people can view it. Pages can be created by businesses or individual creators. The creators of these pages post items and these posts can appear on other Facebook member’s news feed. However, they can also be filtered out based on what you have previously disliked and liked. This means that your posts that you create to share with your online community could be going out to only a small subsection of your overall friend’s network. Posts about baby’s and weddings get the most likes and comments. Facebook offers the option to pay for greater exposure but critics claim that these “likes” are coming from developing nations and there isn’t a real interest in the page. While filtering is necessary so that you do not see 1500 posts each day, some suggest that the algorithm logic for this filtering does not provide diversity and a random selection of items.
The Rest of the List: A list of criticisms is sited in Wikipedia, several of which have been from concerns raised in previous years of operation. The list includes the following:
- Widening exposure of member information.
- Cooperation with government search requests (Facebook participated in the NSA Prism project).
- The possibility of data mining and surveillance.
- Facebook addiction.
- Psychological effects such as bullying.
- Identity theft (it is very easy to create an account and impersonate another individual).
- Security issues such as a trick referred to as “likejacking”.
It would take considerable research and follow up to see what steps Facebook has undertaken to improve these issues. As stated they do respond to feedback and we can only hope that they continue to do so. Ongoing research looks to gain deeper insight into the social effects of Facebook. From the same wiki page:
Ownership and Use of Content: There have been many who have stated their disapproval of Facebook because what they believe to be a loss of ownership of data when posting or sharing. It should be clear that Facebook states in their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, that users retain ownership of posted content. What needs to be clear is that users grant Facebook the following: “you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook”. This is why deletion of content is so important to those who want to delete their account and remove all personal information.
There are alternatives to Facebook. Here is a short list (and we do mean short list – these networking sites pop up very frequently).
Google+: This is a fairly good alternative to Facebook with similar features and it is the second largest social network in the world.
Pintrest : Create and share visual “bookmarks” for planning trips, sharing recipes, organize events and more.
MySpace: Owned by Justin Timberlake this site has a strong music emphasis.
Reddit : Participants submit links and posts that are voted on to determine the position of the post on the site’s page.
Twitter: Good for texting messages limited to 140 characters.
LinkedIn: A social network for professionals.
Keep in mind that alternatives to Facebook will take time to get used to if you are accustomed to Facebook. Also, you may not get the same level of friends that you can connect with. This is likely why there are those that are signed up on more than one.
The Final Chapter:
Social media tools such as Facebook offer such potential in terms of correspondence, staying informed, and participation in online community. The challenge is to take part in shaping it as it evolves. The information that is particular to each of us personally and to the members of our families needs to be regarded with reverence and handled with privacy. We can shape these tools to meet our needs with ongoing feedback.
Considering the time and effort a person can dedicate to these and to staying connected to others via mobile devices… is it any wonder there is growing concern about levels of real, face-to-face social interaction? Is it any wonder this is generating considerable research? Is there any wonder that some people question how meaningful online friendships are when having up to, or over, 1000 friends is the norm? And is it any wonder that there is some doubt as to how well we are able to function without the steady influx of digital information? Likely the best we can do is to get onboard but to give ourselves real and meaningful breaks from the pull of networking on a massive scale.
We hope this article has helped gain some insight about a rather all-encompassing and dichotomous subject. We will continue to investigate these kinds of story lines that affect each of us on a daily basis in a manner that is within reach of everyday computer users. If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover, email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org