Once started as a way for students to connect with other students at one of the United States’ most prestigious universities, Facebook has now taken the world by storm. The popular social networking site launched in 2004 by four Harvard University students now has more members than the entire population of the United States.
Since its inception six years ago, Facebook has grown to be one of the most visited websites in the world. According to the CNBC report “The Facebook Obsession,” not only do 1 out of every 12 people in the world have a Facebook account, but it has also surpassed Google as the most visited website in the United States. The website has allowed its users to not only connect to friends and family who live close by, but it has also served as a connection between people in different states, countries, and continents.
Although the users of Facebook were initially restricted to university students with “.edu” e-mail accounts, the site rapidly became available to users of all different ages, levels of education, and paths of life. Currently, about 60% of Facebook users are between the ages of 18 and 34. The website allows for its members to sign up in a few simple steps. Once registered, the user can post pictures and videos, send “friend requests”, post on friends’ walls, send private messages, create and attend events, and much more – not to mention in many different languages. One of the more recent additions to the Facebook social network is the ability to chat with any Facebook friend who is online. The site not only acts as a connection to friends and family, but also as a sort of e-mail account, calendar, address book, and social organizer.
Because Facebook is so popular, it is no wonder that advertisers have figured out ways in order to use user demographics to their advantages. By releasing popular topics, information about gender, age, and interests, Facebook is able to make money by allowing advertisers to purchase sidebar space that caters to certain demographics. Journalists can also use this type of information to their advantage by paying close attention to popular topics on discussion boards and status updates. Although Facebook does not have a “trending topics” section the way Twitter and other social media sites do, most Facebook “pages” are open to public viewing and allow insight into what people are talking about and what is important at that very instant in time. The website is becoming increasingly more important in many different industries which means that, according to “The Facebook Obsession,” it is becoming more and more difficult for those who do not wish to be part of the site – for many industries, Facebook is a necessity.
Cartoon Found at: Kartoen
The use of Facebook to market different products or gain support for a cause is not a new idea. Since its inception, there have been countless causes that have used Facebook events to raise awareness about different fundraisers. One way many businesses and famous people have connected with their fans is by creating a Facebook fan page. These pages allow for the owner of the page to post pictures, different information, and even allow fans to comment back if desired. On the Facebook homepage (Facebook.com) there is a link on the bottom right hand corner that says “Create a Page for a celebrity, band or business.” All one has to do when creating a page for their desired outlet is to click that link and follow the instructions. Within about five extremely easy steps, a page can be created and the owner can be posting photos and status updates in a matter of minutes. In the words of the overly obnoxious 2004 Geico advertising campaign – “It’s so easy, a caveman could do it!”
Facebook has a lot of social benefits – many people even frown upon anybody who doesn’t have an account – however there are some drawbacks too. Though we would like to think it is, the Internet is not always the safest place for personal information. The Internet is littered with stories about people whose credit card information or identities were stolen online. While Facebook says it never releases any personal information, only demographics, if a hacker were to get into the Facebook database, maybe they wouldn’t get everybody’s social security and credit card numbers, however they would have access to millions of e-mail accounts, personal contact information, and passwords.
In addition to the potential issue of the release of personal information, Facebook also provides privacy issues in regards to photographs and a blurred line between private and public lives. Anything that is posted on the social media site is potentially fair game not only to connections made online, but also to potential employers or people in the professional world. People have lost their jobs over Facebook content; or have not been hired in the first place based on what they post online. CNBC explained that as Facebook grows, as do issues with privacy. Journalists must also give heightened awareness to the fact that most of their jobs require them to be unbiased and must not appear too swayed on the stories they tell. By posting information such as comments or opinions on Facebook, journalists risk the loss of their impartiality as well as the ability to report fairly. Also, because of the terms associated with the site, CNBC claims that Facebook may have given a whole new meaning to the term “friend.” In a world where you don’t know what information is being shared with who, as well as what people are saving to use for later, how does one distinguish who is a trusting “friend” online versus who is just there to virtually stalk their exes.
However, the biggest issue with Facebook – even beyond the issues of privacy breach and personal vs. private lives – lies in the fact that Facebook is addicting. Ask just about any college student. By the time they get their homework done for the night, most of them will have spent more time Facebook stalking their frienemies and exes than actually working on the problem set or essay for their class. As a Journalism student, I am just lucky that Facebook is part of my daily life – private and professional. If I get distracted by the website, I can just say it is part of my homework for the night. Hey, I’m just studying.
Want to see more about this topic? Check out this article about Journalists and Facebook!