The advent of Web 2.0 technology marked the beginning of a new era in the online world. Millions of internet users utilize the benefits of Web 2.0 software daily. Google and Wikipedia have become the primary source of information for the majority of web users. The growing popularity of social networks has made Facebook amongst the most popular of the Web 2.0 technologies. At first a glance, Facebook can be written of as another means of online communication. However, Facebook has resonated throughout many aspects of our society and has attained its own niche in popular culture. The cultural and sociological implications of this communication medium have propelled Facebook to the top of the Web 2.0 ladder.
Like any other social network, Facebook constructs an online community which facilitates communication and interaction between users in a virtual environment. During the registration process, a potential user must affiliate him/herself with a particular sub network. For example, a SUNY Albany student may affiliate him/herself with the college, previous high school, or State. The networks that users affiliate themselves with determine the level of accessibility they will have to other people’s profiles. For example, a user affiliated with SUNY Albany may only be able to view other users inside the college network. Depending on the privacy settings, that user may be restricted from viewing the profile of a user affiliated with SUNY Binghamton.
Facebook allows users to post extensive personal information and biographical data. In addition, Facebook allows users to post pictures and create photo albums that adhere to their criteria. Although most pictures are allowed, Facebook forbids nude or excessively lewd photos. As the popularity of Facebook has risen, designers have found new ways to satisfy the users. Facebook features simple online games and other entertaining features to intrigue and occupy their users. There are bumper sticker applications, drink applications, online quizzes, etc… The purpose of these features is to allow Facebook users to personalize their profile. Aside from providing basic information such as hobbies and interests, these applications can tell other people what a users favorite drink is, what astrological sign they are, what their favorite band is, and even what drug they would be most inclined to use.
Mark Zuckerberg began the Facebook phenomena on February 4, 2004. Zuckerberg, a Harvard student, created the project as a hobby. The concept successfully spread across the Harvard campus, receiving tremendous popularity. Soon, the Facebook craze spread to Stanford and Yale. Although the website was only limited to college universities, it has expanded its user base allowing High Schools, Colleges, Universities, Organizations, and Companies all across the globe. Currently the website caters to over 120 million active users worldwide, and is the second largest social network in terms of traffic.
As previously mentioned, Facebook is no longer restricted to college students. Users must meet the minimum age requirement of 13, and have a large number of sub networks to affiliate with. There are many reasons that attribute to the rising popularity of this communication media. Facebook makes physical boundaries irrelevant, allowing people all across the world to stay in touch. If a user has family or friends in a different state or country, Facebook provides a simple and cost-free means to communicate. Other users utilize Facebook to make new friends and establish relationships with total strangers. Users may want to communicate with other users who share the same interests or hobbies. In fact, users can state their intentions for using the website on their profile page.
Facebook has gained considerable attention from the general public due to its impact on popular culture, and the sociological implications of its use. From a broad perspective, increased globalization can be considered to be a product of Facebook. As communication technology becomes more advanced, the physical barrier that separates nations become non-existent. Due to the wide user base of Facebook, a user from the United States can communicate with a user from India. Although they may not be able to view each other’s profiles, through messaging, two distant strangers can form a relationship. The whole concept of “friending” another person has a positive connotation. By clicking on the accept button, you are essentially accepting another persons friendship. This can lead to the destruction of cultural barriers and lead to a greater level of understanding. Establishing communication with people of different cultures can broaden a person’s perspective. It may lead him/her to alter their negative views or beliefs and become more accepting people.
An article titled New Age Globalization, by Mark H Leichliter, explores the effect of social networks such as Facebook on globalization. “In this age of on-line ‘social network communities’, we use technology and its models to expand our world view (Leichliter, 2007) .” The author claims that social network communities can combat misinformation and misinterpretation about other people’s cultures. “Take a ten year old in the rural U.S., provide her the means to correspond with a child half a world away, let them talk and see how both their world expand. If a lasting friendship develops, both will begin to share their knowledge, their beliefs, and their dreams (Leichliter, 2007).” This supports the idea that Facebook provides the means to rapidly facilitate globalization. Facebook makes intercultural communication a simple click away.
Clay Shirky provides a similar argument in his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Shirky believes that Web 2.0 such as Facebook can lead to the “Small World” phenomena. Through social connections seemingly unconnected people actually connect. He provides an example of two unrelated people seated next to each other on an airplane. “When you are trying to find a link with someone else, you are unlikely to know any given contact of theirs, as we would expect in a sparsely connected environment. But you are very likely to know one of the most connected people they know. It is the presence of these highly connected people that forms the backbone of the social networks (Shirky, 2008, p. 213)”. Shirky argues that complete strangers can form a relationship or connection through their highly connected mutual contact. This shows the interpersonal implications of Facebook. Personal research yielded information that coincided with the ideas of the previous two authors. As I navigated around Facebook, I came across a tab that was titled “Friend Suggestion”. This feature allowed a user to recommend a friend to another user. Looking through my friend suggestions, I noticed that although I did not know any of these people, I was connected to them through one or more mutual friends. This leads to the expansion of a social network and helps build interpersonal relationships between other people.
As people begin to make interpersonal connections through this social network, congregations of people emerge. Groups are formed by people who share similar beliefs, ideas, or opinions. While browsing through Facebook, I saw that I had multiple group invitations. Generally, I joined the group that appealed to my interest or was relevant to me. For example, I belonged to a group on Facebook called “You know your from Westchester when…” This was a group for people who came from the town of Westchester and shared similar experiences. This group brought together many people from a similar community who may never have met each other. Facebook is an ideal network to find other people with similar interests and beliefs. Shirky refers to this as “homophily”, “or the grouping of like with like (Shirky, 2008, p. 213).” Facebook is an ideal network to find people who you can relate to. The physical boundaries and environmental restraints that have prevented a person from finding a group of people with the same beliefs are no longer a factor. In fact, one can search groups through the Facebook search engine to find one that suits them. If a particular group does not exist, the user has the power to create a new group and attract potential members. This shows the horizontal structure of Facebook. There is no central hierarchy, and every user is given the same amount of representation. The effect that Facebook has on group identity is notable. People who were out-casted for their beliefs can form a group identity to voice their opinions.
A major byproduct of the Facebook social network is the empowerment of the youth culture. An article titled Social Networking and Values, by Danah Boyd, reflects on the relationship between social networking and public space available to the youth. Boyd states, “Teens have increasingly less access to public space. Classic 1950’s hang out locations like the roller rink and burger joint are disappearing while malls and 7/11’s are banning teens unaccompanied by parents (Boyd, 2008) . ” She believes that virtual social networks give the youth access to public space in a physically safe environment. Our society has become more fearful, and parents do not give children the same freedoms as they used to. Through Facebook, the youth are not denied interaction, and are given a stronger voice. The opinion of the youth are often disregarded, however Facebook allows them to boldly state their voice. A child, neglected in a public arena, is empowered in the virtual arena. Through Facebook, the youth can construct their own environment, promoting youth culture.
Facebook has transformed organizational and democratic procedures in the United States. Organizations can create invitations and send them out to a broad base of users. All a person or organization has to do is create an event and send out mass invitations. In turn, other users will invite their friends to the event, increasing publicity. Fliers and handouts are a thing of the past and considered to be an archaic means of promotion. Many of my closest friends utilize Facebook to promote for the clubs that they work for. I have received dozens of invitations to attend events at clubs and other public spaces. Facebook allows news to travel a larger group of people in a shorter amount of time, affecting organizational procedures.
The impact of Facebook has resonated into the political arena as well. Facework on Facebook, by Steffen Dalsgaard, is a journal article that discusses the impact of Facebook on political mobilization. “On Facebook, political mobilization has become so popular that politicians as a category of people now have specific kinds of profiles, where they have ‘supporters’ instead of ‘friends’ (Dalsgaard, 2008, pg 11).” This shows the effect of Facebook on our democratic system. Dalsgaard believes that social networks such as Facebook have made our elections into popularity contests. “Here it is not the votes that strengthen the politician, but the relationships, and it is the revelation of their quantity rather than their quality which counts (Dalsgaard, 2008, pg 11).” The popularity of Facebook impacts the manner of an election. The more ‘supporters’ a candidate has on Facebook helps his public appeal. The candidate with the most friends or supporters is considered to have widespread public appeal. Therefore, campaigns are more focused on having more online supporters in order to strengthen their public perception. The simple click of a button can alter the fate of an election. While browsing through the politician’s profiles and groups, I understood the effect of the number of supporters that each candidate had. In a politically ignorant society, one is more inclined to show support for the candidate that everyone else is showing support for.
Facebook may also affect the desire to create a virtual identity and the privacy associated with that identity. Many users, including myself, create a unique persona on Facebook. Facebook allows individuals to express themselves and create an identity separate from the real world. Many users create a unique identity through their profile and the pictures that they post. The information they present may be acceptable to their friends, but may not be to others. Users may only feel comfortable allowing their friends to view their picture or information. In an article titled Internet social network communities: Risk taking, trust, and privacy concerns, Joshua Fogel claims that internet users seek privacy in order to “avoid behavioral response from others, avoid embarrassment, avoid evaluation by others, protect information about the self, protect self image (Fogel, 2008, pg 153) .” Fear of being judged is one of the main reasons for privacy control. Some Facebook users, impervious to social criticism, may not care if total strangers view their profile. In many users minds, including my own, the virtual world is separate from the real world. However, it is when these two worlds converge, when the user begins to worry. Employers and school administrators have found ways to obtain passwords into the sub-networks. Therefore, the pictures that were only meant for friends to see, now are being evaluated by potential employers or school officials. Although there are privacy controls, it is naïve to believe that the pictures are totally inaccessible to other people. Furthermore, the virtual identity that a user creates can come in conflict with aspects of reality.
Web 2.0 technology has expanded the boundaries of communication. The advent of social networks, specifically Facebook has had tremendous implications aspects of our society and culture. Facebook has led to globalization, greater interpersonal relationships, empowerment to the group identity and youth culture, changes to organizational procedures, transformations in our democratic system, and decreases in individual privacy. Social networks have bridged many communication gaps that previously existed and increased interaction between people.
Boyd, D. (2008). Danah Boyd on Social Networking and Values. Retrieved December 01, 2008 from Georgetown, Digital Commons: http://digitalcommons.georgetown.edu/blogs/isdyahoofellow/danah-boyd-on-social-networking-and-values/.
Dalsgaard, S. (2008). Facework for Facebook. [Editorial]. Anthropology Today, 24, 8-12.
Fogel, J. (2008). Internet Social Network communities: Risk taking, trust and privacy concerns. [Editorial]. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 153-160.
Leichliter, M. (2008). New Age Globalization. Retrieved December 01, 2008 from Suite 101: http://globalization.suite101.com/article.cfm/new_age_globalization.
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Clark, S. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: Power of Organizing without Organization. New York: Penguin.