Humanity as we know it has always been, in their natural state, relatively social creatures. In fact, the survival and the success of the human race are in no small part due to the sociology between people. Having said that, in contemporary society online social media is arguably the most socio-culturally significant movement of the 21st century. The purpose of this report is to overview and analyze the most popular (and therefore most socially significant in this context) social media website/ platform- Facebook. We begin by providing an overview and background into the beginnings of Facebook from an idea, as a program, into a movement. The mechanics of the platform will be analyzed and discussed in association to several key concepts. And finally, a discussion to its popularity will be addressed. We also analyze Facebook’s role in a political situation, the uprisings and revolutions in the Arab Spring; the impact of Facebook and how it changed the situation from previous political situations.
Facebook… The fact that I could have stopped elaborating right then and there speaks volumes for the presence this social media goliath has in our day to day life. Facebook is, by definition, an online social networking service (SNS), whose name was cultivated from a jargon term given to a book handed out to students at the start of each academic year by university administrations in the United States to encourage students to get to know each other (Eldon, 2008). It was founded on February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with his roommates and fellow Harvard University students Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Chris Hughes and Dustin Moskovitz (Carlson, 2010). In the beginning, membership was limited by the founders_to only students from the University of Harvard, but expansion occurred, stretching it to other colleges in the Boston area, the Ivy League, and Stanford University. It gradually garnered support for students at various other universities before it opened to high school students, and eventually to anyone_aged 13 and over. Facebook now allows any users who declare themselves to be at least 13 years old to become registered users of the site. As of 2012, Facebook cemented itself as the most visited website on the internet, boasting an 845 million user base worldwide. The number of people using Facebook is continuing to grow in every country where Facebook is made available, except in the United States of America, where there was a slim decline from 2011 to 2012. But, even given this decline, around 50% of the US population has a Facebook account. Australia has shared a similar level of use, and the number of Facebook users here is continuing to increase.
Facebook Mechanics/ Building Blocks
The identity functional block represents the degree to which users of social media reveal their identities. This may include disclosing information like their names, age, profession, gender, and also information that give light to the nature of said individuals in certain ways.
Initially, the only information asked of you is you provide your name, email, wanted password, date of birth, and your gender on the Facebook sign up page. Not dissimilar to its social networking website predecessors such as Friendster and Myspace (Figure 1.1). Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) explained that the presentation of a user’s identity can often occur through the conscious or unconscious “self- disclosure” of subjective information such as thoughts, feelings,likes, and dislikes. Almost as if to admit to the subscription to this theory, Facebook has implemented “like” buttons to all aspects of their sharing mediums (images, text, and videos).
Almost instantly you are asked to fill in further details about yourself ranging from your high school, where you went to university, who your employer is, what is your current city, where is your hometown etc. pouring more of your identity within the social media ecosystem (Figure 1.3). And finally, you are encouraged to add a number of interests you have and upload a profile picture, thus your Facebook account it created.
One major implication of pouring so much of ones identity into Facebook is the issue of privacy. Having covered all 3 major media platforms (video, images, and text) within its website also means a potential privacy infringement on multiple fronts. Information that secondary firms would value for data mining and surveillance (Kietzmann & Angell, 2010).
The communications building block of the whole social media jigsaw puzzle centers on how users communicate with one and another. Without a doubt a social media website would be a detrimental failure should it not facilitate communication between its users. Facebook facilitates communication between its users in two ways:
1. Instant messaging
2. Wall Posts; Unlike instant messaging which only those inside the conversation can see, wall post are generally observed by everybody in your friends list either via visiting your wall or through their streaming newsfeed of all actions performed by their friends (unless adjusted otherwise in your settings). Students of Freudian’s psychological theories could argue that Facebook does this to make it easier for their subscribers to present their “ideal” selves to the rest of the world with their wall posts while preserving their “actual” selves only between a select few via private instant messaging.
3.Sharing; The sharing aspect of Facebook is in essence what makes it a social media platform. Having the ability to share media in every medium from text, to images, to videos, differentiates Facebook to other social media websites such as Vine, twitter, and Flickr. Sharing represents the extent to which users change, distribute, and receiver content. The term “social” often connotes exchanges between people. Over the years Facebook has facilitated the sharing aspect of its website exponentially. From the previously described sharing and exchange of texts and “comments”, to the images and videos from your Facebook friends, all of which have the tool to “tag” other identities to (figure1.6).
The ability to Tag people in your photos, videos, and texts- is arguably the most crucial aspect of letting your presence be known in the Facebook ecosystem. The Presence building block represents the extent to which users can know if other users are accessible. It includes knowing where others are, in the virtual world and/or in the real world, and whether they are available. Facebook once again have gone through great lengths into innovating on this front. Not only will Facebook notify you if your instant messages have been seen by the person you were sending it to- but it also allows users to “check in” to the geographical locations that they are currently in, in essence showing everyone on your friends list exactly where you are.
Types of Relationships on Facebook
The type of relationships Facebook fosters are varied, however because you use your real name and real details it ideally fosters relationships with people that you have met in real life. Since the average Victorian has on average “253” Facebook friends or followers, it’s unlikely that all of these people are our close friends or relatives rather people we have meet once or twice. (Lowe, 2012) Baym wrote that in the students that were surveyed out of 229 Facebook ‘friends’ only 72 of them were real life friends. (Baym, 2010 Pg.134) Hence, people that we may have otherwise meet once in our lives or that we went to high school with, on Facebook become a daily part of our lives via our “Timelines” and are able to instantly contact us via personal messages. Due to this fact, it was found that rather than meeting people online
Facebook is used for ‘friendship maintenance’ and your ability to communicate with all of the users acquaintances at once. (Baym, 2010. Pg.135)
Managing your Reputation on Facebook
A user may strictly control their own reputation on Facebook by controlling the photographs that they are ‘tagged’ in or the posts on their wall. However we may not be able to control everything, as Solove points out reputation contributes deciding factors of our lives; from which we make friends with to whether or not we will be employed. (Solove, 2008. Pg.103)
Due to our reputations being exposed on Facebook we may micromanage our profiles, it had been seen that Facebook encourages a type of digital narcissism among susceptible users. It is noted in an article in Psychology Today that “The problem is that Facebook gives us a limited view of our friends’ lives, and that view tends to be unrealistically positive.” (Williams, 2013). It is also explained that due to this we have the tendency to overestimate others positive experiences and happiness. (Williams 2013) If the user has low self-esteem they are more likely to post negatively about themselves, experiences and friends therefore we are more likely to view them in a more negative way. (Williams 2013)
Groups on Facebook
There are two types of groups on Facebook. Private or Public Groups that have members, that can share information, photographs and can comment and ‘Pages’ that anyone can ‘Like’ or comment on. Facebook groups can be used so small groups of people with a similar interest or hobby can communicate with each other, or alternatively they could be used as a business tool.
Similarly ‘Liked’ pages can be used for marketing purposes, using the administrator account on a like page you are able to see the average age range of participants who like your page and the ‘reach’ of your posts and messages. (Facebook, 2013) Companies or organizations with ‘Liked’ pages are also about to pay Facebook for advertising to divert traffic to their page through like-minded interests. Once ‘Liked’ the organization’s message reach becomes much larger.
Facebook and the Arab Springs Facebook and other social medias have contributed to political situations in the past couple of years. A recent situation where Facebook has contributed to politics is the revolutions surrounding the Arab Springs, including Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. It was found that when the protests took place in Egypt and Tunisia, 88% of people in Egypt and 94 % of people in Tunisia (out of 200 surveyed) said that they were getting their information and news from social media sites. (Huang, 06/06/2011) When you compare this to other types of media, including non-government owned media (63% of people in Egypt and 86% of people in Tunisia) and foreign media (57% of people in Egypt and 48% of people in Tunisia) the impact of social medias can be seen. (Huang, 06/06/2011) Although Facebook’s penetration into these areas has been much debated, its use to spread messages of protests and meetings, to organize and to update and spread news about developments in the area
In an interview with BBC Correspondent Paul Mason, he said that
“New media are obviously important in circumventing police repression and armed activity… small groups were able to bring out tens of thousands of poor people who can’t read by organising groups of up to five people to go to the same place using texting and social media.”
(Else, 06/02/2012) Although revolution has happened for hundreds of years and is likely to happen for hundreds of years social media helps spread the news and organize groups much more quickly than traditional media ever could. The Arab Social Media Report found that 9 out of 10 Egyptians and Tunisians surveyed were using Facebook to organize protests or spread awareness about them. (Huang, 06/06/2011) Social Media is able to spread images of the revolution and decipher propaganda that is spread by the government, they lack control over social media, this was also deployed by Occupy movements around the globe last year. (Else, 06/02/2012) A specific reported example was after the death of Mohamed Bouazizi huge protests took place in Tunisia and many of them were killed, a video was shot in front of a hospital and posted online of a protester lying dead with his brains spilling out onto the ground. (Rosen 03/09/2011) This video was reposted, shared and re-blogged on Facebook, You Tube and other social medias spreading “revolution” through North Africa and the Middle East. (Rosen 03/09/2011)
The impact of Facebook on the Arab Spring has been hotly debated, David Malone, a Canadian Specialist on International Relations has stated that the area was “ripe” for revolution. (Huffington Post, 23/09/2012) But Molone also suggests that the governments may not have had control over the information that has leaked out. (Huffington Post,
23/09/2012) In opposition to what Malone has stated, the government have formerly been able to control traditional media sources; television, newspaper and the radio where as social media and other sources are far more difficult for the government to control. According to Wired.com, although social media did help organize and mobilize revolutionaries it did not create a stable government or a safe environment for its citizens, in Egypt nobody predicted that the elimination of their former President and lead to Egypt’s biggest Islamic party, The Muslim Brotherhood to be elected.
Despite whether or not you agree or use Facebook in your life, social media is a continuing and evolving part of our world. It’s application, “friends”, tagging, group and other mechanisms will evolve or decidedly influence future social media phenomena and the ways in which we use them. The ways in which we socialize with our friends, whether that be through wall posts, personal messages or a commenting on a photo, the ways in which we interact with others has changed significantly. You can look up and keep in contact with someone you met once 10 years ago or went to Primary School with, rather than forget about them. Hence our relations with others have changed indefinitely regardless of there outcomes. As defined above Facebook not only changes our relationships and friendships but influences our political climate as well. It enables us to send news, photographs and events instantaneously without the restrictions and inaccessibility of traditional media. Even if you hate, loathe or love social media, its is now ingrained and apart of our society, how it will evolve is yet to be seen, but it seems to be here to stay.
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