As the most widely used and most successful social media website, Facebook provides a platform for friends, family members, instructors, bosses, and strangers to communicate. This opportunity for communication has caused users to express a particular image of themselves in the name of self-promotion. This expression has created numerous privacy issues, and there is no standard practice for handling these problems. The hazy line between privacy and openness on Facebook has caused many people to refrain from connecting to particular friends on Facebook, even when there are benefits to making that connection. How social media will expand from now is only conjecture, but there are ways that social media can be even more fully integrated into people’s lives.
Prior to Facebook, social media websites usually had particular target audiences, whether that was young adults or teenagers or young single adults (Boyd, 216). Even Facebook began as targeting students from one particular college, then college students in general, then everyone (Facebook, 2014). Much of this targeting likely happened for marketing purposes, narrowing down a specific audience and then catering the website to that audience. Today, the largest social media networks have little to no targeting, attempting to encompass every member of the available online network.
In an attempt to impress friends and acquaintances, social media users often cherry-pick their best pictures, post their wittiest thoughts online, and advertise the vibrancy of their social lives as much as possible. Facebook provides an opportunity for a person to create an online identity, an idealized image of the self composed of their favorite pictures, carefully constructed statements, and tags of all of the different events that the presented self attended (Papacharissi, 304-305). The digital self that exists in social media is, therefore, a self-image that the user is attempting to promote online.
One concept which was invented thanks entirely to social media is slacktivism. On social websites such as Facebook, users are convinced to “like or share” content related to current events, charitable causes, and social justice awareness (Facebook, 2014). These posts may spread awareness, but the user is not required to spend more than a second spreading this awareness, and the user also does not need to sacrifice a single dime in the name of the charitable cause. In an article about political Facebook groups, Jose Marichal argues that slacktivism is often used in order to establish the image of a politically involved self, not actually solve any political problems (Marichal, 2013).
One significant difference between social media and social interactions outside of it is that there are no clear lines between friends, family members, and acquaintances. A post or tweet on a social website is just as visible to the poster’s best friend, their grandfather, and the person the poster met only once two years before. As is explained in “A Networked Self,” “the Flexibility of online digital technologies permits interaction and relations among individuals within the same networks or across networks, a variety of exchanges and ties, variable frequency of contact and intimacy, affiliation with smaller or larger, and global or local, networks formed around variable common matter” (Papacharissi, 307). Facebook in particular has made an attempt to filter down specific audiences, making a particular group easily accessible for a user to post to. A user can make a post visible just for family members, or just to people in their city, or any number of select audiences. However, there is still the sense that when a user posts to Facebook, any number of unknown people may read it.
The introduction of a single, widespread social media website, Facebook, has resulted in a lack of privacy that cannot always be characterized as a positive thing. People have lost their jobs for revealing a little too much on Facebook, including seemingly harmless vacation photographs. For example, the former IBM employee, Natalie Blanchard, lost her job for posting pictures while relaxing at the beach on sick leave (Wagman, 149). She was at the beach treating symptoms of depression, and the jealousy of her coworkers upon seeing the photos caused the termination of her sick leave as well as her employment (Wagman, 149). Stories of unforeseen consequences have caused many people to change their privacy settings, delete posts and pictures, and otherwise modify their Facebook profiles (Wagman, 150).
As it stands, Facebook is a network full of gray areas between sharing and privacy. There are no standards for which circles to provide what level of information with, and what information to leave off of social media entirely (Smith, 2010). For example, the introduction of Facebook into the lives of students and their instructors means greater opportunities for remote students, who would otherwise have no way of speaking one-on-one in real-time with their instructors (VanDoorn, 9). In a pool of 1,000 college professors, 80% were found to use social media, and one third reported using social media in order to communicate with their students (Smith, 2010). The idea of adding professors as friends on Facebook is likely a daunting idea to many students, and the level of personal information exchanged in social media may be deemed inappropriate by many professors, but approximately one third of professors have made the leap. The remaining two thirds may eventually begin communicating with their students through social media, or they may choose to leave the boundary where it is.
There was a study in 2011 in which researchers were asked to predict how their means of Internet communication will change in the future (Duke, 22). The study included older forms of communication such as email, as well as newer social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook (Duke, 22). The subjects were asked to predict whether they expected to use each web service more, less, or the same amount in the future (Duke, 22). In all cases, the subjects claimed that they would use each web service about the same amount in the future as in the present (Duke, 22). Most notably, almost all of the subjects said there would be no change in their Facebook and Twitter usage, but a few suggested they would use alternative social websites and email a little more in the future (Duke, 22).
A 2007 article by Tom Gruber argues that the future beyond Web 2.0 is a combination of the social and semantic web in which peoples’ lives and the knowledge they have gained are integrated into a social pool of “collective intelligence” (Gruber, 4). This hasn’t happened yet, but there are hints of the semantic web inside of social media websites such as Facebook. On Facebook, there are links to popular articles from outside news networks in the corner of every page, and there are numerous integrated pages which provide information and insight. Facebook is also notorious for political arguments on the walls of its users, but Facebook friendships rarely survive these encounters (Facebook, 2014).
Facebook, as an outlet for people to reach out to everyone they know, or care to add as friends, is a place where people create and sell an image of themselves. Privacy is important but tricky to retain as horror stories of lost jobs trickle through the news, but the opportunities presented through adding more friends and posting more things are significant as well. The future suggests that social media websites like Facebook may further integrate with the more cerebral parts of the web, and there are signs of this happening already.
- Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007, December 17). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13 (1). Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/
- Duke. (2011, May). Social networking sites and their role in scholarly communications. Centre for Research Communications.
- Gruber, T. (2007, December 8). Collective knowledge sysetems: Where the social web meets the semantic web. Journal of Web Semantics.
- Smith, K. (2010, May 18). Facing the future of social media. Duke University. Retrieved from http://blogs.library.duke.edu/scholcomm/2010/05/18/facing-the-future-of-social-media/
- VanDoorn, G., & Eklund, A. (2013, March 3). Face to Facebook: Social media and the learning and teaching potential of symmetrical, synchronous communication. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice 10 (1). Retrieved from http://ro.uow.edu.au