IF anything characterises the social value of the Internet at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it’s Facebook. The statistics are simply astounding. In September 2011, some 800 million people were accessing it regularly. Eighty percent of these are people under the age of 44. On average, each person has gathered together 130 ‘friends’. See the latest statistics.
But why is Facebook so successful? What does Facebook offer that captures the imagination and contributions of so many people, from such diverse backgrounds, across so many different cultures and countries?
LJ, 22, reckons it’s so you can ‘stalk people’. “You can keep track of people without having to be in contact with them personally”. She adds, “It’s also a gossip machine and where you create a cyber self: you can select those aspects of yourself you wish to display to others. You develop the person you want to be, publicly”. Note, this persona is not the same as your private self.
CD. 25, believes “it cashes in on human vanity. This is the one of the strongest emotion humans have: Facebook fulfils the desire for self-worth and self-importance”.
Some interesting research has been conducted by the Pew Research Center. In their sample, the average Facebook user has 229 Facebook friends. Respondents reported that their friends list contains:
- 22% people from high school.
- 12% extended family.
- 10% coworkers.
- 9% college friends.
- 8% immediate family.
- 7% people from voluntary groups.
- 2% neighbours.
“Over 31% of Facebook friends cannot be classified into these categories. However, only 3% of Facebook friends are people users have never met in person, and only 7% are people who have met only one time. The remainder is friends-of-friends and social ties that are not currently active relationships, but “dormant” ties that may, at some point in time, become an important source of information”.
In other words, the Facebook group predominantly reflects the real: it’s not generally used as a space to create new (virtual) relationships.
The friends group is central. When I establish a Facebook friends group, I am the leader of the group. It’s my group (something I may not be able to create in real life). I am at the centre (actually or perceived). My importance / value / status / popularity is shown by the number of friends I accumulate. I can also exclude others from joining the group (it’s intentionally elitist in this way). What I reveal publicly is generally not work-related (although I may whinge about it); it’s about my personal activities (travel, parties, hobbies, events, interests, etc). The (selected) photos I post are evidence of my fun-loving and fun-filled life style. When I find interesting / funny things on the net (YouTube), I share these with my friends. I use Facebook to activate my friendship network – to come to a party or follow a social cause. Facebook is the means to manage my (real) social network.
It’s a reflection on the “window’ of my multifaceted embodied self.
Then let’s tease out some positive aspects of the Facebook value system:
- it teaches us the importance of friends and networks
- it builds on the human trait that we are all essentially social animals, by encouraging us to form relationships and develop networks (connectivity)
- it motivates us to communicate and share with others
- it encourages proactive behaviour: nothing happens unless I do it
- it encourages us to self-promote and develop self-esteem
- it encourages positivism: our public persona reveals the strengths in our character and behaviour
- it mitigates hierarchy.
Educationists have never had much success using Facebook as a serious educational tool. Students have strongly resisted this, as they view the use of it in this way as an intrusion into their personal space. Even when institutions have attempted to replicate a Facebook-type closed system, this also has been overwhelmingly rejected.
It is more instructive to analyse the values system inherent in Facebook, and look to how education / training can draw from these values and replicate them.