My Face on Space Book
Maintaining a notion upheld the length of human history, human beings are naturally social. According to the 2009 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word social is defined as: “the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society; tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others or one’s kind.” Therefore, as human beings, the necessity to be social enhances the well-being not solely of one’s self but of the others composing society. Paraphrased from Michael Tomasello’s text Origins of Human Communication, human collaboration and communication are motivated by the needs of helping and sharing: humans interact through speech to ask for help, give information to others regarding things helpful, and share attitudes in order to bond within their cultural community. In order to socialize, we have developed advanced and intricate systems of communication. From the earliest evidence of human life to the technologically-laden twenty-first century, communication has ranged from simple non-verbal exchange procedures to lengthy conversations and communication on an immense scale through various forms of media. Although media allows for an interminable amount of uses, it is appropriate to argue that the foundation of media creation was the need for mass communication. More specifically, the ability to deliver a message from one medium to another, ranging in form, content, importance, and purpose. The first operation of the internet for example, although created for military purposes, was to send a message from the University of California-Los Angeles to Sanford University.
An aspect of human sociality that has advanced apace with the various systems of communication is the human ability to utilize communication for self-expression, exchanging ideas, and group organization. With the advent of the computer and development of the internet, self-assertion and group collaboration has found a new medium in which to flow. In a sense, self-expression lost for those with an inability to communicate successfully with society has been restored. An example of this notion, strongly supporting the restoration of lost self-expression, can found in Vermillion, Hannafin, and Whitescarver’s article “Using Technology to Promote Expression and Self-Concept”. In discussing the notion of the effect an individual can have on the world and its dependency on the individual’s ability to communicate with society, the authors present the following assertion:
To appreciate the riches that individuals with disabilities can offer when able to communicate ideas, one need merely bear in mind that the immense contributions to quantum physics made by Stephen Hawking, afflicted with the complications of ALS since the age of 21, were only possible with the aid of an adapted computer and a voice synthesizer (22-23).
Additionally, in their article of technological support and the computer’s ability to give a voice to those lacking speech, Vermillion, Hannafin, and Whitescarver transcribe Joy Nightingale’s discovery of her disabilities caused by Apraxia, losing the ability to speak. Nightingale divulges, “I cried long and bitter tears the day I realized I was disabled but since my disability mutes my voice, no one new the significance of the day to me”(1997). An emotional response such as this, illuminates the importance of self-expression. As a result of computer technology, individuals like Nightingale, Hawking, and others around the world have been given a voice, allowing the sharing of information and ideas, emotions and feelings. However, it is not solely those with intense disabilities that are effected, but rather the individual technically described as “healthy”, possessing fears of or anxiety toward person-to-person communication. The computer may provide this individual with a safe arena to express their self.
Furthermore, these individuals have been given an environment in which they are able to join and form groups that may have otherwise been nonexistent. Nothing illuminates the limitless potential of mass communication through self-expression and communal organization as social networking sites. These virtual spaces of interaction have attracted millions of people throughout the world, ranging in sex, age, nationality, political affiliation, religion, economic status, and education level. Many of these individuals have incorporated these sites such as Facebook and MySpace in their daily activities, embedding them deeply in their lives, and rearranging priorities to fulfill their social networking needs. As a result of their dominant presence in the lives of hundreds-of-millions of people inhabiting the earth, scholars have deeply analyzed these sites in an attempt to find meaning, unravel their implications and effects on society and the individual, and come to conclusions regarding the benefits and disadvantages of social networking site usage. Similarly, this paper will analyze the most widely used social networking sites, Facebook and MySpace. To develop a thorough understanding of each, this essay will detail both sites, exploring their onset and development and technological features and applications. Proceeding this foundation of facts, we will examine the individuals utilizing these sites, the amount of time engaged with them, and the effects of large scale virtual interaction. As Danah Boyd acknowledges in her article “MySpace Vs. Facebook: A Digital Enactment of Class-Based Social Categories Amongst American Teenager”, social networking sites are creating a cultural divide among users in the virtual world where “race and gender and socioeconomic status . . . matter”. Thus, we will study this interesting division between users of Facebook and users of MySpace. To conclude, with the accumulation of facts and personal accounts, this essay will list the positive and negative effects these sites have on today’s youth and the possible opportunities for utilizing social networking sites in the classroom as a tool for learning.
To begin our inquiry into the world of social network sites, it is appropriate to start with a definition. Danah Boyd, of the University of California-Berkeley, and Nicole Ellison, of Michigan State University, define social network sites as follows:
web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site (“Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”).
This definition highlights an important aspects of these sites. Although meeting new people and networking with strangers is possible, Facebook and MySpace more importantly allow their users to create a virtual and palpable representation of the social network they have attained, whether in the world outside of the computer or within. Many of the individuals utilizing these sites, do not attempt to convert strangers to friends but make contact with individuals whom they are familiar with in the “real world”. If an individual meets someone new, it is often an acquaintance of an individual with whom they are already “friends”.
Although there are hundreds of social network sites presently in operation, offering a multitude of technical applications, the majority share many commonalities. With regards to Facebook and MySpace, when an individual joins, they create a profile and in doing so, as Jenny Sundens coins in her text Virtual Materialities, they “type themselves into being”. From this profile, they are able to connect with those whom they are familiar and make new friends. A profile consists of information such as a name or pseudonym, photographs, age, hometown, gender, ethnicity, religion, likes and dislikes, and other personal information. In order to acquire friends or contacts, an individual sends a friend request to another that may choose to accept or decline the request. When two individuals becomes friends, if their profiles are set to “private”(privacy and security discussed later), they are granted access to each others page, able to post comments and communicate in a more publicly viewed arena than that of messaging. On an individual’s profile is a list of their friends displayed publicly. Therefore, an individual granted access to another’s page is able to examine their list of friends and expand their personal list of friends through acquisition of friends referenced from the other’s page.
After developing an awareness of the aspects of social networking sites, we turn our focus to the first virtual network and specific sites. According to Boyd and Ellison, “the first recognizable social network site launched in 1997. SixDegrees.com allowed users to create profiles, list their Friends and, beginning in 1998, surf the Friends lists.” SixDegrees.com was the first site that allowed users to create profiles and present their list of friends, a crucial element for the success of sites whose users’ goals are self-assertion and friend acquisition. The main goal of this site was to allow individuals to communicate easily and meet new individuals. However, the site failed in 2000, claiming to be too advanced for its time, paving the way for the onslaught of sites yet to come, more apt for success in a generation more familiar with the computer (Boyd).
In 2003, MySpace was created by Tom Anderson in Santa Monica, California while working for eUniverse. According to the MySpace website, the company is identified as:
http://www.myspace.coma technology company connecting people through personal expression, content, and culture. MySpace empowers its global community to experience the Internet through a social lens by integrating personal profiles, photos, videos, mobile, messaging, games, and the world’s largest music community. MySpace is a division of News Corporation (www.myspace.com/pressroom?url=/fact+sheet/).
One aspect of MySpace that the company greatly emphasizes is its music community; a community that Facebook has yet to or does not strive to thoroughly explore. Although the site was not created simply for bands, “Indie-rock bands from the Los Angeles region began creating profiles, and local promoters used MySpace to advertise VIP passes for popular clubs. Intrigued, MySpace contacted local musicians to see how they could support them”(Boyd and Ellison). Thus a relationship between MySpace and music was born, both utilizing each other for promotion in an attempt to grow. According to Danah Boyd in her article “Why Youth Heart Social Networking Sites,” “when young music aficionados learned that their favorite bands had profiles on MySpace, they began checking out the site.” Once a member, an individual is allowed to search the multitude of music profiles. From said profiles, users are able to listen to songs and apply them to their page. As a result, when friends log on to view a profile, not only do they encounter the pages visual elements but also an audio dynamic as well. The result of this interaction is band exposure through user profiles and the users forge stronger identities through an affiliation with certain bands. As Boyd submits in her article, “music is cultural glue among youth . . . Given the degree to which youth are active participants in music subcultures, it is not surprising that MySpace attracted young fans.” In other words, musical taste is an important aspect of youth interaction. On MySpace, users can search for music, display their musical preference, and meet others with similar likings.
Another aspect contributing to the growth of MySpace is the user ability to freely customize their profile. This personal profile creation was allowed on MySpace because the site, “did not restrict users from adding HTML into the forms that framed their profiles; a copy/paste code culture emerged on the web to support users in generating unique MySpace backgrounds and layouts”(Boyd and Ellison). Rather than a dull, black-and-white web page wherein an individual is solely allowed to express themself through text, MySpace allowed users to create “virtual bedrooms” of bright colors, loud music, photographs and digital graphics (Boyd). These “virtual bedrooms” paint a more vivid picture of who an individual is or trying to be.
According to Mike Thelwall in his study on MySpace and its member’s profiles, entitled “Social Networks, Gender, and Friending: An Analysis of Myspace Member Profiles”, “In 2007 the social networking Web site MySpace . . . overthrew Google as the most visited Web site for U.S. Web users.” However, in the past two years leading up to this paper, Facebook has overthrown MySpace as top-used social site in the United States. In December of 2008, Facebook had 108.3 million users globally compared to MySpace with a total of 81 million users (ComputerWeekly.com). According to Facebook.com’s statistics page, as of November, 2009, the site has more than 300 million active users. Of these 300 million, more than 50% log on to Facebook everyday and worldwide, more than eight billion minutes are spent on the site. These staggering numbers greatly validate a thorough study of Facebook.
As the popularity of social networking sites began to greatly increase, more were created in an attempt to target specific demographics. In 2004, Facebook was created by Mark Zuckerburg who currently serves as its Chief Executive Officer (facebook.com). Mark attended Harvard University and began the site as an in-house Harvard site, solely accessed through a user’s possession of a harvard.edu email address. However, this exclusion did not last long, as “Facebook began supporting other schools, those users were also required to have university email addresses associated with those institutions, a requirement that kept the site relatively closed and contributed to users’ perceptions of the site as an intimate, private community” (Boyd and Ellison). Yet, as the company began to grow, gaining stronger popularity, in 2005, Facebook allowed any individual with an internet connection access to their site and ability to create a profile. Similar to the description of MySpace, Facebook is defined as:
a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people’s real-world social connections. Anyone can sign up for Facebook and interact with the people they know in a trusted environment (http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?factsheet).
One aspect of the site that Facebook illuminates, in differentiation from MySpace, is the privacy offered to its users. Presently, Facebook leads the virtual social networking industry in allotting users with the necessary devices giving control to users of their information. This allows individuals to be more restrictive in whom they share themselves with. Furthermore, users of Facebook are “unable to make their full profiles public to all users” (Boyd and Ellison). Therefore, Facebook has developed a more trustworthy reputation than MySpace.
Another dominant element of facebook that users view automatically when logging on to their home page is the “News Feed.” When an individual posts a comment, photo, or video on their “friend’s” page, that comment is displayed on the News Feed for all in their network to see. Furthermore, when an individual befriends another, that friendship is posted on the news feed as well. Although users may feel this blemishes the privacy supported by Facebook, users are fully aware that what they post will be displayed on others’ home pages. This aspect points to the notion of social network users’ desire to “type themselves into being”, which is the foundation upon which Facebook “Status Updates” were created (Sundens). Status Updates are like “twittering” through the Facebook medium where users are stimulated to answer the following question: “What are you doing right now?” The fact that the answers to this question are not “Typing on the computer” or “Updating my status” but rather “Going to the Gym,” reveals unique insights into individual need for self-assertion or justification in a group setting. In the fast-paced, ever-evolving, chaotic world of the twenty-first century, individuals and their actions can be overlooked or forgotten. With Facebook’s introduction of Status Updates, users are able to create tangible representations of their actions and feelings, fully aware that others will read about them, and taking ownership of these things in the process. In this sense, the individual grows stronger through group interaction. Put differently, Status Updates bring attention to aspects of a person’s life that may have otherwise been lost in impalpability.
Prior to detailing the types of users on these sights and the cultural divide being created as a result, it is important to examine the amount of privacy users possess when on these sites and the level of trust individuals exercise on-line. In detailing the issue of privacy and trust, we will illuminate reasons as to why some users choose Facebook and why others, MySpace.
As defined in the 2009 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, trust is an”assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; something committed or intrusted to one to be used or cared for in the interest of another.” As a result, trust is vital to the interaction between two or more individuals where information is shared. In the process of sharing information, new relationships are formed. Thus, we can conclude, in the arena of online social networking sites, where personal information is shared in an attempt to connect with others, trust is an important trait for sites like Facebook and Myspace to develop. In order to develop a level of trust, these companies have created privacy features that users either have to accept, may choose to accept, or completely disregard. When individuals interact online, they are surrounded by millions of “strangers” whom they can either make connections with, greatly publicizing their information, or avoid, keeping this information private. This choice guides many individuals through the selection process of a social networking site. Therefore, the level of concern for privacy Facebook and MySpace possess is important for this study.
As explained previously in this essay, Facebook began in the college system and expanded from there. This foundation of authenticity is reflected in the greater amount of trust users have for this site. Conversely, as noted in the article “Trust and Privacy Concern within Social Networking Sites”, ” MySpace . . . has a poor reputation in terms of trust. Schools have attempted to prohibit their students’ use of the site, and law enforcement officials allege that MySpace is used by sexual predators to lure teenagers“( Dwyer, Hiltz, and Passerini). To further illuminate Facebook’s concern for privacy, when an individual creates an account, their profile is private by default, no matter the user’s age. In order for other users to view their personal information, they must be approved as friends. In contradiction, in order for a MySpace profile to be private, an individual must actively set their account to private if they are eighteen or above. In Similarity, if user profiles on both sites are set to private, only friends can access personal information. With regards to the minimum age qualification for site access, both sites restrict individuals under the age of thirteen. In the important study by Dwyer, Hiltz, and Passerini, in which they questioned 117 subjects, they were able to come to an insightful conclusion:
Subjects from Facebook and MySpace expressed similar levels of concern regarding internet privacy. Facebook members were more trusting of the site and its members, and more willing to include identifying information in their profile. Yet, MySpace members were more active in the development of new relationships (9).
From this conclusion, it is appropriate to suggest that Facebook, viewed as more trustworthy, is aimed at individuals with the desire to connect with people whom they already know. Conversely, MySpace, seen as less private, is geared toward the user wanting to make new connections and explore their virtual world. This conclusion easily lends itself to life outside of the computer. If an individual is more private, they may tend to eliminate the possible of acquiring new friends. If an individual is more willing to share their self with others, exposing their self more freely, they have the possibility of developing relationships with new people.
After detailing both of these sights, it is important to examine the individuals using social networking sites, the effect these sites have on them, and the class division created by Facebook and MySpace. An important role of social networking sites in today’s society is the formation of identity. As noted in the article “Gender, Identity, and Language Use in Teenage Blogs,” identity is “characterized in terms of one’s interpersonal characteristics, such as self-definition or personality traits, the roles and relationships one takes on in various interactions, and one’s personal values or moral beliefs”(Calvert & Huffaker). Individuals develop a sense of who they are during adolescence. In the 21st Century, the arenas in which adolescents develop have greatly increased, specifically through online forums. As a result of the dominant existence of social networking sites in society, youth who have developed with the presence of these sites have created their identity apace with the creation of their online self. As acknowledged previously, an individual must be thirteen in order to create a profile on MySpace and Facebook. According to Calvert and Huffaker, “The most pronounced search for identity in the adolescent years generally begins with puberty.” Although puberty occurs at various ages among youth, during this time of significant identity search individuals are beginning to create profiles. Therefore, many utilize these sites to define who they are. More clearly, youth are provided with a platform on which to write about themselves and reflect upon their revelations.
The relationship between social networking sites and identity is explored in Danah Boyd’s article, “Why Youth (Heart) Social Networking Sites : The Role of Networked Publics in Youth Social Life .” In this essay, the author attempts to answer why youth participate in social networks and the effects of these virtual spaces on youth identity. The article begins with a statement from an eighteen-year-old interviewee named Skyler, whom explains to her mom: “If you’re not on MySpace, you don’t exist.” This statement reveals an important question: “If you do not social network online, do you exist?” Apparently, in the minds of some, you do not. Therefore, the necessity to create an online profile is apparent.
Although identity creation is an important aspect of participating in a social networking site, the motives of youth engagement greatly vary. In order to participate, individuals must have internet access. According to Boyd’s article, “in 2004, PEW found that 87% of teenagers aged 12-17 have some level of Internet access. In a study conducted in late 2006, they found that 55% of online teens aged 12-17 have created profiles on social network sites with 64% of teens 15-17.” It is appropriate to assume that this number has greatly risen sense PEW’s survey. Although participation is seen as “cool” by many, the underlying factor of youth engagement is the ability to stay connected with friends. Furthermore, individuals join these sites “for entertainment; social voyeurism passes time while providing insight into society at large”(Boyd, “Why Youth (Heart) Social Networking Sites” ). In order to counteract being bored, sites like MySpace and Facebook provide youth with a social activity. However, it is appropriate to argue that an upheaval in boredom is created through the large amount of social site usage. Boredom is subjective. It is a state of mind that occurs when an individual has a lack of activities or is disinterested in the surrounding options. An individual is bored when they are not using MySpace or Facebook simply because they are a user of these sights. With constant access to social networking sites and the ease at which such access is achieved, with a slight onset of boredom, an individual may quickly jump to Facebook or MySpace rather than exploring alternate options. However, when on a cross-country road trip, possessing a Smart Phone providing internet access, the choice to defeat monotony by “logging on” is easy.
A final reason why youth participate in social networking sites is to escape their highly structured lives and parents reinforcing the structure. According to Boyd, “The power that adults hold over youth explains more than just complications in identity performance; it is the root of why teenagers are on MySpace in the first place.” As a result of the negative connotations of being lazy, culture has forced youth and their parents to develop extremely busy schedules. In the paper entitled “Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis from the Good Play Project”, its authors explore this notion further, exemplifying a busy life as an inhibitor of identity development. In regards to adolescence, the authors write:
the length of time and spaces available to them for exploration may also be disappearing. Adolescence today involves more pressures, related to schoolwork, extra-curricular activities, and college admissions, than it did . . . the moratorium is being cut short by the highstakes pressures facing today’s youth. It seems that adolescents have decreasing amounts of time and space to explore their identities (James, Davis, Flores, Francis, Pettingill, Rundell, Gardner, 14)
However, as the pressures of adolescent life escalate, they do so in parallel with new digital media development. Therefore, individuals are being provided with new forums to explore themselves. More clearly explained, with access to the internet, “freed from the physical, social, and economic constraints of ‘real life’ . . . individuals can experiment with multiple identities in an environment that is perceived to be ‘low-stakes’”(14). As one can conclude, it is self-exploration, robbed from adolescents in the “real world”, that drives individuals to social networking sites.
However, in order to develop a thorough exploration of the sites Facebook and MySpace, it is important to highlight their negative effects as well, followed appropriately by an analysis of the class divisions these sights are creating. As previously observed, a dominant element in social networking online is identity creation and self-reflection. However, when an individual creates an online identity greatly dissimilar to their self in the “real world”, it can be extremely harmful to their maturation and human development. By creating and embodying an “other” self online while simultaneously identifying with one’s true self outside of the virtual world, an individual betrays the responsibility of developing a clear, autonomous self. According to Erikson, in Identity, Youth, and Crisis, paraphrased in the text “Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media “, ” the ultimate goal of an adolescent’s identity explorations is a coherent, unitary sense of self, not a series of fragmented identities”(18). Facebook and MySpace, where users are allowed to create these alternate identities, threaten the unitary self, possibly aiding in its division.
To further the discussion of self-expression on social network sights, it is important to examine the content individuals are presenting on their profiles. A recent poll conducted by Common Sense Media and featured in the Los Angeles Times in August, 2009, surveyed over 1000 teens regarding their participation on FaceBook and MySpace and produced the following results: “37% of teens said they used social networks to make fun of other students . . .13% of teens said they posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves . . .28% of teens posted personal information that they normally would not have revealed in public”. Although bullying or ridiculing are common elements of teenage life, the virtual worlds of social networking sites have provided teens with more opportunity to execute ill conduct and provide personal information otherwise withheld.
At the current college generation, studied in the article “Examining Student’s Intended Image on Facebook: ‘What Were They Thinking!?’”, students’ actions in the “real world” are being dictated to some degree by the image they wish to present on their profiles. In the article, the authors explain that “alcohol and risky sexual behavior tend to be a big part of college life and are even considered as a right of passage for some incoming freshman . . . The desire to be socially accepted is what appears to be promoting individuals to engage in such behavior”(Karl, Peluchette, 2). The desire of social acceptance manifests on the individuals online profiles, prompting them to post comments, pictures, or videos detailing this behavior. In order to appear “wild or as someone who likes to party”, it can be argued that students participate in these activities in the “real world” so that they may have material to post online, creating a desired virtual image (Karl, Peluchette, 2). The positive and negative aspects of social networking sites are numerous and currently being interpreted. Whether beneficial or detrimental, this paper proceeds to discuss the division among social lines these two sites are creating.
It is apparent that the online social world mirrors the real world. In the world outside of the computer, you have regions divided into neighborhoods, separated by race, divided by class and economic status, and parted by lifestyle choices. Thus, when individuals begin using these social networking sites, they are bringing these divisions with them, interacting in ways similar to their real worlds. Social media researcher Danah Boyd has dedicated much of her time to the study of online social interactions and states, “inequality persists online in all sorts of nefarious forms. We know that not all access is created equal . . . We know that race and gender and other categories are visible in new forms online. We know that issues of social capital and cultural capital extend to the digital environment”(2009). Facebook and MySpace are competitors providing various features and applications. As a result, some users will choose the former while others will opt for the latter, being a matter of personal preference. Furthermore, the majority of those utilizing these sites do so in an attempt to stay connected with those whom they are familiar with in the real world. Therefore, if an individual has more friends utilizing Facebook, this will be the clear choice. Many individuals have developed profiles on both sites, using one more greatly than other or addressing both with equality.
The divisions being created on each can partially be attributed to the history of each site and early patterns of adoption. As previously mentioned, Facebook was created by an individual attending Harvard and circulated the Ivy League system prior to spreading to the rest of the world. As a result, you have individuals like Halie Pacheco, interviewed by National Public Radio in October, 2009 stating, “No one uses MySpace . . . [Facebook’s] safer and more high class” (npr.org). Conversely, MySpace began in Los Angeles and spread to musicians first. Thus, youth flocked to the site in order to listen to their favorite artists and exchange tastes. As a result, Anindita, a 17-year-old from Los Angeles interviewed by Danah Boyd, submits, “Facebook’s easier than MySpace but MySpace is more complex. You can add things to it. You can add music, make backgrounds and layouts, but Facebook is just plain white and that’s it”(Boyd, 2009). As Facebook and Myspace have grown in popularity, divisions began to occur. These social divisions were created by individual choices that reflect patterns in the formation of classes in America. These developed separations “are not cleanly based on socioeconomic factors, but those are there. The divisions are not cleanly based on race, but raced-based categories are unequally represented in each cluster. These divisions are not cleanly based on “lifestyle” but patterns of taste and cultural capital are present” (Boyd, 2009). After thoroughly studying the separations that exist and will continue to occur, a general conclusion has been developed regarding the varying participation of the two sites. According to Penny Eckert from her text “Jocks and Burnouts,” paraphrased by Danah Boyd:
Those who are drawn to Facebook are more likely to represent privileged, educated, stronger socioeconomic backgrounds. They are more likely to be respectful of adult society and more likely to connect with adults who hold power over them. Those drawn to MySpace are more likely to come from immigrant families and from poorer, urban communities. They are more likely to be resistant to normative value and affiliate with subcultures. Of course those divisions are not clean and a good number of teens straddle both worlds (“MySpace Vs. Facebook. . .”, 2009).
Whether Facebook of MySpace exacerbate social divisions or simply maintain the status quo is yet to fully be explored. However, it is clear that the presence of these sites will remain in the lives of its users for many years to come.
Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are in extremely widespread use, ranging in the hundreds of millions of users. Therefore, these web 2.0 applications deserve a large amount of scrutiny from the academic platform. More importantly, scholars should analyze the possible implications social networking sites have for classroom usage. T his paper will focus on Facebook’s possible educational use in the university setting as it has been adopted more widely by students at college level.
In Neil Selwyn’s article “‘Screw Blackboard. . . Do it on Facebook’: An Investigation of Students’ Educational Use of Facebook”, he presents a study that took place at Coalsville University School in the United Kingdom that analyzed the Facebook postings related to education. Once the analysis was concluded “five main themes emerged from the data: recounting and reflecting on the university experience; exchange of practical information; exchange of academic information; displays of supplication and/or disengagement; and exchanges of humour and nonsense”(Selwyn, 8). After exploring these themes with great scrutiny, Selwyn was able to ascertain certain conclusions. For example, the author explains that “Facebook has become an important site for the informal, cultural learning of being a student, with online interactions and experiences allowing rules to be learnt, values understood, and identities shaped”(18). Rather than what can be an intimidating and formal classroom environment, Facebook provides a nonthreatening situation in which to share classroom ideas comfortably and freely. Furthermore, Selwyn notes that the date collected proposes that Facebook has been “established as a prominent arena where students can become versed in the ‘identity politics’ of being a student – a space where the role conflict that students often experience in their relationships with university work, teaching staff, academic conventions . . . can be worked through”(19). This dissolving of conflict is crucial as it allows an important element of individual development: the ability to develop one’s self apace with the development of their education. If an individual identifies with the self that their education is molding and shaping, they will retain more of the information presented because with it they will identify.
Therefore, it is clearly justifiable to incorporate Facebook into the classroom. Thus, we must provide an example of Facebook’s educational use. According to Daloz, Keen, Keen, and Parks, in Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World, written eight years prior to Facebook’s creation, the commons “is a place where the diverse parts of a community could come together and hold a conversation with a shared sense of participation and responsibility”(1996). This “shared sense of participation and responsibility” is the main goal of classroom education, often difficult to achieve as a result of student anxiety or nervousness. However, if Facebook is utilized with discretion in the college-level classroom as a student and teacher interaction tool, student engagement may greatly increase. It is important, however, to consider the possibility of inappropriately transgressing the boundaries of the personal and the professional and thus do not recommend “friending” students without forethought or precaution. However, creating a Facebook group page for one’s class, wherein students can congregate through an online assemblage would greatly improve the quality of the course. Rather than a formal virtual meeting assigned to a certain time on a school affiliated forum, a Facebook page would provide students and teachers with an ongoing, nonthreatening arena to ask questions, provide answers, and exchange ideals. As a result, students would enter the physical classroom with conversations and ideologies carried over from the virtual classroom. When students leave the “real world” classroom, focus on the subject matter may vanish until the next class meeting. However, in a time when individuals spend more time on Facebook than checking emails and possibly even doing course work, when logged into their personal Facebook account, they can easily view the class page and interact, viewing passively or commenting actively. Furthermore, a Facebook class page would provide timely responses as a result of the number of members in the group and large amount of time spent on the site.
In Fletcher and Ragins’ text, The Handbook of Mentoring at Work: Theory, Research, and Practice, paraphrased in the article “Facebook: The New Classroom Commons” written by Harriet Schwartz, the authors discuss the benefits of single interactions, labeling them “mentoring episodes”. These “mentoring episodes” are effective when the individuals involved undergo “the ‘five good things’: increased energy and well-being, potential to take action, increased knowledge of self and other, a boost to self-esteem, and an interest in more connection”(Schwartz, 2009). Classroom interaction on Facebook has the potential to accomplish these five objectives. As previously discussed, human communication and interaction is necessary for well-being. When an individual posts a question on the Facebook class page, either another student or the teacher are influenced to take action. Additionally, the answer received invokes the questioner to act based on the information presented. Furthermore, gaining knowledge and understanding as well as imparting intelligence and providing useful information increases self-esteem. This boosted self-respect fuels an individuals’ interest for further connection with the source of said boost. Lastly, Facebook being an arena where self exploration and familiarization with others flourishes, provides an ideal setting for mentoring and classroom support.
Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are staples in multiple societies throughout the world. With users numbering in the hundreds-of-millions, many of whom logging on to their profiles daily, these virtual worlds are seemingly unstoppable forces. The reasons why individuals join greatly vary but one can conclude that profiles are created in order to communicate with others, both known and unknown, explore ones self by “typing themselves into being”, and for entertainment. There are positives and negatives associated with social networking sites and it is important to understand both so that we may utilize these sites with caution. An end result of cautious involvement with Facebook or MySpace is the application of these sites for educational use. An element of the academic world with a large amount of potential that will continue to grow as we look towards the future.