Today is Facebook’s 10th Birthday. To celebrate, we are covering some of the more interesting aspects of the now-ubiquitous social network.
Some media reports have been reporting that teens are abandoning Facebook “in droves.” There are some studies that suggest this, and the teens give for their waning interest in the platform makes a certain amount of sense: “What appears to be the most seminal moment in a young person’s decision to leave Facebook was surely that dreaded day your mum sends you a friend request” says the source cited by the Guardian article.
However, Pew Research provides a clearer picture of what is actually happening. According to Pew: “According to our survey, 94% of teen social media users said they had a Facebook profile, and 81% said that Facebook is the profile they use most often. While other platforms—like Twitter and Instagram—are growing in popularity, teen usage of Facebook still dwarfed every other platform at the time of our survey.”
People who were in college for the first three years of Facebook’s existence had a special relationship with the platform. They were part of a private world where only other college students could participate. This group continued to have access after they graduated, and for a time it seemed that there would be a permanent divide between people who had been to college after the Facebook launch and those who hadn’t.
The way people used Facebook was far different, with frequent posts on each other’s walls about topics that college students talk about. When Facebook introduced Timeline, many of these old posts resurfaced.
There was a brief period in time where employers used recent college grads with Facebook access to research potential hires.
Then Facebook opened up to everyone and everything changed.
Danah Boyd, a leading social media scholar, wrote an essay in 2007 detailing the growing division. Because Facebook was defined as the network for college students, and for high school students who wanted to go to college, the networks evolved with this division.
The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.
MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm.
During this period the Military toyed with banning various social networks. At first they banned MySpace, but not Facebook. According to Boyd:
A month ago, the military banned MySpace but not Facebook. This was a very interesting move because the division in the military reflects the division in high schools. Soldiers are on MySpace; officers are on Facebook.
Eventually Facebook conquered across class lines and become the primary social network across all demographics.
Early on, Facebook was distinct in that it required users to register with their real names. Other social networks, such as MySpace, allowed pseudonyms. This requirement has sometimes been cited as a factor in the social networks eventual success. The argument is that real name identification allowed for larger network creation and also tended to moderate bad behavior. It is certainly true that anonymous commentators can be problematic—as Google found out with YouTube.
But, as Danah Boyd, Vint Cerf, and others have pointed out, the real name requirement can be repressive. Moreover, the influence of the real name policy on Facebook’s success has been greatly exaggerated. Per Danah Boyd:
Over and over again, people keep pointing to Facebook as an example where “real names” policies work. This makes me laugh hysterically. One of the things that became patently clear to me in my fieldwork is that countless teens who signed up to Facebook late into the game chose to use pseudonyms or nicknames.
What’s funny to me is that people also don’t seem to understand the history of Facebook’s “real names” culture. When early adopters (first the elite college students…) embraced Facebook, it was a trusted community. They gave the name that they used in the context of college or high school or the corporation that they were a part of.
Recently, possibly as a result of pressure from Snapchat, Facebook has announced that it may be relaxing its policy on the use of real names, at least for some specific apps. For more on the battle over real names on social networks, see the nymwars article on Wikipedia.
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