Surprisingly for many, Facebook celebrated its tenth anniversary on Tuesday the 4th February. Originally called Thefacebook.com, today Facebook is the third most visited website behind Google and YouTube. It has regular users of all ages, from teenagers to middle-aged parents to the elderly, and even preadolescents who, despite Facebook’s minimum age limit of 13, have accounts. Because it is popular among all generations, it has inevitably changed the world in many ways. However, despite Facebook getting rid of its registration limits in September 2006, the dominant age group using the site is still the 18-29 group. Thus, it is the original target users who have been affected most by the social network: university students, both current and recently graduated.
Many adults view Facebook as something negative for students. It is not uncommon for students to have online friendships, where they talk to certain friends on Facebook often but do so much less face-to-face. This results in weaker relationships. As a written medium, students should also bear in mind that anything said on Facebook is more lasting than spoken conversation. This can have a detrimental effect on their relationships.
The most common argument made against Facebook is that it is a distraction for students. Many adults consider it to be a waste of time which students could use to study. As smartphones, tablets, and laptops pervade lecture halls, the Facebook addiction becomes more dangerous. During lectures almost every student has at least one means of accessing Facebook and communicating with friends rather than pay attention to the lecture. Another criticism of the social network is its limited privacy. Students often post things on Facebook without bearing in mind that anyone could be reading their posts. Some of these, including sharing personal stuff, photos, or political beliefs, could be harmful to students once they graduate and start looking for a job. During the past ten years, students have faced the task of making sure that they are not tagged in anything which they would rather not have everyone see, as Facebook has become an important part of employers’ pre-employment screening processes.
Facebook has, however, impacted student life in positive ways as well. From an employment point of view, students can use it to their benefit. Facebook is one huge lasting network. Many users add as online friends not only people they have known for a long time, but also course mates with whom they are not close or who are mere acquaintances; that person who they met during that extracurricular activity; or that exchange student who now lives on the other side of the planet. Once they are friends on Facebook, their relationship still exists in the background even if they have not met for a long time. That one friend who you hardly ever spoke to might be just the person you are looking for to get information in the future.
The benefits of this network are felt not only post-graduation, but also during the university years. Collaboration among students is easier than ever because students can work together from the comfort of their own homes. Most courses have Facebook groups where students can ask questions and discuss material related to their particular course. Updates on venue or timetable changes and other university-related things are shared easily among students through Facebook, ensuring that the message reaches everyone quickly.
Facebook is all about socialisation. Students can strengthen the relationships they make at university by keeping in touch with their friends when at home or during recess. Through Facebook, student organisations can keep students up to date with the latest events more easily, as an invitation is just one click of a button away, and any updates can be quickly communicated through a post. When studying, students can motivate or help each other without being too much of a distraction, because Facebook does not require a person to answer immediately.
Another major way in which Facebook has changed university life is by empowering the students’ voice in society. It has made communication between students and representatives quicker. Students can express their views on many important subjects. Facebook has also made many students more aware of contemporary events. While many young adults do not watch the news or read the newspaper, today they are still aware of the news because their friends share it on their walls.
Facebook has influenced university life in good and in bad ways. The negative impacts are pointed out more often than the positive ones, but I believe that responsible students can avoid them. The positive effects, however, are hard to replicate without Facebook. Thus, while many have criticised Facebook, I say we’ve had a good ten years, and may we have many more.