By definition the internet is a computer network made up of other interconnected networks which facilitate a very wide range of information and communication internationally (Oxford Languages). The social networking platform that is Facebook has become the most well-known site to have revolutionised and transformed the internet in the way that it is utilised and in shaping individuals’ worldviews. Facebook is a free application experienced by millions of online users as a means to connect with others through a range of platform tools such as blog posting, online forums, status updates, sharing of images and engaging within online group settings. Facebook has overtime made it easier to connect with others through tracking the connections and activities we engage in, and so we can connect with whoever we please, whether it be old friends, new friends, work colleagues or unfamiliar users who may share similar interests. In an amazingly short amount of time Facebook had grown itself from a small and unknown entity to one of the most successful online social media platforms of our time with up to 2.2 billion users and counting (Veer, E. A. Vander. 2011). This particular platform quickly became, and still is to a very high degree, a major leader in transforming the way we understand the world around us and perceive reality socially, culturally, politically and economically. Majority of the world now communicates their feelings and emotions, thoughts, opinions and ideas using this medium, which in itself opens countless doors of opportunities for both greater connectivity and influence than in the past. Today we use Facebook not only to relate with one another, but also view or take part in political activism from different parts of the world. Before Facebook, it was not as easy to gain inside information about certain events or global issues occurring internationally, however, Facebook was smart in providing a medium with certain tools which allowed users to start and promote political movements with strong messages through the utilisation of a hashtag – for example, the #MeTooMovement, which blew up into a worldwide trend in 2017 and onwards allowing women to speak up about their experiences with sexual abuse and exploitation through an online platform with millions of users, where it would probably have been a lot more difficult to gain traction had these tools not been made available. Below is an insider into the success of the #MeToo movement and how platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been pivotal in spreading awareness as well as acting as a catalyst for change.
A field experiment was conducted and presented a variety of key findings. Firstly, it was revealed that Facebook use over the period of a week was worth around $67 for users, $40 being the median value, demonstrating a large portion of budget and expenses for a typical university student. Secondly, data also revealed that Facebook in particular was a key source of news exposure for users, which means that those withheld from using Facebook are most probably not informed fully of political news and sources, and there are more males than females in this category. Findings from Alcott and Gentzkow (2017) also reflect similarly showing that Facebook is indeed the main channel through which people receive news from non-mainstream media outlets. Additionally, Facebook also is significant in its role for what information will be acquired through the news they choose to make available to consume which does impose a certain level of effect on one’s ability to determine the reliability and veracity of different sources of information.
In analysing a social media platform like Facebook, it would be helpful to dive a little deeper into its developmental history in uncovering why its transformative effect is so great in current society. Firstly, according to Neils Brugger (2015), Facebook in its early beginnings was not a majorly attractive online site as it is today and unexciting. Facebook did not have immediate status updates or provide the ability to like posts. From the year 2004 to 2006, Facebook became available to students in Harvard University Cambridge Massachusetts for the sole purpose of forming an online profile with personal data given to form identities and keep in contact with one another, and the only conditions required was that all their email addresses had to end in Harvard.edu and you had to be over the age of 18. Not long after this, Facebook started to be introduced and utilised by more universities where students were then welcomed to make suggestions for what additions and improvements could be made on the site. There were two main elements to Facebook:
- The profile: where all your personal information like, your favourite food, music, clothes, relationships and more, would be made available for others to view if permitted through privacy settings. This would be linked directly to the user and present a specific identity formed and shaped by the user to their liking.
- The network: as a user you are able to engage in larger groups of social networking including those who you are mutual friends with but you could also choose to link with certain profiles via hyperlinks.
Now the question of ownership is simple yet complex. The site itself was created by a young Mark Zuckerberg at the ripe age of 19 who operated it from a college classroom at Harvard University interestingly enough (Brugger, 2015). Below is a brief diagram demonstrating the business model Facebook follows:
Furthermore, Facebook is the one online platform that still continues to dominate the wide landscape of social media.
(Image Source: ‘Statista’ (2020). https://bstrategyhub.com/facebook-business-model-how-does-facebook-make-money/, accessed and downloaded 19/11/20)
Facebook’s effect on our reality and perception of the world around us and those within it is beyond profound to say the least. It provides the means to step out of true reality and into that which is virtual where immersive experiences and real life experiences merge, and this has quickly become one of the main dilemmas of today in drawing a rough but accurate picture of where society is headed for. Today, the online platform shapes and influences relationships with others as well as ourselves and has direct impact on emotions and feelings as well. On another note, in the research area of political communication, the notion that social influences directly impacts political behaviour is not new. Factors like technological and/or social changes may very well shape and exercise a certain degree of control over an average individual’s political behaviour, however, the effects of this and patterns that emerge because the online acquisition of political information differs from one person to another. Moreover, because Facebook has become a mega influence in individuals and their political orientation, this reveals a direct correlation with political behaviour and in determining how one interacts with another both socially and politically (Bene, 2017).
Another noteworthy notion to consider is that the success and globalisation of social media platforms like Facebook has and still is largely based on ensuring that the program and service is not rooted in one particular culture, this because the appeal for others in the various cultures of the globe would most likely decrease significantly as a consequence of particular cultural groups not being able to identify with things like style, values, beliefs, institutions and behavioural patterns (Hoskins & Mirus, 1988. Pg. 500). Furthermore, language is a key challenge for international institutions and Facebook has intentionally localised their services in providing translation tools in menu titles and directions (Choi, Jung & Lee, 2013). The individualistic western cultures encourage Individuals in their autonomous social practices and relational ideals of uniqueness of self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Additionally, Facebook has been crucial, over the years, in directly and indirectly aiding movements for social and cultural change – for example, making available the means for Indigenous communities to create pages and public groups for users to join if they want to be kept informed of new information and updates regarding the issues relevant to their communities and so on. Another important example of this is in the global issues of human trafficking and violence against women in nations where it is allowed. Facebook acts as a medium for all in a way (although this idea is also hotly debated) where those whose voices are not heard can start a chain reaction of educating and spreading awareness of the important events actually occurring around the world that does not make it in mainstream media, and people are then able to use their own positions of power and privilege to campaign and lobby.
Although Facebook has opened the doors of instant global connectivity it has also been under fire for its controversial regulatory processes. Zuckerberg has received several criticisms concerning how Facebook use the personal data of their users prompting evaluation and questioning around the regulatory processes even in the cyberspace field. Multiple debates on the issue of regulation have sparked the idea that because cyberspace is completely unique from the physical world, with no geographical boundaries, it can and should only be regulated through self-regulation. This opinion has been criticised as well by scholars holding the belief that cyberspace can be regulated by offline laws (A.I Vranaki, 2017). The problematic nature of self-regulation, specifically regarding Facebook, is that the process of law-making and of regulation in general is slow in pace and difficult to tell whether these regulatory processes are in fact working efficiently and ethically. Although only this year has Zuckerberg opened up to the idea of receiving regulation from the state rather than just their board who will do anything in ensuring the preservation of Facebook.
In summary, Facebook has undoubtedly revolutionised international society in the way people interact, behave, work and live. No longer is it the norm to manually work or interact with one another but instead Facebook has become a type of safe haven where many feel comfortable and secure in how they operate personally and publicly. However, further research into the effects on social behaviour and interaction would also be key in determining whether in fact this platform of virtual reality is taking society somewhere we want to head or not. The way this company has been set to provide pathways and aid in political, social and economic change is both evident and crucial in the way society has been shaped going into this new decade. From the inception of the internet until this very point, this social media platform has transformed the way people use and perceive the role of the internet. A clear example of this is in the fact that users no longer need to use google on its own to acquire knowledge on a subject but rather obtain news sources and what not through the app on its own.
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University of Texas A&M
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