Their Facebook and Our Facebook: Same Place/Different Worlds

by Marianne Richmond on August 29, 2007

Its been almost a year since Facebook swung open their doors to everyone, regardless of affiliations to school or company. That was a big moment in Facebook evolution. There were dire predictions, as Mashable asked, Will Riots Be On The Way? My kids were horrified. Mom was in.

In the past year (May 06- May 07 actually), according to Comscore, there has been an impact. Traffic increased. There was also a demographic shift with trends suggesting that soon Facebook’s demographics would mirror the Internet.

"In the months prior to allowing open registration, Facebook.com’s traffic hovered at approximately 14 million visitors per month. However, after Facebook opened its doors to the general public, visitation accelerated to reach a level of 26.6 million visitors in May 2007, up 89 percent versus the same month last year and 100 percent versus September 2006."

Then, three months ago, another door swung open, Facebook Platform. The results in numbers according to Inside Facebook are impressive:

  • "3,261 applications have been created and vetted by Facebook (many more remain below the radar).
  • 46 applications have garnered over 1 million net installations. Around 100 more have garnered over 100,000 users. Top Friends, the #1 Facebook app, has over 13 million users.

Translating that into a more personal experience, as mentioned, I joined Facebook when they opened their doors in September 2006. After the Facebook Platform, everyone that I knew, knew about, almost knew, and wanted to know seemed to be on Facebook. I have my own little social media on-line neighborhood of interests and interesting people.

 It is like a social media theme park for me; there is an abundance of rides, entertainment, eye candy and people. Sometimes it seems too crowded and the lines are long….some times not. I bought the annual pass so I can drop in for a moment or stay for hours. I don’t bring the kids; they have their own theme park.

So, has the Facebook experience really changed for the kids over the past year? Well, I can only speak aboutmy kids, their friends and parents. These are high school Facebook observations and experiences; two different high schools but nonetheless a small sample of one demographic, my personal observations and interpretations.

 I would say that relative to the opening doors and their initial concern that I would friend them, friend their friends or otherwise embarrass them, nothing has changed. Now, am I embarrassed about some of the things they are doing on Facebook? How does all this, Facebook and Life, get reconciled?

Their Facebook is an online social network of their school friends and seems to be the hub of their off line activities. They do friend kids from other schools that they "meet" through their own network and some friend their own older siblings and their friend’s older siblings. Not sure why the latter except for the simple addition to the friend count and maybe a bit of cool factor.

There does seem to be conversations between them and kids (or not really kids?) that they don’t know from other schools and that is troubling. Why? Call me old fashioned….I like to know their friends and their friends’ parents, or at the very least know that someone I know knows them. And then of course there is always the concern that someone just isn’t a kid or who they say they are.

Their Facebook is something I don’t think they quite "get." They seem to view their conversations as private even though last year a parent entered through her child’s password and found some things she found unacceptable enough to alert other parents’ about which resulted in several closed Facebook accounts.

 Because of this or just because, parents are going into their kids’ accounts through their kids’ passwords and passing along the information to other parents. From much of the information that has been "passed along" and despite my inclination to trust my kids until given reason not to, my kids are now getting frequent "guest lectures" as we call them, from me about what I consider acceptable and unacceptable Facebook behavior on their part and on the part of their friends. The friends who write on their walls and post pictures with them in the shot.

Additionally, although they seem to understand enough to extend party invitations and arrange movies and dinners via more private means, text and Facebook messages, they think nothing of "discussing" the events on their walls after they happen or posting pictures for all to see, impervious to the consequences of their actions.

As an overall observation, they and I think many parents, separate Facebook activities from off line activities when that is probably not an accurate perspective. The Parenting Playbook, that is, rules for everything from monitoring friends, movie/music ratings, language, and all those other age appropriative boundaries parents may set, apply to what is happening on Facebook as well as off line.

 If you, as a parent, want to know who your kids are hanging around with off line, why not on Facebook? And if there is a difference between the two, it is that in a sense the consequences of Facebook can reverberate further and faster, be less controllable and live longer than a similar "bad influence" or inappropriate comment offline.

The kids don’t seem to be enamored with Facebook groups or applications the way that "we" do. While we might create a group to express an interest, have a discussion, or interact with others with similar interests, they create groups to entertain, with little intention for it to last past the initial laugh, e.g. Group Against Cheese on French Fries. Their Group of interest is each other. The applications that they use seem to be about friends, top friends, rating friends and communicating with friends, e.g. drawing on walls, sending gifts.

They do love the wall. A lot of the writing and gifting is, shall we say, a bit rude, sometimes hurtful and frequently not representative of offline behavior….or is it? Well, I have never been in a high school boys’ locker room but I guess their female classmates might feel like they have been there. So, also will the parents’ with the passwords. And then eventually, so will I.

After my youngest son expressed a strong negative opinion about one of his classroom assignments for the upcoming year and informed me that everyone’s parents were calling the school and getting it changed. I phoned the school to inquire if this was true. The person with whom I spoke said that this had occurred in one very specific and unusual instance. How did the story get communicated? Facebook. Is this noteworthy? Probably not.

What I found interesting was that the school administrator said he had been on Facebook "once" and the school’s focus was not on Facebook as communication on steroids (my words, not his) but on the issue of online safety, i.e. predators. Not to discount the latter, but I think kids, parents and schools ought to have an understanding and appreciation for what it means exactly to be on Facebook starting with how it is different and how it is similar to off line and moving on from there to a workable and working model.

Ian Bogost, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Literature, Communication and Culture, wrote an all the way around really interesting post on A Professor’s Impression of Facebook. He discusses the various definitions/perspectives of friend, on line, off line and on different social networks.

 He uses the term "The Apprenticeship of Friendship" as the title for one paragraph discussing the potential intersection of students and their professors on Facebook and the outcomes of this. He speaks of "learning how to contextualize work in relation to the rest of one’s life."

Context. Important concept. He is speaking of he intersection of work and life….one could also be speaking of the intersection of FacebookMe and Me as it relates to kids and their parents. Is the kid on Facebook (or MySpace) holding the glass of beer, sending the gift thong, hanging with those bad boys at that party my real son or is he the kid who was going to a movie that night. OMG, I didn’t know he knew that word.

As we learn to contexualize, the question might be, which is the context and which is the context.

 I don’t know if context is really "the second most commonly used word in the identity industry after identity itself." as Drummond Reed writes and I am not going to try and discuss online identity management, but as time goes on and on line participation increases, it may help to know. Then again, it also may not matter. To paraphrase someone," no matter where you go, there you are."

Danah Boyd recently wrote that "context management is still unfun…it sucks for teens trying to balance mom and friends. It sucks for college students trying to have a social life and not piss off their profs. It sucks for 20-somethings trying to date and balance their boss’s presence."

At the end Bogost discusses how educators should use Facebook and says,

"I want to be clear here: I am not suggesting that we professors know how to use Facebook better than our students, and if only we model that virtuous use then our underlings will become productive post-Facebook professionals. Quite the opposite: I want to suggest that we don’t know how to use Facebook at all, we do not understand how it alters our current and future relationships with one another. But the act of trying to answer this question is itself a model we can set for our students — a model for how a particular profession, higher education, deals with disruption, novelty, and uncertainty."

The most important words might just be "disruption, novelty and uncertainly". Or is that just having a teenager in general, not just one on Facebook.

So, their Facebook and our Facebook (or at least my kids’ Facebook and my Facebook) are two very different places.

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