So what is Facebook? How did it come about? Why is it so hugely popular? What are the merits and demerits of using it? This essay will take a look at these questions and seek to explore why Facebook has become the “in-thing” in the world today. Facebook is simply a social networking website owned and operated by Facebook, Inc., a company with its headquarters in Palo Alto, California. It is free and accessible anywhere in the world and its users (now put at over 200 million) join the network by signing up at the website, www.facebook.com . According to Compete.com, Facebook is the most used social network by global monthly active users. It was founded on February 4th 2004 by Havard University computer scientists Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. It is believed that the name of the website was drawn from the name of a book given to incoming students at Phillips Exeter Academy – the high school alma mater of Mark Zuckerberg. Though, initially membership of Facebook was restricted to only Harvard students, it later expanded to other colleges in the Boston area; the Ivy League and Stanford University. However, now the website currently has more than 200 million active users worldwide.
Why is Facebook so hugely popular? There are many reasons why this is the case. Firstly, it is free and has an easy to use interface that allows even the least internet savvy individual to access it. It’s many features, attributes and customization makes it stand out from the many social networking sites that existed before it. For instance, after signing up, users can join networks organized by city, workplace, school, and region to connect and interact with friends and other people alike. It also allows users to add friends, send and receive messages, upload and share pictures and photos of events, videos and clips, websites and links and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves. Most importantly the level of customization of Facebook unike other social networking sites is what makes it stand out. While Facebook allows the flexibility of using plain text to interact, navigate and customize their personal profiles and information, other sites for instance MySpace only allow the use of HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) which require some knowledge of programming. Other features on Facebook include; Wall (which allows friends to post messages for the user to see and vice versa), News Feed, Pokes, Notes, videos and Photos to mention but few. With these features users communicate with one another and share items online throughout the world in a manner never before witnessed on the internet. Facebook has become a very important medium for many people around the world. For instance parties, events, meetings and appointments have are organized using Facebook. One good example, the recent demonstrations and protests against the election results in Iran which took place around Europe were organized via the events feature on Facebook. All these have helped to increase the popularity and versatility of the website.
And now to the bitter sweet side of Facebook. The next question is what are the merits of using Facebook? Though many will beg to differ, Facebook like everything human ingenuity has created has its merits and demerits. The versatility of Facebook is undoubtedly evident. It has helped re-unite many long lost friends and acquaintances. Millions of messages are sent and received, pictures and photos shared, details and profiles viewed every minute of the day between friends. Many people are thus brought into contact with one another to interact, share ideas, information and the opportunity to meet other new people every day. Old acquaintances keep in touch and are constantly aware of the progress and happenings in the lives of their friends. In the process the site also helps to build and strengthen social cycles among diverse cultures, and across wide ethnic and racial lines thus ensuring global integration and healthy relationships in the cyber world and the world in general. This is an amazing achievement considering that Facebook is only five years in existence. Speaking from experience, I have been able to meet and interact with many old classmates who now live thousands of miles away from me. It has been an absolutely wonderful experience.
However, all good things have a bad side regardless of the intentions behind their creation. It is a common fact that all human inventions also have been known to have some bad sides albeit due to some inherent weaknesses or loopholes often preyed upon by evil doers and opportunists. Sadly, one of the many demerits of using Facebook is that it can often be time consuming. Many people have become addicted to using it and often spend hours chatting and interacting with other users which in my opinion is rather unhealthy for productivity. Some even steal valuable office time at work to check updates on Facebook and the updated statuses of their mates and friends. Little wonder some firms; organizations and nations have banned it from their computer networks and systems. As with most computer applications, Facebook is vulnerable to cyber crime. Only recently, users started receiving spam mails from unknown sources disguised as friends. This has helped raise the long neglected question about the safety of user’s data and profile information and the risks of identity theft. Though this might sound a little farfetched or perhaps exaggerated in the eyes of the casual user; it can be potentially disastrous in the long term. So is Facebook safe? The owners will have us believe it is but with the increasing wave of cyber crime around the world, one can never be too careful. Thus it is important that users only share their personal information with people they absolutely trust and be cautious of unknown users who want to be friends with them. Another point which counts as a minus for Facebook is the ease with which people add people (sometimes unknown) to their friends list. Once I did a random questioning of my friends at University asking them if they could say with confidence that they knew everyone in their friends list. Many honestly said no, but that they simply connect with anyone that “requests to add” them on Facebook. The trend is widespread on Facebook and evermore increases the risks of using it. Furthermore, it has been reported that certain users may have either used it or tried to use it to defraud others. A good example reported on the website of a popular European newspaper, revealed that, the daughter’s of the US President were almost victims of some sort of cybercrime via the site. Though this cannot be explicitly confirmed it still raises eye brows and pertinent questions on the need for users to “more” careful with their personal details on the internet especially social networking sites. Issues such as these have often thrown Facebook into some controversy over the past few years. It is often seen in many countries especially in nationalistic and propaganda loving nations as a tool for political dissent especially because the youth often embrace it so strongly. This explains why it has been blocked intermittently in several countries including Syria and Iran.
In summary, Facebook like many internet social websites has many advantages and disadvantages. As enumerated by this essay, the advantages are numerous and so are the drawbacks. In has been branded the “perfect time waster” by employees, which explains why it has been banned at many places of work. Many other pertinent issues need to be addressed; privacy remains an issue (since it has been compromised several times), several lawsuits and litigations from users and the co-founders including Zuckerberg’s former classmates, who claim that Facebook had stolen their source code and other intellectual property. Besides all these, Facebook remains a wonderful addition to the process of social networking on the internet, it is here to stay. In my opinion, it is a perfectly good way
to waste free time, when engagements permit the user. Final verdict, Facebook is networking extraordinaire, it is the future of socializing on the internet – It is the “Face of a Sociocyberbook”.