Facebook: Observations, Evolutions, Implications, and Possibilities
Most of the time I have the opinion that Facebook is the cesspool of social networking. If used correctly Facebook can be a powerful tool, but for the most part, just my opinion, Facebook is dead.
Of course Facebook paved the way for social networking and social media; some might even say Facebook defined social networking; some might even say it's flourishing. I give credit to the creators and Facebook staff for creating and maintaining a powerful social media tool. People use Facebook for many reasons. My experience with Facebook includes many reasons which continue to evolve over time.
Over time, I have come to the realization, as unfair as it may seem, that as an educator, I am held to different behavior and ethical standards on Facebook. Therefore, I am now very careful with my actions and postings on Facebook, as they may be seen and misunderstood by education stakeholders, no matter how secure I think my account may seem.
Reasons for Using Facebook
People use Facebook for many different reasons. For some Facebook is a means of entertainment. For others Facebook is a way of communicating with family members, friends, or random strangers who have things in common. Facebook also serves as a marketing tool in the business world. Many people seem to use Facebook simply to talk about themselves or what they're doing in that minute of their life. Some use Facebook to get in touch with people from their past whether it be friends from grade school, high school, college, or significant others from past relationships. Employers use Facebook searches to spy on their clients before deciding to hire. Some use Facebook for trolling. Others use Facebook for gaming.
I have experienced and learned a lot from Facebook.
I have been un-friended, and I have de-friended others. Some without warning, and some with reasonable explanations.
My Personal Facebook Evolution: Starting My First Facebook Account
I have experienced and therefore learned a lot from Facebook. The reason I started using Facebook was solely for entertainment purposes. One night, my wife left her account open, I started playing Mafia Wars. I got addicted and then I opened my own Facebook account to play Mafia Wars. I was addicted to Mafia Wars for a year and a half, and then Cityville for two more years. I say addicted because I woke up early and stayed up late to play and occasionally spent real money to upgrade my account and achievements. The way we justified this, was that we're not paying to rent a movie tonight; instead we're playing online games; it's just a different form of entertainment. Recently I learned that this concept is known as gamification. I was a victim of gamification and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Through Mafia Wars, I racked up about over 800 "Facebook friends," from all around the world, most with the same interest: working together to collectively advance and collect achievements in Mafia Wars. I say most, because I am confident some "friends" were there just either collecting friends or maybe there were personal reasons possibly including hacking, business ventures, or simply building networks. A small number of my Facebook friends included people I knew from grade school, high school, college, and my work colleagues. I mostly friended old friends in hopes that they played Mafia wars as well, and most of the time they did not.
Like I said, I didn't regret it. Through Facebook, I got to know many of these once players on a personal level. Some Mafia Wars players had family members in the hospital or knew people that passed away and requested prayers. Others knew victims to tragedies including hurricanes or tornadoes, and again requested prayers. These "friends" I got to know over the years have had children and grandchildren born. I have seen my "friends" lose their jobs, and get new ones. I have witnessed the meals people cook for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; kids break their bones; war photos in their neighborhoods, read racist viewpoints, have known people getting suspended or banned for posting anti-government comments....my list could go on and on.
For some reason one day I woke up and said "What am I doing?...I'm friends with about 800 strangers from all over the world, and I'm posting pictures of my kids...what am I doing?"
My Personal Facebook Evolution: My Two New Facebook Accounts
Upon a combination of Mafia Wars getting old and reflecting, I came to the realization that people (especially co-workers) don't appreciate both the repeated postings requesting collection items (which could be considered trolling) and repeated references to violence, undergarments, and organized crime. After my Mafia Wars experience, and deciding to shut the account down, I opened two new accounts. I decided one account was my professional account and the other my personal. I set my own rules for my professional account including only friending co-workers and a few family members. This has been a fairly positive experience, allowing me to socialize with my colleagues in an environment outside of work. This professional account has now evolved into a place to research educational technology related resources.
My personal account was for friends, family, and Cityville. I brought my most "trusted" Mafia Wars friends who also played Cityville with me; only the most dedicated, the ones who gifted back, the daily players (morning, noon, and night), the hackers, and the ones I really got to know over the years like I mentioned above. I also brought with me only my closest friends from grade school, high school, college, and family members; in other words I let go of the majority of my acquaintances that I accumulated from previous educational experiences that I'm not really friends with. The Cityville experience lasted another two years. I still never closed the account, and my city is still up and running. Eventually Cityville got old, but this time around I wasn't only on Facebook to play Cityville; I also practice socializing a little and "liked" things that I truly enjoy; basically personal preferences having nothing to do with my professional life.
For a long time I was scared to share with my colleagues that they were part of one account and not the other for fear of hurting their feelings that I was not letting them be a part of my personal life. Not that anybody would seriously care, but I make a general effort is made to not to indirectly hurt people's feelings
Teachers and Facebook
Now if you're a teacher or an educator posting strong opinions or images, which some may consider inappropriate, you're playing a whole different ball game because then you might lose your job or teaching license. For lack of a better description, one would have to be a complete idiot to post something that will get them in trouble. Now I am not sure if the spotlight is only on educators because I pay more attention to those articles, or if anybody is judged for their comments. Commenting is the equivalent of voicing your opinion in public; the only difference is the footprint is left on the internet.
In other words as much as I want to click "like" for my teacher-friend's posting on the photo of the refreshing Sangria they're drinking 60 miles away at 2pm, Big Brother may be watching, and he may not like what he sees. What's more important to me, clicking "like" or keeping my job. I know this ida may seem outrageous, but it seems many people including teachers, are judged for being normal.
Positive Reasons for Having a Facebook Account
- The local police posted about a guy in the neighborhood assaulting children and possibly trying to abduct them. I shared this information for all my local Facebook parent and neighbor friends.
- One time, I took a Facebook survey for a company, and they sent me a free shirt in the mail. That was awesome!
- I find a lot of really good professional development and educational technology articles on Facebook, which help me excel in my job. I enjoy reading these articles, and I often share them with my co-workers.
- Observing how people use Facebook: When family members, specifically teenagers visit the house, and request to login to their Facebook accounts, (we are not fans of letting others surf the internet in our home unless it is closely monitored or a Holiday), and it seems they use Facebook to socialize with friends and search for popular music, videos, or celebrities. I have also observed friends view Facebook accounts and sift through all of their friends photos, verbally (not typing) commenting on each photo, some comments positive, some comments ridiculing. I realized, "Oh my gosh, people do this with my account...I don't want people doing this with my account."
- De-friending: I know how it feels to be defriended, and its not a very good feeling. When one notices that friends on Facebook are no longer your friends, one wonders if they de-friended you or if they just closed their account. My feelings were hurt when I was de-friended by a close family member due to an argument. Lately, these feelings, at least for me, have evolved a more or less "I don't care" attitude. I don't care if I ever get de-friended by anybody because people have their reasons for un-friending people or closing accounts. I also don't care if people wonder why I have un-friended them, if they request an explanation in real life; I"ll give it to them.
- Because of Facebook, I know what a "muffin top" is.
- Because of Facebook, I now know what a Jack-Rabbit is.
- Because of Facebook I now know my close friend's parents are animal lovers; just my opinion that it wasn't necessary to see the bloody picture to understand this.
I was "friends" with many of my colleagues at work, but I've come to the realization that I'm not really friends with them. I work with these people. I say hello in the hallways, establish working relationships, and strive to build and maintain professional relationships. I have a difficult time connecting Facebook to these goals.
Before school let out this year, I decided to de-friend the majority of my colleagues: the ones I do not know very well. Even simply reading their comments, posting my own comment, or clicking "like" might make me liable for any future undesirable outcome of a specific comment. I don't know who they're friends with. I don't know who reads my comments or posts. In other words. I have also stopped clicking "like" and commenting on other posts. I'm almost to the point where I don't want to post any comments, and possibly just shutting down my Facebook account.
Is Facebook to blame? Maybe people should learn how to act online. But who am I to explain to another person my age or older about appropriate social norms, whether or not they're online.
On the other hand, if it wasn't for Facebook, people wouldn't have the ability to communicate these things with people. I'm kind of torn.
Now...what's the purpose of being friends with someone on a social network if I prefer to not listen or read what they have to say. That's the equivalent of me wearing earplugs when someone talks. I'll admit I'm not fond, nor very good at, discussing or debating controversial issues. But if people wouldn't bring up these topics at a typical dinner or morning cup of coffee share certain photos in public, what makes it okay for people to share them on the internet?
I treat it all as a learning experience, but I think I've moved on from Facebook.
(Update (about a year later from writing this original article), I now use Facebook fairly regularly as an attempt to improve my social skills with friends, family, and colleagues. I mainly use one account, but did not shut the other account down).
In today's society, you almost need a Facebook account, just to at least keep up with the times, keep in touch with friends and family members (especially the younger incoming generation), receive neighborhood safety alerts, to have water cooler conversation, and possibly entertainment purposes. In some cases, you may need a Facebook account just to show you're somewhat tech literate or tech saavy.
Any person, especially educators and other public servants, should practice caution with any posting whether they be pictures or comments. You may know what you're posting. You may think its innocent. People who truly understand you may not see any harm. But there may be that one powerful person who just doesn't get it...maybe they've been waiting for this opportunity, and you don't really know them or what they're capable of.
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Facebook links, references, and articles
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Facecrooks.com, Website Plans to Fight Crime Through Crowd-Sourcing on Facebook
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Mashable, The Teacher's Guide to Facebook