Issue of the Month: February 2007
Facebook, MySpace, Social Networks and the Library
Samantha Hines, Assistant Professor
Social Science Librarian and Distance Education Coordinator (email@example.com)
Most people are at least familiar with the term Facebook if you spend any time in higher education environments. Started in 2004 at Harvard, it was a way for students to connect and share information about the social side of life at college. It soon expanded to over 30,000 colleges and schools in the U.S. and other English-speaking nations and became an online phenomenon. Facebook claimed in an internal study in 2005 that 85% of students at higher education institutions had accounts on the site, with 60% of those logging in every day (Yadav 2006).
Facebook users sign up for individual accounts and create personal profiles. They can then search for and “‘friend” other users based on their own profiles. These profiles can share an alarming amount of personal information, such as address, major, relationship status, photos, who is counted among your friends, and so on. Only registered users can search for and view profiles. Users can also search for and join groups oriented around anything: television shows, advocacy issues, current events, sports, and even educational activities like study groups. These groups act as a discussion forum and event organizer for collections of users.
At first Facebook was limited to academic users primarily in the United States, but as of Summer 2006 it has opened up to any interested person. With this expansion, Facebook has also cracked down on organizational profiles. Many university libraries and other campus institutions had created profiles to promote events and increase contact with student workers and other interested parties on campus. As of Fall 2006, almost all of these profiles have been deleted by Facebook administration, although individual faculty and staff members are still allowed accounts. Some libraries have turned to using the group feature instead, and some students have created interest groups for their libraries, such as UM’s own “Don’t Die in the Mansfield Library Because You’ll Never Be Found” group. However, the amount of information that can be shared with the group function is limited, and interest groups are less convenient than profiles for keeping in touch with people interested in the library’s activities.
Another alternative is MySpace.com, which was founded in 2003. This site has always been open to all users and is one of the most popular sites on the internet. Over 100 million accounts have been created on MySpace. Accounts are very similar to profiles on Facebook, and users still share an alarming amount of personal information via the site. MySpace has no prohibition on what kind of users can create accounts, so libraries are welcome there, along with a number of corporate interests, bands, authors, and the like (“MySpace” 2007). MySpace accounts are also searchable by the general public, unlike Facebook, although profiles can be set to only be viewed by logged in users or previously defined individuals.
Previous to this summer’s opening of Facebook to all users, there was a bit of a stigma among college students that MySpace was for “kids” and that Facebook was preferable. Time will tell if this changes. Perhaps in an attempt to capture and keep this market, MySpace launched some new features last Fall—professor ratings and listings of courses that the user is taking (Sangiovanni 2005).
Perhaps one of the more interesting issues about the use of social sites like MySpace and Facebook is whether users consider the ramifications of what information they post online. For example, professors can easily look up their students to see if that email about being out sick during the exam is in opposition to pictures on their profile showing them on vacation during that time. (“Should professors use Facebook?” 2006) Potential employers can look up interviewees to see if this is really the kind of person they want representing their corporation (Finder 2006). In fact, the CIA has turned to Facebook as a recruiting tool for the National Clandestine Service (Bruce 2007). So far, users seem unconcerned generally about this prospect, but at some universities students have protested the use of Facebook by campus security to catch students breaking laws or regulations (Read 2006).
Another interesting issue is that of “friending” on these social sites. Many of the people who are listed as friends on these sites are not what is traditionally viewed as a friend, but more like an acquaintance. Some users have designated literally thousands of people as friends via these sites, but may only know a fraction of these people personally (boyd 2006).
These social networking sites are immensely popular both on campus and off. Due to the campus connections that sites like Facebook and MySpace offer, it would benefit faculty and staff to become more aware of these resources. These tools could offer new ways to reach students, or new avenues for research (Seven things… 2006).
boyd, d. (2006, Jan.) “Friends, friendsters and top 8: Writing communiting into being on social network sites.” First Monday 11:12.
Bruce, C. (2007, Jan. 24). “CIA gets in your Face(book).” Wired News.
Finder, A. (2006, June 11). “For some, online persona undermines a resume.” New York Times.
“MySpace.” (2007, Jan. 17). Wikipedia.org.
Read, B. (2006, Jan. 20). “Think before you share: Students’ online socializing can have unintended consequences.” Chronicle of Higher Education.
Sangiovanni, R. (2005, Oct. 18). “Users get more out of MySpace.” The Hurricane Online.
“Seven things you should know about Facebook.” (2006, Sept.). Educause Learning Initiative.
“Should professors use Facebook?” (2006, June 5). Wired Campus, Chronicle of Higher Education.
Yadav, S. (2006, Aug. 25). “Facebook: The complete biography.” Mashable.com.
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