Research Paper: Facebook.com and the Role it Plays Within the School

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¶ … Role it Plays Within the School

In 2008, Facebook outdistanced the previously more popular Myspace in terms of numbers of users to become the most widely used social network in the world. Although the top management of Facebook is currently facing a lawsuit for proprietary infringement, the site is still generating impressive revenues. In fact, like the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation and its philanthropic educational efforts, one of the founders of Facebook recently announced intentions to donate $100 million to the beleaguered Newark, New Jersey school district. Clearly, Facebook is having a major influence on the manner in which young people socialize and interact today, and all signs indicate that this influence will continue to increase in the future. It is therefore important for teachers, administrators and school counselors to understand how social networking sites in general and, based on its prominence, Facebook in particular are being used by young people today. In an effort to determine what the impact of this growing influence of Facebook will be within the schools, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature to develop an overview and background for Facebook, what the current and future trends are with respect to its implications for schools, and an analysis of why this is a "hot topic" for school counselors in particular today. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview

The official Facebook factsheet reports that in less than a decade, Facebook has emerged to become one of the most important resources in the world for hundreds of millions of young users. The factsheet reports that, "Founded in February 2004, Facebook is a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people's real-world social connections" (About Facebook, 2010, para. 1). Not surprisingly, this "digital mapping" was readily embraced by the so-called "digital natives" of the Millennial generation. For instance, according to Bauman and Tatum (2009), "Social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook and MySpace are now part of the social fabric of the lives of American teens and young adults. Although such sites only emerged in the past few years, they were rapidly embraced by large segments of the population" (p. 1). Likewise, Bowers-Campbell cites the results of a recent survey of college students and reports that, "96% of students with online access reported using social networking technologies, and those online generally spent 9 hours per week chatting, text messaging, blogging, and visiting online communities" (2008, p. 74). One of the more interesting findings to emerge from the survey concerned what young people are doing in these social networking sites: "Perhaps even more surprising, the study found that 60% of social network users talked about schoolwork while online" (Bowers-Campbell, 2008, p. 74). Finally, the popularity of Facebook compared to its competitors was made abundantly clear in the survey: "Among college students with online access, Facebook reigns supreme across social networking sites reporting pervasive use among adolescents" (Bowers-Campbell, 2008, p. 75).

Indeed, Facebook already has more than a half a billion users who have visited the site within the past month alone (About Facebook, 2010), and it is clear that the popularity of this social networking site will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. In this regard, Demski (2009) notes that, "Web 2.0 applications like online communities, blogs, and wikis should not be thought of as just a passing fad or idle socializing, but as an activity that has embedded itself into the way work gets done" (p. 24). It is also possible to see some significant changes in traditional socialization practices as more and more young people gather in this virtual community to interact. As Conner (2009) points out, "Facebook is far more than a platform from which to express one's individuality. It also brings together people who have either never met or would not normally meet in daily circumstances" (p. 12). In this dynamic environment, identifying current and future trends in the use of Facebook and other popular social networking sites, particularly as this use affects the schools, represents a timely and valuable enterprise and the current and future issues in this regard are discussed further below.

Current and Future Trends

The recent trends in growth that have made Facebook the medium of choice for hundreds of millions of users have not gone unnoticed by the educational community. Because social networking sites are becoming increasingly important in the business world, Demski emphasizes the need for schools to help educate their students concerning how these resources can be used to their best effect. According to Demski, "For schools to keep pace with the trends being established in the world at large, it is imperative they recognize the central role that social networking tools have grown to occupy in how employers do business, and make room for them in students' education" (2009, p. 25). In response to this need, a so-called "Internal Facebook" has been created for K-12 students at Saywire (https://saywire.com), described by Demski as being "an online social networking and learning site designed specifically for in-house use by schools and students. Saywire wants to create a safe environment where constructive Web 2.0 skills can be developed while students are young, so they grow up to be smart, civil online citizens. Since its launch last October, the site has registered more than 160,000 students and teachers across the country" (p. 25). In sharp contrast to the official Facebook counterpart, this education-only alternative provides a number of protections for its users, including the following:

1. Membership restricted to students and faculty listed on the roster exported by the school into the system;

2. No anonymity; user name must be same as member's real name;

3. Communication limited to users within school, district, or Saywire global network, depending upon the school's preference;

4. Parental consent mandatory for students under 13 years old and parental monitoring of student's profile; and,

5. Industry standards for data encryption (Demski, 2009, p. 25).

While the goals of the Saywire and other alternatives to the official Facebook site are laudable, and the use of these resources can help familiarize educators with how social networking sites operate and instruct young users in how to use them appropriately, they fail to provide the empirical observations that are needed to formulate informed views concerning how these sites are being used in real-world settings. To its credit, though, Facebook emphasizes the need for mutual respect, appropriate language, and ethical conduct by all of its users in its terms of service and the site issues automatic warnings when users are believed to be engaging in unethical practices on Facebook (pers. obs.). In fact, even though some of the foregoing protections are not available on Saywire's more popular official Facebook counterpart, the need for ethical conduct in social networking forums such as Facebook, remains one of the more salient issues that emerges from the literature. In this regard, Conner (2009) reports that, "Facebook's two-color layout echoes the company's insistence on the linear progress of socialization, which has proved a subtle guide for users to be ethical with one another" (p. 12). Likewise, the Facebook factsheet also emphasizes that, "Facebook has worked to provide a safe and trusted environment by, for example, requiring that people use their real names. Facebook also works with online safety experts around the world and has established a global Safety Advisory Board that it consults with on safety issues" (2010, para. 4).

Clearly, Facebook takes its reputation seriously and while the number of Facebook users continues to increase, the management of the enterprise has recently taken steps to "give something back to the community" by creating an educational foundation. Perhaps in an effort to improve its corporate image while the company is facing charges of stealing the Facebook format, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on September 24, 2010 to announce his donation of $100 million in an effort to help improve the struggling public school system in Newark, New Jersey (Sahba, 2010). As an indication of the importance this donation is held by political leaders in the state, luminaries including the mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, and the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, are also scheduled to appear on "Oprah" with Zuckerberg for the announcement (Sahba, 2010).

Moreover, although this major donation represents just the first in a series of donations from the foundation established by Zuckerberg, it is reasonable to suggest that he can afford it. While other social networking sites have struggled to find ways to translate large amounts of online traffic into profits, Facebook has done so in a major way. According to Sahba, "With an estimated net worth of $6.9 billion, Zuckerberg ranked 35th on this year's Forbes 400 list of richest Americans -- up from 158th last year. At 26,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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