Facebook is the latest in a long line of what we now know as “social networking” websites. But what sets it apart from the competitiors, is its popularity. At last check, some 900 million people worldwide had signed-up for profiles on the site.
Established in 2004, from the college dorm room of Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard student, the website is now worth billions of dollars and is one of the world’s most recognisable brands.
It’s even had the Hollywood treatment, with The Social Network, a film exploring the site’s conception, released to wide acclaim in 2011.
But, if you’re not quite on top of technology or are new to the internet, as a parent, or a teacher, you probably have a few questions.
What is Facebook?
Facebook is a website which allows users, who sign-up for free profiles, to connect with friends, work colleagues or people they don’t know, online.
It allows users to share pictures, music, videos and articles, as well as their own thoughts and opinions with how ever many people they like.
Users send “friend requests” to people who they may – or may not - know.
Facebook has over 900 million users
Once accepted, the two profiles are connected with both users able to see whatever the other person posts.
“Facebookers” can post almost anything to their “timeline”, a snapshot of what is happening in their social circle at any given time, and can also enter private chat with other friends who are online.
People with profiles list information about themselves. Whether it be what they work at, where they are studying, ages, or other personal details, many users post lots of information which is easily accessible to their friends and others.
On top of this, users can “like” other pages which interest them. For example, a Liverpool FC supporter can follow the club by linking up with its Facebook page. There, the user can post comments and receive club updates, pictures etc.
Why is it so Popular?
For young people, who have grown up with technology, Facebook is perhaps the most popular website there is. At least 57 per cent of Irish teenagers use the site, according to the latest findings from the EU Kids Online research.
In fact, among some age groups, it’s rare that someone would not have a profile on the social networking site.
But why is it so popular? And, how do young people use the site?
Young people are natural born multi-taskers, so using Facebook, as with any social networking website, is almost second nature to many teens.
Social networking websites allow young people to experiment with who they are. They are popular because teens can find their own, uninhibited voice online which they can share with friends.
Some teens feel they can express themselves easier online when compared to the real world because perhaps they feel the virtual world is more secure.
Teenagers love Facebook because they can personalise their profile. In much the same way that other generations may have plastered their bedroom walls with posters of their favourite bands or soccer teams, young people now take part in personalising their own space online with pictures, music, videos and comments.
Teens also see Facebook as a no-parent zone, where they can hang out with friends away from the prying eyes of older people.
The site has made communicating much easier too. Rather than picking up the telephone to ring your friend’s house, teens can instantly and directly communicate with their friends on Facebook.
Even email, another relatively new technology, is of secondary importance to teens who use Facebook to do the majority of their communicating.
With the Opportunities Comes Risk
However, despite its popularity, there are also many risks for Facebook’s younger users.
Here, Webwise outlines some of the main issues which parents have concerns about:
Privacy: Teens can sometimes forget that what is posted on Facebook is essentially a form of publishing and, unless profiles are set to private, anyone can view the information. Often, teens post too much personal information online like photos or phone numbers
Predators: While rare, there have been instances where predators and other unscrupulous individuals have targeted young people on Facebook. Due to its nature, the site can be easily accessed and is full of personal information
Cyberbullying: Facebook provides bullies with a new and fertile battlefield where they can inflict maximum damage on their target through repeated use of nasty messages and other means. There are numerous stories of hijacked profiles or serious instances of cyberbullying which have lead to suffering for victims
Meeting Contacts: Many parents fear that young people will meet face-to-face with people they first met online. With this there are obvious risks. Some young people will take online contacts at face value, but unfortunately not everybody is genuine
Content: Sometimes, there can be content on Facebook which is unsuitable for young people and will upset them. Because of Facebook’s popularity, there are a lot of older users and often children can be exposed to things parents would prefer they were not
For more Facebook articles, click here for Webwise’s Dos and Don’ts, here for an article about privacy on Facebook and here for tips on how to keep kids safe on the site.