Is Facebook really connecting people?

FACEBOOK has hit a new milestone: the social network now has one billion users.

Just as Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, announced its one billion users on the 14th of September, the site released its very first advert entitled ‘The Things That Connect Us’ (see it: here). This 90 second advert, made by Wieden and Kennedy (well known for Nike advertising), aims to reveal the human aspect of social networking and the role Facebook plays in maintaining and developing human connections. It compares Facebook to chairs, bridges, basketball and other things that unite people, stating that Facebook is like a ‘great nation … a place where [people] belong.’

‘What we’re trying to articulate,’ said head of Facebook’s consumer marketing, Rebecca Van Dyck, ‘is that we, as humans, exist to connect, and that we at Facebook facilitate and enable that process.’

‘We make the tools and services that allow people to feel human, get together, open up,’ she said. ‘Even if it’s a small gesture, or a grand notion — we wanted to express that huge range of creativity and how we interact with each other.’

To date, Facebook has documented 140.3 billion friend connections, 1.13 trillion ‘likes’ and 219 billion shared photos since it commenced in February 2004. Over 300 million photos are uploaded daily and 62.6 million songs are played.

‘Helping a billion people connect is amazing, humbling and by far the thing I am most proud of in my life,’ Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook timeline update on his personal account. ‘I am committed to working every day to make Facebook better for you, and hopefully together one day we will be able to connect the rest of the world too.’

But does Facebook really connect people? The company is beginning to be acknowledged as dictator-like. If we write on someone’s timeline, who else will see it? If we comment on someone’s status, whose newsfeed will it show up in? Occasionally, it seems like Facebook is a hidden microphone, threateningto expose what we really want to say. Deprived of the ability to open up, connecting with friends is a challenge.

In the same way, the social network can create a false sense of community. Everyone is called your ‘friend.’ But what makes a ‘friend’? In the ‘real world’, a friend is someone you have a deep relationship with. Generally, it is someone you have looked in the eye and had a conversation with. On Facebook, however, a friend is simply someone who can view your profile and comment on your statuses and photos. A friend on Facebook can be someone you’ve never met. It is not difficult to acquire over 100 Facebook friends but few of them ever grow into real quality relationships. It is only too easy, for example, for Facebook to replace an old fashioned phone call, the simple person to person approach. Instead, it is a world where inhibitions are few. People are more vocal than ever about their opinions, and ‘friends’ are connecting in a negative way.

In a more positive light, Facebook can be beneficial to businesses. Samuel Junghenn, founder of the Digital Marketing Agency Think Big believes that: ‘businesses need to stop focusing on the negative press around Facebook and start focusing on engaging. Facebook has a massive market share of all online consumers and any business would be remiss not to use it as a platform to drive traffic and customers.’

In order to solve these conflicting points of view, Facebook must remember to centre around friendship, focus building meaningful experiences with friends. To develop that, the social network can create an environment of trust, security and of true connections as Zuckerberg concludes that ‘the need to open up and connect is what makes us human. It’s what brings us together. It’s what brings meaning to our lives.’

By Émer O’Toole
(Published: Issue Two, November 2012)document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);