The Face (Book) That Will Save Us | Facebook | Social Capital

The Face (book) That Will Save Us

By: Mason Giem

Facebook.com is the world’s largest social networking site with over 120 million active users (By Joy Jernigan, msnbc.com contributor, updated 5:39 p.m. MT, Tues., Nov. 18, 2008). According to Jergen Habermas’ classic formulation, the public sphere consists of sites citizens discuss matters of public importance- free of state or commercial influence. The accessibility and freedom in a public sphere has always been a questionable effect on past public sphere’s and their ability to create social capital. However, there have been documented increases in the amount of social capital in the institutions that use Facebook (The Benefits of Facebook ‘‘Friends:’’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of, Online Social Network Sites, Nicole B. Ellison, Charles Steinfield, Cliff Lampe, Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Median Michigan State University, 2007). I argue that the online community of Facebook increases social capital of all involved, offers sociologists a well organized understanding of trends and demographics and is the

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community organizing tool of the future. Three months ago I joined the Facebook community and I continue to be impressed by it. 94% of the undergraduate students in a Michigan State University survey were Facebook members (Ellison, Michigan State University, 2007). Now Facebook has become available to the general public and the membership list and organizing tools will only continue to grow. The tools for building social capital that are available on Facebook, far exceed any tools used in the past. These tools include groups, events, and even causes. The groups allow people to easily join others with common interests and to share ideas on the group’s webpage. They can do this without having to show up at a meeting at a specific time, thus making accessibility much easier. This aspect in particular has allowed people to come together for some of the most outrageous reasons e.g. “Ben is Still Spanish to me” to serious e.g. “stop global warming”. This is a kind of bridging social capital that has not been seen to this extent in history before but is only one opportunity that Facebook offers its members for connection. Events can be hosted on Facebook and are easier to publicize than ever before. There is little effort required to send out event invitations and reminders. I think that Facebook users are probably more likely to check their Facebook page before they check their email page. The events page can even contain links to pictures and videos

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promoting the event, as well as create guest lists by which estimates of the number of people going to attend can be made. Almost all aspects of media are incorporated into one easily accessible website that can even be linked up to your igoogle homepage. These are only two organizing tools offered by Facebook. One of the neatest tools that I found on Facebook is the ability to create a cause. A cause is like a Facebook group, except that people within that cause can donate money to a 501-c-3 non-profit of their choice through an internet purchasing system called Paypall. I have personally started a cause on the website for my group MontPIRG. Fundraising goals and awards can be set up that help motivate possible donors. The fundraising can even include matching donors, and corporate sponsorships. These places in the digital world are going to become more instrumental in creating social capital all over the world. In my “field study” that I conducted I came across a program that completely blew my mind. This is a program that tracks public information from people’s walls, and turns it into a Sociologists dream. The program, Lexicon, adds up the number of certain key words that are said on peoples walls, without knowing exactly who said them, adds them up and now has very good information on the demographic trends of its users. These trends can be analyzed through their location on a map, sentience, and Associations.

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The map tool can be tailored to show and compare statistics for two categories at the same time (http://www.facebook.com/lexicon/new/? topic=mccain&topic_2=obama&country=US&maps=&map_normalize =1). For example if I compared Obama to McCain, I will see that California and Hawaii talked about Obama a lot, where Kansas and Kentucky were talking about McCain a lot. The map also indicates what different parts of the country are talking about and in what percentage of the total posts. The access to this information has the ability to spawn a whole host of new research into current and upcoming trends around the world. We have the possibility of understanding what people in Great Britain are talking about, and what impacts that may have on American culture. The sentiment tool available on Lexicon through Facebook allows the researcher to tell what percentages of the posts were positive or negative about a topic. This tool can be adjusted to understand different points in time. This tool coupled with an understanding of the news media at that time, may lead to a better understanding of the people than any polls could hope to imagine. There is no margin of error when understanding how people on Facebook felt about a subject. They are either saying positive things or negative things. For example, talk related to Obama after the election soared to over 78% positive (http://www.facebook.com/lexicon/new/?

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sentiment&topic=obama). The associations tool is really very interesting and gives sociologists the ability to see what interests relate to each other and what demographic of the population has an association with the keyword that is chosen. For example, if the keyword politics is chosen, than it can be seen that people that talked about politics were also likely to mention Obama and McCain. There were 4,236 individuals that talked about politics and McCain on October 12th, and most of them were between the ages of 28 and 36, and %63 - %71 were males (http://www.facebook.com/lexicon/new/? window_length=14&associations=&topic=politics). If we look at the same website and see results from politics and Obama there were only 612 posts containing both keywords. A majority of the posters were above the age of 32 and more than %70 of them were males. The news from October 11th claims that John McCain released his healthcare plan on that day (http://www.allamericanpatriots.com/48734750_john_mccain_john_mcc ain_john_mccains_bush_health_care_plan_more_same). This tool may possibly be the best tool available on the Lexicon application right now because of its wide range of information supplied. There is plenty of information already available to be studied through this program, but I think there is still more that could be added. For example I would like to see specific dates on the map

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application to make it easier to track trends and discussions across the country. I would also like to see unlimited searchable topics in all categories. Because this program was only released to the public a few months ago, the developers are gathering funding for improvements and wider search categories. Never before has world wide philanthropic information been this easy to obtain and in such neat graphs. No longer do social scientists have to spend countless hours with transcribing and the math involved in finding the statistics, they are done for you. Now we just get to look at the pretty graphs and make thesis statements. The community organizing potentials of the Facebook website can be as large as a worldwide boycott or as small as a birthday party. Almost all organizations that come from the people themselves serve to increase the social capital in their communities. Facebook will lead the next generation of community organizing through the opportunistic advertising media, the lack of control by mass media, and the subsequent increases in the social capital that is necessary for community organizing. Facebook has been able to formulate one of the best advertising spaces in the world through target specific advertising. For example, my mother has advertisements for Opra magazine and I have advertisements for a razor. This same ability can be utilized by community groups that are organized enough to raise enough money

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to purchase the ad time, I would be thinking of a big non-profit like the Sierra Club. The majorities of Facebook users are currently college students and are a demographic that is more likely to initiate social change than any other demographic. I love that Facebook has user-generated content. Meaning that most of the information available on the website has been produced by average people sitting in their homes. I don’t have to be a computer geek to have my information, pictures even videos on a website and I don’t have to own a television or radio station. I believe that there have been instances in our recent history where there was manipulation of our mass media system. The mass media influences led U.S. citizens into a widespread emotional outcry for vengeance that led to an illegitimate war. I wonder if there had been no television or radio stations and only Facebook, if we would have gone to war? Would there have been larger protests? Would Bush have been elected again? The potential for the generation x Facebook users to achieve informational freedom has arrived and hopefully with it the most democratic state in history. The online community is the world’s largest community and the most open place to share ideas and values that increase social capital. The ability to say something on Facebook and not fear physical retaliation opens up doors for all that have ever had their voice suppressed. Women, gays, and poor people that have historically had

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their voices suppressed for fear of physical harm can now speak loud and clear about their beliefs and ideas to the entire world. “The fact that nearly all Facebook users include their high school name in their profile (96%) suggests that maintaining connections to former high school classmates is a strong motivation for using Facebook” ((Ellison, Michigan State University, 2007). This increases the social capital necessary for humans to reach the next level of organization. The Facebook community is the most democratic place for people in the digital and real world to organize to effectively alter their lives. It is important to note that trends and ideas do not just become big time topics in the Facebook world, but are generated through lots of people spreading the idea to another person who spreads it to another person. This is the most grass roots organizing tool available to community organizers and I feel it should be used in all organizations. All of these social capital building tools were not available when Robert Putman his book “Bowling Alone” (2000). In it he is worried about the declining amount of social capital in the United States. With references to the lack of participation in community groups like bowling leagues, the Elks Club and the Free Mason’s, as indicators of a troubled society. I understand where he is coming from, and I would have been worried in 2000 as well if I would have been old enough to think about that kind of stuff. Putman did not have the ability to realize the networking capabilities of the internet, in particular Facebook when

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he wrote his book and I feel his opinion would be much different now. In conclusion, the Increased use of Facebook means that Groups, Events and Causes are going to continue to grow and prosper. The understandings about who we are as a people without using mass media created stereotypes, will lead to the common person becoming more socially aware of their surroundings. Finally, with the increase in social capital and the availability of organizing tools, community organizers can have more power in the fight against prejudices, environmental damages and power abuses that can be caused by the few in power. I therefore claim that Facebook will be an important stepping-stone into the next shift in America’s quest for the perfect society.

Reference: The Benefits of Facebook ‘‘Friends:’’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of, Online Social Network Sites, Nicole B. Ellison, Charles Steinfield, Cliff Lampe, Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Median Michigan State University, 2007. Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam, National Endowment for Democracy and the Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. http://www.facebook.com/lexicon/new/? topic=mccain&topic_2=obama&country=US&maps=&map_norm

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alize=1. http://www.facebook.com/lexicon/new/?sentiment&topic=obama. http://www.facebook.com/lexicon/new/? window_length=14&associations=&topic=politics. http://www.allamericanpatriots.com/48734750_john_mccain_john_mcc ain_john_mccains_bush_health_care_plan_more_same.

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