Critical Internet Ecology analysis and map: A case of Facebook

Introduction

Throughout human history new communication technologies have always had a substantial impact on culture, but none of the historical advancements can match the modern innovations and their influence on culture. In the early stages, such innovations and their impacts generally were not well understood. Today there is a surge of interest in empirical contexts and the use of digital information and communication technologies to discover the practices, conditions and impacts of internet on various domains of our lives. Various theoretical concepts are used to guide these studies, including the organizational ecology concept which utilizes statistical analysis to explore how organizations emerge, develop and wade off[1]. A flourishing digital culture has become a significant asset to various parts of our daily lives. It entails the appreciation and shared enjoyment of various digital tools and environment which inform and facilitate our daily work. The internet and social media, particularly, are very powerful tools which can highly influence and shape human behavior. In this context, this essay critically analyzes Facebook as key to this industry, specifically focusing on how it has transformed our economic, political and social/cultural relations.

Facebook overview/history

Source: https://makeawebsitehub.com/social-media-sites/

Launched in 2004, Facebook has grown immensely from being just a students’ networking platform to being the largest shareholder in the social media industry by a very wide margin. According to the international statistics portal, social media continues to increase in popularity with the average daily usage being about 135 minutes. Social networking audience across the world is said to be already above the 2 billion mark and Facebook records a monthly active usage of 1.86 billion people. Further, social media is defined as the platforms which allow users to create and share content in social networking. The following image illustrates the pool of social media sites and platforms in the web.

Source: https://makeawebsitehub.com/social-media-sites/

According to the social network theory, there is a particular way in which people and organizations interact with each other within their network[2]. Similarly, Facebook was formed as a platform limited to only Harvard University students but its membership gradually grew from institution to institution, state to state and nation to nation, ultimately becoming the most spectacular phenomenon in the digital world. Now it celebrates almost 15 years of utmost progress and success. The highly accredited founder of Facebook based his project on both psychology and programming, which are evident from the supposed addictive nature of the likes, shares, comments and pokes on the website as well as the technicalities of setting up a profile and interconnecting among individual users[3]. The quick popularity did not see Facebook stop innovating since the shareholders are constantly improving its metrics. In 2009 Facebook hit a major milestone when it qualified as the most popular social platform. Behind its appalling success are the legal suites it has had to deal with regarding wrong usage of the platform for malicious and selfish reasons such as the spread of fake news. Also recently was the crisis after crisis journey, where Facebook was accused of failure to handle users’ personal data carefully. Nevertheless, Facebook maintains its popularity among its competitors as shown below

Source: https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/11/07/facebook-statistics      

Facebook in the social/cultural context

Days are long gone when people in the society would sit together for long hours. As more and more people develop a strong liking for social media, the conventional modes of interaction decrease in relevance. In fact, studies show that today people are more concerned about their Facebook friends than they are about people they interact with on a daily basis face to face. Thanks to Facebook, our friends’ circles have become bigger than they were a decade ago. We all have our space where we are able to share our interests, sorrows, joy and ideas with our friends on a nearly real time basis. Being able to connect with people from all walks of life, even the minority groups such as the LGBT community are able to meet and empower each other. People are becoming global citizens just by being connected through Facebook.

A different reality of Facebook is that it has limited the search for meaning in real life. Instead of being able to explore our capacities and new imaginations, we are following tailored structures on how we lead life. This is becoming a major concern especially among the millennials who form the greatest Facebook audience. Being used to online interactions is limiting their abilities to develop personal and professional skills[4]. Concerns have been raised especially by employers who have a hard time finding the right set of soft skills such as communication, attention to details and interpersonal interactions in the potential millennial employees. Also, the millennials lack problem solving skills in the real life context.

In the social context also, Facebook has impacted on our language by evolving different meanings to various terminologies. For instance, friending and unfriending has become generally accepted as a verb[5]. Also, a wall is originally known as structure that locks out the world but now it is the major medium through which we communicate to the world at Facebook. Poking would originally mean a ground fist fight but in Facebook it refers to a friendly way of reaching out to someone to engage them in a chat. Typically, Facebook has created a list of terminologies that are only recognized by its community of users.

Nonetheless, Facebook has changed the way we view privacy, security and the way we share information. A report by the Consumer Research established that Facebook users are not aware of the degree to which information regarding them is shared[6]. The tech industry has also highlighted legal issues pertaining Facebook, due to the nature of the users’ profile, which are almost completely open[7]. To respond to issues concerning privacy, Facebook CEO argued that people who need to keep their lives private should not partake in the web in the first place. Facebook has to allow marketers discover their target consumer pitches. In fact, Zuckerberg’s original idea was to help people grow more open, share more information and understand whatever is going on in their world in a better way[8]. Hence while anonymity is still enabled by the site, most of the users have their information reaching a vast audience. Ideally, Facebook has set a precedent for those who want change to follow, not only through its1 enabling techniques but also through setting itself as an example to be emulated.

Facebook in the economic context

Facebook continues to impact on business models every day. Its growth into a digital advertising power has taken the business landscape by storm. In fact, Facebook revenue has been mainly dependent on the cyclical ad market, often overtaking its greatest rival in this sector, Google. About 98 per cent of its revenue is from advertising[9]. As such, Facebook advertising has leveled the business sphere among both small and huge actors, especially by allowing small businesses greater access to potential customers more than any other social network. As stated earlier, Facebook has a large user base hence marketers have a good chance to tailor their promotional messages to the target market segments based on a variety of attributes such as gender, age, careers and interests. It is not just a tool for reaching existing and new customers, but it is a versatile marketing tool which allows molding of content appropriately.

Advertising on Facebook is supported by the fact that most customers and potentials spend most of their time on Facebook and this increases customer attribution since they come across the advert several times a day. This in turn, creates more leads, referrals, and traffic to companies’ websites and the conversion rate becomes higher. Hence it is currently considered to be a central component of business growth models[10]. Further, Facebook has allowed a sense of responsibility and accountability for business organizations because one mistake reaches a vast audience in a short time and its reputation goes into ruins. However, through Facebook also such organizations can release statements regretting their mistakes and promising to take action, and this is what improves the sense of responsibility. Facebook also has platform known as Workplace, which was aimed at organizations. Typically, it is an internal platform whereby employees in a company can communicate with each other. It brings cohesiveness and aids in teamwork building.

A report by Deloitte shows that Facebook generally impacts on the economy by unraveling business opportunities through connecting businesses and people, lowering marketing barriers and stimulating innovation among the active audience[11]. Facebook enabled 227 billion dollars and 4.5 million jobs economic impact in the year 2014. Typically by allowing democratization of information and creating a platform economy, Facebook contributes enormously to economic growth.

Facebook in the political context

Literature suggests that the rise of social media has had a positive impact on political participation and interest, resulting in more democratized societies. Governments are able to provide public services at the fingertips of citizens. Mobile governance and e-governance has changed how citizens interact with the state, which has helped to bring public services closer to people in the remote areas, also helped curb corruption by reducing interface between public servants and citizens[12]. Facebook has become a mode of social mobilization where various campaigns against concerns such as corruption are paraded. The site has made politicians more accessible hence contributing to their tendency to be responsible. Rather than watch T.V, fans or interested parties can go directly to a politician’s page and obtain the most updated information. They can also express their views and address their issues by posting on the politician’s wall or sending them direct messages.

Besides, Facebook aids elections by allowing campaign strategists to target voters better by analyzing their issues and concerns on Facebook. Also, rather than leaving the media to report firsthand about politician’s ideologies, Facebook gives them a chance to communicate and leave the media to report about the responses of the public[13]. Notably also, Facebook has had an impact in youth voting, through political mobilization facilitated by information sharing. As people intensify their efforts to participate in the political process, they also get a chance to contribute in the issues surrounding campaigns and elections. Most significantly, Facebook has been a tool of effecting change in political organizations and resisting oppressive governments, with a lot of evidence from the Arab Spring in the Middle East.

The future of Facebook

There is no doubt that Facebook has democratized communication cutting across social hierarches, power structures, race, gender, nationality and other social classes. It reflects the diversity of opinions spoken by people from across the world. One thing is certain, if people are not tolerant of other’s standpoints, there will lack a sensible exchange of ideas. While we acknowledge that Facebook qualifies as a tool for egalitarianism, harmony and fraternity, allowing its dynamics to overpower us as a society is setting us up for a big failure.

In the first quarter of 2018 Facebook growth of users remained relatively flat and it was a shocker since it is the lowest that Facebook has ever recorded since 2011[14]. This was contrary to the expectations of various analysts such as the Wall-street. On the flip side, Facebook had indicated that it would make some changes to its new feeds, which would reduce its revenue growth. Based on these dynamics, Facebook might decrease its popularity in the future. However, there is a group of analysts which believes Facebook can utilize technological innovations to improve its metrics and become a necessary way of life in the future.

Conclusion

The rise of the mobile technology, internet and social media has revolutionized the way we do various things in our everyday lives. Facebook has been considered as the most popular social networking cite which records a high active usage daily. Facebook has substantial impacts on the social/cultural, economic and political domains. It has influenced how businesses through the introduction of new business models such as Facebook advertising and it has developed the economy by being a pool of knowledge which stimulates innovations and opportunities. In the social context Facebook has made us more concerned about our online family than the people we interact with face to face, and it has also changed the way we view privacy and information. Nonetheless, Facebook has increased political participation and engagement, leading to more democratization of states.

[1] Abbott, Kenneth W., Jessica F. Green, and Robert O. Keohane. Organizational ecology and institutional change in global governance. (International Organization 70; 2016): 247-277.

 

[2] Scott, John. Social network analysis. Sage, 2017.

[3] Hoffmann, Anna Lauren, Nicholas Proferes, and Michael Zimmer. Making the world more open and connected”: Mark Zuckerberg and the discursive construction of Facebook and its users .(New Media & Society 20; 2018): 199-218.

 

[4] Eisingerich, Andreas B., HaeEun Helen Chun, Yeyi Liu, He Jia, and Simon J. Bell. Why recommend a brand facetoface but not on Facebook? How wordofmouth on online social sites differs from traditional wordofmouth  (Journal of Consumer Psychology 25; 2015): 120-128.

[5] Gilbert, Lori LaRayne. Friends’,’fans’, and foes: Identity performance through responses to Facebook brand marketing.  (PhD diss., University of East Anglia, 2016).

 

[6] Golijan, Rosa. Consumer Reports: Facebook privacy problems are on the rise. NBC NEWS, May 3, 2012. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/technology/consumer-reports-facebook-privacy-problems-are-rise-749990

[7] Castaneda, Araceli M., Markie L. Wendel, and Erin E. Crockett. Overlap in Facebook profiles reflects relationship closeness. (The Journal of social psychology 155; 2015): 395-401.

[8] Wagner, Kurt. 8 Ways Facebook Changed the World. Mashable, February 4, 2014. Retrieved from https://mashable.com/2014/02/04/facebook-changed-the-world/#0.IrSxWv9aqX

 

[9] Buhler, Julian, Aaron W. Baur, Markus Bick, and Jimin Shi. Big data, big opportunities: Revenue sources of social media services besides advertising. (In Conference on e-Business, e-Services and e-Society, Cham, Springer, 2015) 183-199.

[10] Abedin, Babak. Diffusion of adoption of Facebook for customer relationship management in Australia: An exploratory study. (Journal of Organizational and End User Computing (JOEUC) 28; 2016): 56-72

[11] Deloitte. The global economic impact of Facebook. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/the-global-economic-impact-of-facebook.html

[12] Soma, Katrine, Catrien JAM Termeer, and Paul Opdam. Informational governance–A systematic literature review of governance for sustainability in the Information Age. (Environmental Science & Policy 56; 2016): 89-99.

 

[13] Vromen, Ariadne, Brian D. Loader, Michael A. Xenos, and Francesco Bailo. Everyday making through Facebook engagement: young citizens’ political interactions in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. (Political Studies 64; 2016): 513-533.

 

[14] Newton, Casey. Facebook’s forecast for the future looks suddenly bleak. THE VERGE, July 26, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2018/7/26/17615330/facebook-earnings-forecast-user-growth-revenue

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