Free Speech on Campus

Harvard reminded the world last week why free speech is an ever-present issue on college campuses. When students woke up to satirical flyers slipped under their doors, inviting them to join the school’s latest final club, “the Pigeon,” administrators were not amused. For the poster’s tongue-in-cheek header, “Inclusion* Diversity** Love***,” was complemented by the footnote, “*Jews need not apply / **Seriously, no f—ing Jews. Coloreds OK. / *** Rophynol (sic)” — the final comment referring to the date rape drug, rohypnol. Oft-criticized as bastions of exclusivity and sexism, Harvard’s all-male final clubs are perhaps deserving of the spirit of the flyer. And though its rhetoric pushed the limits of acceptable speech (or did it? consider the extent of satire used by The Onion), the writer’s (or writers’) goal of bringing attention to ills within the campus community was surely realized.

This is not the first time Harvard’s administration has shown a distaste for free speech. Last year, incoming freshmen were encouraged to sign an oath binding them to act with “civility,” “inclusiveness,” and “kindness” on campus. The oath received much criticism. Is compulsory kindness and forced civility really what a college campus needs? In many cases, kindness is antithetical to calls for change, civility is incompatible with the actions needed to enact reform, and inclusiveness can create artificial and confusing rules.

Now imagine if the flyer was not physically printed, but distributed via a social network — probably Facebook. Would the administration have reacted differently? Would it have jurisdiction over content posted on the network? Consider that anonymity on Facebook is near-impossible, so the social barriers to cheeky language like what was used in the poster would have been higher. In other words, the writer would probably have abstained from using racial slurs. Would the flyer still have ticked off the administration? Though printed media slipped under one’s door overnight naturally garners attention, a shocking viral post distributed through Facebook can no doubt have the same power, and is easier for the author to disseminate.

The real problem here is that colleges are increasingly unwilling to allow unpopular ideas to be debated in the public sphere at the expense of civility, inclusiveness, and kindness. In my opinion, this hyper-sensitivity is counterproductive and ultimately reduces students’ ability and impetus to debate social ills and present unpopular ideas. This is where the First Amendment comes in — or doesn’t. While public universities, funded by taxpayers, cannot restrict free speech in the same way that one cannot restrict free speech at a town center, private universities (like Harvard) don’t have to follow the principles of the Constitution. Harvard has every legal right to make rules limiting speech in order to further its particular educational goals.

Private universities’ right to restrict speech (and, to a lesser extent, public universities’ ability to make rules to maintain orderly conduct on campus) do extend to social networks. In a recent Minnesota Supreme Court case, Tatro v. University of Minnesota, it was decided that the University of Minnesota (a public school) did not violate a student’s First Amendment rights by punishing her for a satirical Facebook post. In general (and though the Minnesota case didn’t meet this litmus test), schools are allowed to limit off-campus or online speech that “materially and substantially” disrupts school activities — a standard that dates back to Tinker v. Des Moines (1969).

Moral of the story: college students should be aware of free speech laws and jurisprudence, and especially the extent to which one’s university can limit expression on and off campus, offline and online.


It seems to me that what we have been talking about last week is like a game between websites and users. The game of hide-and-seek, to be precise. We users use whatever tools we can find online to bar websites from finding the traces of our browsing history, while websites sneakily insert ‘trackers’ in our browsers in order to identify us and follow us wherever we go.

Every game has its rules and boundaries, so how about this game? Apparently, there is no specific rule governing what a website cannot track using the cookies implanted, neither is there a rule governing what a website can do with its data. Though Facebook is notably stingy in giving its data to third parties (such action, whatever its original intention is, actually protects users to a certain extent), there are just so many other companies that are much more generous in providing data (at a certain fee, of course). So there is no clear ‘boundary’ for websites in this game. The ‘Do Not Track’ system backed by FTC is, at best, a recommendation (and clearly not forceful enough) to website designers and browser builders.

While websites can track users in an almost limitless platform, what normal users could do is much more limited by the capabilities of tools online and their own understanding of the issue. The number of ‘trace-cleaning’ and ‘anti-tracing’ tools available is still too small and many of them do not function properly (removing certain cookies will cause user experience of certain websites to plummet). Moreover, users themselves are not as professional as website designers in detecting the possible trackers in a website and therefore could not implement effective solutions. Many others simply do not even know they are being tracked, and that constitutes a large percentage of normal users (no offense but IE users in particular).

What we see here is a game that leans towards one side – the websites. As a result of superior knowledge and insufficient restrictions, they simply can ‘catch’ almost every user they want. And no matter how hard a user tries to cover his online record, he could not hide in the dark for long before a website pinpoints him and starts tracking him again. Even if a certain website is barred by a user, there will always be a similar data-hoarding website taking its place and continue the unfinished task. What makes anti-tracking even harder is that the tracking websites have done so well in keeping a low profile that most of us have never heard of them before. It is the first time for me to know sites like DoubleClick (affiliated to Google), BlueKai, and Google Analytics, and I am afraid many people would never know such sites exist. Without knowing the existence of tracking sites, it is just impossible to block them.

Are users really going to lose out in this hide-and-seek game? Are there any remedies for them to get rid of their disadvantages and turn this game around? Since what the websites have done is not considered illegitimate, it is hard to use legislative tools to explicitly restrict their behavior. However, the online tracking action has indeed annoyed a lot of users, and many people are thinking of non-legislative ways which could be effective as well.

We have talked about websites like Panopticlick which aim to educate users about the vulnerability of their own browsers and computers. This is an important step to take since users and website designers are not competing on a fair platform now due to unequal knowledge in this field. But another question arises: are users willing to take the time to learn something that they could hardly use in other aspects of life? Personal data from online tracking is mostly used for purposes like consumer-targeted advertisement and marketing, which pose less harm to users (some could even see such purposes as beneficial). Despite the low level of threat currently, we should still take preventive measures because the harm such data is actually capable of posing could be a nightmare for everyone, and nobody knows whether or when such data will be used for more sinister purposes.

Our anti-tracking tools are consistently improving as well. Tools like Ghostery and ShareMeNot are at the frontier of anti-tracking and have gained the support of thousands of users. As long as sneaky tracking by certain websites still exist online, I have no doubt that some organizations will come out with better tools to give users more options in countering such behavior.

As this is the last of my FRS101 blog posts, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has viewed my articles. Special thanks to my professors and classmates for giving me the inspiration of many blog posts.

Wish everyone a wonderful winter break ahead!

The Big Vote

Facebook users have recently been getting emails asking them to vote on the “global site governance.” I received an email with the subject “Our Global Site Governance Vote,” a couple of days ago, and decided to research what this vote was actually about.

What I found was that Facebook is proposing changes to how it handles its users personal information. It opened its polls for its more than 1 billion users last Monday to vote on proposed changes to its current policies. One of the proposals would be to abolish the voting system itself (I talked about this in one of my past posts – the site allows users to vote on the rules for how it treats your information and privacy). In response to protests over changes it had made in its terms of service, Facebook established the voting system in 2009 so users would have a voice in how Facebook would deal with personal information. However, Facebook says that the voting system has not worked as it was intended (there is a huge lack of voters – in June, only 0.038% of Facebook’s population at the time voted on Facebook’s proposed two alternative versions of its statement of rights and responsibilities). As a result, it is proposing to keep users informed on policy changes with webcasts on privacy rather than giving its users the right to vote on policy changes.

So what exactly are you voting on? The social network site is proposing three main changes.

1)   Facebook would like to abolish the voting system – if the proposed changes are accepted, Facebook will no longer ask users to vote on policy changes

2)   Facebook wants the right to share user date with its affiliates such as Instagram

3)   Facebook wants to loosen restrictions on who can message you

Will your vote count? Because of a lack of turnout, your vote probably won’t make a difference. On Facebook’s site governance page, it says: “As stated in both policies, if more than 30% of all active registered users vote, the results will be binding. If turnout is less than 30%, the vote will be advisory.” In the two previous votes that Facebook has held, none reached this threshold. Because Facebook has surpassed 1 billion users, this means that 300 million people would have to vote (that’s roughly the size of the United States). As of last Wednesday, only 300,000 people had voted, most of who were not in favor of Facebook’s proposals. Therefore, tonight, when voting ends, users will most likely lose the ability to vote on future changes to Facebook’s privacy policy. Here are the latest results:

In order to vote, you have to click on the link that came with the email from Facebook.  Will you be participating?

Six Feet Under and Still on Facebook

What happens to Facebook profiles when the owner dies?

Because Facebook has over 500 million users, it comes as no surprise that around 8,000 Facebook users die every day. When a loved one passes, what can you do to make sure that their Facebook profile is taken care of? Facebook has thought of this, and has created the “Report a Death” form under the help section of their website. Rather than having the account deleted, the profile is “memorialized” so that friends and family can still see the user’s recent activity and can post loving remembrances/condolences. A form must be filled out and submitted to Facebook for approval before the profile is memorialized:

With a memorialized account, no one can sign in to use it but the profile is still active. Only friends that were confirmed before the death can post on the profile or search for it. To avoid confusion, the account can no longer be found publicly (for example, from a Google search) and prevents the profile from being suggested as friends to other users (imagine that shock!). Only immediate family members of the deceased can request for the account to be deleted, and a separate form is required.

Information regarding postmortem activity is included in Facebook’s privacy policy within their Terms of Use. By checking the “I Agree” box, one is literally signing their “online life” away – or at least their control over their profile after death. Comparatively, Facebook’s policies are rather thorough and comprehensive. Myspace received a lot of attention for doing a poor job of monitoring users’ profiles after death, and also took a long time to confirm deaths for users. Several popular blogs were even dedicated to matching active Myspace profiles to obituaries. At least, with Facebook hiding the profiles from public searches, the accounts will not be used for blogosphere fodder.

However, Facebook has clearly not perfected their system for deceased users. Theoretically, pranksters are weeded out by needing to provide “proof of death” on the memorializing form, typically by providing a link to an online obituary. Apparently this “proof” is not terribly hard to fabricate, because one day Brett Millet tried to log onto his Facebook only to find this concerning message:

After some searching, he found a useful section of the Facebook help section: My Personal Account Is In A Memorialized State. While he may have been relieved, he clearly is not the only person to have experienced this issue. It is quite concerning that Facebook anticipated so many mistakes in their memorializing process, enough to create a unique section for it on their site.

Some users are also dissatisfied with Facebook’s way of handling death. Multiple Facebook apps have popped up that offer an alternative, including Evertalk, My Memorials, and Memorial Candles. These apps are purely contained within Facebook as an alternative to Facebook’s profile memorializing process.

I sincerely hope that none of us have to deal with the death of a loved one, and are forced to address their Facebook profile. If that is the case, I hope this information has been helpful.

Future of Facebook (and Social Networks)

Throughout these few weeks, I’ve looked at the current status (haha) of Facebook and how developments affect the company’s potential. Now, I’m going to take a look at the future of the company as a whole. Let’s start with an investigation of its inclusion in the NASDAQ-100. The NASDAQ-100 is a stock market index of the top hundred non-financial companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Stock market indexes are used by financial companies to gauge markets and various companies, so joining the ranks of companies like Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Microsoft definitely will help draw in more investors. This also helps because people who trade large volumes of money called exchange-traded funds have benchmarks they must meet, and that tends to make them buy stock from all companies (now Facebook included) in an index to match the index’s performance.

Why isn’t this huge news and why haven’t Facebook popped the champagne? First of all, this has been long expected. Also, Facebook only joined the index now because Infosys (the company it replaced) moved to the New York Stock Exchange, making it ineligible for inclusion in NASDAQ’s NASDAQ-100. Otherwise, the inclusion would’ve been postponed until the next reassessment of NASDAQ companies. A big next step would be to be included in the S&P 500, a more influential index that draws more interest, attention, and cash flow in the form of stock buyers. Still, joining the S&P is difficult as it requires several quarters of profits, and Facebook has gone positive only two quarters so far. A single slip would render Facebook ineligible. Overall, even though the addition to NASDAQ-100 isn’t the most shocking news in the financial world, it does give Facebook the potential to add a nice boost in terms of long-term safety and to regain some value ever since its stock went sub $20 a few months ago.

Still, this places pressure on Facebook. If Facebook underperforms consistently or has a major slip, investors will flee. Facebook stock is tentatively climbing up, but investors are just waiting for any signs of long-term problems for a hefty jumping of ship. Major issues such as privacy and mobile expansion are topics that investors pay much attention to while considering Facebook, and at the moment, Facebook has placated doubts. Unfortunately, if Facebook is unable to continue to draw advertisers for its mobile ads or if it has one major privacy slip (such as leakage of account info, a large-scale hack, or a security breach), the future of social networks as a whole (financially, at least) is jeopardized, and the decline of the Facebook stock would make the Dow Jones fall of 2008 look like nothing.

How Facebook Changes Privacy

We always talk about privacy and Facebook — about how Facebook violates privacy laws, how it ignore’s user’s basic right to privacy, how they should change the default settings to facilitate user’s privacy beliefs.

But what we don’t realize is that Facebook is slowly drawing privacy back. It’s not even sinister.

At it’s root is people’s perception of privacy.

It’s almost cliched now that old fogies will complain about the lax privacy attentiveness of young people today. “Kids today” they said, “They have no shame. They post their diaries, their phone number, and every single photo for the world to see.”

You can see it yourself. Take a look at any teenager’s Facebook and take a look at their parent’s. The teenager’s (roughly generalizing here) will be filled with status about their day to day goings, photos of every single possible thing ever, and an ever-continuous flutter of conversation from wall to wall. The older person’s will have status about vacations, about marriages  about the big things.

This can be partially attributed to the fact that younger people are more impulsive. We think less about what we post online and more about what we can let our friends know. We think not of the logical process of filtering out information for privacy and instead about the emotional reward for posting it.

Facebook has especially facilitated this change by making it possible to let people know the play-by-play of your life. They have made it possible to let your friends instantly know how life is and stay in contact with them. Who doesn’t want to keep in touch with your friends?

But this alone would not shift people’s ideas of privacy. Otherwise, the older generation would be much more comfortable with how the younger generation treats it.

The second key is that Facebook has made it acceptable to pay for products with personal information. It has made an amazing product that connects the world only for the low price of personal information. The users get to use Facebook and Facebook get to know everything they would ever want to know about a person short of medical records and credit score.

This has now become standard for the younger generation. It has become expected that free things require some private info to be given up. This ability has devalued the worth of personal information for users and made them more willing to give it up.

Because of Facebook, we are seeing the start of a shift in views on privacy.

Thoughts on Facebook IPO

I wanted to use this blog post to really help me assemble my thoughts on my presentation.  When dealing with Facebook’s IPO, it is important to first understand why a company would want to go public in the first place.  There are many reasons why a company would go public, but here are the three I found to be the most important.  First, going public gives liquidity to the employees of a company. It makes their once private stocks public, thus enabling them to get cash for them when they want to.  Another important reason that a company would want to go public is so that a value is established for the business.  Once it has gone public, there is no longer any debate about the company’s worth. There is a set net worth for the company based on the amount of stocks and each stock’s price.  The third reason for why a company would want to go public is because it establishes a currency for the company, which can be used to buy other companies, for mergers, acquisitions, and other such deals.  What establishing a currency means is basically that the company’s stock becomes a currency, which can be used in order to buy other companies. These are the main reasons why any company would want to go public, and this certainly applies to Facebook’s situation.  There is also the fact that the only way Facebook was making money was through advertisements on their website.  This was significant to the value of Facebook, but by going public, they were able to raise a large chunk of capital for the company’s future endeavors.  Although it raised billions of dollars through the IPO, it was still considered an unsuccessful IPO by many people.  How is this so?  First of all, the lead underwriter for the IPO, Morgan Stanley, set an initial price for the stock way too high.  When a stock goes public, the lead underwriter’s job is to poll the market, and to figure out where people value the company going public and what they would be willing to pay for the price of the stock.  They polled institutional investors, along with figuring out how much demand there is from individuals as well.  Apparently, Morgan Stanley didn’t do their homework as well as they should have because the price of the stock plummeted after going public.  The main reason I see that they overvalued it so much is probably because there was nothing that they could really compare Facebook’s stock to.  When a car company or any other company goes public, a good way to gauge the initial asking price is by the price of other businesses similar to them.  In Facebook’s case this wasn’t really a possibility because there was nothing quite like Facebook.  So, the IPO was considered unsuccessful by many because it showed that Facebook was not nearly as valued as many people thought, along with the fact that it soured the tech market for a long time after the IPO.

Why Facebook is NOT a Social Network of the Past and Why Google Should be on the Lookout

The original interview of Bradley Horowitz can be found here:

After having written 9 different blog posts for this class, some of them analysis and many of them just rants, I decided to do something a little different this week. Recently, Google VP of Google+, Bradley Horowitz, gave an interview on Business Insider, and during the interview, he showed why Facebook is “a social network of the past” and why Google’s strategy is better. I am going to play devil’s advocate to his arguments. By the end of this article, I will have debunked all of his reasonings, and I will show why Google is the one who should be hiding if and when Facebook reaches its full potential.

Horowitz’s arguments against Facebook can be grouped into three main categories. (1) Facebook is fundamentally different from how people really are in the world. When people communicate with each other, they want to really limit their conversation to just that group of people. That is why Google+ is designed from the group up around the ideas of circles of friends and video hangouts. (2) Facebook’s method of implementing mobile ads jam irrelevant information into the users’ news feeds. The users, feeling annoyed, would then just skip the information entirely. “Jamming ads and agendas into user streams is pissing off users and frustrating brands, too.” Google, on the other hand, does not bother users with ads in Google+. Instead, these ads more logically appear in Google Search, where users are actually looking for information. (3) Google’s wide array of services, when brought together with Google+ being at the center of it all, provide a new and unique experience unlike what others (Facebook) can offer. For example, with data from Google+, Google can deliver search results while incorporating recommendations, say for a restaurant, from friends.

I will now rebut Horowitz’s points, one by one. First off, it is true that Facebook does not allow an easy and convenient way for users to limit their conversations. Google+’s solution in circles look indeed to be very promising. However, one oversight makes this argument practically invalid: the online world and the offline world are still two discreet, intermittently overlapping realities. People do not always want the same thing online as they do in their lives. For instance, when people get on Facebook, they actually want to discover things about their friends that they can’t in the real world. Imagine if Facebook suddenly turned all of the wall posts private; would you still use it? At the heart of Facebook is this belief that people want to share and discover things with each other. When they do want to make things private, though, Facebook users have the option of doing so in Facebook groups and messaging. Google+’s implementation of circles is clearly superior to Facebook’s friends lists, but it is like trying to apply medication when there is no actual injury.

Horowitz was not wrong to point out that Facebook, unlike Google, has been struggling with how to monetize its mobile users. Facebook’s solution, according to him, is to “make payroll by jamming users with ads.” However, I do not see how users would be bothered by this. Again, Google fails to understand that people do not behave online in the same way as they do on the web. If there is a flyer thrown into my face every corner I turn, I would certainly be annoyed. However, when I go on Facebook, I want to discover things. Sometimes, those things can be ads. In fact, Facebook’s implementation of mobile ads actually preserve/enhance the user experience more than Google’s implementation (in search). When people check their Facebook news feeds, they want to discover new things. When a certain thing does not interest them, regardless of whether it is an ad or a friend’s post, they simply scroll past it. In Google search, on the other hand, people want relevant information, not promoted data. Facebook at least provide a clear distinction of what is an ad and what is not. I find it harder and harder to trust that the link I am clicking on Google is actually there because it is relevant, not because someone paid for it to be there. (While we are on this topic, google “best smartphone” and see what comes up.)

I wonder if the Search team has an issue against the Android team.

It is actually quite ironic that a Google VP would accuse anyone of having intrusive ads while one of Google’s top products, YouTube, has one of the most disruptive ads on the planet. Browse on YouTube long enough, and an ad is shoved on your screen. Who is compromising the user experience now?

Before moving on to Horowitz’s last argument, I have to applaud Google’s recent efforts to unify its products. Doing so really add value to the Google ecosystem. That said, Google has put itself into an awkward position here. Because Google has so many products, it ends up competing with everyone. For instance, Google would love to have Google+ integrated into all smartphones, namely the iPhone. However, because Google is also the maker of Android, there is no way that Apple (or any other smartphone developers) would implement Google+ into its products. In fact, Apple recently kicked YouTube and Google Maps out of iOS. This is not an isolated case. Google is fighting a multiple-fronts war here, and if history is any indication, it cannot win this kind of wars. For instance, Apple came really close to replacing Google Search as the default search engine on Safari with Microsoft’s Bing. (When you see Apple and Microsoft collaborating, something is up.) As this and many other cases showed, Google is struggling to be everywhere while at the same time doing everything. Facebook knows this, which is why it is not making a phone. Unlike Google, Facebook is built into iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Unlike Google, Facebook is integrated into multiple app stores, including Apple’s and its own app catalog. Unlike Google, Facebook has no trouble making partnerships while focusing on what it does best: social networking.

So far, though, I have only shown why Facebook should not be concerned with Google’s efforts. What about the other way around? This is where it gets interesting. People’s relationship with Facebook’s flagship product, its social network, is much more deep and personal than their relationship with Google’s flagship product, Search. Even if Google gets all the recipe right and make a perfect social network, it still lags the tremendous amount of users that Facebook has. True, Google has a lot of users for its other services, but those services, unlike social networks, are not social. A user will have not nearly as much trouble abandoning Google Search than he would have abandoning Facebook, simply because his friends are all on Facebook. On the other hand, if Facebook comes up with a perfect search engine and integrates it right into their social network site, many users will flock right over, especially if Apple and Microsoft help by making “Facebook Search” the default search engine on their products. In short, Facebook’s hold on its users is much stronger than Google’s could ever hope to be.

Lists of Facebook Friends

In a recent addition to its user interface, Facebook introduced the option of placing your friends into lists – not unlike the Circles that Google+ utilized. “Smart Lists” automatically organizes your friends into different groups, while the user can also add friends into the default groups “Close Friends” and “Acquaintances” along with other lists he can create. However, it stands to reason that lists may not be the best form of association – after all, Google+ was not very successful with its attempt to create a social media platform. This poses the following question: why do people prefer to have their friends in a large, uncategorized mob as opposed to in neat and orderly divisions?

The main problem is that the entire process is far too tedious for the average Facebook user to undergo. The “Smart Lists” function, which bypasses the manual labor required to individually divide one’s friends, does not perform its task efficiently and accidentally groups people into inaccurate lists. Therefore, the only effective way to ensure that each friend is where he belongs is via the manual lists. Of course, the user encounters problems through this as well.

Firstly, to efficiently arrange lists for friends, the average user will certainly have to create a list aside from “Close Friends” and “Acquaintances.” From there, they may be unsure where to place their friends and where to exclude them. If a user makes a mistake while ordering, he may have to delete a list and start all over again. Facebook’s old policy, dumping everyone in one pile, may prove superior to the Google+ method of grouping for a variety of reasons.

Lumping friends together has its downsides – it facilitates the two extremes of data sharing. Oversharing, where a user may post information that is not appropriate to certain audiences, and undersharing, where a user may limit his social media presence to timid, meaningless updates. Nevertheless, given these two occurrences, Facebook has continued to thrive and grow amidst various privacy and security concerns.

To embark on a tangent regarding security, one may argue that the old Facebook provides a better medium for data security. For example, users who group their close friends together may post inappropriate information that can easily be leaked to the public eye. Users may become a little too comfortable in their digital homes and become careless with their Internet privacy.

Social media was meant to be an enjoyable process in which the user enjoys spending time on the website. In reality, none of us have to physically organize our groups into separate sections – this occurs naturally, by our actions and behavior. On Facebook, the posts that I make will usually only apply to a certain group, and there exists a tacit agreement between those excluded from that group and myself not to interact on that specific platform. When a friend breaks this unspoken rule, Facebook becomes a rather awkward place. Therefore, this tenet is usually upheld in conventional online social media use, and is far superior to the lists that Facebook has implemented. The environment that has been established allows us to create implicit divisions – Facebook doesn’t have to do it for us.

Social Spheres in Facebook

Are you still in contact with your high school friends? Maybe even your middle school ones too? Even though they’re at other colleges, do you “comment” and “like” their posts when they come up? It’s a little funny to think that ten years ago, when all of us left for college, we would’ve had drastically less communication with our former classmates than we do now. They had no cell phones, no social networks; go back a decade and email would have been gone too!

Contrast that to today, where anyone can now log onto FAcebook or Twitter and immediately see what their friends are doing, wherever they are in the world. We don’t have to pick up a phone to communicate, or type out a more formal email message. We can see what songs they’ve listened to, what interactions they’ve had with their new college friends. And we’re able to remain in contact with them, no matter where they are.

However, this trend has spawned a arguably negative side effect. With more ways to stay in contact with old friends, there is more pressure for people to keep up their social standing. No longer do people only have to keep up appearances and actions with the friends they see every day in college; we now have to manage how our high school friends, middle school buddies, and even parents see us online. Managing ore social spheres is a difficult task, and most people only present one view of themselves on their profile at once. I mean, how many people have you met who tailor their posts stories to their different lists on Facebook or circles on Google+?

A recent study done in the UK concluded that the more connections people have with their past friends, the more of a source of stress those connections will be. While rather logical, it shows the dramatic effect social networks, especially Facebook, has had on people’s personal lives. The researchers write that users “are more likely to feel socially anxious as it will be difficult, if not possible, to meet the expectations of all audiences simultaneously.” In essence, social networks are where different social spheres converge (when previously they were, sometimes purposefully, kept separate!), and that convergence puts more pressure on the individual to “fit” into standards accepted by all of the social spheres.

Consequently, most people end up falling into one of two extremes. One typically stops caring about what different social groups see about them, while the other posts on Facebook so infrequently such that the only posts about them are too vague to draw any conclusions. I have seen very few people tailor themselves to different social groups, regardless, the fact that people have to manage multiple social groups still seems to complicate their lives.

People may say that Facebook is great and all for connecting with old friends, but that in itself might be a bad thing. Sometimes a fresh break from the past is what people need in their lives: to not have to care about how people they know in the past see them as they are now. Facebook prevents that from happening. No longer will friends remember you as you were when they knew you, they’ll also know you on what your’e like now, whether you like it or not.


PS. I have seen some people unfriend [practically] everyone in their contact lists when they go to college, which sounds like a effective, if not extreme, way to mitigate this.