Facebook, the social networking site conceived in 2004 by a 19-year-old college student, now has more users than there are followers of Christianity. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the site celebrated its fifteenth birthday last week, whilst other social networks – Myspace, Bebo and Piczo, to name just a few – have risen and fallen around it.
Clearly, the last 15 years have not been plain sailing for Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild; take the Cambridge Analytica scandal of early 2018, for example, which has since been described as a turning point in public understanding regarding the dangers of individual data.
there seems to be no stopping the social media giant
After the non-consensual harvesting of millions of users’ personal information, and subsequent use of this data to affect how they voted, it is undeniable that the site’s public image has been altered. Similarly, numerous studies into Facebook’s impact on our mental health have shown that the less we use it, the better, especially in terms of anxiety levels and self-esteem.
And yet, there seems to be no stopping the social media giant. Although many argue that Facebook’s growth has begun to plateau, that is likely due to the fact that there are now only so many people who don’t already have an account. And even if young people are starting to turn to ‘cooler’ networks such as Instagram (which, incidentally, is owned by Facebook) and Snapchat, they still most likely have profiles. Facebook accounts are now almost always used as registration for other social networks, such is its prolific nature.
In fact, it is now almost abnormal not to have an account. Studies have shown that employers are less likely to hire someone who does not have Facebook; perhaps because it means they are unable to snoop on their personal lives (sorry, conduct ‘background checks’), or perhaps because it indicates a certain level of disconnection from today’s society. Especially at university, Facebook is an essential for staying current socially: from organising events, advertising shows and club nights or using messenger to coordinate group projects. Subconsciously, we are all a little taken aback when someone claims not to use it.
Especially at university, Facebook is an essential for staying current socially
Sociologically speaking, Facebook’s impact is unquestionable. It now forms the central part of jobs that didn’t even exist fifteen years ago: businesses are increasingly aware that if they are not on Facebook, they are missing out on a significant market, and it forms a crucial part of modern advertising strategies.
It has also affected our relationships and the way we interact with others. Atlantic recently credited the corporate giant with the creation of the ‘vestigial friendship’; one that was not meant to last, but is perpetuated through ‘likes’ and seeing one another’s updates. And although our generation shares significantly less on Facebook nowadays, it would still be strange if someone got engaged or had a baby and didn’t post about it online – almost as if it never really happened. The site capitalises on our integral nosiness – no matter how much we complain about Auntie Deb’s most recent upload of another prosecco night with the girls, most will undoubtedly flick through the photos regardless.
It’s worth bearing in mind that however positively cutting down on your Facebook usage is now viewed – and doing so is undeniably beneficial, as a chat on messenger is definitely not an adequate substitute for a face-to-face coffee date – the site is not entirely negative, either. It is an effective way of keeping in touch with lost family members, getting recommendations, and remaining up-to-date with current affairs. Perhaps it is more an issue of using it conscientiously, staying aware of how much we share, than trying to avoid it altogether.
Perhaps it is more an issue of using it conscientiously, staying aware of how much we share, than trying to avoid it altogether
The developments in Facebook over the past 15 years show that it is constantly adapting to keep pace with our ever-digitalising society. So, whilst there is no doubt in my mind that Facebook will be around in another 15 years’ time, there is equally little doubt that it will be a completely different version of the site we know and use today.
All that’s left to say, then, is ‘Happy Birthday Facebook! Hope you have a lovely day! X’
Illustration by Lucia Jones