Public Communication in Digital Environments
Dr. Lance Strate
July 1st, 2010
Facebook—Beyond Social Networking
The year of 2004 stunned our world with many remarkable events such as: the Boston Red Sox’s victory in the World Series, the city of San Francisco issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, the finale of the ever-so popular Friends sitcom airing on television, capital punishment being declared unconstitutional in the state of New York, Hurricane Charley strikes strong in Florida, Martha Stewart is sentenced to five months in jail and Facebook joins the social networking scene. Since then, Facebook has come a long way within the media world and has formed many followers--about 400 million of them. Facebook claims that the average user has about 130 friends and spends over 55 minutes on Facebook.com per day. Over 100 million of these users are gaining access through their mobile device, however, they are also twice more active then non-mobile device users. There are approximately 70 site translations of Facebook and more than one million websites have incorporated the Facebook Platform. (Statistics provide by Facebook.com) As the Facebook craze continues and as it’s popularity grows; Facebook is now being utilized beyond it’s social networking means.
Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and Chief Executive of Facebook, began this venture as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Many universities had actual face books, where students would be able to identify other students by their name and photo. Essentially, he took an everyday college item and turned it into a worldwide phenomenon. Originally, the site was only available to Harvard students; however, it quickly spread to other Ivy League universities, schools in the Boston area and then to other colleges/universities across the United States. In 2005 Facebook expanded to the high school network and to international schools. In 2006 work networks were added and Facebook reached 12 million active users. In the years to follow, Facebook Ads, Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Chat, Facebook Applications and Facebook Mobile launched.
Facebook is known to many as a social networking medium that allows it’s users to stay connected with friends, family, coworkers, class mates, etc… Through wall posts, photos, private messages, chats, news feeds and poking it is easy to stay in touch with people you know. Moreover, users are allowed to share messages, photos, videos, notes and postings with their Facebook friends. Originally, Facebook was created for students to keep in touch with one another on the World Wide Web. However, throughout the last two years, Facebook has soared to becoming the fourth largest website. This is partially due to the further development of Facebook as more than just a social networking medium. What makes Facebook so popular is its ability to operate beyond its social networking means. For instance, it is used by employers /companies/institutions to search profiles of possible, future employees and as a digital venue for advertising/marketing.
Facebook and Employers
It is a known fact that many employers are now using social networking sites during the interview and recruiting process. When looking at many qualified resumes, many employers have turned to Facebook to search the profiles of candidates for a few reasons. Firstly, since Facebook is so accessible, it is extremely easy and time efficient to search. Secondly, many feel that information on Facebook is public information because it is on the Web and therefore, it can be observed by all. Thirdly, Facebook can be used to express oneself and employers view it as another way to learn about the candidate beyond their resume and cover letter. Even though this may be true to some degree, viewing a Facebook profile may also manipulate an employer’s decision for the incorrect reasons. For instance, consider this scenario provided by Peter Engler and Peter Tanoury:
“A recruiter at a Denver based company has a stack of resumes on their desk from recent University of Colorado graduates. Due to time constraints and the fact that each applicant appears equally qualified, the recruiter decides to go online and check their Facebook profiles for any relevant information to aid in the hiring process. However, the recruiter does not have access to the CU Facebook network and asks one of their CU interns to log on for them. The recruiter begins searching through profiles based on the stack of submitted resumes. The first profile pops up. It doesn't take long before the recruiter sees that the applicant’s political affiliation is "very liberal" and listed under her interests is a pro-choice feminist club. Being a conservative Christian, the recruiter immediately throws away the applicant’s resume, never giving them a fair chance.”
This really is a shocking reality but looking at the basic information of any given Facebook profile provides you with personal information such as, sexual orientation, age, relationship status, political and religious views. This gives employers the opportunity to gather addition information beyond the resume and make wrongful assumptions. For instance, an employer may have a strong Republican background and might discriminate against someone who has chosen to declare himself as a Democrat on their Facebook profile. Furthermore, an employer may assume that if a female candidate’s relationship status is engaged on her profile that they do not plan on working for a long period of time because of her marriage and possible future pregnancy. However, all of this information is illegal to ask in a normal, face to face interview for this is personal information that can not be used against anyone in their place of employment or used against them during a interview process. Is this what some employers are looking for beyond the resume and cover letter? Furthermore, employers can even judge you on old photos, a wall post, a group you are part of, your interests or even who you are friends with on Facebook. It seems to be unfair as a Facebook profile does not express your work ethic or your job performance. However, it seems that many employers are resulting to Facebook to help make decisions on prospective candidates. A survey was done among 5, 000 employers throughout the United States by the University of Dayton. “Forty percent of employers say they would consider the Facebook profile of a potential employee as part of their hiring decision, and several reported rescinding offers after checking out Facebook.”(Wiley) Unfortunately Facebook searching to screen candidates is increasingly becoming more of a reality and interviewees need to be aware. Some career services suggest increasing privacy settings. Will Facebook users that are job searching need to alter their profiles to land a job? Employers need to remember that Facebook profiles are not resumes and are not designed to be a part of the interview process.
“Students have become afraid to post information in their profiles because they
don’t know how a prospective employer would interpret the information. Students have also become afraid to share their personal lives with their fellow college students due to the fact that it is easier for corporations to access user’s information if their profiles are left unprotected. Such instances are unfortunate as they reflect Facebook’s trend from a social networking website towards a bland collection of impersonal resumes.” (Engler and Tanoury, p11)
Even Facebook has something to say about this in their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which can be found on the website under the Terms link. All of the key statements are in bold font below.
“Protecting Other People's RightsWe respect other people's rights, and expect you to do the same.
You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else's rights or otherwise violates the law.
We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement.
We will provide you with tools to help you protect your intellectual property rights. To learn more, visit our How to Report Claims of Intellectual Property Infringement page.
If we remove your content for infringing someone else's copyright, and you believe we removed it by mistake, we will provide you with an opportunity to appeal.
If you repeatedly infringe other people's intellectual property rights, we will disable your account when appropriate.
You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Wall and 32665), or any confusingly similar marks, without our written permission.
You will not post anyone's identification documents or sensitive financial information on Facebook.
You will not tag users or send email invitations to non-users without their consent.”
Firstly, if Facebook respects the rights of it’s users then so should all employers. This includes following all anti-discrimination laws based from the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Employers are required by law to respect potential employees by not asking them personal questions about their sex orientation, race, religion, age, etc… Additionally, they can not choose or not choose applicants based on the above information. Secondly, number 7 indicates that one needs to gain consent in order to collect information from any user’s profile. Accordingly, employers should then be asking their applicants for permission to gain information from their Facebook profile. Clearly many employers have violated the Terms set by Facebook. Not only are the Facebook Terms being violated but it also seems that the anti-discrimination laws are being breached.
Ultimately, Facebook profiles provide additional information that should not be part of any interview process and this information can be easily held against any candidate. Using Facebook or any other social networking medium makes the interview process an unfair one. Moreover, if wrongful assumptions are made and if some Facebook profiles are taken too seriously; employers might be missing out on many qualified candidates and fundamental assets to their team, company, institution, office or staff. Therefore, employers who rely on Facebook as a decision maker during the recruiting process might find themselves missing out on quality workers. The interview process should include things like a review of the cover letter, resume, face to face interview, criminal background check, drug test, etc… However, employers need to ask themselves--Is a social networking background check really necessary? It seems pretty unethical as it is hard to leave personal feelings and thoughts out of religion, political views or sexual orientation. To all the employers who Facebook search: Do you need to know if I’m a Liberal, a Republican, a heterosexual, a homosexual or engaged? Do you need to see pictures of when I was drunk back in college, when I played a prank on a old friend or dressed up for Halloween? Using personal information against a potential employee or making assumptions back on a Facebook profile should not be part of the decision making process when hiring for future employment.
Facebook and Advertising
Facebook has become the perfect site for advertisements with a large audience of 400 million users. It makes perfect sense to showcase Ads on a website that is viewed so many times a day by so many users. With such a large audience, advertising any product has become easily accessible.
Facebook has extensive advertising guidelines available on the website. From destination URLs to targeting Ads with alcohol content—Facebook lays it all out there. For instance:
“Ads that contain a URL or domain in the body must link to that same URL or domain,” “Any targeting of ads based on a user attribute, such as age, gender, location, or interest, must be directly relevant to the offer, and cannot be done by a method inconsistent with privacy and data policies,” and “Ads cannot include content that might appeal to (or mislead) minors by implying that the consumption of alcoholic beverages is fashionable or the accepted course of behavior for those who are underage.” (facebook.com/ad_guidelines)
Although detailed, Facebook advertising can easily target users by their profile interests, favorite music, movies and TV shows. Based on this information, Facebook displays Ads that we as users are interested in. Facebook states that they can “help transform existing advertising into messages that are tailored to the individual user.” Essentially, Facebook is catering to the user and their interests. Also, local businesses are now advertising on Facebook and targeting users that live in their local area. Local businesses are reaching out to their community right on the Facebook profile page. In addition, advertising on Facebook has become based on user-generated content. Not only are these advertisements being targeted towards Facebook users but users are also becoming part of the distribution of advertisements. Facebook gives companies the opportunity to directly seek out their best buyers as these advertisements run along side their profiles.
There are several ways to advertise on Facebook. Firstly, you can create a social Ad that is placed along side Facebook profiles. This is where you can target consumers based on information that is provided on profiles. Secondly, you can create a Facebook page or group for your company or product. Here, users can become a member of the group or a friend. Creating a group or page gives companies the opportunity to post information, sales, promotions or upcoming events for your product/business. Lastly, companies can become friends with or click the “Like” option for other products/businesses to get their name out there. Eventually, users will notice these products or businesses on other user’s profiles or in their news feed. This is the prime benefit of using a social networking site as a way of advertisement. Facebook users have an average of 130 friends and those friends have friends—this circle continues. Therefore, it is extremely easy to reach out to consumers and their friends.
Not only can advertisements use Facebook profile information to target users but users can also post, share, publish and chat about these product to their friends. This is the benefit of advertising on a social networking site as there is constant communication taking place. As Facebook’s popularity continues to soar, advertising on this site has changed the way companies reach out to their consumers.
The future of Facebook will be interesting as they are continuing changing, upgrading and modifying the site to best serve the needs of the users. There are constant new additions to the applications and users are constantly staying tuned to see what happens next. Of course, competition lies between Facebook and MySpace, Twitter, Linkedin, Friendster, Ning, etc…There has been some buzz about an upcoming Facebook competitor from Google—“Google Me.” Adam D'Angelo, a former Facebook Executive, stated that not only is it "not a rumor but that there are many people working on the project at Google” and he is “completely confident about this." It is always possible that another social networking site can become more popular than Facebook. Google is a major search engine and has the ability to create a successful social networking site. Users will need to stay tuned in to watch what happens among the social networking world. It will be interesting to see the further progress of Facebook in the upcoming year and how it matches up with current and future competitors.