In the small timeframe of five years, Facebook already boasts a membership of 400 million. For many people, in particular younger generations, Facebook has taken precedent over e-mail and most other communication devices with perhaps the singular exception of cell phones. In other words, as an online social network site, Facebook has established itself as part of our social lives. And, as a time goes on, Facebook will arguably be more and more a fixture in our lives as a communication device.
However, it is not just the quick back and forth dialogue that makes Facebook such a powerful and popular tool of communication. Instead, it is the unprecedented range of user specific information available on the site. On Facebook profiles display one’s name, general information, including interests, self-made “about me” blurbs, status updates, wall-to-wall friend conversations, and a potentially infinite amount of photographic documentation with attached friend comments. All things consider, this is a lot of information, much more than we as individuals have ever had condensed in one location.
In the days before Facebook a lot of our social behavior took place in face-to-face settings. Our friends updated us on their lives by retelling stories from the weekend, but the perspective we received was generally pretty limited. All this changed with Facebook. We at the click of a button have access to a constantly edited overview of our friends’ whereabouts and behavior. As social animals, those close to us easily psychologically and behaviorally influence us. But, now that social environments have created shifted towards the virtual web, are we just as easily influenced by what we see on our friends’ Facebook page?
Through my research I hope to prove the answer to be – definitely.
Studies have shown that although the average Facebook user has about 150 online Facebook friends, the number of people that can actually be considered close friends averages to be around 6.6 people. So, in other words, nothing has really changed during our behavior shift towards a virtual social environment. On the other hand, what has drastically changed is the constant and immediate range of access we now have into our friends’ lives and others have into our own.
With Facebook’s creation in 2004, most people have had their Facebook account for at least a couple years. When thinking into the future, people will probably have their Facebook from early on in their lives. This is an unprecedented opportunity for researchers amounted to multiple decades of mapped social behavior. If a method is developed using Facebook, it will be possible predict everything from behavior to spread of political ideas and diseases simply by looking at someone’s Facebook page and friends.
Research has already been done in this field leading to interesting results.
Visit: http://www.wired.co.uk/wired-magazine/archive/2009/11/features/buddy-system-the-infectious-power-of-social-networks.aspx and http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/april/epidemic-social-network-040810.html for more information.
Cristina Zappacosta, Stanford University