I am a bit idealistic and wistful in looking back at 2005, but Facebook at that point was extremely different; it was bare bones, it was simple, and it was about the casual enjoyment of connecting, and re-connecting, with friends in a digital manner that I had not seen before. I tried out MySpace, but didn’t like it; nevertheless, I didn’t begrudge anyone else who had. It was a new world: digital interaction. Live two thousand miles away? No problem! You can send messages, swap numbers, make plans to meet up, and the best part: it’s free and easy. Facebook and other social media sites were like water in the desert, it drew all types of people in. It seemed like there wasn’t too much of a downside to it back then.
However, the adjustments to Facebook began coming, and at a swifter rate; suddenly, there were applications that you could run on your profile, but the pages couldn’t handle the rise of apps, so they redesigned the page. Oh yeah, instead of only being able to see what was going on, and access people’s profiles in your own network, suddenly the barriers were down and you could access anyone at any university, until of course, they just opened it to the general public, and the plains flooded. Now, I’m not complaining, because complaining reeks of elitism, but at the same time, I feel like there was something lost when that happened, just as those Facebook users at Harvard, then the Ivy League, must have felt as Facebook expanded outward.
Facebook, for me, ceased being a social media center at that point, but instead became a business that was seemingly exploiting its millions of users. I know that ‘exploiting’ is a bit of a strong term, and until Facebook announced its IPO it wouldn’t have flown, but seriously, Zuckerberg and the other Facebook brass should have cashed out investors when they had the chance and kept it privately-held. Facebook suddenly, although hindsight shows it was anything but sudden, was keen on making money, so they began advertising; and then they developed apps to tailor ads to the individual user. I suppose the real pain became that they changed the layout twice a year, every year, for three years in a row, to accommodate all the shifts they were making. The recent move that any photo put on Facebook or Instagram would become property of Facebook and thus be available to be sold is a great example of profit-driven moves in the wake of the failed IPO.
It seems like college idealism invariably falls to pragmatic capitalism, and indeed, I think that Facebook is a great example of that. Major competitors, like the aforementioned MySpace, as well as others, have all either fallen, are weakened, or like Google+, have the backing to continue, but not necessarily the broad appeal. Competitors that are slightly off, such as Instragram, have been absorbed into Facebook, which ultimately puts it firmly into the category of American corporations.
Given time, I have seen that this is not so much sad as it is inevitable, and even then it’s not that sad. It is the result of young idealism defaulting into capitalistic interests, which modern American culture not only permits, but encourages. If Zuckerberg had decided that Facebook would be a not-for-profit, that only did advertising to off-set the massive costs of the running the site, it would have been more shocking than what he did. At the same time, capitalistic interests are what led to the decline of MySpace and other social media sites.
In contrast to Facebook, which has had to launch internal (i.e. from admins to users) public relations campaigns to assuage privacy concerns, whilst educating users on how to work the privacy settings, Twitter at least makes no bones about privacy at all; everything is private. Even if you delete the tweet, it’s still out there on someone’s screen shot. Twitter, at least, is straight-forward; it’s statements in 140 characters or less, including any direct references to profiles, or additions to include the tweet in a hashtag movement. However, even Twitter has fallen victim to advertising, something that became especially noticeable as both the Romney and Obama campaigns paid to promote their campaigns there in the fall of 2012. However, it’s far more integrated into Twitter than it is on Facebook, so it’s less of an eyesore.
I suppose that the proper conclusion to draw for me personally, is that I feel comfortable in assuming that no online site, communal or otherwise, is not a business. Even a not-for-profit needs to make money somewhere, and ultimately it is us, the users, who have to provide it, in one form or another. I’m not saying I like it, but I’ve accepted that, so I don’t feel bad using Facebook still, or Twitter, and it’s just a part of life.