Critical Thinking Paper
Was the commodification of Facebook a betrayal of its original premise, that is, social networking among private individuals?
Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 4, 2004 as an instrument for Harvard sophomores to get to know their classmates better. (Roeder, 2011) Never did he realize that it will expand its use to millions of netizens all over the world. The primary purpose of Facebook is to give its users the power to stay connected and relate to other people’s worlds. At present, many of its users use Facebook daily in order to keep up with their peers and upload photos, share videos and links, among others.
This website, so called social networking site, has grown remarkably over the next few years. Giant internet companies came into the picture and invested in its business. These investors included Pay Pal co-founder Peter Thiel, Greylock Partners and Accel Partners. Microsoft and Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing made huge investments as well. Yahoo and Google even offered to buy it but the founder refused it. (Roeder, 2011) As a commercial and global enterprise, Facebook makes money through its advertising income. It also generates profits from its additional features such as the sharing or linking features, blog and comment spots, instant messaging, new applications, etc. (Ibid.)
This paper considers the critical issue of the social networking website as betraying its inherent and original purpose of linking “private” individuals. It examined the factors and the stakeholders involved in this issue. Many people are affected and certain ethical and commercial claims are at stake because Facebook is used by millions of people. In 2009, there were about 30 million all over the world who use this website. (Zuckerberg, 2009) Internet World Stats (2011) reported around 6,930,055,154 users as of August 2011. (Regional statistics and other breakdown are shown in Appendix 1.)
Commodification, as the main action word, in this exposition, refers to the commercialization of the use of Internets sites, particularly of Facebook. Backstrom, Huttenlocher, Kleinberg, and Xiangyang (2006) describe it as a system wherein one’s private life is rendered familiar through the social networking sites. Hence, in another way, this describes how one individual “manage his affairs – social, personal, business – through the Internet.” Hence, ultimately, this individual’s private affairs are merchandised, in specific respects such as photos showing them in a dinner, the stuff they buy, among others. This is the meaning of commodification which is being referred to in this issue.
Commodification is the central issue of Facebook because it is not purposely created for the goals of commercialization. However, it was trusted in the limelight because it has become a global venue to dissimenate information, especially of marketing information about the users, who are all potential buyers in every sense and wherever they may be. Hence, most global and local advertisers and businesss are attracted to it. In a way, Facebook inadvertently supplies the consumer data which commercial establishments and advertisers need. (They just have to employ sophisticated marketing schemes and ploys to reach their targeted markets.)
Juxtaposed to the question of commodification is the social networking functions which also invaded the communications and media and technological tools in a worldwide scale. While social networks make viral marketing and word of mouth marketing easier and a lot faster, it has compounded the issue of privacy and commodification among the social networking sites such as the Facebook. Thus, this paper will examine these issues and relationships in its entirety. It shall attempt to vividly segragate the original purpose of Facebook and its betrayal or adherence to it without the rumifications of commodification and confidentiality.
Because of social networks, people do not just merely connect with others. They also integrate their businesses and their interests along with their personal relationships. So, a marketing evolution took shape and it captured the global audience who are hooked with the Internet. (Beer, 2008) Thus, the era of social networking and marketing began.
According to Gallant & Boone (2011), we live in a new media culture wherein a new reality emerges from our networks and linkages with other peoples and their worlds. This is what Facebook exemplifies. Hence, Facebook becomes a media instrument which helps people relate with one another. In the same way, it also allows them to make their choices and decisions known to others, as well as their daily affairs. (Greenhow, 2011) As this is in the context of a consumerist world, one’s personal image is identified with these commercial choices and these are highly regarded by each and everyone. (Greenhow & Robelia, 2009) As they buy or consume a certain product and/or service, they make it known to others through social media websites such as Facebook. In hindsight, this new attitude of conformity and affirming one’s place in the wider social sphere is the influence or a mark of commodification of culture, in general. (Ibid.)
In a new interpretation, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is leveled up to the sense of belonging which one now derives out of social networks. (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008) We can never blame Facebook for being commodified because the culture is what is commodified, not Facebook. Facebook is just one of the many social networking websites which reflect the values and preferences of individuals in the social context of western consumerism. (Hogan, 2008) Hence, Facebook attests to one’s need of social acceptance. The commodification of Facebook, is not the cause but the effect of the greater commodification of the global culture.
Facebook is not commodifying itself, it is their members who do it by freely giving out information about themselves – pictures, links, wallpapers, and other symbolic markers. (Stutzman, Stull & Thompson, 2009) The commercial adventurers and serious businesses take advantage of these marketing hints by tuning in to Facebook and deriving important approaches and strategies to link to their customers. (Stutzman, 2006) In simply terms, Facebook users commodify themselves by engaging in both real and virtual images of themselves in order to be socially accepted and to feel the sense of belonginess as described above.
The commodification of one’s self is never the original purpose of Facebook. Facebook, as initially mentioned, wants to let people stay connected and related. According to Brandtzæg, Heim & Kaare (2010), the commodification of the self happens on a more subtle and subconscious level. It also develops over time. Facebook is just an avenue where they actualize the need to belong and to be socially accepted by others. (Vergeer & Pelzer, 2009) The commodification is linked with privacy because it is a regular notion that Facebook sells the information to advertisers and businesses. This goes against the basic design of Facebook and other social networks. (Ibid.) Facebook thrives on an environment where technology can be traced. At the height of controversies surrounding privacy, Facebook appeased us with more privacy controls. However, as Cohen & Shade (2008) puts it, “there is no safe assurance of privacy in the Internet.” It transmits information easier but it does not solely guarantee privacy.
In the same way, the social network media also spread information faster and easier but it does not ensure confidentiality as well. Hence, the way Facebook stores and uploads various personal data and information may let people think that it is a purveyor of privacy and hence, a traitor to its cause. (Cohen & Shade, 2008) In retrospect, users must be guarding their privacy.
In the theory espoused by Karl Marx, commodification exists when the abstract concepts are considered in terms of economic value. (Siibak, 2007) For example, the value of an idea or an art form which is being sold in the market is said to be commodified when it has been assigned a specific economic value such as those in terms of money or advertisements. Hence, commodification refers to the extension of the market to non-marketable areas. This also refers to the material treatment of things as something which can be exchanged or bartered.
Media, in general, has been commodified. The Internet, as its most prominent tool nowadays, is also very commodified. Each website has its own advertising instruments. This is also true of Facebook. It depends on its advertisers in order to defray its costs from its users. I believe that is more appropriate to term it as “acculturated” rather than being “commodified.” This is because the way that media transforms society’s norms and cultures is more of acculturation than commodification. (Skog, 2005) As mentioned above, commodification is given, in any commercialized context. Hence, it is no use to refer to the “commodification of Facebook” as one major argument.
Thus, if we accept all things as being commodified, how do we now categorize the trends of having people flock to social network sites to connect with other people and share with them anything udner the sun? Media is a powerful tool which enables us to subconciously transmit socially acceptable behaviors and attitudes in a given context. ( Pelling, & White, 2009) The way we now live influence and are influenced by Facebook. This we cannot deny.
It is a misconception that Facebook promotes virtual social experinces and a declining quality of culture. (Miller, 2008) It is common sense that culture has certain functions that uplifts the humanity and not degrade it. It is a prejudice to consider that seeing people via Facebook than actually being with them is a commodification per se. This is subset of culture which reflects on the lifestyle of the people nowadays. They live in a hectic schedule and getting together now is translated to being updated through photos and notes online. However, there are still many contentions to it. People would like to value the best, as it is. They want to believe that we still live in a society which values and prioritizes being together than being in close contact with one another.
Resorting to less private means of contact and communications is not commodification per se. The strength of one’s relationship is very abstract and cannot be judged by the number of photo or image uploads one make in order to stay attuned with his/her loved ones. Intimacy of relationships cannot be qualified by online activities. Facebook did not turn culture into a commodity but culture has utilized Facebook to serve its function, whether be it social or otherwise.
If we blame media to turn individuals into consumers, first and foremost; this is not the making of Facebook. This has been a by-product of the thousand of years of marketing and social evolutions which make us thrive during this digital age. If one’s identity and identification with certain lifetyles, products, brands and attitudes, this is not solely a consequence of Facebook. It is more of the consequence of the general and massive consumerism in the global world.
The commodification issue has been defended by Facebook management. Mark Zuckenberg, CEO of Facebook, puts it, “as sharing of information in a bottom up way.” It defends that Facebook doe snot commodify but only gathers data in an economic fashion. He considers this sharing of data as “conversion tracking,” which in turns help their company monitor and improve their advertisements. (Fuchs, 2010)
A certain block of users called Resist Facebook Commodification represents the Facebook users who desists the commodification of online social interaction. They do not want their information to be woven into product placements and endorsements. (Facebook Users Opposed to the Commodification of Facebook Life, 2011)
The commercial and industrial sector is positive about Facebook because it is a very effective means for their sales and marketing operations. They see its true value in the way it presents the bare structure of a potential marketing network of various circles. (Boetie, 2010) While the government agencies take a distant stand, they subtly consider Facebook as a valuable information tool for their utility.
Boetie (2010) also stated that the DCRI (Central Director for Interior Intelligence) looks up to Facebook as an important source of information. According to Forbes Magazine, FBI also uses Facebook. In fact, in one of their 2010 cases, the FBI agents went through the Facebook accounts to track young Satanists who were said to have burned an Ohio church. It was also rumored that in another controversial case, FBI used Facebook to search the account of a Hollywood psychiatrist who was arrested for managing a Hollywood “pill mill.” (Hill, 2011) We can reflect that, Facebook has been helping these police agencies to hunt down criminals. However, this also raises some issues on the confidentiality of Facebook accounts. Again, the personal data used were covert data and these are available to all people, in general. (Ibid.)
The U.S. Congress has an upfront stand against privacy issue of Facebook but not on the said commodification. It is highly evaluating an act to protect children from Internet pornographers. They will entitle law enforcers the right to search a suspect’s Facebook account in order to deal with the suspected pornographer. (Ibid.) In a review of Westlaw legal database, Reuters found out that federal judges have allowed an estimated 24 search warrants to enable enforcers to dig into the Facebook users’ accounts of the suspected criminals. This was in 2008. (Roberts, 2011) The federal agencies which are asking for search warrants of Facebook account include the FBI, ICE, and DEA. The cases they investigate range from simple cases to high profile ones such as rape and murder.
In other words, there was no objection or issue with stakeholders when it comes to the said commodification simple because they do not view it as such. If they do, then, they also do not see any legal or moral implications of this to the pervading utility of the said social networking site to most people. In fact, they even see it as a benefit more than a disadvantage because it is a means of social control in the greater sense. practical and beneficial uses such as being close to loved ones abroad and keeping in touch with old classmates, etc. Honestly, Facebook really help people from all over the world to stay in touch. The Michigan State University’s 2007 study found that Facebook raised "social capital" for Facebook members with low self-esteem and satisfaction in life. As we pleasantly reconnect with our old pals and loved ones, we become happier and better persons. As a way of life, social networking helps us in so many ways. This encompasses the personal and business functions of the website. Srnicek, 2010)
Secondly, there is no denying that media has been commodified. Facebook, as being part of the social networking media, is just a subset of the general processes and trends of turning things into commodity. This is also true of Facebook. However, it is but a reflection of the Cultural Revolution we are emerged with. This is not a betrayal of any purpose for which it has been founded. The very purpose of Facebook, which is to stay connected and be updated, remains the same. It is among private individuals, even when they have accepted new friends or colleagues who are far away from their inner circles. Their privacy has been kept intact and Facebook, to its greatest efforts, uphold and protect its members’ privacy.
It is also very evident that the various stakeholders hold no serious contention to the said commodification issue. They see Facebook as an aid to various interests and functions in society at large. They also take advantage of its forms of social control. This has been evidenced by their lack of sanctioning policies neither to Facebook’s user accounts nor to its advertisers’ operations.
As mentioned before, it more considerate to term it as “acculturated” than calling it as “commodified.” This is because media has transformed our society’s norms and moors as aspect of our own acculturation rather than commodification. (Skog, 2005) As mentioned, commodification has been there before in any commercialized context. Thus, there is no use to call it “commodification of Facebook” for this argument. The power of media as a subset of culture can be reflected by how Facebok has turned the people worldwide. There are various lifestyles and activities and behaviors which conform to the new and emerging patterns of living in this digital age and what the issue only proves is that Facebook will be a formidable tool in the future. There is no doubt about it.
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Facebook Users in the World
FACEBOOK USERS IN THE WORLD
Facebook Usage and Facebook Penetration Statistics
By World Geographic Regions
New Facebook Stats for 2011 Q2
FACEBOOK USAGE AND INTERNET STATISTICS FOR JUNE 30, 2011
( 2011 Est.)
Aug. 31, 2010
June 30, 2011
Oceania / Australia
NOTES: (1) Facebook (FB) User Statistics and Facebook Penetration in the World for June 30, 2011, according to official Facebook number of users reported in each individual country and/or world region. (2) The "Facebook Penetration" corresponds to the ratio of Facebook users in relation to the total number of estimated total population in each country or world region, expressed as a percentage. (3) World Demographic (Population) numbers are based on mid-year 2011 data from the US Census Bureau . (4) User Ten Month Growth for Facebook, is for the period between August 31, 2010 and June 30, 2011. (5) For definitions, disclaimers, and navigation help, please refer to the Site Surfing Guide. (6) Information in this site may be cited, giving the due credit to www.internetworldstats.com. Copyright © 2001 - 2011, Miniwatts Marketing Group. All rights reserved worldwide.
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Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Facebook, which he founded in 2004. Mark is responsible for setting the overall direction and product strategy for the company. He leads the design of Facebook's service and development of its core technology and infrastructure. Mark attended Harvard University and studied computer science before moving the company to Palo Alto, California.
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