Tag Archives: Facebook

Social media is heavily influenced by algorithms. For example, the Facebook feed algorithm, from what we know about it, is based on what you and your friends are liking, posting, and doing on the platform (and perhaps even ‘people like you’ that Facebook is data mining). Many social media algorithms are designed around homophily. And algorithms theoretically are value neutral. If someone consumes and produces criminal content, the algorithm will try to be helpful and guide the user to relevant criminal content. The algorithms are just following what they are programmed to do.  algorithms can equally encourage content around positive civic responsibility, if a user has displayed a preference in that direction.

To be critical about algorithms, we do have acknowledge the advantages and disadvantages of algorithm proliferation. For example, some algorithms are designed for safeguarding and this can be a real positive. There might be algorithmically-based filters for Internet searching or video delivery specific to kids for example. If a child has a profile on Netflix which is specifically set to Netflix’s child setting, then by the algorithm’s definition, they are not supposed to receive content that is age inappropriate. This tends to work in practice. Though, if content is inappropriately categorized, the algorithm would of course just follow its rule-based rubric instructions and would guide kids to inappropriate content as well. So humans are very much part of this process and if errors occur, then not having humans in the loop can partially be attributable to some of the issues of whether algorithms break down in these instances.

Ultimately, the algorithms driving social media are what are called ‘black box algorithms’. These can be defined as algorithms that are generally proprietary, and which are open-source. The algorithm is meant to be private in terms of its design and operation and documentation is not made publicly available, nor is data made available in terms of the decisions made by the algorithm. In this way, black box algorithms are also similar in that we can only infer particular aspects of the algorithm based on observing the algorithm’s behavior ‘in the wild’.

When we think of 10th birthdays, we think of youth and the cusp of tweenhood. But Facebook at 10, like many technology companies, is seen by some as an octogenarian. Social media technologies like the ephemeral snapchat are seen as nubile and exciting while Facebook is seen as part of an old guard status quo. Whether one loves or hates Facebook, the medium has become part of everyday life for many across the world. It has developed a gargantuan user base of 1.23 billion (passing 1 billion in 2012‎ and nearly a billion active mobile users). And one third of US adults get their news from Facebook. To say you are ‘Facebook friends’ with someone is an understood relationship. In other words, Facebook is part of many everyday lives.


Ultimately, Facebook has tremendous influence on what content is being consumed on the Internet. For example, the virality of the controversial Kony 2012 video, which sought to bring to justice the internationally wanted Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, was influenced strongly by sharing of the video amongst Facebook friends. Friends kept seeing the Kony video on their feed and decided to view it. Many then posted the video as a status update and changed their photo to a Kony 2012 banner.


Though Facebook has grown rapidly, there are also segments of backlash, ‘Facebook fatigue’, against the pervasiveness of Facebook as illustrated by movements such as the 2010 ‘Quit Facebook Day’. Survey research found that 23% of American teens pulled in 2013 found Facebook to be the most important social site to them, a figure down from 42% in 2012. Some fear that ‘Facebooking’ may be affecting the interaction of co-present individuals in that they may place priority on Facebooking the moment rather than ‘living’ in it. Facebook has also been criticized for the ease of its use in cyber-bullying and its circulation of controversial videos (including beheading videos).


But as Facebook’s techno-dog years pile on, there is a serious question here about the future of Facebook. Some think it is too big for its own good and is destined the way of defunct social networks like Myspace. For example, a recent article in Time by Sam Frizell (@Sam_Frizell) drew attention to a paper by Cannarella and Spechler which uses disease models to infer, “the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”


Though Facebook’s user base could decline rapidly in the coming years, I find predicting social technology use by epidemiological models problematic. Though some may see Facebook use as akin to a disease, it is after all a communications technology. Mobile telephone and e-mail use continues to grow. And as we become more networked, our desire to interact on online social networks is more akin to e-mail adoption than disease models. I think the real question here is more an economic one. Myspace died out as Facebook aggressively took over its market share. Whether Facebook’s market share will erode after it turns 10 is better served by economic models which take into account complex market dynamics.


Though its future is uncertain, its last ten years have seen Facebook become part of the fabric of our daily social communication. Facebook has also been in the international spotlight and been important to various sociopolitical movements. For example, the ‘We Are All Khaled Said’ group was prominently used in the Arab spring in Egypt in 2011. Communications technologies evolve and adopt to our social needs. As society has become more mobile, we have moved from landlines to mobile telephones and e-mail. Also, technology can and does become replaced. My view is that if Facebook goes the way of Myspace, another online social network technology would fill the void as we live in a global networked society where we now expect to connect with friends, colleagues, world news, and family in integrated multimedia social networks like Facebook (and Myspace and Friendster before it). So if Facebook does die off in the next five years, its effects on social communication will be felt for many years to come.

A newer version of this article was published in The Conversation.

Please cite this as: Murthy, D. (2012), “Some Musings on Facebook As It Marches Towards 1 Billion Users”, iSociology,

Keywords: Facebook, online social networks, pervasiveness, ubiquitous computing, Facebook audience configuration, Facebook app, Facebook games


As the user base of Facebook approaches 1 billion users (Emerson 2012), the medium continues to gain international attention. Despite the Pope’s 2011 warning of the risk of alienation due to online social networks (Pullella 2011), Facebook is not considered by users as a ‘substitute’ for phone calls or face-to-face interactions. Rather, it is considered to be a different communications medium which enables updates amongst friend networks. Additionally, the types of information/social interactions occurring on Facebook are often qualitatively different from phone calls and face-to-face interactions. Some of this has to do with the fact that large parts of one’s network on Facebook are composed of ‘weak ties’, connections who you are not particularly close to but have some acquaintance with (Granovetter 1983). This is combined with clusters or a core of ‘strong ties’,  connections who you have an ‘affective’ relationship with (involving some level of ‘emotional intensity and intimacy’ (Krackhardt, et al. 1992: 217)), generally trust, and have more than a passing acquaintance with. The latter has been tested in the literature through questions such as would that person be prepared to lend you $100 if you are in a difficult situation (Gilbert and Karahalios 2009). Facebook provides a means by which to maintain or even reinforce relationships with strong ties. Additionally, Facebook creates a clustered space where, if one has a large quantity of weak ties, they will receive a greater proportion of updates from this category of friends over strong ties. Some see this construction of friend networks as highly beneficial in that they can keep abreast of the happenings – however quotidian – of old classmates, distant friends, or previous colleagues. Prima facie, Facebook appears best at maintaining strong or ‘stronger’ ties rather than fostering weak or ‘weaker’ ties. However, many use Facebook primarily to connect with ‘weak ties’ (DiMicco, et al. 2008).

The ways in which people access Facebook is also an important point to consider. Specifically, research reveals that the Facebook app is one of the most commonly used apps on mobile devices (Maier, et al. 2010). Prima facie, this would not seem to affect Facebook as a social medium. However, the fact that users are increasingly updating their profiles while on the move has significant implications for the regularity of their activity, their content, and their perception of the medium. Specifically, mobile technologies foster increased real-time information sharing (Freifeld, et al. 2010). This is not restricted to Facebook, but the medium is highly affected by it. This move towards ubiquitous computing encourages users to, for example, update their Facebook friends about what they are eating, what movie they are about to watch, or how they are feeling at the moment. They can also use Facebook as a means to pass time while in a queue or to quickly take a picture and upload it to their profile.

In terms of audiences, updates on Facebook have produced new audience configurations. Specifically, individuals have a constellation of ‘friends’ who can see these updates, but, this audience is continually changing minute by minute depending on who is logged onto Facebook at the time. This is well illustrated by ‘status updates’. Though these short messages are often trivially banal (e.g. ‘saw a cool purple shirt I should have bought’), these messages are circulated as ‘news’, which Facebook automatically distributes to your group of ‘friends’, selected individuals who have access to your Facebook ‘profile’ (your personalized web page on the site).

The game culture on Facebook is very important to the medium’s social configuration. The popular Facebook game, FarmVille, where Facebook users maintain farms and can have friends as neighbors, has been an important part of the Facebook experience to a substantial number of users. Friends can be invited to one’s farm to help accomplish particular tasks and gifts can be given to friends using the game’s currency. As parodied on a popular episode of SouthPark[i], the meaningfulness of the game to Facebook users can be extremely high. Additionally, the game has involved corporate partnerships in which Facebook users can visit ‘company farms’ such as that of McDonald’s, which recently offered free McDonald’s-branded Farmville products. Other games such as CityVille and The Sims Social have also become very popular. Manovich (2001: 9) argues that as culture becomes more computerized, this ‘not only leads to the emergence of new cultural forms such as computer games and virtual worlds [but, also] it redefines existing ones such as photography and cinema’. It is critical for us to examine the impact of ‘computerization’ and indeed digitization on pre-computerized cultural forms and, I would add, practices, rather than merely looking at the new forms such as Facebook games which emerge.

Part of understanding Facebook as having redefined existing cultural practices involves considering it as a socially mediated ‘space’. Rosenthal’s (2008) idea of ‘socioformation’ is useful here. She argues that any part of ‘cyberspace can be socioformed, turned into space where humans can form societies’ (Rosenthal 2008: 160). Facebook does not constitute a ‘society’ per se, but rather it is a space where new social configurations and communities are formed and existing cultural practices are redefined. Martínez Alemán and Wartman (2009) studied the usage of Facebook within college campuses in the United States. Respondents to their first questionnaire were solicited through an invitation posted on Facebook that was visible to members of the large, private institution they were researching. Martínez Alemán & Wartman (2009: 52) found that having respondents in front of a computer navigating through their Facebook profiles allowed the researchers to ‘make meaning’ of what they saw on the screen and what the respondents did. This is important in that it can be tempting to dismiss Facebook as ‘meaningless’ or a ‘waste of time’. However, the observation of users interacting within Facebook reveals social meaning. Though 1 billion users may be wrong, one thing is for certain: a significant number of those see Facebook as socially meaningful to them.



DiMicco, J., Millen, D. R., Geyer, W., Dugan, C., Brownholtz, B. and Muller, M. 2008 ‘Motivations for social networking at work’ Proceedings of the 2008 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, San Diego, CA, USA: ACM.

Emerson, R. 2012 ‘Facebook Users Expected To Pass 1 Billion In August: iCrossing ‘ Huffington Post, Vol. January 14, 2012: Huffington Post.

Freifeld, C. C., Chunara, R., Mekaru, S. R., Chan, E. H., Kass-Hout, T., Ayala Iacucci, A. and Brownstein, J. S. 2010 ‘Participatory Epidemiology: Use of Mobile Phones for Community-Based Health Reporting’, PLoS Med 7(12): e1000376.

Gilbert, E. and Karahalios, K. 2009 ‘Predicting tie strength with social media’ Proceedings of the 27th international conference on Human factors in computing systems, Boston, MA, USA: ACM.

Granovetter, M. 1983 ‘The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited’, Sociological Theory 1: 201-233.

Krackhardt, D., Nohria, N. and Eccles, R. 1992 ‘The Strength of Strong Ties: The Importance of Philos in Organizations’ Networks and Organizations: Structure, Form,and Action: Harvard Business School Press.

Maier, G., Schneider, F., Feldmann, A., Krishnamurthy, A. and Plattner, B. 2010 ‘A First Look at Mobile Hand-Held Device Traffic Passive and Active Measurement’, Vol. 6032: Springer Berlin / Heidelberg.

Manovich, L. 2001 The language of new media, Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press.

Martínez Alemán, A. M. and Wartman, K. L. 2009 Online social networking on campus : understanding what matters in student culture, 1st Edition, New York, NY: Routledge.

Pullella, P. 2011 ‘Pope warns of alienation risk in social networks’ Reuters Online, London: Reuters.

Rosenthal, A. 2008 ‘Gerald M. Phillips As Electronic Tribal Chief: Socioforming Cyberspace’, in T. Adams and S. A. Smith (eds) Electronic tribes : the virtual worlds of geeks, gamers, shamans, and scammers, 1st Edition, Austin: University of Texas Press.