Ten Years of Facebook Controversial and Indispensable

Facebook: the degradation of the private sphere?
Facebook: the degradation of the private sphere? | Photo (detail): © Sean MacEntee via flickr.com, Lizenz CC BY 2.0

Facebook has been online since February 2004, but not everyone sees the tenth anniversary of the world’s most successful social network as a reason to “like” it. Media studies expert Hektor Haarkötter takes stock.

Is Facebook used differently or in any particular way in Germany as compared with other countries?

Media system research has found that different cultures and ethnic groups are on Facebook for different reasons. In Germany, Facebook is still predominantly used by private individuals, though we are seeing growing commercialization. Increasingly, large firms, broadcasting companies and publishing houses are using Facebook as a marketing platform, posting for example job vacancies, competitions or crossword puzzles there in just the same way that they would have done in daily newspapers ten years ago and on their own websites five years ago.

How has Facebook usage changed in Germany over the past ten years?

Ten years ago, nobody here knew Facebook – back then it was just a small student network at Harvard and other universities in the US. Even in his wildest dreams, Mark Zuckerberg probably never imagined that the portal would grow at such a pace. People in Germany have only really been aware of Facebook for the past five or six years – previously, the number one social network here was StudiVZ, one of Facebook’s rivals. Much like Facebook in the US, StudiVZ targeted a young demographic, namely students and pupils. Like many other networks, StudiVZ plays hardly any role now.

  • <b>Nils Friedel, 29 Jahre, Gemeindejugendpfleger</b><br>„Mit Facebook bin ich seit Jahren in einer Art ‚Zwangsehe‘ verheiratet, aus der ich mich nur schwer lösen kann. Privat ist das Netzwerk auf Grund der Privatsphären-Politik und der Inhalte verzichtbar, Beruf und medienpädagogisches Interesse binden mich aber weiterhin an den ‚blauen Riesen‘.“ Foto: Nils Friedel
    Nils Friedel, 29 Jahre, Gemeindejugendpfleger
    „Mit Facebook bin ich seit Jahren in einer Art ‚Zwangsehe‘ verheiratet, aus der ich mich nur schwer lösen kann. Privat ist das Netzwerk auf Grund der Privatsphären-Politik und der Inhalte verzichtbar, Beruf und medienpädagogisches Interesse binden mich aber weiterhin an den ‚blauen Riesen‘.“
  • <b>Christina Bergmann, 47 Jahre, Journalistin</b><br>„Seit sieben Jahren lebe ich in den USA. Facebook ist für mich unverzichtbar, um mit Freunden in Deutschland Kontakt zu halten. Ich weiß so, wie es ihnen geht, was sie in ihrer Freizeit machen, worüber sie sich amüsieren oder aufregen. Wegen der ungeschützten Privatsphäre auf Facebook überlege ich mir aber gut, was ich selbst dort poste.“ Foto: Christian Bergmann
    Christina Bergmann, 47 Jahre, Journalistin
    „Seit sieben Jahren lebe ich in den USA. Facebook ist für mich unverzichtbar, um mit Freunden in Deutschland Kontakt zu halten. Ich weiß so, wie es ihnen geht, was sie in ihrer Freizeit machen, worüber sie sich amüsieren oder aufregen. Wegen der ungeschützten Privatsphäre auf Facebook überlege ich mir aber gut, was ich selbst dort poste.“
  • <b>Annette Hüsken-Brüggemann, 34 Jahre; Medienpädagogin</b><br>„Facebook ist für mich ein Arbeitsgerät. Diese Sicht vermittle ich auch in meinen Kursen. Andere neue Geräte muss man auch erst kennenlernen – sich rantasten, die Anleitung lesen, bevor man unfallfrei ihr Potenzial nutzen kann.“ Foto: Annette Hüsken-Brüggemann
    Annette Hüsken-Brüggemann, 34 Jahre; Medienpädagogin
    „Facebook ist für mich ein Arbeitsgerät. Diese Sicht vermittle ich auch in meinen Kursen. Andere neue Geräte muss man auch erst kennenlernen – sich rantasten, die Anleitung lesen, bevor man unfallfrei ihr Potenzial nutzen kann.“
  • <b>Jannic Zimmer, 18 Jahre, Lokführer-Azubi</b><br>„Einerseits finde ich, dass Facebook eine gute Alternative zum Handy ist, um sich kurzfristig mit Freunden und Bekannten zu verabreden. Andererseits finde ich es schade, wie der Konzern mit den privaten Daten von uns Usern umgeht.“ Foto: Jannic Zimmer
    Jannic Zimmer, 18 Jahre, Lokführer-Azubi
    „Einerseits finde ich, dass Facebook eine gute Alternative zum Handy ist, um sich kurzfristig mit Freunden und Bekannten zu verabreden. Andererseits finde ich es schade, wie der Konzern mit den privaten Daten von uns Usern umgeht.“
  • <b>Ulla Wolf, 68 Jahre, Netztutorin für Senioren</b><br>„Facebook ist das weltweit am meisten genutzte soziale Medium. Als internetaffiner Mensch komme ich nicht daran vorbei – auch aus diesem Blickwinkel verfolge ich den Lauf der Dinge. Das ist meistens lustig, manchmal befremdlich, aber immer irgendwie faszinierend. Es gehört einfach dazu.“ Foto: Ulla Wolf
    Ulla Wolf, 68 Jahre, Netztutorin für Senioren
    „Facebook ist das weltweit am meisten genutzte soziale Medium. Als internetaffiner Mensch komme ich nicht daran vorbei – auch aus diesem Blickwinkel verfolge ich den Lauf der Dinge. Das ist meistens lustig, manchmal befremdlich, aber immer irgendwie faszinierend. Es gehört einfach dazu.“

Why has Facebook been so hugely successful as compared with other social networks?

StudiVZ did a good job of holding its own among its rivals, but many strategic mistakes were made when it was taken over by the Holtzbrinck publishing group in 2007. The major media companies in Germany and Europe are not as flexible as the small, dynamic computer firms in Silicon Valley or indeed in Berlin, Leipzig or Hamburg, a factor which was underestimated. Furthermore, there is the fact that a site that already has a large number of users will attract even more – and this is exactly what happened with Facebook. Today, the largest increase in Facebook users is in the 55-plus demographic. Now that it has penetrated the market to such an extent, the network is no longer merely a playground for mainly students and young people between the ages of 14 and 29. Facebook claims that it has 28 million users in Germany alone, more or less reflecting the average population.

They want to know everything they can about their users

Why does Facebook limit its public relations activities?

EnlargeThis is a well-known pattern that is particularly characteristic of many American companies, though other firms do it too, albeit to a lesser extent. Companies want to know everything they can about their users, because that is the capital with which they earn their money. As far as the companies themselves are concerned, however, they pursue an extremely restrictive information policy. This is one of the paradoxes of the Internet age: information is bought and gathered but companies are extremely careful about what information they reveal about themselves.

In which direction will Facebook develop in future?

By the time the company was floated in 2012, the people behind Facebook already knew exactly where they wanted to go. Their aim is for their network to reflect the world’s population. Allegedly, they already have 1.29 billion users worldwide – that’s a sixth of the global population. If Facebook continues to grow at such a pace, it is also likely to come close to achieving this goal; it is also helped by the hugely widespread use of mobile phones and mobile Internet.

For some segments of society, Facebook has become indispensable

Facebook is generally somewhat controversial, with people criticising its non-transparent data protection guidelines, the degradation of the private sphere, and the poor quality of its content. Where do you see the main problem?

Facebook – the world’s most successful social network. Facebook – the world’s most successful social network. | © F. Gopp / pixelio.de On the one hand, Facebook is a splendid way to reach many people within a very short space of time, or to find out about what others are doing. For some segments of society, Facebook has become socially and economically indispensable. The network fulfils certain functions, and does so better than others – otherwise it wouldn’t be so successful on the market.

On the other hand, Facebook – being an American company – is able to circumvent the data protection regulations that apply in Europe and Germany. Data is stored on servers in the US, and this is something that users should be aware of. As users, we are not the customers; we are the product that Facebook is selling. Our data – be it the place we are going on holiday or illnesses we talk to others about on Facebook – is the capital with which money can be earned. This is true of all services that appear to be free on the Internet.

You research how Facebook is used by the media. What is the situation in Germany?

We have examined thousands of comments on journalistic Facebook pages to determine whether this constitutes a form of participatory journalism. This is by no means the case, however: users exchange hardly any information or arguments, but primarily use the comments function to rudely let off steam in a way they would be unlikely to if they were communicating directly, person-to-person. “Netiquette” no longer applies in online communication, and the social network is becoming an unsocial network.
We are becoming emotionally stunted in the digital world – this is also the result of a major study carried out by US psychologist Sherry Turkle, who wrote a book on this phenomenon entitled Alone Together. This suggests that the concept of having friends on Facebook can often be regarded only ironically.
 

Dr Hektor Haarkötter © Dr Hektor Haarkötter Dr Hektor Haarkötter is a media studies expert, journalist and filmmaker who researches in the fields of journalism, online communication and media ethics. In 2011 he was appointed professor of cultural journalism at the MHMK Media University in Munich. Since the autumn of 2013 he has taught at the HMKW University of Applied Sciences in Cologne.