More about Facebook

Just a quick report on the Facebook Symposium I attended last Friday at Liverpool John Moores. It was an excellent event with over 50 delegates and I hope to attend others in the future. A list of the past and forthcoming Critical Internet Studies seminars are available. They are also going to be making the presentations from speakers available and have created a Facebook group for the event.
The first speakers, Tristram Hooley and Jane Wellens from University of Leicester’s talk was entitled ‘Facebook, social integration and informal learning at University’. They looked at Annabel, the fresher and her experiences of her first few months at university by her postings on Facebook. The status updates put into a ‘wordle’ were a fascinating insight into her life at university, but how interesting that there was no mention of learning or her course! Tristram questioned whether there is a role of universities to engage with Facebook, given the importance it is now playing in students lives. Leicester carried out an online survey about Facebook and the student experience and found that it is largely used for informal learning and that most students would never use it to communicate with staff. The survey found Facebook has become a really important social ‘glue’ to help build student communities, but that it’s role for teaching purposes is limited.

The second speaker, Rhianne Jones from LJMU and Salford University talked about Social networking or social surveillance? Her research was a fascinating insight into how students use Facebook to cement their existing friendships, to manage their identity and to ‘monitor’ friends to see what they have been up to. She interviewed students in front of the computer to really understand how they used the site. She talked about how what other people say about someone is often more enlightening that what people put in their Facebook profile. She also talked about how Facebook brings together different groups of people from different aspects of someone’s life. This theme came up later in the day, when we talked about a private or personal self as opposed to a more professional face. Rhianne was one of several people who talked about the Association of Internet Researchers conference they had attended recently.

Ben Light from Salford University looked at Facebook ethics and stressed that much research on social networks resonates with earlier research on online communities. Ben talked about Facebook from the perspective of the work of Latour known as Actor Network Theory (I was familiar with this from my Learning Technology research course I did at UCL). The key message in this theory is that the object (in this case Facebook) is not just a media, but is making a difference – so technology is not neutral. Anyone who knows anything about the background to Facebook should realise it’s not a neutral technology. Ben highlighted the registration screen and the features of Facebook that convince you this is a ‘safe’ environment, despite numerous applications needing to access your personal information before you install them. Also the privacy settings in Facebook are now even more hidden since the site was recently upgraded and the default options allow people to access all your information. There was lots to think about it this stimulating presentation.

After lunch, Fiona Frank from the Department of History of Strathclyde spoke about how she was using Facebook in her oral history research about an extended Jewish family and their concept of ‘Jewishness’. She has traced the 4th generation of a Edinburgh family and conducted a focus group with nine of the descendants in Facebook. She created a group so the participants could respond to her questions and see each others answers. What was really interesting was where she had brought together different branches of the family who had never met, some of whom were Jewish, some of whom are not, but brought them together on Facebook.

I was the final speaker of the day and my presentation is in SlideShare.  Despite the opening presentation saying that Facebook is a social space, I still feel that libraries are justified in setting up Facebook pages as marketing. Students aren’t visiting library websites in the number they should be and I have found lots of exciting examples of libraries using Facebook to engage with their users. That’s not to say it’s not without issues and some librarians replied to my survey specifically to tell me that Facebook was blocked for example in many NHS trusts. It was great to have some fellow librarians in the audience, but also great to be part of an exciting day. Once all the presentations are on the LJMU website I’ll let people know.

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