Facebook, the seventh most visited social networking website in the world, has recently taken the world by storm. Spurred on by the dawn of the information age that made the internet commonplace in homes and public areas, Facebook has seeped into the lives of millions of subscribers worldwide, helping them to manage their ‘friends’ list, send birthday greetings, chat with friends, and more. Facebook has garnered such a large group of faithful users that it is beginning to change the very basis of our social structure in terms of who we keep in contact with and how we interact with them. Some scholars have expressed concerns that the extensive use of Facebook may have undesirable influences on society and its people. The reason for recent attention on Facebook is a direct consequence of the dawn of the Information Age which, as Castells asserts in his article ‘The Information Age’, has accelerated the morphing of numerous cities into what is known as a ‘network society’, a society that is characterized by unprecedented connectivity between individuals and social niches. In many ways, Facebook epitomizes such a network society because of its extraordinary capacity in linking people together. Indeed the question of whether Facebook has brought about more positive or negative changes to our social structure is a topic of contention that has aroused much academic interest, and has been debated by scholars such as Madge and Ellison who argue that Facebook facilitates social bonding, and Florida, who stresses the importance of ‘weak ties’, a type of social bond easily formed via Facebook, in today’s society. This paper proposes that Facebook has had significant positive impacts on society because of its effect in promoting social bonding, complementing real life social interaction, and facilitating the formation of weak ties.
Facebook promotes social bonding
Just as we gain friends by meeting people and making self-introductions, Facebook provide the same function. Traditionally, we form friendships by meeting unfamiliar people through social activities in physical social settings such as group discussion in a classroom or sports competition in a field. Facebook maintains the same principles, but reduces the effort of introducing yourself to the simple act of sending an electronic friend request, which, when accepted by the other party, allows him/her access to various forms of personal information about you. The ‘people you may know’ section, constantly providing intelligent friend suggestions by using complex algorithms and network graphs to find people likely to be in the same social circle, also contributes to the possibility of us making new friends. In a study by Madge, who investigated Facebook use by University students, “over half of the respondents had used Facebook to make new ‘virtual’ friends prior to starting University” (Madge 7). The fact that many teenagers have made Facebook a preferred mode of making friends further emphasizes the ease of forming new social connections on Facebook. Therefore it can be seen that Facebook has immense potential for establishing new social ties among people. The significance of social bonding in relation to society cannot be more greatly emphasized. According to Florida, “economic growth is associated with tight-knit communities where people and firms form and share strong ties […] a healthy, civic-minded community is essential to prosperity” (Florida 30). The degree of community connectedness and social cohesion in a society has a direct impact on its economic growth and prosperity, factors that are crucially tied to the survival of the society. Hence Facebook, which has great potential for creating new social connections, is a most desirable addition to society.
The reason why Facebook users prefer to make friends online is not just because of the ease of sending friend requests. Ellison asserts that “Facebook use may be helping to overcome barriers faced by students