What is Facebook?

Facebook is one of the most popular social media networking sites to date. So, what exactly does Facebook do?

Facebook is what is known as a social media networking website that allows you to create a profile using your name, a picture and a bio for free. By doing so, you can connect with family, friends, businesses, pages for interests and celebrities and much more. Businesses are using Facebook more than ever to help expand their reach with advertising.

Humble beginnings

Facebook was founded in 2004 by Harvard students Mark Zuckerberg and Edward Saverin and was intended initially for fellow students to use. By 2006, Facebook opened to anyone over the age of 13 years and the meteoric rise began.

How do we set up Facebook?

Signing up is easy and free. All you need is a valid email address and to be over 13 years old (or 16 years in Ireland). Once you have validated your email address you can begin to create your ‘profile’, some of which is compulsory for people to view and some of which you can keep hidden and private.

Your ‘profile’ would typically include:

  • Your name
  • A ‘profile’ picture (of anything you like, such as yourself, a pet, a favourite car or flower etc.)
  • Date of birth (which you can keep private)
  • You can add interests such as favourite films, books, music, etc
  • Adding photos to albums
  • Education and work
  • Life events

Once you have signed up, you can send and receive your friend requests. You can also limit what your audience can see if you wish, for example, photos and videos that you may wish to keep between a certain group of people only.

You are now free to post and share what you like, comment on others’ posts and express emotion on any post at the click of a button in the form of a ‘like, care, love, wow, sad or angry’ face emoji.

Facebook also has an instant messaging service called Messenger which allows you to send private messages to individuals or a group of your choosing or a video call option if you prefer.

The ‘good’ of Facebook

Facebook has connected families that don’t live near each other and rekindled old friendships (and relationships too!). In the unprecedented times of the Coronavirus pandemic, it has allowed families and friends to stay connected more than ever before.

The fact that Facebook has an app for almost all devices means that anyone with a mobile phone, tablet and such can instantly connect to their Facebook friends.

The social network can be a wealth of information too, from life hacks to issues that people don’t feel comfortale discussing with loved ones.

Gaming is also very popular on Facebook and again can connect users, from Scrabble with friends to games that choose an anonymous opponent from anywhere in the world.

Users can ‘go live’ with anyone who chooses to watch. This could be a good friend filming part of a holiday trip, or the latest space shuttle launch in another continent!

Facebook has recently launched ‘rooms’ which allows up to 50 people to join in a video call by invitation. There is no time limit and you can join a chat without being a Facebook user. Be aware though, calls are not end-to-end encrypted. You will need to specify who you want in your ‘room’ (chat) and ‘lock’ it or anyone with the link can join and share it.

Businesses, the world over, have boomed with the advent of being able to link their businesses to a Facebook page and to advertise on Facebook. Even for the smaller businesses that are just starting out, creating a ‘fan page’ can go a long way in creating interest and more. With many sites these days, you can use your Facebook ID to sign in.

Facebook has the power to change the world by building global communities, a statement not made lightly. Yet this can also be of detriment.

The ‘not-so-good’ of Facebook

There have been many reports highlighting issues with Facebook, not least of all the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In 2018, a huge data breach was discovered when millions of American Facebook users personal details were taken without consent. 270,000 people were paid to take part in an external personality quiz, which in turn pulled data from their friends’ profiles too.

It is estimated that 87 million users' details were taken and later used to make psychological profiles which were then used in political campaigns. Both Donald Trump and Brexit Leave have been linked to using Cambridge Analytica. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg came under fire and were subsequently fined a record $5 billion.

Another issue that users can face is the question ‘How private is private?’, although this is not solely down to Facebook itself and can happen on any social media site. For example, you may post a picture, video or opinion for your personally limited audience to view. It only takes one person to save it or screenshot it and it can be shared way out of the boundaries you thought were safe.

Identifying a stranger’s intentions can be very difficult on Facebook. There is ‘catfishing’ which involves someone setting up a fake profile to lure vulnerable people into a romantic situation. This invariably leads to the acquisition of money from the unsuspecting victim.

Children are at a big risk from grooming. This again involves the perpetrator setting up a fake profile, often pretending to be the same age as the victim and slowly becoming ‘good friends’. Requests can involve asking the victims for pictures of themselves, slowly turning towards a more sexual nature and sometimes requesting to meet up (but don’t tell anyone!!). A few youngsters have been duped and unfortunately met up with an extremely dishonest adult with dubious intentions, with prosecution for the culprit.

Facebook now

As of April 2020, Facebook is still one of the biggest social media sites, with 2.5 billion active monthly users (stats by Omnicore and PR Newswire).

2.26 billion of us also actively use Facebook everyday and it is estimated that 120 million accounts are fake.

Facebook also owns:

Instagram - acquired April 2012 for $1 billion

WhatsApp - acquired February 2014 for $19 billion

Oculus - a VR (virtual reality) company, acquired in March 2014 for $2 billion

There is a vision for the future of a type of virtual reality so that the person you are talking to is ‘with you’ yet in another place. Facebook already offers 3 types of VR headsets via the Oculus company that they bought and have the aim of getting one billion people to try VR.

There have been concerns that Millenials, who helped Facebook grow into the giant it is now, are beginning to rebel due to several studies stating that passive use of social media can be damaging to mental health and well-being. Zuckerberg has made some changes to the Newsfeed that have already indicated time spent scrolling has decreased but he assures users that the quality of what you see and can interact with is more beneficial and more personal.

Mark Zuckerberg has declared numerous times that the future of Facebook will be more centred around privacy as the needs of users changes, with less emphasis on large online communities. Facebook has plans to invest in these communities and provide new and different ways to engage with the platform as times change.

Zuckerberg has also called for more government regulation around elections, harmful content and privacy which has been much needed in the realms of social media.