Written by Cullen O’Keefe
“Facebook is the devil.”
Senior Dennis Wegienek was never one for understatement. But this obvious hyperbole hides an underlying truth: many Seaholm students are leaving the internet juggernaut for other social networking sites, or are opting out of online social interaction.
Facebook surpassed MySpace as the most used social networking site in April of 2008, and now boasts more than 800 million users. As the tech giant begins to penetrate markets in the developing world, the novelty for many U.S. users has begun to wear off, prompting Wegienek and many like him to leave the social network altogether.
The United Kingdom’s Daily Mail reported that last almost 6 million U.S. users left Facebook while 100,000 of their UK counterparts and 1.5 million Canadians did the same, largely due to increased privacy concerns and a loss of novelty.
Wegienek expresses no regrets over his decision to deactivate his account over a year ago.
“[My] life has been getting better each passing day,” he claims. Although Wegienek maintains a Twitter account, he says he’d eventually like to distance himself from social networking altogether.
Among those committing what some tech experts have coined as “social media suicide” – removing one’s self from online social networking – Wegienek considers himself a trendsetter.
“People are starting to realize how it consumes you,” Wegienek said, adding that it has definitely changed the way people interact “for the worse.”
Senior Timmy Christensen, who deactivated his account last year, echoed some of Wegienek’s sentiments.
“I found it to be a waste of time,” Christensen said. “It’s something that I’ve found myself … and others become far too attached to.”
Dr. Toby Ten Eyck, sociology professor at Michigan State University, attributes the rise of the popularity of (and subsequent attachment to) social media among teens to the unique way it allows them to interact with their peers.
“People are able to express themselves online in a way that feels safer,” Ten Eyck explained, emphasizing the word “feels.”
While it is certainly true that virtual interactions lack many of the consequences that face-to-face interactions bear, the uninhibited way people express themselves on sites can certainly have real world consequences, as noted in the Highlander’s 2008 report on minors who posted pictures of themselves consuming alcohol on their Facebook profile. This, Ten Eyck said, was the illusory appeal of online social interaction.
On top of that, the ability to interact with any user at any time has made Facebook a tool of choice for those engaged in online bullying. Although he didn’t claim to be a victim himself, Christensen cited the mean-spirited nature that Facebook interactions can take on as one of the reasons for his departure.
“A lot of times there’s a lot of mean cyber-bullying… it’s almost depressing,” Christensen said. “I think [leaving Facebook] is liberating.”
Even among those who have decided to keep their Facebook accounts up and active, however, there is a growing population who no longer use Facebook as their social networking site of choice.
Senior Robbie Grenn is among them – while he still keeps his Facebook account intermittently active, he now prefers Twitter and the rapidly expanding Google social network Google+.
“I can only keep two social networking sites updated at the same time,” Grenn explained. “[Twitter and Google+] are better.”
Both Wiegenik and Christensen have been using Twitter after leaving Facebook, saying that it lacks many of the problems Facebook use had for them.
“Twitter is viewed much more lightly [than Facebook],” Wegienek said, explaining that he thought the comparatively lighter personal connection of a Twitter account prevented the type of consumption he claims Facebook has on many of its users. “I use it mainly as a source of entertainment.”
“I haven’t found [using Twitter] to be as distracting or as damaging as [using Facebook],” Christensen said.
Christensen plans to reactivate his Facebook account eventually to keep up with his friends as they go off to college, adding that he foresees Facebook remaining the largest social network among Seaholm students for the foreseeable future.
Ten Eyck’s view on the future of social networking was slightly different, as he predicted “more niche” social networking sites popping up.
As for Facebook, Ten Eyck said “I definitely think [Facebook’s growth] will definitely plateau, but as for going away, I don’t think it ever will.”