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The Concise Encyclopedia of Communication by Wolfgang Donsbach

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F

Facebook

Donald Matheson

University of Canterbury

Facebook is the world’s largest social networking service (SNS; → Social Media). Launched in 2004, it has quickly extended beyond Harvard University to become intertwined with many aspects of social life, from friendships to playing games to commerce and politics. How Facebook is used – and why it has become so successful – are central questions of much research.

Facebook is best understood as a social environment. That is, it is used by different people for many different purposes. There is wide agreement among researchers that people tend to use Facebook more to deepen existing social relations than to make new connections, although the ease with which temporary and distant relationships can be entered into is also central to its appeal (→ Communication Networks; Network Organizations through Communication Technology). Some US-based research suggests Facebook operates by a logic or culture favoring honesty about identity and that its users tend to be more socially engaged than the wider population or have a stronger desire to connect with others. However, these early generalizations are being revised as other cultures are studied – see, e.g., Miller’s ethnography (2011) on Trinidadian uses of Facebook for scandal, gossip and sexual display.

Much research focuses on Facebook’s wider impact on social and political life, e.g., its role in protests during the 2011 Arab Spring revolts (→ Communication Technology and Democracy). ...

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