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Facebook: The New Student Preoccupation

By Jennifer Gabrielle ’06

Link to Smith College facebook page

Oddly, according to site administrators, 3,461 Smith students are signed up on Facebook, the latest student online preoccupation. That’s surprising, considering there are fewer than 3,000 students on campus. But once you take a look at some of the possibilities, that inflated number is not so surprising after all.

There’s no question that Facebook (at www.facebook.com), an online, interactive directory that connects people nationally via their student status and school affiliation, has staked a solid claim on the Smith student culture since its national launch two years ago. Students spend untold hours logged on to the Web site, checking their personal accounts for messages, joining groups of the like-minded, sending e-hellos to friends on other campuses, weighing in on pertinent issues of the day.

Smith students are by no means alone in their preoccupation with the resource. Each month, more than 8.5 million individuals—mostly students from colleges and universities across the country—use Facebook, according to Chris Hughes, a spokesperson for the Palo Alto, California, company. The site ranks ninth in overall Internet traffic and has joined students’ daily tools of virtual communication such as e-mails and instant messaging.

But it’s difficult to say exactly how many at Smith regularly use Facebook. More than 3,000? Is that possible? It is if you include the Facebook accounts of faculty and staff members, alumnae (even the deceased if they are well known), house mascots and celebrities.

They are all among those with Facebook accounts at Smith.

Humble Beginnings

Facebook was created by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004. A Harvard student at the time, he discovered a need to be able to identify people from other residential places on campus. “While each residential house listed directories of their residents, I wanted one online directory where all students could be listed,” he says. “And I’ve always enjoyed building things and puttering around with computer code, so I sat down and in about a week I had produced the basic workings of the site.”

Facebook quickly expanded to other schools as social networks began to grow and overlap. Today, it’s available to students from most colleges across the country, and to anyone with a “.edu” e-mail address. Once logged on, users build personal profiles with information of their choice, including pictures, political affiliations, relationship status, scholarly interests, favorite movies and contact information.

Students at other schools can view profiles of Facebook members and search for their long-lost kindergarten buddies, for example, friends from camp or people from their high school class. The Facebook allows messages to be sent and features postings on the “wall” of a friend’s profile, a popular way to stay in touch. Students are now using Facebook to advertise events like parties, concerts and festivals on campus; they can send an e-invitation to friends requesting an RSVP or post information on an online calendar of events.

The Facebook also enables students to create their own groups. At Smith, groups have been created, such as “Class of 2006” and “I’ve Got 99 Problems and the Long Walk From the Quad Is 73 of Them.”

The Facebook online community grows steadily as students create alter-ego profiles. Bill Clinton is listed as an undergrad, thanks to Smith Democrats, complete with a major in government and a minor in women’s studies. Martha Stewart is in a Facebook relationship with Cookie Monster, and she has a group named after her: “Free Martha!!” Of course, Smith’s directory would not be complete without alumnae stars like Julia Child and Sylvia Plath.

The Facebook has encountered problems with privacy issues as it grows in popularity. For example, some schools have faced difficulties as potential employers have caught on and consult the Facebook profiles of students before hiring. This has prompted some students to more carefully consider the information they post about themselves.

Nonetheless, it appears for now that Facebook is an undeniable force in the national college student community as hundreds of new members register for the free service every month.

Among college students nationally, and here at Smith, it’s the new electronic preoccupation.

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