Facebook launched in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, who was a student at Harvard University. Over the decade that followed, Facebook changed the way thousands of people work, play and communicate.
In the second quarter of 2015, Facebook had 1.49 billion active users each month. Its growth shows no sign of slowing, and 72 percent of the world’s adult population use the website at least once a month.
If so many people use Facebook, should you join? We’ll explain what it is, what you can do, and what the risks are.
Something For Everyone
Facebook is an online social networking website. It works by giving every user their own Profile and allowing users to connect by becoming virtual Friends. As a user builds their own network of Friends, they can share news, photos and updates with each other, and keep in touch no matter where they are.
Facebook’s team has worked hard on making the site appeal to everyone. For grandparents, Facebook offers easy ways to keep in touch with family far away; almost one-third of US seniors have joined.
For teens, Facebook gives them tools to share gossip and links. For community groups, there are Facebook tools that bring like-minded people together. For businesses, Facebook has marketing and advertising tools that help them share products and discounts.
All of these tools revolve around our desire to connect with each other. As we increasingly turn to the internet to help us keep in touch, Facebook provides all of us with the ideal platform.
How it Works
On Facebook, different people become friends to build their own network. Any two people can become friends on Facebook, providing they both agree to make the connection. Anyone can create an account, providing they are aged 13 or over. Once your account is created, you get a Profile page filled with your own personal Timeline. Each update you post appears on your Timeline.
In your individual News Feed, you see updates from your friends. This News Feed constantly updates, and you can post your own updates to it. As you make more friends, Facebook begins to filter the News Feed to show you the updates it thinks you will enjoy.
At the top of the screen, there is a notification area. This shows you the number of unread private Messages that are waiting for you and the Notifications that you have received. You can also control Privacy settings for your Profile, so you can limit what other people can see.
Pages and Groups
On Facebook, a business can create its own Page, and fans of that business can ‘Like’ the page to register their support. If the business posts updates, these also appear in the News Feed, mixed in with updates from friends.
Any Facebook user can create a Group, or apply to join an existing Group. Groups are based around discussions on a topic, and all Groups have at least one Admin; this will normally be the original creator plus some nominated helpers. Admins are responsible for moderating the discussions, according to their own rules and guidelines.
Posting Status Updates and Check-Ins
Facebook users often share updates about what they are doing in the form of status updates. In a Status update, you type a short post about whatever is on your mind. Before posting, you can optionally combine this with other information – such as a photograph, or custom a Privacy setting.
Whenever you post, you can also tag other friends on Facebook. Simply start to type their name, then select the correct person from the list that pops up. Once tagged, the other person will receive a notification.
Checking In is a special type of status update. It lets you easily share your current location. Facebook’s website, or mobile app, uses automatic location recognition to detect your current location. You can then select the exact one from a list.
Sharing Photos and Content
You can post several photos to Facebook in a post, or in an album. Facebook also allows you to tag people in photographs to identify them, add dates, locations and captions, and set custom privacy settings to control who can see your pictures.
Once your photos are on Facebook, you can share them to other people’s Timelines. Facebook may also attempt to automatically identify friends in your photos using facial recognition technology.
Facebook also allows you to share external content, such as the link to an article you’ve read, or a picture on another website. Simply paste the link into your post, and Facebook automatically converts it into a preview of the content you’ve shared.
Is Facebook Safe?
We’ve briefly mentioned Privacy on Facebook, and you will notice that our examples have been given a Public privacy setting. Changing this Privacy setting will prevent unauthorized access to the things you share.
It’s crucial to set up your profile correctly, limiting the number of strangers who can potentially delve into your private data.
But Privacy settings are not totally fool-proof. Even if your profile is locked down, it’s impossible to completely seal off your account from the rest of the internet. Anything you upload could be downloaded by another user and shared somewhere else. As such, you should not put anything on Facebook that you would not want strangers to see.
Some critics of Facebook also criticise their commitment to user privacy and say they do not respect user’s personal data. Facebook has fallen foul of the law in the past; it has used advertising tools that were soon found to violate privacy, and its facial recognition tools are controversial. As the company matures, it does seem to be more conscious of user privacy and is keen to be seen to protect user data.