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Facebook Socio-Technical Issues And Challenges

Introduction

The intention of this paper is to investigate various socio-technical issues and challenges associated with social-technical systems. The term “social-technical” indicate that the system constituents include people and technology. Fundamentally, individuals pursue certain goals and to achieve them; they utilize technology to interact with other people. For the social interaction to be sustained through technology, the social dimension gets mediated by the technical dimension. The social dimension influences the technical dimension by creating social needs that the technical dimension must meet. For the new social needs to be met; the technical and social dimensions must co-evolve. Failure to meet the social needs leads to issues and challenges which the paper seeks to highlight and propose possible solutions.

The complexity generated by the social-technical dimensions interaction can be clearly seen in the most famous social networking sites. The social media companies (e.g. Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, mySpace, etc…) aim to create; promote and sustain certain necessary social relationships. Among the key goal of a social networking system is to create and maintain an exponentially growing social capital. Three key resources accrue from the social relationships: information, emotional well-being, and concerted action. This paper deals with the challenges that Facebook faces as a result of the shared information by more than one billion users.

Uncertainty of Viewers

An individual join Facebook after creating an account and completing a profile form through filling in of personal information. The information that a user fill in the profile appears as the user’s Facebook website. Once an account is created the user completes the profile by feeding the system with basic data. Hometown, language, sexual preference and a brief statement about the user are some of the basic information uploaded to Facebook servers. The Facebook template also asks for: profile picture, work and education, philosophy i.e. religion and political views, arts, sports, activities, interest and contact information. It is not mandatory to fill in all this information. The user makes the choice what aspect of their life they would like to highlight. The user makes the decision on what to highlight based on the potential audience. For instance, the information or pictures that you upload will differ significantly when potential audience include only your friends and age mates compared to when it include even your parents. Therefore, every item and information present a social calculation challenge.

The information entered in the Facebook profile is a reduction of the person. The subset and selection of categories of the information entered is solely dictated by Facebook technical dimension. The user reflection is shaped by what is allowed and required by the template. Even if the user defies the categorization of information; whatever he/she put will still be under the labels preset by Facebook. Similar to what is witnessed in a carnival house of mirrors; where the reflection depends on the architecture of the house, Facebook user reflection is a product of Facebook algorithms and architecture.

Changing Online Image

The Facebook user image does not remain constant; it keeps changing depending on the user interaction with friends and other entities. For instance, if you join a hiking group, people will think that you like hiking. Just like in an offline setting where individual social relation keeps changing. Facebook architecture is created in a way that it tries to keep the social dynamism as comfortable as possible. The social network does this through suggestions based on the user’s interactions with friends, pages and apps. The Facebook makes suggestions of the people that you might want to add to your network. This is achieved by analysis of the information that you have uploaded in comparison to that of other Facebook users. Facebook also access your email contacts and use the contacts to suggest potential friends.

While appreciating the benefit of a changing user reflection; the challenges emerge in that a person self-reflection is fragmented and reduced to a series of representations and actions. What is left for the user is to try and bring all these representations and actions together to form a coherent personal picture. More challenging is the attempt by the user to keep track of the evolving self in a limited technological environment. Facebook give the users control of how they are represented to friends but deny them control of their data movement and the survey of what happen to that data.

Information Diverge in Unlimited Directions

In a house of mirrors, an individual does not have control over where his/her image reach. The mirrors bounce the image to places and audience unimagined by the person. The image is accessed by not only the intended person or friend but also by other individuals inside the house of mirrors. Facebook have minimal difference to this typical house of mirrors. Any information that you upload to Facebook, it is visible to individuals that the user never intended.  Unintended viewers include advertisers, page and applications owners and random watchers.

Facebook New Feeds; introduced in 2006 amidst controversies; is a key architectural feature of this social network system. The feature selects friend’s activities and displays them on the user’s homepage. Your friends can see all your activities and can respond through a comment, like or sharing among other ways. For instance, if your friend decides to share your update without your consent the update become visible to all of your friend’s friends. More than one of your friend friends can also share the update, and the information that was intended for only a limited number of people become visible to thousands upon thousands. The bouncing of information continues in an unlimited uncontrollable manner.

Though the user has some control over where and to whom the information bounces, the control utilization is difficult. The defaults setting on privacy are weak and are constantly updated. Very few users know that they can change the default privacy setting. Those who know find it difficult to change the settings. The setting determines how far your information bounces and in some cases the default setting retained by many users allows everyone to access the information. Such access to information offers a good environment for stalkers. The major challenge is that the user cannot know who is accessing their information. The Facebook setting precludes account owners from knowing individuals accessing their profile. Most users don’t know how limited their control is hence have zero idea of how much information they are sharing with the wrong people.

Decreasing Teen Demographic

Inventors of Facebook had the young people in mind. For the first five years of its operation, young users were dominant. Due to the rapidly changing society, more adults and elderly people have joined Facebook. Initially this was a good thing because it meant that Facebook social capital was on the rise. To the surprise of many the growth spurt has turned out to be costly. Young people nolonger term Facebook as a cool social network. Most youths have moved to other competitor social network. According to Piper Jaffray report, only 23% of the youth cited Facebook as the most significant social network. The percentage dropped from 33% recorded six months before and 42% recorded one year before. David Ebersman; Facebook financial officer acknowledged the decline in teens usage stating, “We did see a decrease in daily users, especially younger teens”.

Innovative Competitors

The social liking of the population keeps changing. Few years ago everyone was excited with Facebook. As the social liking keeps changing Facebook has the challenge to ensure that the technical dimension keeps pace with the social dimension. For the last one to two years the company has lost most key users to competitor companies. To keep up with the exponentially growing competition, the company has resulted to replicating other companies’ ideas. For instance, when Instagram was introduced to the market, Facebook moved swiftly and introduced Camera. When the idea failed to work they resulted to plan B and acquired Instagram at a cost of one billion US dollar. A similar story was seen with Snapshot. Facebook introduced the Poke which failed to thrive in the market terribly. Their plan B did not work after two attempts to acquire it flopped.

Older Users’ Privacy

There exist an apparent difference in the definition of privacy between the older Facebook users and the newly signed up users. The changing sharing norms are motivating teens to share more information via social network unlike in the past. While only 41% of adults post photos, 91% of the teens are reported to be posting their pictures. 82% of teens share their birth date, 71%, and 53% share their hometown and email address respectively. While the thought of sharing personal information on Facebook give adults heartburn, the teens don’t even think twice before posting personal information.

The idea that fueled Facebook was motivating users to share more. The current adult generation is becoming more aware of the power of information and is getting keener on what they share especially on social networks. People no longer want to share information especially with strangers.

Addressing the Socio-technical Issues and Challenges

To protect the users of Facebook from the effects that comes from sharing too much information, as a result of making the social calculation with limited information; Facebook should inform the users of their level of control. Just as users are prompted to complete the profile template, they should as well be prompted to go through the various privacy settings. The users will be more confident in using the social network if they are clear on who can see information placed under certain categories. Educating the users on how to change the various privacy setting is important in protecting their personal information.

In dealing with bouncing information, more control should be given to the users. If a user can be able to limit how far the information bounces and who view the information; crimes that have been reported as a result of information falling into the wrong hands shall diminish. It would be better if the user has a way of knowing individuals who are viewing their information by visiting the user profile. As long as the users don’t have an idea how far the information will bounce, they will refrain from posting any information. Not sharing information works against the fundamental principle of openness and more sharing on which Facebook was founded.

In spite of the legacy, teens have stopped being loyal to Facebook and are moving to other social network. Young people use almost all the popular apps such as Whatsapp, Twitter, Snapchat, AskFm, and Instagram. The apps are easy to use and are quickly drawing away users from Facebook. Facebook must tap into young people habit with new apps to win back the teens demographic. The new apps should be integrated with Facebook but not in an obvious manner because many young people view Facebook as a network for old folks.

To deal with the growing competition, the company should stop assuming that introducing a replica app with similar functionality will attract users. An app stamped with the Facebook name will not sell. Money will not buy every competitor that joins the market. There is no easy way to exterminate the competition. The only solution that the company has is to be more innovative and out-innovate the competitors. Facebook should use its huge data and strength to come up with more captivating social network systems.

In the attempt to win the young generation, the company should not ignore the old users concern. Most of the people who have been using the social network for awhile are deeply concern with the privacy settings. People who are keen on the security of their information need to feel safe when using Facebook. Retaining the adult users is just as important as regaining the teens.

Conclusion

Failure to acknowledge the existing gaps, issues, and socio-technical challenges may lead to a gradual death of this giant social network system. Ignoring the issues will lead to violation of users’ expectations, norms, and privacy. Facebook has so far experience tremendous success going beyond anyone expectations. Massive sales have been achieved and a record one billion users attained. The brains behind the company need to do numerous things to ensure the social site succeed in the next one decade. If Facebook will retain its dominance in the market, they must listen to the concerns of the users and act on them.

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