Friday, December 12, 2014

Facebook VS. Yahoo

I am a member of several online Yahoo Groups regarding homeschooling, various curricula, dyslexia, etc.  Recently, there was a debate with one group as to whether or not to switch the Yahoo Group to a Facebook Group.  This is not the first time the subject has come up among the Yahoo Group crowd.  A few of the Yahoo Groups I belong to have already made the switch.  However, this particular group held firm. 

There were several interesting posts throughout the debate.  However, one really stood out to me.  So much so, that I asked the original poster if I could reprint it here.  It was written by a homeschool mom, who also happens to be a University of Maryland professor.  She granted me permission, but wished to remain anonymous other than the information I've disclosed.   The following is her post regarding whether or not the Yahoo Group should switch to Facebook....
If I may, I would like to clarify a couple of points in the Facebook (ie, social media/mobile) vs Yahoo (ie, email-based) discussion.

I have been a professor of Computer Science for a very long time, and I have developed and taught a course specifically on social media.  Now, my focus is more on technology and less on psychology, but it's not possible to separate the two because they interact and interweave thoroughly.  It may be convenient to think of the "under 30" crowd and the "over 30" crowd, but those are not the true demographics.  Statistically speaking, the "over 65" age group has a higher percentage of people online than the "50-64" group.  The new digital divide is not between "those who do" and "those who don't", but more along the lines of frequency + location and high-speed access at home, which reflects more of an urban and rural divide.  

Anyway, the research about these frequent discussions is truly not about comfort level with technology or age or anything else.  It's more a matter of time and reflection.  Some platforms are better for quick, immediate response.  For example, finding directions or replying to an RSVP does not require much thought or consideration.  Facebook and Twitter and other "broadcast" media work fine for those sorts of conversations.  They are not the place for a considered response to a question or for anything that should demand reflection. 

Social media has only been in "always-on" mode for less than 7 years.  The first iPhone was released in 2007 and took some time to spread, due to the global economic crash, production problems, and lots of other things.  While those who are "under 30" might feel as if they have always been connected, it's more of a habit than a reality.  From an academic perspective, the issue of social media vs email is of a different nature.  Social media, by its very nature, is "ME" centered and addictive; the psychological rewards are immediate.  Imagine a spider web of connections (this is the engineering model of a social abstraction), but "ME" is always at the center.  Social media is about a broadcast (in the media sense) of something that concerns "ME" and spreads to whoever is connected to "ME".  Email is more closely related to blogging, except that blogging is really one-directional (going outwards) while email is bi-directional.  Email demands more time and more attention and more consideration.  It's not surprising that email and blogging are the preferred platforms for those for whom words and critical thinking matter, but are not as popular with those who want an 8-second reply.  

As an aside, the current lifespan of a FB post is considered to be 5 hours, although most of the "reach" happens within 2 hours. Their algorithm ranks the priority of items to add to a news feed, and anything over 5 hours old does not rank highly.  Most users believe that they are seeing everything that their connections produce, but that is not true.  Research shows that FB users see only 57% of the total posts made by their connections due to the ranking algorithms.  FB decides what is relevant to you, based on what you typically click on.

Another current big debate is that of "opting out".  At this time, Facebook is almost a global directory of everyone online, and it is not only pervasive, it is ubiquitous.  It's everywhere, and it's convenient.  Choosing to "opt out" means that you are no longer "in the group".  You have to decide how important this is to you.  Many groups fall apart over this because one crowd will not yield to the other; the mobile/social crowd will not accommodate the email/group crowd, and vice versa.   There are a multitude of ways to connect and many hybrid platforms as alternatives, but they usually don't get this far. 

The most significant problem is that the billions of users think that FB (and other social platforms) is free.  It is not.  The overwhelming majority of users believe that it is supported by advertising.  It is not.  When you choose to use FB (in particular, although this applies to any large platform), YOU are the product.  You sign a "Terms of Service" agreement, and in that agreement you allow FB to own whatever content you upload.  You do not own your words or your images or anything at all.  FB owns it all, and they sell it in various ways.  A great many researchers pay to use the data that FB provides because never before in history has such an overwhelming amount of data been available.  There have been a number of huge experiments allowed without informing the users by FB that have been in the news recently; one even went so far as emotional manipulation to test the theory of "contagion".  Another point is that when someone dies, their online content is not something that can be willed to someone else.  It is owned by the social platform.  Because the user is no longer providing a benefit to the social platform business, and maintaining information is expensive, nearly every company disables the account and deletes its related content.  There have been a number of recent court cases on this issue.  At the moment, FB allows a page to be converted to a "memorial", but that will be changing as the number of "memorial" pages approaches and exceeds the number of "active" pages.

Finally, the other major concern is that of security and privacy. Never before have the professional lives of a person intersected their personal lives so completely.  For example, if a person "likes" a homeschooling page or a diabetic recipe page or a coping with depression page or whatever on FB, that will influence opportunities in the career world.  There are no clear boundaries on social media, and there should be.  Social media advocates often talk about complete transparency, but that is not possible without full loss of privacy.  The "anonymity" and "Real Name" debates are headed to the courts.

There are no easy answers to any of these questions, but decisions should be fully-informed rather than based on personal preference, personal convenience, and unconsidered emotional reactions.  

I really appreciated this poster's perspective.  I felt it was a thoughtful and educated response. There are so many things to consider before hopping online.  In this media driven world, our quest for bigger, better, faster, may not always produce the best long term results.  Hopefully, this post gives food for thought. 

I should note, I am not a Facebook user.  Apparently, I'm in the "email/group crowd".  I do love words!  


  1. Melissa, I have to agree that the anonymous person brought up MANY good points! Much food for thought!

    I am an ex-Facebook user who, while contemplating going back, will most likely hold firm and NOT go back! I so enjoy an old-fashioned card in the mail, phone call, or email! Who would have ever thought email would have been considered old-fashioned! LOL Apparently it is, because I cannot get hardly any friends of mine to read one I send. Only my book-loving virtual friends answer their emails. :)

    1. Gosh, I want to join you in that so much! But I feel guilty asking my homeschool groups and friends to make a special effort to include me when all of the contact for planning things is happening via Facebook. So hard to know what to do.

    2. It is difficult to be the odd man out. Fortunately, homeschoolers in our area are fairly well organized. We have an online forum hosted by There is a minimal annual fee ($7) for membership, but it's worth it to stay connected. Maybe it would be something to consider starting.


  2. I am on FB but often wish I wasn't. Our ho.eschool co-op group is connected by FB and doesn't use email anymore. I much preferred email where I would respond and then wait a day before checking it again which gave me time to think about responses and arguments (or whatever). Now I make comments that sometimes I wish I would have thought out better.

  3. Thanks for posting this! (I saw your link at Get Along Home.) I am a Facebook user who has been off for two weeks and is hoping to make it permanent. I've tried before and failed, but I'd like to get off the stuff. There are major, major problems that come from Facebook usage (I hope to write about the subject soon), and one of the main problems is how addictive it is. I'm absolutely positive that it is created to be this way ($$$), and it's certainly successful in that object.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Diana (a recovering FB addict)

  4. Great thoughts, thank you for posting! I am sharing on FB, and via e-mail to friends who don't FB or are currently on a break from it. ;)

  5. Thanks for taking the time to read. Feel free to share as long as you're linking to this site. Please don't cut/paste or copy to another site. I put a lot of time and energy here. Thanks in advance for your understanding.