The Effect of Online Social Networking on College Students

During the last five years, the social networking phenomenon has caught the attention of college and high school students. Sites like Facebook and MySpace give anyone the ability to communicate with friends, family, and co-workers—even complete strangers. Though Facebook, for example, started as a site devoted solely to college students, its popularity and expansion has led to this incredible level of worldwide access. Now, anyone from every dimension of the world can join the Facebook community, meaning that anyone can view a user profile. College and high school students still make up a large population on these sites and are unaware of the consequences that follow routine updates of their public profiles. With international access, how are students to know who views their profile and personal information? While Facebook gives the option to control privacy levels, some users choose not to take advantage of it. The result is public scrutiny or unwanted admiration by users that view personal photos, comments between friends and other visible applications. Upon seeing the information displayed in a profile, a user unknowingly creates an identity and image that is perceived negatively or positively by other users.

The power of social networking has control over our perceptions and behavior. In the beginning of my study, I wanted to examine the effect of Facebook and MySpace on college students. I decided to focus solely on Facebook and not MySpace because over the past four years, Facebook transformed magnificently to being the primary mode of communication for college students. Though MySpace provides great insight to extensive identity construction, with the personalization of a profile page, the tools Facebook uses to generate an “image” was a better fit for my research.

I began my research with the question, how much of an impact do social networking sites have on college students? Essentially, how can viewing a profile alter views of our peers? In his article, “Facing up to Facebook,” David Eberhardt writes, “some students form negative opinions about their new peers before they ever personally meet them” (2007, p. 21). For incoming freshmen, their first instinct is to look up their assigned roommate on Facebook; based on what they see on his/her profile, the student determines whether or not they will get along. This kind of prejudging behavior “robs incoming students of significant social learning opportunities” (Eberhardt, p. 21). The immediate perceptions formed just by looking at a Facebook profile affect they way in which students make friends on and off-line.

From this I developed my hypothesis that all college students rely on Facebook for peer communication. Considering how students portray themselves through online social networks raises concerns about how online social networking affects students’ integrity and identity formation. I hypothesized that students use Facebook to meet new people and form perceptions of them. When students depict themselves as something other than their authentic, David Eberhardt predicts the result as an attempt to express behaviors that match that false image. “If students choose to act in this manner, many of their personal resources may become directed toward fulfilling a vision of themselves that has been created to match their perceptions of what others expect rather than learning to find their own voice and determining their genuine identity” (Eberhardt, 2007, p. 21).

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