Facebook takes high school popularity contest to new level

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    As if prom court, homecoming court and other popularity contests weren’t enough, now high school students can add another to the list: Facebook.Until Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his plans to target high school students, Facebook had been a college-exclusive online directory and social networking product. Students at colleges around the United States enjoy the luxury of having at their fingertips a social connection to their friends and classmates. Now I fear that along with prom and homecoming, this product, in the hands of high-schoolers, may become equipment used to further the ever-so-brutal “popularity game.”

    Prior to the announcement that Facebook will be available to high-schoolers, I took full and careless advantage of the convenience offered by Facebook, along with every other college-aged individual with a computer and Internet access. But somewhere between the pokings, changing friends’ walls and joining every group imaginable (including the “I love Dr. Pitcock and his sense of style” group), I began to question the recent changes.

    Did the change in domain name from www.thefacebook.com to simply www.facebook.com make any significant difference in my Facebook experience? Just as soon as I began to question Mr. Facebook’s reasoning, Zuckerberg pulled an entire redesign of the site and announced his plan to offer the product to high-schoolers.

    Other TCU students have noticed the change, including freshman mathematics major Heather Denton, who embraced the new design. She said her favorite change was the new feature, which displays pictures on your wall beside comments left by friends.

    “The layout just makes more sense,” said Denton. She also found the new domain name easier to access, while others didn’t even notice a change had occurred, because the old Web address still directs you to the new Facebook.

    But the new domain name hasn’t generated nearly the same amount of buzz as has the decision to launch a high school version of the Web site. Alma Worrell, a junior theatre major, described herself as “very much addicted” to Facebook and said she didn’t notice much of a difference in design, but did notice the high school feature.

    She said it would most likely be used differently by high school students than college students. The “popularity game” is already more present in high schools than on college campuses, and Facebook could take the game to a new level.

    Other concerns include the safety of high school students, who are more likely to see classmates from Facebook on a daily basis than are students at a college campus. Adam Wenneker, a junior business management major, said he stopped using Facebook after receiving threats on the Web site from people trying to locate his roommate, who had been expelled from TCU.

    One has to wonder if Facebook threats could become more serious in a high school environment, where there are less students in closer proximity. Serious concerns aside, the question of whether or not high school students even need a product like Facebook remains.

    Sophomore graphic design major Ashley Giovannitti said she didn’t think high school students needed another “distracting” product. She also disagreed with the idea of Facebook opened up to high-schoolers because of its likeliness to cause more drama in high schools.

    “Everybody already knows too much about everyone’s life in high school anyway,” Giovannitti said. She said the move toward adding high school students is most likely an attempt by Facebook to keep up with the growing popularity of MySpace, a similar site with an all-access format. By keeping the service exclusive to schools, Facebook can still differentiate itself from the service MySpace offers.

    While commentary left on the Facebook Web site by Mark Zuckerberg states that expansion to high schools was “the next logical thing.” I’m left wondering if the next logical thing for high school students will be not only competing for titles on the homecoming and prom court, but also for the title of “most friends on Facebook.”

    Becky De Haro is a senior advertising/public relations major from Austin.