The Dominant ‘Social Network’: How the Film Shows that Facebook has Still Got It

The Social Network (2010) • David Fincher [Director]

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake

Written by: Raquell Muniz, Katie McGarrity, and Macklin Brigham

Date: November 1st, 2016

The Dominant Social Network: How the Film Proves Facebook has Still Got It

The Social Network, directed by David Fincher and based off a moment of the life of Mark Zuckerberg, is about the creation of one of the biggest platforms of all times: The Facebook. It follows Zuckerberg’s process and decisions in creating a website that had – and continues to have – such a big impact on the internet world. All in all, Facebook is a social networking site where people can keep in touch with those around them. As Baran discusses, social networking sites are websites that function as online communities of users (p. 242).  As Mark said to Eduardo: “People want to go online and check out their friends, so why not build a website that offers that?….. I’m not talking about a dating site, I’ talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online”.(27:27) This shows how Mark, even before he knew what he was capable of creating, wanted a platform available for students to express themselves.

This leads into Baran’s concept of global village. As discussed in our book, this McLuhan’s concept depict new communication technologies that permit people to become increasingly involved in one another’s lives. With that being said, this is exactly what Facebook was providing students to do. As Sean Parker stated: “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” (1:48:45). This is an important quote to always come back to because it exposes us to the world we have entered too. Our generation and those that have yet to come, will become so dependent on platforms like Facebook. This also ties into the idea of globalization that has been a recurring theme among all movies watched. As noted throughout the film, Facebook was rapidly conquering the internet world and becoming exposed to various people from around the world. A scene in the film that provides an example of this phenomena is the following: Marylin Delpy: “What are you doing?” Mark Zuckerberg: “Checking in to see how it’s going in Bosnia.” Marylin Delpy: “Bosnia. They don’t have roads, but they have Facebook.” (55.40) This shows how people are more invested in being able to be in trend with whatever circulates the internet than, in Bosnia’s case, create roads.

Can we consider Facebook a technological revolution, or an evolution? It evolved from Friendster, MySpace, and depending on who you believe, Harvard Connection. In this way, FaceBook was the result of gradual process of development. The whole appeal of Harvard Connection, however, was that it was “exclusive” to those with harvard.edu email addresses (24:08). What is revolutionary about FaceBook, though, is its scope- rather than just encompassing Harvard students, it reaches across the world to Cambridge and other schools in England (1:28:18). And now, in the current age of Facebook, it is worldwide, available wherever the internet is available.

Continuing with the themes of revolution and evolution, revolution pairs with technological determinism, which according to Baran is the fact that it is “machines and their development that drive economic and cultural change (16). Revolutions flip the current state of affairs over in a short time, but is it fair to say that Facebook changed our culture in a very short period of time, and can we say that it drove any cultural change? One could say that it was revolutionary because it allows us to communicate with people across the world with minimal effort, and it also changes the way that people communicate. Most people are friends on Facebook with people who they may vaguely know, but have never met. In this way, anyone who is friends with any person can see intimate details of that person’s life, regardless of whether they know them or not. This is a huge change from Harvard Connection, which was purely for Harvard students.

It can also be said that evolution pairs with social determinism, which states that human sociality drives change, not technology. In this way, Facebook can be viewed merely as a tool to be used in any way by anyone. While Facebook gives us the tools to communicate with people across the country and across the world, we don’t have to use it that way specifically. It can also be used to communicate with your fellow classmates, or your mother. It can be used purely to obtain the daily news, or to communicate within a club or a group. We have the capability to use it how we wish, but the capabilities that we have aren’t driven by the technology, or our cultural change- they are driven by humans.

But how do we know that Facebook is driven by humans?  An overgeneralized, understated answer to this question would be that the fate of the website as a whole hinges entirely on its users, but how is this possible?  How does Facebook utilize its users to survive?  For starters, Facebook is almost entirely composed of user-generated content, or any form of content — including posts, discussion forums, and podcasts — that is created by users of an online service.  Simultaneously, Facebook provides a space where its users can freely express whatever they want to while also offering extensive privacy options to create a safe space.  In the film, an example of the former idea can be seen that depicts the creation of the “relationship status.”  “This is what drives life at college,” Mark declares,

The addition of a 'Relationship Status' section helps send specific signals to potential Facebook friends, and therefore keeps people more interested in the site.

The addition of a ‘Relationship Status’ section helps send specific signals to potential Facebook friends, and therefore keeps people more interested in the site.

“it’s why people take certain classes, why people sit where they sit, why they do what they do” (36:36).  Through giving its users the means to express their relationship status, Mark had found a way to help keep them captivated — and, more importantly, on the site.

Why is it important that Facebook users stay on the site?  Ad revenue. Through the use of cookies, or identifying codes added to a computer’s hard drive, a website can store information about its user (Baran 2014, p. 255).  Facebook does exactly this in order to increase ad revenue.  Through gauging your searches on the site as well as the pages you “like,” Facebook acts as a gatekeeper that chooses what advertisements you are exposed to; if you are a skiing enthusiast, chances are you will see ads for extreme sports shops near your area.  If you are exposed to ads that suit your desires, there is a higher probability that will click on those ads — an act that will earn Facebook more money.

In closing, through applying course concepts to The Social Network as well as the function and actions of Facebook in everyday life, one can see why even over ten years on the Web later, Facebook continues to be a dominating force in both social media and internet users’ lives.  

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