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Facebook and the Limits of Communal Communication

This summer I taught a class at the National Campus Ministries Seminar about the social networking phenomenon and what campus ministers need to know to be connected and to their students and minister effectively using these tools. Most of my time was spent on the subjects of MySpace and Facebook. I have developed a non-scientific social theory through my observations of these communities that I call Communal Communication. MySpace and particularly Facebook have been two of the dominant drivers of a type of communication that is both personal and communal at the same time. Communication takes place between two people that is recorded in the public sphere for all to see and access, and millions of young people participate in this communication method every day.

Despite the widespread acceptance of communal communication, the developers of Facebook seem to have found its boundaries. Yesterday Facebook introduced its News Feed and Mini-Feed features, which create a running list of everything you and all the people in your extended network have been doing with Facebook. It chronicles every connection made, every post that is made between any two friends, every change of status or relationship, every tag that is created, every group joined and every photo posted by every person with whom you are connected, among other things. It even supposedly lists posts that have been deleted by a user (though I haven't personally seen this yet). Amazingly I hadn't logged on to Facebook in the last two days but was caught by the rush of outrage among my peers earlier today concerning these developments, which came about yesterday. They are not alone - it seems that the Facebook community at large (closing in on ten million users) has stopped just short of violent demonstrations regarding this issue. As of an hour ago, the largest Facebook Feed protest group has amassed over 500,000 members and is growing exponentially. Mark Zuckerberg himself (the Facebook founder) has responded to the immense reaction with cries of calm. I don't doubt that we will be seeing significant changes to these features if not total removal. If only he could see the microcosm of 11 college students sitting at Wendy's and passionately airing their disgust at their beloved Facebook.

This has caused me to refine my ideas about Communal Communication. My working theory now is that this phenomenon has its acceptance only when information about ones activities and communication is sought or discovered, not when it is packaged and delivered unrequested (with timestamps) to others. Communal Communication has its limits at innocuous or incidental information being packaged as news events and broadcast to others. Hopefully the Facebook developers are learning these lessons.


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