On Monday night, WaPo Labs’ fearless leader, Vijay Ravindran, led a forum called “Leveraging Social Media: How Do College Kids Consume News and Information?” as part of D.C.’s Social Media Week.
Participating on the panel was a group of young adults from Brown University, Dartmouth College, Yale University, American University, and Georgetown University. All of the panelists were not only tech-savvy consumers of news and information, but also influential members of his or her college newspaper.
Several interesting points emerged from the discussion about the complex social and psychological implications of social media and technology for curious and connected young adults.
When asked about their thoughts on online privacy, the panel’s responses were mixed. Some participants felt that choosing to interact on the web is equivalent to giving one’s consent to be tracked – the implicit agreement is part of the online experience and is to be expected. But not all of the students agreed.
A few panelists expressed a belief that advertisements meant to target a particular profile are creepy. Not because the ads are accurate – this seems to be the rare case – but because the content of the ads is so random. How do ad companies end up choosing these personas?
Another interesting discussion centered on the idea of anonymity online: When is it effective – or preferred – to conceal one’s identity? The Georgetown participant discussed the nuances of a popular anonymous commenting application on campus that demonstrated that, while some people do take advantage of concealment to spout negativity without facing consequences, others use anonymous forums for positive support and airing anxieties.
Conversely, Facebook relies on users to showcase their identities. This raises the question: Does the Facebook form of expression help students deal with their anxieties and establish positive camaraderie with peers?
When it came to how students consumed news, a clear distinction emerged between sensational news and serious news. While panelists felt that Facebook was slowly becoming a source for more serious new topics, social media outlets continue to be students’ primary sources for pop culture and sensational news that is quick to consume and easy to digest.
The participants also pointed to a distinction between passive and active news reading – where Twitter is thought to be a place to passively consume news, Facebook is seen as venue for more active engagement, where liking and commenting on articles becomes part of a greater effort to establish one’s social identity.
When the panelists were asked to envision a future without Facebook, there was a baffled pause.
The participants explained that Facebook is only as valuable to them as the number of friends they have that use it. If ever there’s a shift that inspires a mass exodus of users away from Facebook, the panelists will mostly likely be on board – and, in all likelihood, paving the way.
But the students were in agreement on one thing: If they ever leave Facebook, it won’t be for Google Plus.