Facebook has firmly embedded itself into the university lifestyle, sitting proudly alongside binge drinking and promiscuity as an easy target for journalists on a slow news day. The general focus of these articles is either that Facebook consumes far too much time which could be better spent on studies, or that students are recklessly throwing away future job opportunities as a result of what they upload to their Facebook.
Is it really all that bad? When Christine Lagarde addressed the World Economic Forum on 23 January, she said that if Facebook and Twitter were countries, they would be the third and fourth largest in the world respectively. She then asked what this says about the aspirations of young people. What values do students draw from these two social media giants? Lagarde said it came down to three things: openness, inclusiveness and accountability.
Perhaps the rise of Facebook is a product of a collective growing self-confidence amongst young people - or maybe the reverse is true; but what we can be certain of is that this shift is having a profound impact on business attitudes and relations across the world. This is something we should welcome. The young workers of tomorrow are shunning the stuffy, functional workplace relationships of the past, in favour of more open, personal relationships with not only their colleagues but also the companies which employ them. Students are quite literally transferring the skills they acquire and utilise when making contacts in the real world, to the online world.
A lot is said about the dangers of having a strong social media presence. Some of it is valid, but most is unfounded. The world is changing, and people now have the chance to sculpt and refine their online image to best suit their goals and aspirations, a chance which was previously available only to those with the time and money to build their own personal homepage.
Photos are perhaps the most discussed ‘danger’ of Facebook, with employers warning that compromising photos can jeopardise the chances of any significant contract, but is that really the case? If so, will it always be the case? Within ten years we will have a generation that has grown up on Facebook, completely used to sharing masses of personal information with their online followers, in positions of power in the companies that now view Facebook with suspicion.
Employers know that their employees have lives outside of work, to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. Although giving your boss or a future employer access to a stream of drunken photos might be somewhat ill-judged, unless it has any direct connection to an offence committed in work, then it should hardly be a sackable offence, or a genuine reason to withhold employment from an individual; in the same way that seeing your boss out in a pub would not instantly result in you receiving your P45.
A lot of the examples used to warn of how professionally damaging Facebook can be refer to occasions where employees have skipped work and posted/tweeted about these experiences. Quite frankly, that kind of stupidity is not a fault of Facebook, but of the individual's judgement which would land them in trouble even without Facebook. Of course, most university students, being the highly intelligent bunch that they are, wouldn’t dream of making such an error of judgement....
To return to Lagarde, Facebook represents a new era in business relations, one which is driven by the students of today. It's a more open world, with honesty at its core; lies are hard to disguise when you have perhaps 400 contacts 'peer-reviewing' your every status (no, you really didn’t 'spend £100 on drinks last night', stop trying to show off).
It also heralds the start of a more inclusive world; no longer is networking confined to the upper classes; through Facebook and other dedicated networking websites like LinkedIn, it has never been easier for students to connect with future employers, increasing social mobility on a scale that those behind the HS2 network can only dream of. Future employers who, for the first time, have the luxury of being able to access a mass of information on prospective employees, enabling them to make an informed decision and reinforce the idea that workers are human beings too.
Finally, we’re moving towards a world which isn't afraid of accountability; Facebook should only be feared by those with something to hide, or those who feel they need to present a distorted view of themselves in order to achieve professional success. Businesses are learning to embrace social networks and online marketing; something which will improve rapidly as the university students of today grow and find themselves in positions of authority within these firms.