The changing face of social media & sharing personal information.
One incident in particular raised the ire of many from various sexual and gender minorities in the United States, when the social network’s strict name policy alienated many.
RT, a state-funded Russian news outlet, reported in mid-September that the social media powerhouse suspended the profiles of hundreds of drag queens due to their refusal to use real names on their profiles. Although Facebook has since issued an apology, its refusal to allow users to use pseudonyms – even for safety reasons – sparked an exodus from the social media platform.
The immediate beneficiary of the exodus was Ello, which exploded from near obscurity to a global phenomenon in the matter of weeks, with requests to join the invite-only privacy-oriented social media upstart peaking at over 27,000 per hour, according to RT.
Nonetheless, in Finland, Ello has yet to make such waves even among sexual and gender minorities, estimates Salla Virtanen, a spokesperson at Seta – LGBTI Rights in Finland.
While some members of the LGBT community were eventually enticed back to Facebook, perceptions of the service were soured as other social media options continued gaining momentum.
“Facebook is currently considered very commercial, and people are concerned that their personal details are being sold [to third parties],” states Jari Jaanto, the co-founder of IRC-Galleria, the largest social networking website in Finland.
Jaanto also estimates that privacy-related concerns are particularly common among people who read about the perils of social media through an intermediary and may not fully understand the phenomenon. “Then there are the data security experts,” he adds.
“As using the Internet has become more common, practically a national pastime, people have become very conscious of who they want to share their details with. Although a transition toward more closed systems has taken place, people aren’t necessarily ashamed to tell about themselves and their lives.”
“Even young people may no longer share photos that could come back to bite them in the future. On the other hand, people aren’t as afraid of their future employers as they used to be,” he analyses.
Privacy concerns are not the only factor driving the growth of alternative social media platforms.
“They were initially made to be a big deal, but people are already used to them. Some groups of people will definitely continue using Facebook for quite a while, but others will switch to rival services due to an improved user interface, for example,” Jaanto estimates.
Helsingin Sanomat wrote last year that the popularity of Facebook is on the wane especially among young Finns. An expert interviewed by the daily pointed out that young people increasingly use a number of social media platforms simultaneously, while their parents concentrate primarily on Facebook.
The social media landscape is indeed becoming more and more fragmented, confirms Jaanto. “People used to use IRC-Galleria for all their social media needs, but today their time is distributed among YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, Kik Messenger and the likes.”
“Finns are eager to try out new services and alternatives, although they may end up being a thing only for a particular group. Google+, for example, remains relatively small despite the initial buzz that surrounded it,” he adds.
“Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp will continue to grow, whereas Ello seems to have hit a standstill after the initial breakthrough,” he estimates. “I’m sure that some group will eventually embrace it, though.”
One should not assume that all social media services compete directly against one another; they are simply used for different purposes, Jaanto reminds.
“Facebook is where your acquaintances, such as classmates and parents, are. IRC-Galleria is where you meet entirely new people. Services where you form small closed groups, such as WhatsApp, are used to chat with people close to you. On Twitter and Instagram, in turn, you express your views to the entire world and create a public image.”
As a result, it is unlikely that people are prepared to tweet about every single issue they have discussed with a friend on WhatsApp or post every single photo they have uploaded to IRC-Galleria also to Facebook for their parents and grandparents to behold, he explains.
A similar trend has been observed in the United States: Taking Stock With Teens, a semi-annual survey carried out by the investment bank Piper Jaffray & Company found in early October that the share of American teenagers who actively use Facebook has plunged from 72 per cent to no more than 45 per cent between April and October.
Meanwhile, 59 per cent of the some 7,200 respondents indicated that they use Twitter and 76 per cent that they use Instagram on a regular basis.
“Young people feel that their parents are stepping into their turf by being on Facebook. They want to be with their friends and therefore use the same services their friends do. Young people value privacy and their personal space,” Jaanto analyses.
“IRC-Galleria may be regarded as a better alternative because your mother isn’t there to monitor what you’re up to.”
Jaanto and Tomi Lintelä launched IRC-Galleria near the end of 2000, roughly four years before a certain Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the first incarnation of Facebook – on thefacebook.com – at Harvard University.
IRC-Galleria began to expand rapidly after a couple of relatively dormant years, and in 2003 Jaanto and Lintelä established Dynamoid Oy to manage the daily operations of the social media upstart. One year later, the number of active users had shot up from 40,000 to 120,000.
“At first, Tomi and I thought we’d do well to get one hundred people to join,” describes Jaanto.
“The service was developed to enable people to post photos of themselves on the Internet and thus show others what they look like. It also enabled users to leave feedback and interact by means of comments. What made it different from other services was that users could produce all of the content themselves.”
“We looked into it later and estimated that the service could grow to roughly 700,000 users in Finland,” he says. “It was our desire to seek potential growth, especially abroad.”
In 2007, IRC-Galleria was sold to Sulake, the creator of Habbo Hotel, in order to facilitate its expansion abroad in an all-share deal that went awry after the announced listing of Sulake failed to materialise.
Today, the service is used by 100,000 unique weekly visitors and by 300,000 unique monthly visitors.
Although the social media landscape has evolved considerably over the past decade-and-a-half, people continue to use social media largely for the same purposes, Jaanto estimates.
“People have spent time on social media decade after decade due to their need to be with other people. People create a sense of belonging by discussing on social media, by sharing contents they have created,” he says.
“As long as social media services manage to preserve their sense of community, they will continue to thrive,” predicts Jaanto.