Social networking sites are changing the way students relate to education and the society at large.
Of the various phenomena that have modified the social landscape in the last decade, social media easily has the upper hand. With the number of users in India amounting to over 150 million, Facebook is one of the most popular social networks, followed by Twitter.
College students are increasingly using these forums for communicating with each other, especially in urban settings. Says Dr. Arul Kamaraj, Assistant Professor in Sociology at Loyola College, Chennai, “ During classes, when I ask how many students do not have a Facebook account, hardly one or two hands go up.” He uses Facebook to distribute his notes among students, which he first uploads on his blog.
Facebook and Twitter have certainly proved their capacity for large-scale networking. Amidst their busy schedules of study, students find them extremely efficient and time-saving.
Sahana Sadagopan, who has just completed her first year in B.E. at SRM University, Chennai, speaks animatedly about this, listing out the names of several pages: Come Let’s Change the Nation; Blood Groups and 365 Degree Talent Pool. These are all open groups, not restricted to college users. While Blood Groups helps connect donors with those in need, 365 Degrees gives information about various clubs.
“The latter is aimed at students who have come to Chennai from different parts of the country and are unfamiliar with the city,” says Sahana. Come Let’s Change the Nation has information for those interested in voluntary work such as cleaning the beaches or other locales and caring for the environment. The membership from SRM students is huge.
Students of BITS Pilani, Hyderabad, have a page called BPHC Shoutbox (BITS Pilani Hyderabad Campus, Shoutbox), where everything related to the student activities gets highlighted. This is a closed group and everyone on campus is expected to be a member of this group. Further, faculty members have pages for their student groups through which they disseminate information on courses and exams. There are also open groups, such as Image Processing at BITS Hyderabad, where anyone can join and discuss doubts and queries on image processing.
A smearing of boundaries is also observed as a result of Facebook page usage. More and more, students are using these interfaces to reach out to address social issues and causes. Bonojit Hussain, Delhi-based researcher has had a wide experience with Facebook pages.
While doing his master’s in South Korea, he was involved in managing a Facebook page, which successfully mobilised a massive rally of over one million. He speaks about some pages managed by Delhi University students, which has had an impact. Notable among these is the page that was started to protest the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
This movement started with Facebook and about 3,500 students were mobilised. He observes that the impact factor in the Indian context is much lower, “perhaps because of the sheer size of Indian universities, and it is not possible to contact everyone.”
“Pages started in Facebook for a specific cause or issue have a better chance of succeeding than general open groups, which are formed when the semester begins and then fizzle out,” he adds.
As if to echo this sentiment, Dr Kamaraj refers to the Twitter and Facebook campaign during the Loyola College students’ hunger strike to protest against the UN resolution.
“The page Loyola Hunger Strike acquired about 30,000 followers and the government temporarily froze the page,” he says. Similarly, he speaks about the effectiveness of the hashtag group TNFishermen on Twitter.
This smearing of boundaries will happen more as these forums continue to dominate, as perhaps their full power is yet to be realised in countries like India where the print medium is still favoured over and above social media.
At present, the social media is largely being used for entertainment and desultory discussions, but that it has a future no one can deny.
Facebook and Twitter have certainly proved their capacity for large-scale networking.