Adults keep crashing social networking sites

Adults keep crashing social networking sites

By Martin Ricard, STAFF WRITER

 ERNEST PARKER, 21 (right), and Hazina Williams, 19, check their Myspace.com profiles in the library at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward. (Jane Tyska – Staff)Ernest Parker and Hazina Williams rifled through their Myspace.com profiles one recent afternoon, checking e-mails, searching for messages from distant friends and exploring a world very familiar to most young adults.

But as Parker clicked to his other profile on Facebook.com — a site he used to frequent daily to offset the boundless nature of Myspace — he takes one look in disappointment and remembers that he and Williams aren't exploring a world all their own anymore.

Parker, 21, recalled that Facebook recently opened up its network to the public, which incensed thousands of students throughout the nation's universities, including his campus at California State University, East Bay. Some decided to stay with Facebook, in hopes that the site would continue to remain true to its original purpose — being exclusive to college students. Others, such as Parker, pondered whether to ditch the popular social networking site altogether.

"A lot of people see that as bad," said Parker, a third-year student. "Now anybody can find you. It's now like another Myspace."

Not surprisingly, Facebook, which began as a social networking site for college students, draws a younger audience. More than one-third of its visitors are between 18 and 24, according to comScore's Media Metrix report. On the other hand, Internet users between 35 and 54 now account for nearly 40 percent of Myspace's user base, reported comScore, a digital media measurement company.

But since social networking sites, such as Facebook, have begun broadening the scope of their networks to reflect an aging Internet population, young adults nationwide and locally are beginning to feel ignored. Many are wondering whether social networking sites just aren't for young people anymore.

"When you open up to more people … it has the potential to really increase your user base," Andrew Lipsman, senior analyst with comScore, said of Facebook's recent move. "But what sacrifice is that exclusivity that may have attracted people to the site in the first place?"

Last month, Facebook, the second-largest social networking site, announced a new expansion of its user base, allowing anyone with a valid e-mail address to join the site and interact with friends and people in their region.

While only schools, companies, nonprofits and government agencies have been allowed on the site since it started in 2004, Facebook opened up to new users but still required them to connect with existing college or professional networks.

The site is still dominated by 18- to 24-year-olds, Lipsman said, but many young adults also are beginning to re-evaluate the exclusivity it originally touted as its drawing point.

Other Web sites compete with Myspace by providing more exclusive networks, including Xanga.com — popular among younger teens — and Friendster.com — which attracts older adults. But none has faced the backlash Facebook has seen since expanding its user base.

As a result, school officials have taken measures to educate students on the realities of these "exclusive" social networking sites.

During Welcome Week, Cal State East Bay's orientation team put together a skit warning students living in the dorms to be careful of what they expose about their lives on their online profiles.

The team warned against leaving compromising information on sites such as Myspace because professors and employers can use them to check on potential students or hires.

"We told them, 'If you're going to do stuff, keep it kind of quiet because everybody's going to know what you did the next day,'" said Williams, 19, a second-year student who is on the orientation team.

The popularity of social networking sites among college students also has forced school administrators to interact with their students' online lives.

"It's like developing a collage and putting it up in class for everybody to see," Mary Fortune, director of student life and leadership programs at Cal State East Bay, said about the myriad ways students use social networking sites. "And with that comes other liabilities."

Fortune has even created her own Myspace profile — but, she said, only as a means to teach her students responsibility while still allowing them to be young.

Ironically, students at Cal State East Bay find it easier to keep in touch with one another by using Myspace. And Parker sees this as a growing trend among his peers. But he doesn't tell them to choose between Myspace and Facebook. Instead, he now urges them to use social networking sites responsibly and at their own discretion.

"I use both," Parker said. "It just depends on what you're using them for. Some people have Myspace, for example, but it doesn't become their life."

That's because he knows sites such as Myspace and Facebook are an emblem of his generation, and their growing appeal to older adults is a constant reminder that somebody — probably a lot older — is always watching.

Just ask senior Kevin Malingren, 22, who said he has already witnessed the same trend occur on campus.

When Myspace started to "grow up" to adapt to its older users, Malingren said, college students were forced to find something different and many flocked to Facebook. But now that Facebook has expanded, those same young adults will begin an exodus of their own to find the next popular thing.

"Basically, both are going to get completely used up and people are going to find a new trend," he said.

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