What’s the alternative to Facebook?

The recent backlash to Facebook has brought into question how we use social media. Isobel Sheene explores potential alternatives

Following the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook was trending, and many considered jumping ship (though, according to Mark Zuckerberg, no “meaningful number” did). But the social media giant is something that a lot of people – particularly university students – use regularly as part of their everyday lives, to the extent that we have become somewhat reliant on it. University societies in particular would be hit hard if there was a mass exodus – so what’s the alternative?

Societies at UoN use social media, in particular Facebook, all the time. From using groups to keep everyone in contact, to pages to advertise themselves, to events to organise socials, to Messenger for committee discussions, Facebook is a key part of joining a society. If suddenly it were to no longer be a viable platform for all these things, different online platforms would have to be considered – perhaps ones we already have access to.


Yep, the UoN student’s best friend. Moodle is something everyone at the university already is (or should be) using on a regular basis, whether it’s downloading lecture slides, accessing links and documents uploaded by tutors, or submitting coursework. If it’s a website we’re already visiting all the time, it would be the perfect place for societies to communicate on too.

“You might not realise, but there’s a lot of unused technology contained in the SU website”

If the site were updated to accommodate societies, buying membership might automatically add a student to a society ‘module’ on Moodle, similar to ones for degree modules – only this would be one that the committee would have access to, allowing them to upload useful resources, highlight their socials and events, and even communicate with society members via messages or forums.

However, Moodle’s set up is not really made for the sorts of things societies regularly use Facebook for. Facebook pages that detail the activities of the society to those not already members are great ways of getting students to join, but it’s not really possible on Moodle, as you already have to be part of the society to access information about what they do. The whole set-up would have to change for that to be the case. Which means that perhaps a better place for a Facebook-alternative would be…

The SU Website

Like Moodle, every student at the university already has an account, but unlike Moodle, ex-students can also join with an associate account, a messaging system for the society’s membership is already set up, and society pages to advertise their focus and events already exist. This seems the most logical place for societies to move to in the event of Facebook no longer being an option, because everything needed is already there.

You might not realise, but there’s a lot of unused technology contained in the SU website. There’s the ability for students to list each other as ‘Friends’, and therefore remain in contact:

Oh no, I have no friends :/

There’s the Message Centre:

Look at all those unread messages!

And of course, although underused, there’s the society pages that anyone can access and read through (just like Facebook pages), and the email messaging system that automatically groups people by society, event, or even type of membership (pre-configured, so arguably better than Facebook). Then there’s the calendar, the automated committee control… etc. etc. etc.

One key issue is that there is not currently an instant messaging service, like Facebook Messenger, on the SU website. This is one of the features that makes Facebook so helpful and easy to use – committee members (in particular) can easily make decisions and discuss ideas over Messenger no matter where they are or what they’re doing, without having to overcome the rather cumbersome nature of emails. The society as a whole may not need this (though in some cases it can be helpful), but it can be vital to the running of societies from a committee perspective.

“surely any website with the same basic purpose as Facebook may also fall to the same flaws, sooner or later?”

This is really the only extra thing that would need to be added to the website to make it wholly functional, though, since almost everything else available on Facebook has some similar alternative on the SU website as it stands. From there, it’s simply a matter of changing student behaviours to ensure everyone embraces the new method of communication. Which may happen anyway – as younger generations focus more on websites and apps such as Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, more and more of the students entering our universities in the coming years will not have a Facebook account, and they will either have to make one to take part in society discussions and events, or societies will have to adapt to the times. So…

Other social media sites…

Yep, there’s always the alternative of just moving to another social media platform, be it Instagram or Twitter, or something shiny and new, aimed just at university students. It would be one easy to use, optimised to students’ needs, made to be a business, and unaffiliated with the university. And therein lies the problem – surely any website with the same basic purpose as Facebook may also fall to the same flaws, sooner or later?

“we should become more aware as internet users, more careful of what we’re agreeing to when we sign up”

The push behind the (latest) #DeleteFacebook campaign was the data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, but any other for-profit social media platform may also end up with similar issues. The problem is in the small print in the Ts&Cs that we don’t read and dismissively agree to; essentially, in their simple ability to take advantage of our laziness.

So really, maybe the alternative should be not to delete Facebook, but to keep it and change it. Maybe we should become more aware as internet users, more careful of what we’re agreeing to when we sign up to a website, and more willing to stand up and complain when a company doesn’t reach the standards it should – to raise awareness, and to make real change.

Or maybe we’ll just forget about all this in a couple of weeks, and go back to whatever it was we were doing before, using Facebook and the like as usual, and assuming it won’t affect us – until the next big scandal, at least.

Isobel Sheene

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Featured image courtesy of Book Catalog on Flickr. License here.


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