By Laura Illeris
— At a time when social media companies are increasingly under scrutiny and our lives are uploaded to the Cloud on a daily basis, a countertrend of giving up likes and instant gratification by abandoning social media is emerging. However, some students at Amsterdam University College (AUC) following this trend are facing a major obstacle. They feel that AUC relies too heavily on Facebook for social and extracurricular engagement, making them unable to reduce their social media usage effectively.
Grace John, a second-year Science major, had quit both Facebook and Instagram for several years before coming to AUC, where she felt she had no choice but to create a personal Facebook profile in order to stay up-to-date. “It’s not mandatory,” she says, “but it’s a given.”
Another student who has felt compelled to be on Facebook since coming to AUC is Osama Chobat, a second-year Social Science major. Chobat had initially deactivated his Facebook account in his final year of high school in order to focus on his studies. However, like John, he has since reactivated his account. “I can’t really deactivate my Facebook again. I would probably like it, but it’s a need now. A lot of stuff at AUC goes on Facebook: all planning, everything.”
Much of the criticism of the Facebook dependency that AUC necessitates is aimed at Facebook groups like ‘The excellent and diverse people of AUC’, ‘Buy, Sell & Trade’, and ‘AUCSA’s Committee Feed’. With 2,407 members, the ‘excellent and diverse’ group receives around 30 new posts every day. Second-year Social Science major Ella MacLaughlin acknowledges that these groups are informative and helpful, and without them, people would not be informed about things like new graduation requirements, people stealing bikes, recreational events, or when there is no hot water in the dorms. “In this way,” she says, “the Bubble makes it a huge inconvenience to go off social media for good.”
Second-year Humanities major Liss Hansen has also noticed that the constant notifications from AUC-related groups can be overwhelming. She says: “I definitely feel like I’m checking my phone more since coming here and it kind of drives me crazy.”
Hansen left the ‘excellent and diverse’ group over the holidays, but has since re-joined in order to make a post asking for something. Like MacLaughlin, Hansen distinguishes between the positive and negative aspects of social media use at AUC. She recognizes that it makes connecting and staying in touch easier, but is concerned about the effect on her attention span. She says: “In that sense, I’m not against social media per say, I’m just against my own use of it.”
Some students have figured out ways to reduce their social media usage, without abandoning it completely. Chobat, for example, has a prepaid SIM card. This ensures that he only receives calls, and no real-time notifications, when he is outside of premises with Wi-Fi.
Ultimately, not all students see the central role of Facebook as an issue. Gabriella Thompson, a third-year Humanities major, who is the admin for the ‘Buy, Sell & Trade’ group, two Facebook pages, and two Instagram accounts, appreciates the community engagement of social media. She says: “It’s what helps me stay informed, ‘woke’, and engaged with the community.”
Thompson has tried a social media detox in the past, and believes that it is possible to be social media-free at AUC. However, she says: “The consequence is missing out on that specific engagement, which essentially involves the whole school.”
The concerns about the centrality of Facebook to AUC social life have been picked up by the AUCSA, who recently hosted a Facebook focus group on the issue. The focus group opened up a discussion on both the ethical and practical implications of Facebook use at AUC. On top of this, the possibility of moving away from Facebook as the main platform for the association was brought up, a prospect that will be welcomed by those who are looking to quit social media.
Editor’s note: This news story is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was entirely reported, written, edited, and fact checked by members of the journalism course. Some material may have been altered by The Herring’s editors to fit its style guidelines.