Italian Undergraduates Join Facebook, but Keep a Critical Distance: “It is Useless, but I'm Using It”

Italian Undergraduates Join Facebook, but Keep a Critical Distance: “It is Useless, but I'm Using It”

Paolo Ferri (University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy), Nicola Cavalli (University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy), Andrea Mangiatordi (University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy), Marina Micheli (University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy), Andrea Pozzali (University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy & European University of Rome, Italy), Francesca Scenini (University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy) and Fabio Serenelli (University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6114-1.ch066


Facebook is the most popular social network site in Italy, and its usage is particularly spread among younger generations. This paper explores how undergraduate students use Facebook, and what meanings they attach to it. Research was performed in 2008 and in 2009 at a Italian university, with a triangulation of quantitative and qualitative methodology. The authors' survey data show the quick adoption of Facebook. In 2008 half of the students were completely unfamiliar with Facebook, while in 2009 59% of them were using it on a regular basis. Evidence coming from semi-structured interviews with randomly selected university students show that the massive adoption of Facebook goes hand in hand with a general critical attitude. Concerns about privacy issues were common, and they can also lead to a kind of detachment from this site. Implications on the perspective use of Facebook as an educational tool are discussed in the paper.
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Study Background

Following boyd and Ellison, we can define social network sites (SNS) as ‘web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system’ (boyd and Ellison, 2008, 211). Among the many different SNS, Facebook is one of the most popular worldwide and one of the fastest growing sites in the history of the Internet (Fowler, 2012). The popularity of this social network seems to be particularly high among university students (Petrovic et al., 2012). Empirical evidence shows how Facebook is also adopted by perspectives university students as a way of introducing themselves into the university world (Madge et al., 2009). For incoming freshmen who have to face a completely new context, Facebook is ‘situationally relevant’ (Stutzman, 2011), as it provides a unique opportunity to keep the contacts with old friends and parents while at the same time entering into University life by getting in touch with other people, finding information about social events and, more in general, enriching and facilitating the socialization process (Madge et al., 2009).

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