Opinion: Facebook Commitments Are Not Real Commitments

“Going / Maybe / Can’t Go.”

A decision college students are faced with almost daily. Whether a famous speaker, event on campus, theme party, birthday celebration or any other occasion worth commemorating, we are inundated with invitations to events on Facebook from friends, roommates and—quite often—virtual strangers.

Facebook is an excellent way to garner publicity and attract attendees for large events. The network effects of social media allow event organizers to reach a broad audience with minimal effort or time commitment, and as such create buzz about the occasion. This adds a greater social component to an event that may be primarily academic, such as a speaker on campus, or logistically difficult to organize, such as a theme night at a venue in Boston. In such cases attendance is intrinsically linked to the success of the function, which means that greater turnout is inherently better for the event organizers.

However, publicizing explicitly social events that do not require organization on Facebook can negatively impact the experience for its hosts and guests alike. For example, broadcasting a birthday party to a few dozen friends on Facebook virtually guarantees that the entire class, if not the entire campus, will hear about it by the weekend.

Such notoriety creates two main problems for the host: the wrong people showing up and the right people not being there.

While the opportunity to meet new people may always be welcome, crowds of random people generally are not. Hosting an event on Facebook tends to give invitees license to bring along several guests of their own.

This becomes problematic when a small get-together with friends becomes the next Project X and half the guests cannot even guess the occasion. Likewise, if there is a theme or dress code for this event, there is little chance that more than 10 percent of the guests really make an attempt to follow it. More often than not publicized social gatherings attract a host of people who simply pass through with no intention of staying so long as the next option becomes available.

The automated notification associated with events on Facebook also creates a lapse between expectations of the host of those of the guest. Since the invitation is no different than the dozens of others received every week, invitees have no reason to differentiate functions at which their presence is truly wanted and those to which they were invited for the sake of attendance rates.

While the host may take for granted that certain close friends will show up, or use the occasion in attempt to reconnect with others, the same guests may assume they were invited to another sweaty basement party that isn’t worth their time. These flawed expectations cause individuals to miss out on celebrations genuinely important to the people in their lives.

There is no doubt that college students will continue to use Facebook to organize gatherings, as they do certainly serve their purpose in some regards. Yet, it is important to recognize the way social media changes the nature of an event, and remember that there’s nothing wrong with taking the old-fashioned route of sending personal invitations.

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