Facebook has become both town crier and bulletin board (Cara Smith/AQ)

Facebook has reached one billion users. Last month the site managed to claim one in seven people on the planet are on the social networking site.

It took Christianity 2,012 years to get 2.2 billion followers. Facebook got a billion in eight years.

Something so huge does not simply exist without inflicting drastic changes to our species.

“It’s made me more social,” says first year St. Thomas student Laura MacDonald. “I know a lot more about the people around me than I would have before.”

“I don’t know of that’s a good thing or not,” she admits.

Knowing more about people comes from the ‘always on’ internet mentality Facebook provides. It’s a real-time engine designed to update, and it’s a sleeker beast than its predecessors. Myspace allowed a personalized web page for friends to check out. Before Myspace, MSN messenger reigned supreme, and allowed a quick back and forth between friends. Even earlier was ICQ, which paved the way for texting.

But now we share the behemoth that is Facebook. While it may not last forever it is the main tool for connecting people online. It will continue to influence us because we all have an account.

Second place to the cool billion on Facebook is Google’s ‘Google+’, social networking platform. As popular as Google is on the internet scene, it’s still the wildly unpopular kid on the block with a paltry 400 million users. Sitting in the shadow of Facebook, it represents .004 per cent of the competition. Four people have Google+ accounts for every thousand Facebook accounts. Who knows if they’re even in use? The fact is that Facebook is the undisputed social behemoth. It’s a Catch-22. I don’t want to go elsewhere, because all my friends are already here.

But there are some holdouts.

St. Thomas criminology alum Justin Aubin refuses to accept that a Facebook account is needed to maintain friend relevance in the 21st century.

“I don’t want to be on there because I don’t think I need it to know what my friends are doing,” says Aubin. “It’s just a gossip machine really. It adds nothing to my life.”

That’s the opposite mentality of most people on Facebook . They opt to share their information to keep up with friends and loved ones – for free.

Facebook knows people are its real currency and it’s unwilling to give up its list or allow competition to import their contacts to another site. The company makes 3.71 billion dollars in revenue every year, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, enough to squash anyone they want to. Especially competition. That’s a lot of money generated from a free service.

Not only has Facebook blown our minds with its transformation into online cash cow, it’s changed us too.

Dialog has changed. Social activity has been impacted enough so that often t when two people meet up in ‘the real world’ a good chunk of the conversation isn’t spent on real life. We talk about what happened online. Another aspect of catching up with a friend has been removed because, like any good Facebooker, you should already know what’s going on in my life – because I put it online.

Facebook has replaced the gossip queen. Instead of “Billy told me…,” it’s become “I saw it on Facebook.” We’re all our own voyeurs, which is okay now, because so is everyone else.

“I don’t think a lot of people could give it up, simply because they’d think they’re missing out,” says MacDonald. “Especially dumb girls who crave it!”

That craving leads to the the issue of sharing and privacy. While it is common knowledge that Facebook is an information broker, making its billions off what you share online, it doesn’t actually police your activity to make itself filthy rich. The fine print demands that you update all your personal information on a regular basis to ensure its marketing to you accurately via those ads on the side, but for the most part Facebook just lets you do your thing. The problem is, we are sharing less of ourselves on Facebook than ever.

Eight years ago the term ‘overshare’ hadn’t blossomed into Facebook etiquette taboo. The platform encouraged you to share everything and anything, and we did so willingly. Now it’s become bad form to update your friends on every single aspect of your life.

“Just brushed my hair, now I’m eating chips” is now an unacceptable status. But a few short years ago it wasn’t.

Consider that a few weeks ago, the internet was ablaze with allegations Facebook had turned previously private messages into public ones without our knowing. We raced to our computers to check our wall histories and sure enough there was incredibly personal information we had openly shared on our public walls. Outrageous! Facebook publicly denied that this was the case, but many of us knew they were full of it. We were wrong.

It turns out we’d simply changed. We’d changed our habits of online sharing so drastically during our short time on Facebook that messages that we’d never consider sharing publicly before look like a breach of privacy years later. Personal information, phone numbers, addresses, out in the open for all to see. We looked back and pointed the finger at Facebook because we refused to believe that we were ever that stupid online. Don’t we look foolish?

Facebook hasn’t changed. We have.

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