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Facebook goes back to its roots with online space for college students

The social network is rolling out a Facebook Campus pilot at 30 US colleges.

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Facebook is testing out an online space for college students.

Facebook

Facebook is launching a new online space for college students, a move aimed at making it easier for students to keep in touch with their classmates, share notes and find campus updates.

The new product, called Facebook Campus, is also another way for the social network to get young users to stay on the platform as students and teachers shift to online classes because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Facebook declined to say how many of its 2.7 billion monthly active users are college students, but did note that roughly 200,000 students in 30 US colleges will be part of a pilot project for Facebook Campus. About 79% of US adults who use Facebook are between the ages of 18 and 29, according to a 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center.

College students already use the social network, but Facebook Campus is a section designed specifically for this purpose. That makes it easier for students to find collegiate content because it's all in one place, Facebook says. A variety of colleges are participating in the pilot, including Brown University, California Institute of Technology, University of Louisville, Johns Hopkins University and Middlebury College. 

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Facebook Campus allows students to create a separate profile that includes information such as what they're majoring in and the classes they're taking.

Facebook

Students will be able to create a profile in Facebook Campus that's different from their main profile on the social network so their classmates know what they're majoring in and what classes they're taking that semester. Students will need to provide their college email and graduation year to participate in Facebook Campus, where they can share groups and events such as virtual concerts and study sessions that only people within their school can see. Facebook Campus displays a directory of students who attend the school. The product also includes a chat feature so students can text people within their dorm or clubs without having to friend them on Facebook or exchange phone numbers. Posts from Facebook Campus will be shown in a feed within the online space. Users will be able to find Facebook Campus by clicking on an icon that looks like a triangle in the app and participation is optional.

Facebook was originally created for college students. The social network's CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg started the social network in his dorm room at Harvard University in 2004. In Facebook's early days, though, the site didn't even have a News Feed and students would post publicly on the walls of their friends. In 2006, Facebook started allowing anyone over the age of 13 to join.

"It felt like more of an intimate community than it may be now for college students," said Charmaine Hung, product manager for Facebook Campus, in an interview. "So that's one of the things we wanted to tackle."

Hung said that work on Facebook Campus started before the pandemic. Employees talked to college students about their experiences on the social network and the company realized there's more they could do to "help students feel more connected to their college communities." 

"When COVID-19 hit, we realized more than ever that this was a product that could really help students when they're remote," she said. 

Since Facebook was founded, the social network has grown its user numbers and added new features to the social media site, including live video, a marketplace for selling goods, games and online hubs for coronavirus and voting information. Private and ephemeral messaging has also become more popular as rival apps such as Snapchat and TikTok gain more traction among teens and young adults. The social network, which has also grappled with privacy concerns, has become a destination to consume news, fueling criticism about whether it does enough to combat misinformation and election interference. 

Facebook said users with certain community standards violations will not be able to participate and the company bars bullying or harassment. Facebook didn't specify what these violations are that would prevent a student from using Facebook Campus. Users who create a group or event will be able to moderate that content but people can also report posts to Facebook. The social network said that content posted in Facebook Campus will only be visible to people in the same school and can't be viewed by the public. Students can also make groups with Facebook Campus private so only invited students can view what's posted. Facebook said it may use the data from its new college-focused product to show users more relevant ads and other content.

"This means your activity on Facebook may influence what you see in Campus, and your activity in Campus may influence what you see elsewhere on Facebook," said Dianne Hajdasz, who manages privacy and data policy at Facebook, in a blog post.

Once a student graduates, Hung said, Facebook will ask the user if they want to leave Facebook Campus, but alumni can also stay if they want to keep up with what's happening in their school. 

Facebook is hoping to create new ways for alumni to use Campus for recruiting, networking or speaking opportunities. 

"We know that's an important part of your life, even after college," she said.

Other colleges participating in Facebook Campus include Benedict College; College of William & Mary; Duke University; Florida International University; Georgia Southern University; Georgia State University; Lane College; Lincoln University (Pennsylvania); New Jersey Institute of Technology; Northwestern University; Rice University; Sarah Lawrence College; Scripps College; Smith College; Spelman College; Stephen F Austin State University; Tufts University; University at Albany - State University of New York; University of Hartford; University of Pennsylvania; University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Vassar College; Virginia Tech; Wellesley College; and Wesleyan University. 

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