USA

Facebook Campus Hopes to Win Over Students With Free Stuff

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus, Facebook.

This month, Facebook Campus, a college-only section within Facebook, has launched with 30 schools in the United States. With schools largely shifting toward online classes this semester, Facebook hopes the new section will help students connect with their classmates despite not being on campus.

Creating a Campus profile requires a college email and graduation year. Having a profile offers you access to a section dedicated to your university, where you can find campus-related groups, events, and chatrooms to socialize. Basically, it’s a lot like what Facebook—or the Facebook, as it was first called—did in 2004 when it first launched as a platform for college students.

In recent years, the social network has struggled to keep the attention of younger users who are more into Instagram and TikTok. According to a 2018 Pew Research study, only 51 percent of U.S. teens use Facebook, and that figure could have cratered further in the past two years. In 2013, that number was 94 percent—but they didn’t all love it. As Amanda Hess wrote for Slate at the time, “the majority complained of ‘an increasing adult presence, high-pressure or otherwise negative social interactions, or feeling overwhelmed by others who share too much.’ ”

Seemingly aware of the uphill battle it faces, Facebook is giving away free merch to people who make Campus profiles. But as I discovered when I talked to friends at Northwestern University, where I graduated from with a masters in August, that approach might have some drawbacks. To attract students, Facebook released a four-point to-do list: add classes to your profile, join a club group, post an introduction to a campus group, and invite a classmate. After that, students receive a code to redeem for “free swag,” such as beach towels, T-shirts, and water bottles. Campus users have indeed been completing the checklist—but as these screenshots show, they don’t seem to be engaging so much as doing the bare minimum.

Facebook

Part of the challenge, of course, is that many of Facebook Campus’ features have already been established on other apps, or even within Facebook itself. For example, college student organizations have had Facebook groups for years, and the Campus feature does not relocate these groups to its section. The chat function, where students can create chat rooms for their dorm or club, might be useless to returning students, who are more likely to already have friend groups and not feel the need to meet new people. You’re also able to see a class roster, a feature also available on the popular school site Canvas, but it’s incomplete if not every person has a Campus account.

It’s easy to look at those students’ posts and dismiss Facebook Campus as a failure in the making, but the thing is: It isn’t a ghost town. Students are signing up, and some are using it to start groups and interact with their classmates. Even students who are creating profiles for the free merch are basically signing themselves up to be walking billboards for the website. So maybe Facebook will win at the end after all.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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