story Rachel Lim Cheng Woon
When the fire alarm rang at midnight on March 10, Lim Se Ern ’18 was just getting ready for bed. She immediately checked her Facebook to find out what was going on. “Facebook is the platform that connects the student population in the most immediate way,” she explained.
The efficiency and convenience of Facebook has made it a dominant communication medium at Yale-NUS College. The Yale-NUS College Students Facebook group, with almost all students and Dean’s Fellows as members, sees more than ten posts daily ranging from information on upcoming events to dining hall opening times.
Due to the widespread use of Facebook, many students have used this platform to address issues surrounding the Yale-NUS community. When Peter Lewis ’18 wanted to highlight the problem of second-hand smoke caused by smokers in the sky gardens, he posted on the College Students group, knowing that it was the best way to reach the larger student body. “It worked out really well,” he said. Since then, Lewis has not experienced such incidents.
Yet Facebook has also seen polarizing and passive-aggressive discussions. Abel Ang ’17 said that some conversations would not have taken place if not for Facebook, “but at the same time Facebook is not the best place to have to have discussions regarding the kind of community and culture we want to have.”
Ang went on to say participants may become more defensive due to the public element of Facebook discussions, whereas “if you have a one-on-one discussion, people are less likely to see it as potential attack on their person [or reputation].”
When Lewis was crafting his post, he was aware that it might come across as accusatory and so re-read it several times to ensure it conveyed a friendly tone. He said, “My first goal was to be informative and I did not want to incite anything … I think Facebook can get rather adversarial because people get caught up in their own emotions, and the platform lends itself more to people writing things they would not say in person.”
Indeed, some discussions on Facebook have strained ties in the community. During the fire alarm incident on March 10, many took to Facebook to vent their frustration at being disturbed at night. When students found out that the fire alarm was triggered by burnt toast in a microwave, tensions ran high and many Facebook comments derided the then-unknown individual responsible.
Seow Yongzhi ’18, who clarified later that night on Facebook that his actions triggered the fire alarm, said he was surprised at the pace and nature of the discussion after reading the Facebook comments. However, upon reflection, he felt it was understandable as people were upset and wanted answers.
Seow believed there should be no policy governing Facebook use in Yale-NUS groups. Rather, “it should be something the students discuss. No one is censoring what you say, but [as] adults, [we] have [to find] more responsible and constructive ways of communicating than being childish, plaintive, and accusatory.”
Dean’s Fellow Gina Markle shared that an alternative would be to move these conversations to public and in-person platforms, as was the case in her alma mater Quest University. She said after experiencing how disruptive it was to have such conversations on Facebook, interested parties communicated through town halls and forums instead.
Despite Facebook’s pitfalls, the Yale-NUS community is unlikely to move away from the platform in the near future. Lewis said, “I am a reluctant user of Facebook, but whether we like it or not, it is now how we interact with the community and how we stay updated with what is going on.”