Why is Facebook Going Back to College?

Campus is here to let students chat digitally and influence the ads they see

Key Takeaways

  • Facebook is launching a college-only feature called Campus, which requires students to have a ".edu" email address.
  • The pilot has launched for students at 30 US colleges, with more expected in 2021.
  • The platform is designed to help students find community, especially during a hard school year.
  • Facebook promises it has taken mental wellness and safety into account.
A series of images showing off Facebook Campus and its onboarding process
Facebook 

As many US campuses continue to grapple with rising cases of coronavirus and scale back social activities, Facebook has launched a feature called Campus to provide students with a dedicated space to chat and organize events with their peers.

While Campus may sound a lot like what Facebook offered when it launched in 2004, these features find new meaning during a year when several college campuses are relying more on virtual learning and providing fewer opportunities to make friends at school functions.

"Social media is often a source of support—emotional or practical—during tough times."

"For entering college students in the time of coronavirus, logging into a familiar platform such as Facebook and being able to find potential classmates with common interests or backgrounds may be a lifesaver, particularly if there are fewer opportunities to organically meet people ‘in the hallways’ or in organized activities," Linda Charmaraman, director of the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab at Wellesley College told Lifewire in an email.

Something Old, Something New

Facebook Campus combines familiar features such as groups and chats and reframes them in an environment that only students at a particular college or university can see. Students use their ".edu" email address to access this environment, which creates a separate Campus profile with their graduation year (a mandatory field) and optional information such as their fields of study and hometown. 

Facebook Campus profiles are separate from those on Facebook, but do pull in some information such as profile photos. They enable students to browse a campus directory, read a university-specific news feed and create groups. Campus also provides a chat function for groups that look similar to Messenger, allowing members to hold real-time conversations about various topics instead of just communicating via wall posts.

Series of images showing Campus' chat features
Facebook 

Students at 30 schools are now able to create Campus profiles and Facebook expects to roll out the experience at more colleges next year, a company spokesperson told Lifewire during a phone interview. Schools will be able to claim their official pages in the platform to make announcements and share relevant information with students. 

The social media platform had already heard from students before the pandemic that a dedicated space for school information would be useful, but recent events have made it even more relevant. 

"We created this product based on feedback and guidance from students, colleges, and mental health and bullying prevention experts," Facebook Campus Product Manager Charmaine Hung told Lifewire in an email. "Students are facing unique challenges right now, and with Campus, we aim to support them by providing a dedicated space to help them stay socially connected when they can’t physically be together."

Will Students Use It? 

While Facebook Campus could help college students make friends during a tough school year, one of the big questions is how much they’ll use it while fielding notifications from other apps like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Reddit. A widely-cited 2018 study from the Pew Research Center showed that while 95% of teens between the ages of 13-17 had access to smartphones at that time, only 51% reported using Facebook.

Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, said the concept has potential when considering the majority of teens say social media helps them feel connected—especially during the pandemic.

"Facebook Campus will be successful if it provides something that students can’t get in other places," Rutledge told Lifewire in an email. "The advantage to starting Facebook Campus right now is that students will be establishing new behavioral patterns, especially in virtual and hybrid environments."

Facebook Campus' events planning feature
Facebook

While younger adolescents often enjoy visual apps such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, Facebook is “still popular” with college students because of the connections to organizations and clubs they join over time, Charmaraman said. "I've found in my research with middle school students that even though Facebook is not even in the top 10 most popular social media sites used by their peers, they often mention it as being relevant when they get older—as if saving that time for when they are more serious or mature."

Mental Health and Safety Plays a Role

Mental health and privacy concerns arise when a new social media product launches, and Campus is no exception.

Data breaches like the Cambridge Analytica scandal have put an emphasis on how social media platforms are using personal data. Facebook said it limits groups and events in Campus to specific universities and offers an option to make them private, as well as allows students to block other users to hide their personal information.

Facebook Campus Directory
Facebook 

"We created this product based on feedback and guidance from students, colleges, and mental health and bullying prevention experts."

Campus users’ activity can also influence content, including advertisements, Facebook’s Privacy and Data Policy Manager Dianne Hajdasz said in a post on Facebook’s website.

"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 Hajdasz.

Wellness is also a concern, considering that college students are facing increased mental health issues associated with the ongoing pandemic. Certain academic studies have also linked anxiety and depression to social media use. Facebook said it has solicited the help of several mental health experts when building Campus. 

"Social media is often a source of support—emotional or practical—during tough times," Rutledge said.