Does Facebook Make You Soft?

It’s not often that I have an emotional reaction over an article about social media (in this case anger and confusion). As an active user of almost all of the major platforms, I enjoy reading news, opinions, and other articles about social media. However, Mashable’s article titled “Should Men Quit Facebook? Brut’s ‘Mantervention’ App Says Yes” is more ignorant than it is informative.

The rather short article begins with “Let’s face it, posting stuff on Facebook isn’t the most macho pursuit in the world. So, if you’re of the male persuasion and fear that the social platform is making you soft, you might want to avail yourself of Brut’s latest Facebook app”. The assumption that sharing information on Facebook degrades one’s level of masculinity is a concept that I find particularly interesting. In Chapter one of Nancy K. Baym’s book Personal Connections in the Digital Age she writes, “more [American] men than woman use the internet (81 percent vs. 77 percent)” according to a 2009 survey.  However, in the years that have past since the survey was done, it seems that women are much more likely to be engaged in social media sites, making up 64% of Facebook’s users (HuffingtonPost). However, the article doesn’t just make the claim that using social networking sites is something that men should “quit” because it is feminine, it highlights another interesting Baym concept: technological determinism.

A great infographic by the marketing firm Digital Flash NY. Click on it to see the whole image.

The article continues:

The deodorant maker’s app is basically a 5-minute or so video in which a stubbly guy berates you and some of your posts. The interactive aspect comes via the magic of profile access, a trick we’ve seen many times before — such as this True Blood teaser starring you and your Facebook friends.

To underscore his point, the Mantervention man makes his pitch in a room full of stereotypical Facebookers — such as The Networker, Hashtag Harry, Mr. TMI, the Philosopher and “Sign My Petition” Chick.

Whether the app will convince you to quit Facebook is one thing. Whether it will persuade you to buy Brut’s grooming products is another. After all, the brand faces some pretty stiff competition on the social media front from Old Spice.

Can an app (technology) be so convincing that it persuades us to cancel our relationship with another technology (Facebook)? And what exactly is a stereotypical Facebook user? The application and the article manage to stuff all users of the technology into sexist and degrading stereotypes , and in doing so give us, the users, no agency into our personality types on the social networking site. It’s as if the creator of the app and the author of the article agree that Facebook has taken away any and all agency of its users, and the we are simply personality clones that fit into boxes that Facebook has built. Are we so easily gullible to “cool” technology that we would be swayed by it, or is the app simply reinforcing Facebook’s power by playing off the fact that it’s so difficult to truly abandon Facebook for good?

I downloaded the application and allowed it to have permission to access all of my information. The app was funny, relatable, and had its moment of blatant sarcasm. However, I couldn’t tell if it was poking fun of the concept of IRL masculinity, or if it was being completely honest with its intention to call user’s out on their lack of traditional masculine tendencies on social media.

To add another dimension of complexity, it should be reiterated that this application…which is an advertisement for male grooming products…that has been approved by Facebook… has to be installed onto a male Facebook users page…then opened…which leads the user into a five minute argument with an unshaved male spectator that mocks all your activities that you’ve taken part of recently Facebook. The app (WHICH FACEBOOK APPROVED!) mocks your likes, your photos, and your relationship status. In danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison’s essay “Social Networking Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, they claim that the inclusion of applications like Brut’s are the reason why Facebook’s popularity exploded. They write, “Another feature that differentiates Facebook is the ability for outside developers to build ‘‘Applications’’ which allow users to personalize their profiles and perform other tasks, such as compare movie preferences and chart travel histories”. What does it say about the state of social media when the applications that once helped Facebook gain users is now telling them to leave? Especially the users that Facebook clearly needs to attract more of, males. Do all the notions of “friendship”, “community”, and “belonging” in social media that have been brought up in our assignments this week lend themselves to a predominately female user base?

Overall, after downloading the app and reading this article I felt confused about the state of the web and the notion that masculinity and online openness are mutually exclusive. Download the app yourself and see how you feel about it.

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3 comments

  1. You start by saying that this article made you angry and confused. To be honest after reading it I was kind of baffled myself. But the first thing I want to know is what you think. Do you think that men that post on facebook are soft?

    Moving on, I think that if we want to think about this article as conveying a technologically deterministic approach we would back it up by saying something like most people are conformists, and if this phenomenon catches on—meaning men leaving facebook because they will be considered as soft, then most men will. However, In terms of this article actually being technologically deterministic I would consider the following: In your last paragraph you mentioned the complexity, or I would say satirical nature of this situation as this application is targeted at men, and especially men who use facebook, and the fact that it is telling men to leave facebook, and doing so on facebook, with facebook’s approval. To me that gives the impression that the advertiser knows the power of this platform, and that a lot of men have facebook profiles, for this campaign to be successful. Meaning that they believe and trust that facebook is a medium that is trusted and rooted so deeply into our cultural fabric that it is domesticated to the level of being a preferred marketing platform.

    On a lighter note, after testing the app myself I can say that I was not convinced to leave facebook, and to keep using AXE.

    1. I’m glad you were baffled as well. In terms of my own opinion, I absolutely do not think that men who post on Facebook are soft. I am offended by that very thought. Also, what is soft? Is soft feminine? And if so, what is so terribly wrong with being soft, exposing your emotions? Social media is, after all, for sharing you likes, dislikes, feelings, relationship status, etc. If anything, I think being on Facebook makes men and women on an equal emotional playing field.

      I still believe this article is technologically deterministic because it is assuming that the technology can turn men “soft”, regardless of whether it does or not. That assumption, without the inclusion of data, is giving all the agency to the technology and none to the users.

      I’m glad you decided to not leave Facebook, and I’m also glad you tried out the application. While it certainly made for a good laugh, I believe that bootleg grooming products are not a light hearted subject. Stick with the axe.

      -Jenna

  2. Being of the male persuasion and also of the ‘I really hate 90% of the ads today’ persuasion, this app/ad did not work at all. At best the ad is funny, at its worst it comes down as sexist. Badly constructed, I think the ad’s rhetoric falls flat mostly because of the blue frame on my screen as I watched it. But that was not the only reason.

    Slater wrote about how online identities allow us to form a different identity so that “much experience and discussion of online relationship is framed by the simple issue of deception and authenticity”. While this is true of many SNS users, the fact that the ad employs that discourse in order to make men feel uncomfortable about their virility is sad. Sad because of what it implies of who would be left when all the men feel ‘manly’ enough to leave Facebook. Is authenticity then, a purely male concept?

    Of course that last statement was taking it a little too far, but it is a point of view that could come into play when discussing that ad with a multitude of people. All the previous statements are what I imagine would be coming from someone profoundly offended by the ad. I did not feel that the ad worked at all, I think the rhetoric failed because of the overall writing of it. A cool concept will not actualize without strong writing behind. What I believe would have made a GREAT ad though is something along the line of what Old Spice does on television but with a person’s Facebook profile. Slater stated that “one can create entirely new identities that are impossible or inconceivable”: that concept with good writing, applied to an integrated ad like the mantervention ad, could be something really worth spending two minutes on.

    (Hmm… maybe I should not have put that idea out in the open.)

    ~Filling a patent form brb

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