Will You Be My Friend?

If my mom tried to add me on MySpace seven years ago, I would have laughed in her face. I probably wouldn’t have even declined her request – I would have let the pending invitation sit in my virtual inbox, collecting virtual dust, because the thought of my mother using social networking sites, and friending her daughter would have been gut-wrenching hilarious.

During my middle school MySpace days (aka my glory years), I wouldn’t be online friends with my mother, yet I would friend random boys that I thought were cute or people I saw at a party. Note: I used the word saw not met.

Fast-forward to today and my mother and I are friends on Facebook. Not only are we friends,but we tag each other in pictures, comment on each other’s wall, share posts, and comment on each other’s pictures

danah boyd discusses the issues of friending within a social media context in her article “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network.” Specifically, boyd looks at the website Friendster in determining how and why users determine who becomes a Friend. boyd writes, “Friendster expected that these users would list their actual friends but this was not the norm that took hold among early adopters.” boyd goes on to explain, “While some participants believe that people should only indicate meaningful relationships, it is primarily non-participants who perpetuate the expectation that Friending is the same as listing one’s closest buddies.”

boyd argues multiple reasons why Friending extends past the realm of “close buddies.” First, she suggests that it is socially awkward to reject someone’s friend request. boyd also argues that people “display social connections to reveal information about who they are.” While boyd uses this example to reveal motivations behind the MySpace Top 8 feature, it can also be used to describe narcissistic motivations – simply put, the more Friends users have, then the more popular they are.

While this statement may have rung true in the Friendster and MySpace days, the affordances of Facebook provide an update of boyd’s analysis. In a report titled, “Friends and Frenemies” an infographic outline reports:

Here, we can see that 82% of Facebook users add people that they know in real life. Sixty percent of users friend people who are mutual friends and then there is a huge drop off with the remaining reasons having little to do with actually knowing the person. While boyd argues that users on social networking sites like MySpace and Friendster didn’t take the friendship process seriously and that users weren’t just friends with their actual friends, this report suggests that more people on Facebook today are connected with people they personally know rather than random people.

When MySpace and Friendster emerged as social networking sites, the world of the Internet and networking was relatively new and foreign to many. I think today people are more aware of the dangers of the Internet and as a result, don’t want people they don’t know to see their information on Facebook. Granted, users have the ability to control who sees what information, but I’m suggesting that users are more conscious and aware today than in the past. I even have some friends (and I am in this group as well) that delete Facebook friends on their birthdays. Wait, what? Let me explain. When I first joined Facebook in 2007, I was more lenient with accepting friend requests. As a newbie to the social networking game, I was eager to have more friends because in my mind, more friends equated to greater popularity. Now, I am much more aware of the information I post on my Facebook and who I accept as a Friend. However, I still have many of those Friends from 2007 that I don’t really know at all. If one of their birthdays pops up on my newsfeed and I realize we have no legitimate connection, I delete them as a Friend. In the Nielsen report that I cite earlier in this post about Friends and Frenemies, a user Ben commented on the study stating:

“At one point I had 650 friends, I knew everyone of them in the ‘real world’ but I deleted over 400 of them, not because of offensive comments or a lack of engagement but because these were people I did know and had lost contact with, probably for good reason”

In fact, users are now able to organize their friends via lists on Facebook (Close Friends, Acquaintances, Family, etc). It’s worth noting that there isn’t an “I Don’t Know You” list. This in and of itself illustrates who users add to their friends list. This feature was created to organize a users newsfeed. An article titled, “Facebook Adds Tool To De-Clutter Your Newsfeed” writes, “The site will suggest adding some friends to your Acquaintance list to get fewer updates from them in your News Feed, based on how often you interact with certain users on Facebook.” Facebook has updated how users interact with friends. Of course, this feature relies on the fact that users’ friends fall into a specific category. But again, there isn’t an “I Don’t Know You” category, implying that Facebook users are mostly Friends with people they know or have met at some point.

boyd’s article is still significant as it presents a historical perspective on social networking. boyd does a fantastic job chronicling the early days of social media. Her methodologies in which she gathered her research truly give readers an insight as to how social media sites operated back in 2006. And most of her research is still relevant today. boyd stresses that people are projecting themselves on the Internet so that others can “view their presence and interact directly with them.” We see this directly in an article published on Mashable the other day. Reading these articles six years later, students can see not only how much social media has progressed over the years, but how rapidly these sites are changing.

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2 comments

  1. Heejung Kim · · Reply

    Even though I completely agree with you that people now are more careful about sharing their information in the virtual space and re-defining the friends boundary, compared to when MySpace and Friendster was ruling the SNS; and the norms of friending had changed as well. However, I have a different perspective on exclusiveness of online friendship. Seems like you consider the people you had lost the touch for so long, or people you have no connection with in general as “I Don’t Know You” list. My “I Don’t Know You” list is just the strangers I’ve never met, even the people with many mutual friends, because offline interaction is the most important deciding factor about online friends. For people I had lost contact for so long, I still consider them as my friends and keep them on facebook, because I once had offline interactions with them and I have memories with them involved. Also, I personally think it is the saddest thing that happens in the virtual SNS world is when I see the clash between friends-boundaries with other facebook friends, a.k.a., I-was-unfriended-by-high-school-classmates. So, do you think the trend of defining facebook friends boundary will get more exclusive like yours, or like mine, which is more open as long as there was some offline interaction in the past?

  2. In this post, you explain how and why we “friend” and accept “friend requests” on social media sites. I think it is interesting when you write that Boyd suggests, “it is socially awkward to reject someone’s friend request,” but is it not awkward to accept someone as an online friend who we don’t really know very well? This post does a good job outlining Boyd’s article, “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network,” and shows the readers the differences between friends and acquaintances. In your post, I especially enjoyed reading the part about how you delete friends on their birthdays because you have no real connection with them, in an online and offline sense. It seems to be that people are not as consumed and worried about the number of friends they have on their Facebook pages symbolizing popularity, but are now paying more attention to the quality of their friendships rather than the quantity. The fact that people are starting to delete friends shows that people are becoming more protective of their online identities by publishing information to the people they value as true friends. This act of deleting friends suggests that Facebook users are starting to define what a “Facebook friend” is and should be, rather than accepting and friending a random acquaintance just for the sake of adding one more number to their friend list. It is interesting to look at the various social network sites and to see the interactions between the users and their followers and friends, because on Twitter you don’t necessarily need to know the people you are following, or the people following you on a personal level. On the other hand, on Facebook there has to be a mutual acknowledgment that two people are friends, even though many times we don’t even connect and interact with many of our Facebook friends. Is it expected that we have Facebook friends that are just acquaintances, or should we begin to use these sites as mediums for connecting with our real and true friends?

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