Imagine your mom or dad taking selfies, uploading them as their profile pictures on Myspace, and updating their statuses asking for comments. Their “Top 8” friends would be their respective significant other, as well as their close friends. Your parents would also probably add your own friends on Myspace, and lurk their profiles.
Fast forward to the year 2012, where something similar actually exists on a newer social networking site, Facebook. My grandparents and middle-school cousins even have Facebook accounts now, and their friend requests have been sitting in my “pending requests” folder for months.
I’m sure many others have a similar conflict, regarding whether or not to accept our family members’ friend requests. Are these people our “friends”? Do we feel comfortable having them view photos of us that are not from innocent family photo albums?
Well, Danah Boyd poses similar, yet slightly outdated questions about what qualifies as a friend in her 2006 research project “Friends, Friendsters, and Myspace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being Social Network Sites.”
Boyd explores the different types of social network Friendships on Myspace and Friendster. She believes that there is an online (and offline) friendship hierarchy, and in fact, “the boundaries between friends and acquaintances are quite blurry and it is unlikely that there will ever be consensus on a formula for what demarcates a friend” (3). Once two people become friends on these sites, they have access to view the friends of their friends – up to four degrees of separation. Thus, users feel more inclined to add more people as “Friends,” regardless of how close they are in real life.
In fact, her research suggested that the second most common reason for Friendship was from “acquaintances, family members, or colleagues” of the social network user (8). But wasn’t Myspace and Friendster mainly popular among teens and young adults? It’s hard to fathom our parents actually communicating through the Internet, let alone having social media profiles, 5-10 years ago.
This article is still useful to explain the different types of friends each person has, and how social media doesn’t fully do justice in defining each type of friend or acquaintance (“there is no distinction between siblings, lovers, etc.” ). It explores why people accept friend requests, and how friends communicate over these sites for either performance purposes (public comments, Top 8, egocentricity, etc.) or private purposes. These analyses are still relevant to social media today, especially the decision about whether or not to accept a friend request from an acquaintance or mutual friend.
However, new technology and platforms have evolved, which allow users to decide on which types of friends can view different aspects of users’ profiles. For example, Facebook allows users to create different settings to show different amounts of private information to certain friends.
Thus, Boyd’s idea of adding family members as Friends on social networking sites requires some updating. Because Facebook reveals much more personal information than Myspace or Friendster, social network friendships – including those with family members – allow for higher stakes. These platforms allow users to reveal extended personal information, which is directed to friends. Oftentimes users would not feel comfortable sharing these photos, ideas, interests, etc. with their parents.
So although Boyd definitely touches on a lot of relevant aspects about Friendships on social media, her small study about family relationships on social media definitely needs to be updated.
This article I found discusses the current problems with young adults being Facebook friends with their parents. The piece reports about how parents may actually push their kids away from these social networking sites by being Friends with them. Parents oftentimes use Facebook to correct their children’s grammar, critique or comment their photos and add their kids’ friends. Some young adults find these actions intrusive, and no longer feel comfortable sharing all their ideas and photos online if their parents can see.
“I am the kind of person who opens up about my life, problems and relationships on Facebook and I cannot be myself with the constant worry at the back of my mind that my mother can see all that I am uploading,” said Nikhil Ramesh, who declined his mother’s friend request.
Thus, people often debate whether or not they should accept their parents’ friend requests, which differs from Boyd’s research about how Myspace and Friendster users commonly had their family members added as Friends.
“Since we tend to reveal all your personal life on social networking sites, parents end up knowing everything about you. They call up each time, they and want me to remove something from Facebook,” said IT professional Sunny Anand to PostNoon.
Facebook actually adopted a new setting recently, which allows users to control how much profile information different types of Friends are able to view. However, users must still figure out which settings they want to use to categorize their parents. In fact, this setting option creates a new hierarchy, where you actually can categorize different types of friends with how much information you want to share with them – a completely new aspect of social media, which Boyd would find fascinating and report about.