Do you really know your “friends”?

“You have 1,526 Facebook friends?! How do you even know that many people?!” is a reaction that is not uncommon when taking a look at people’s Facebooks. Social networking sites allow for vast communications to be made, and these connections are publicly displayed for everyone to see.  In Donath & Boyd’s “Public Displays of Connection” they discuss how those who participate in social networking sites create links to other members and create a “visible network of connections”; they go further by looking at why people feel the need to display their connections, how these connections say something about one’s identity, and how more connections can be made from being able to access another’s connections. In real life, we tend to make connections on a personal level. It is difficult to hide one’s self-identity because the opposite party can physically see your presence and your actions. However, this is not the case with social networking sites.  Social networking sites allow us to construct our own online profiles, and these are not always credible. This is when the connections people have have plays a role. When people have certain connections, this says something about them as an individual. “Social status, political beliefs, musical taste, etc. maybe inferred from the company one keeps”. If an individual has connections with celebrities, or esteemed people, this say something about their social standing. Also, if people recognize mutual connections, this creates a level of trust between connections. Making these network connections is not a difficult process either. Whether two people have only met each other once, have been close friends, or have never met each other at all, a simple click creates a potential link between two individuals. On sites like MySpace and Friendster, you can add as many friends as you want, and whoever you want. This brings into question the privacy people have on these social network sites. Essentially, anybody can see friends lists and can also access pieces of information about others.

Although much of what Donath and Boyd argue still applies today, there are some aspects that need updating. Myspace and Friendster are not considered the mainstream social network sites anymore. Though, they do exist, social networking has gone to another level. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, there have been changes made on how people connect. First of all, privacy is something that social networking sites have started to really come down hard on. People on MySpace had the potential to create false identities a lot more easily than now. From a personal experience, someone was using my identity as his or her own, and there was not much I could do about it. The procedure to get them to stop was much too tedious and ineffective. These false identities can easily start making connections with people that do not know that these people are frauds. However, this is something social network sites have cracked down on, and have made changes too. John Sutter, in “Facebook launches new security feature”, talks about the new feature on Facebook that you can set up that requires an answer to a security question when trying to access a Facebook account from a new computer or unrecognized mobile device. “Facebook says the feature is unique in the social networking world” (CNN). This is a great step towards keeping unauthorized and false users from hacking into people’s privacy and preventing identity theft. Another aspect that has changed is the fact that “the links are public: they are permanently on display for others to see” (2). However, this is not the case anymore. There are greater privacy blocks that allow for people to make private who they are connected with. Sometimes even those who are close friends with those that they linked with on a social networking site cannot access the ‘friends’ list. Some people just do not feel comfortable having this displayed, and a social networking site like Facebook allows that to happen. If this is the case Boyd and Donath’s reasoning that people display their connections for a certain kind of status symbol or attention is not valid. If it is on private, it is not displayed for people to see, which makes hunting for connections not easily accessible. They also mention that the “links are unnuanced: there is no distinction made between a close relative and a near stranger one chatted with idly on-line one night” (2). This, again, has changed through Facebook. There is an option to display family members on the sidebar of Facebook profile pages. People tend to use this portion to show closer relations with friends. On MySpace they had a Top 8 function, and since that is not present on Facebook, people tend to use the family function with their close friends making their best friend a “sister” or a “cousin”.

Despite the changes that Facebook has brought, some things still remain. The ability to look through people’s profiles and make connections through peoples friends list is still very present and social networking benefits have increased. In “Facebook users pretty willing to add strangers as ‘friends’” Caroline McCarthy speaks on how she found “41 percent of those surveyed were willing to approve a random friend request and provide personal information in the process”. You start to realize that it doesn’t matter how many privacy blocks are placed because there will always be people who do not consider adding strangers on a networking site as weird. There is a different perception of what a friend is for every individual, so as much as social network sites have progressed to make this public display of connections optional, people will still utilize this exposure of connections as a benefit for themselves or as a means of some kind of social status. Facebook is a great way to network and it is a very effective way to make connections for potential careers or to find mutual friends (a function that is available on Facebook). In some aspects, this public display of connections is hindrance to people’s privacy. However, it is still a useful source that people are constantly utilizing. Social networking sites started to create connections with people, and this aspect has remained. 

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