Occasionally, I receive friend requests on Facebook from a very random person from a country I had never visited or not even familiar with. My immediate response is to click “delete” and report him as a spammer. I dislike random people’s attempts to come into my own personal but virtual space. It almost feels like a random stranger just walking into my room with dirty shoes on (sorry I am an Asian, no one’s allowed to wear shoes in the house). But then, I think about MySpace days, and as a young teenager, I accepted most of Friend requests because more friends seemed cooler and my offline network was pretty limited in number- a small catholic school’s 7th grader network. Also, Tom guy on MySpace was a default friend for everyone and everyone was aware that he is a fakester. But, not many people were bothered by his access to their bulletin boards. However, nowadays, dominance of people find social networking interesting, convenient, and useful. The importance of our profile, or our online identity, exponentially grew and people started to realize the importance of privacy control of their personal information.
danah boyd in her article “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network,” discusses the meaning of friendship of offline and Friendship online; Friends online could be acquaintance, coworker, best friend, or stranger. She analyzes the practices of ‘Friending‘ on Friendster and MySpace, the two leading social networking sites in 2006, and the following social phenomenon of ‘Friending,’ which was the collection of ‘Friends,’ aka, anyone that makes you look popular by number. However, Friendster and MySpace had faded away into the history, and Facebook is now connecting people in the virtual space and has huge influence on people’s relationships in both online and offline. Because of this rise of new platform, and the notion of social networking sites and the role it plays in people’s lives had changed in past six years, boyd’s article needs to be updated.
“There are so many reasons why people link to strangers that there seems to be little incentive to be selective about friendship…what’s the loss in Friending them?… Friendship doesn’t mean anything really, so why not?” (boyd 10)
People’s primary goal on Friendster was to have more friends than the other, just like a game—whoever has the most ‘gateway’ friends wins; ‘gateway friends’ are the Friends used to open up the access to a new profiles of other people, not necessarily real friends (boyd 5). MySpace’s allowance of Fakesters of public figures and even real celebrities’ existence made people to enthusiastically practice Friending the “cool” people, because “Friends serve as a signal to all visitors about the relevant context,” (boyd 15). This new meanings of “Friends” on social network sites created the norm that online Friends do not have to have same characteristics of your offline friends, who can “provide a shoulder to cry on” (boyd 3). Therefore, for both Friendster and MySpace, Friending strangers was not a big deal. However, it is different nowadays. Friending strangers, or accepting strangers’ Friend requests is considered dangerous. Couteney Palis’ article on the Huffington Post, “5 Types of People You Should Never Friend On Facebook,” guides and warns people who to watch out and why.
The five types are: strangers, people who like to friend everyone, your boss, people who like to advertise everything, and your loved one’s Exes (Palis). No one would have warned people to watch out the first four types on MySpace, because those are the people who utilized MySpace the most and keeps the site active. The publication of this article indicates that people, not just the parents of teens, are being selective of Friending and really are concerned about the privacy control of their own contents. MySpace was more textual, and facebook is more visual and cannot be fake, since the purpose of facebook is to share personal photos with friends they meet offline; the problem is that there are certain photos that you want to share with your offline friends, not co-workers, or boss. Facebook listened to its users and allowed users to have more control over their contents by enabling customizing audiences for every content. Also, the new timeline feature tells important life events to Friends and facebook users are pretty authentic to their profiles. Therefore, more personal information is exposed on facebook, so Friending the strangers on facebook may leave personal information at risk.
“Myspace always seems to cause way too much drama and i am so dang sick of it…have people complain to me that they are not my number one on my top 8.come on now. grow up. its freaking myspace.” (boyd 12)
What is still applicable from boyd’s article is the reciprocity that is expected from each other between real friends on MySpace and facebook. MySpace’s Top 8 Friends had created so many dramas among the users, especially the younger ones, because this feature “demarcated their identity and signal meaningful relationships with others” (boyd 10) and therefore, Top 8 friends were usually the offline friends. Teens would get very upset if they were not reciprocally on each other’s Top 8 friends list, because reciprocity was the social norm of the Top 8 culture (boyd 12). Thankfully, facebook does not have a Top 8 feature, so there is no public way of ranking friendships. However, “unfriending” is acting similarly as the Top 8 culture of Facebook.
In “Why Being Unfriended on Facebook Hurts,” Kenneth Rosen says not just the teenagers, but many users feel emotionally hurt when they find out they were unfriended; it is different from rejecting Friends request because unfriend means you were once Friends with the other. Then why does it hurt emotionally? Rosen says “because Facebook holds a stake in our everyday life, it’s a part of our identity” and therefore, we have such strong emotional tie to our digital identities and interactions we have on facebook (Rosen). Also, as I said in above, most of facebook friends are people that you know in offline, which means facebook friends have some characteristics that qualifies for offline friends. Friending on facebook is a two-way interaction, and reciprocity is expected. When the reciprocity fails between two people , one is hurt.
Social networking sites (SNS) are so prevalent in our lives and have so much influence. The new norm of using SNS could be using it as a filter and a tool to see someone’s offline identity, due to its vast amount of personal information displayed on one’s profile: behaviors between friends, relationship status, life patters, and etc. Our online profile is the extension of offline identity. I think boyd needs to upgrade her work, now knowing that people finally has more control over their contents by customizing its audiences and being selective about Friending online.