I Was a MySpace Whore

I had forgotten about the MySpace Top 8 until I read danah boyd‘s “Friends Friendsters and The Myspace Top 8.” It bought up many (not so) fond memories of the drama that ensued when you mixed social network sites and 14 year-old adolescents. I was part of a group of four friends that all revolved around one girl. While three of us didn’t like each other all that much, the one girl was able to stay cool with the rest of us. When the Top 8 was introduced, she had a very difficult time juggling all of our needs and emotions when one of us were placed at number two or three: “But I’m supposed to be your BEST friend!” Looking back, I can’t believe how serious we all took it and how comical it seems today, but at the time the Top 8 was the most important thing in the world. 2006 was an awkward year.

Actually, I just found that girl’s old Myspace and her Top 8 is still up. I’m still #1.

In boyd’s exploration of the Top 8, she explains that it “allows people to show connections that really say something about who they are.” MySpace users would include their closest friends and sometimes an assortment of real celebrities and MySpace celebrities–Jeffree Star anyone?–as another way to display their interests and likes. After all, your friends are an extension of yourselves. boyd delves deeper into the real drama effect that the Top 8 had with MySpace users, which is something that I personally experienced. This was coined “MySpace drama,” and was accepted as a part of our new experiences with social network sites.

Top Friends requires participants to expose backstage information. In a culture where it’s socially awkward to reject someone’s Friendship, ranking them provides endless drama and social awkwardness.

Along with the issues that occur in friendship with the Top Friends feature, boyd explores the meaning of friendship in which there are friends IRL and friends on MySpace and Friendster. Some researchers would say that your Friends online corresponded with your friends offline, but boyd argues that this is not the case. She collects information that suggests that the goal of many social network site users was to collect as many Friends as possible, resulting in a Friends list that included many people they didn’t even know. The concept of the friend is already complicated as there are different hierarchies of friendship–the acquaintance, friend, best friend, fake friend, etc.–but social media added another layer as the Friend was often not a “real” friend.

While this article was published in 2007, this concept of friend and Friend certainly exists today. Some of my own Facebook friends have amassed thousands of Friends on their lists. The same is true with Twitter where the general goal is to get as many followers as possible while keeping your following numbers lower. On Twitter, especially, most of the people we are connected with are not even real life acquaintances. The SNS’s have changed but the concept has stayed the same, though I would like to argue that there has been a movement toward authenticity on Facebook.

With so many worldwide Facebook users and with the shift of the word “Friend” as a verb, it has become increasingly difficult to sort out whose posts you actually care about while scrolling through your Feed. There are still people who believe having more Facebook friends leads to popularity but there are an increasing number of people that have heavily edited down their Friends lists to only include actual friends and acquaintances–me being one of them. This occurred after I left high school when I realized that I didn’t particularly care for seeing pictures of the keggers that my fellow high school students were attending at Penn State. They were not friends anymore and not part of my own social network.

With SNS’s today there is also a running joke about older family members that join Facebook and Twitter which leads to a lot of awkwardness and cultural collapse. For example, my brother is heavily into rap music so when he posts status updates with lyrics about sex and drugs, my grandma often takes them too seriously and calls him to see if he is really popping pills. boyd talks about the awkwardness that occurs at times with your online Friends but she probably hadn’t considered grandmothers joining Facebook back in 2007. I mean, I have my grandma as a Friend on Facebook but I wouldn’t necessarily call her a “friend,” would I?

boyd’s reading about Friending in social media has great information about the culture of SNS’s at the time, but definitely needs to be updated as the sites she talks about are not even in use anymore. I would love to see this same concept written about, except exploring Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, arguably the most popular SNS’s in existence today. The Mashable article by Kenneth Rosen, Why Being Defriended on Facebook Hurts, explores some of boyd’s theory about friending and the drama that ensues when it goes wrong. It is very similar to the MySpace Top Friends controversy in that teens are getting upset about their exclusion on SSN’s.

The article explores a study which finds that “the more you’re on Facebook the more emotional ties you have to different interactions on the social platform.” Your identity on SNS’s is your own and you tailor it and nurture it so that, generally, it is a reflection of your real life self. When you are unfriended, it means that someone is rejecting you online, though the study finds that most unfriending occurs because of something that happened offline. boyd would agree with this statement as she writes that “part of what makes the negotiation of Friendship on social network sites tricky is that it’s deeply connected to participant’s offline social life.” In the end, what matters is not which SNS we use, but how we interact and create our identity on it–with the display of Friends being a part of that identity.

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3 comments

  1. I think you raise a lot of important points in your blog post, especially the the part about what really matters is not what sites we are using but how we interact and create our identity on these social networking sites. My very first online identity on a social networking site was a fake. At my high school, no one was on myspace as their real authentic self because we weren’t allowed to be on myspace. My high school banned Myspace (along with skirts, shorts, makeup, unnatural hair colors, beards and mustaches, hooded sweatshirts, and even cell phones) within 48 hours of finding out students were members of the site. If the school found out you had a myspace site, you’d be suspended until you took the site down. Those were the rules. However, like most of the other rules at school, we learned to be crafty and come up with ways around them. We grouped together and shared myspace pages and friended other groups of people at school who were also sharing myspace pages. Friending was less intimidating because it wasn’t just you that was doing the friending, it was a group of you and your friends friending other groups of friends (sounds really weird now, i know). Everything about it felt so much less “real” than a site like Facebook. Anyway, your more realistic experiences with myspace reminded me of my more ridiculous high school experienced with “fake Myspace”, but I think it the differences might say something about how we create our online identities. We perform our online identities not just based on WHO we think is going to see it, whether its our old friends from high school or our parents, but also based on HOW we live our lives offline as well. We weigh the risks of doing something in the online world with the consequences that we might face in the offline world.

    ps. really great blog post btw!

  2. My first response is to Emily- I think that’s such a unique idea to group friends together in one profile to friend other groups. I’m surprised it didn’t lead to more cliquey issues honestly but really admire the creativity!
    In response to Joe not considering your grandma a friend, I actually am the opposite with my family in that I won’t be friends with my mom on Facebook but I’ll still talk to her more than most people. I have always felt keeping that personal relationship separate from my friends was imperative to making good decisions on my own and also just found it weird to be friends with someone who uses Facebook so differently. I’d also be interested to see Boyd study the generational differences in friending because some adults do it to reconnect AND keep tabs on kids while others might use it for other reasons.

  3. Joe, I love your mention of Kenneth’s Rosen’s article “Why Being Defriended on Facebook Hurts” and I was curious as to where he pulled his research for this article. Rosen in fact is reviewing a study conducted by Jennifer Bevan, a professor at Chaplin University. Bevan found that an increase in time spent on Facebook will increase your number of emotional ties you have on the site. She took an interesting approach to unpacking this question. Bevan and her students conducted an online survey and distributed it to adult users, finding that, “It hurts most when users felt they were unfriended because they of something they’d done on the social network”. Bevan specifically claims that the, “tailored identity you create and nurture on Facebook is what makes the process of being unfriended so hurtful.” I never before thought about the degree of pain we feel from being defriending and how and why it resonates so deeply. At first, I found it hard to believe that defriending hurts more when it is a result of an occurrence on a social network opposed to an occurrence that happened offline. However, it seems that the amount of effort exerted to craft our identities online is what makes our online social ties particularly meaningful.

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