Like beating a dead horse

Despite the fact that this is sure to be a highly discussed article, I had to comment on danah boyd’s Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community into Being on Social Network Sites. Throughout the article boyd perpetuates the idea that identity is constructed on social media network sites through the display of connections or “Friends” one has (It is important to note that Friends are these online friends/connections while friends are those offline). While I believe profiles are constructed by much more than the Friends one decides to associate with, it’s true that such connections do play a role in creating a context by which an individual can be examined. In other words, the people you choose to connect with on social networking sites say something about you, similar to the idea that “you are the company that you keep.” Specifically in this article, boyd looks at the advent of Friendster and MySpace, how they developed, and the way in which they facilitated the creation of context.

In terms of context, boyd writes:

While Friending is a social act, the actual collection of Friends and the display of Top Friends provides space for people to engage in identity performance.

Displaying your Top Friends or showing that you’re friends with 500+ people says something about you, whether it’s a comment on your personality or just to say that you’re popular, your connections allow others to draw certain conclusions about who you are. This occurs particularly because the Internet allows for anonymity and the detachment of identity from one’s physical body. These are important in that they highlight the idea that a profile is constructed, written, tailored to portray someone to a sort of public that might not be familiar with the person.

But another aspect of context boyd brings up is the relation to ‘collectors’ or ‘Fakesters’ – profiles that have thousands of Friends or profiles that are for people that aren’t real, such as characters from shows.  She states that while associations with either may be to display some sort of personal interest in a topic or in order to see other profiles, both Friendster and MySpace (to a certain extent) worked to prevent fake profiles from thriving. Two social platforms that boyd could not address at the time that are definitive of our social media generation, Twitter and Facebook, are facing similar difficulties.

Facebook has started its mission to purge the site of fake ‘likes’ to a fan page and fake profiles, illustrated in Facebook Begins Eliminating Fake Likes by Anita Li on Mashable. Already, some of the site’s most popular pages have begun to suffer and their numbers are dropping dramatically.

Twitter, on the other hand, is preparing for its crusade against fake or inactive followers. In another Mashable article by Chris Taylor, Will Twitter Replace Your Follower Count?, we realize that there is a sense of want for realness, particularly in the users that populate the network.

But why is this important in relation to boyd? I think that boyd would have thought differently about the importance or the role played by such fake accounts had she known that with Facebook and Twitter not only are people judged or illustrated by the types of people they associate with, but by the sheer number of them. Taylor writes in his article:

The Twitter follower count has become, in effect, the most played videogame on the planet. It’s a game few of us will admit to playing, or talk about in public, or even tweet about. But we’re playing it nonetheless.

We care so much nowadays about how many people are we connected with not because we care about looking at their profiles or because we actually have that many friends, but because we want to portray an image of following only the most popular profiles and that we ourselves have popular networks. Popularity, in this case, is meant to represent quality. This creates a new sense of context in which we analyze users. It adds the facet of popularity that while may have been related to exclusivity before, now represents uninteresting or lack of quality.

However, this isn’t to say that boyd’s article is obsolete, by any means. Her main argument that identity is a construct and that one’s social media networks create a distinct image about an individual is still true; it is only that perhaps now we must also consider the numbers just as much as we do the actual images and identities of the connections.

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