SHOWING OFF CONNECTIONS BUT KEEPING THEM PRIVATE

I often check my Facebook anxious for a new friend request, only to find that I have a request from someone I have never heard of. I am always curious as to who they are, so without accepting their friend request, I click on their profile to see if I can get a better understanding of the individual. If we have no mutual friends, the “friend” usually tends to be a creeper, robot, etc. When we have a few mutual friends, I am inclined to do some deeper investigation. I sometimes ask my mutual friends about the person and I try to decipher why they would have added me in the first place.

While I have been a member of Facebook for about six years, it was the first social network that I joined. I was in my low teens when MySpace was created and I did not really understand the point of the site, so I never created an account. I was able to interact and talk to the people I wanted to be associated with, so I was perfectly content without jumping into the online social world. Since I had heard frightening stories of people adding strangers and them being pedophiles, killers, etc., from the moment that I joined Facebook, I have made sure to know, at least distantly, everyone I have agreed to befriend.

In dana boyd’s article “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites,” she questions whether Friends, on social network sites, are the same as friends in the offline world. This question resonates with me today. While I have been quite cautious in my adding of friends on Facebook, I tend to come across people in my newsfeed or birthday list of whom I am unfamiliar. This most likely only means one thing; that I knew who they were at the time that we became “friends.” Well, since I do not even recognize their name on my computer screen today, we could not have even been “somewhat” friends in the offline life.

As I currently have 1,663 Facebook friends, privacy is a concern for me, and many others, on social network sites. In her discussion of MySpace, dana boyd states,

There are many advantages to the Top Friends feature. It allows people to show connections that really say something about who they are. It also serves as a bookmark for the people that matter.

While this actual fact is irrelevant today because the majority of us are not on MySpace anymore, this brings up a very interesting point. boyd’s analysis would have to change today as she frames the Top Friends feature in a very positive light and explains that people wanted others to see who they are close with and their connections. Now on Facebook, under your profile picture and next to the “About” section, lies a small box with 6 hyperlinked little pictures of friends’ profiles.

This represents your “Friends” section on Facebook. Had she been writing about Facebook, boyd would have probably seen this as an advantage so that people can see your connections. However, while the profiles presented in this box are of peoples’ that you frequently visit, have pictures with, or talk to privately through Facebook chat, it is quite invasive that this box represents people that you “interact with” privately.

There has been a lot of controversy recently over Facebook leaking private messages. People are so concerned with their privacy, as they rightly should be, that there was major panic when people heard that Facebook displayed private messages publicly. In Aaron Elliot’s Social Media Today article, “Facebook Denies Leak of Private Messages on Timeline,” he states, “users were irritated with their messages suddenly appearing in public, and several speculated that the leak bears on nearly six-year-old content.” As people rely heavily on the private features of Facebook, it is both frightening and frustrating when confidential communication is shown publicly. While the little pictures above our “Friends” section do not reveal actual messages, they do provide too much insight into our private connections. People do not want their friends to see which profiles they look at frequently and who they speak with privately.

Conversely, many Facebook users do want others to see their total number and types of connections. boyd coins “Friending” as a “social act” because collecting Friends “provides space for people to engage in identity performance.” Her argument is relevant today as people want specific friendships on Facebook to frame their selves in a particular manner. This allows people to believe they are in a specific scene, hang out with certain people, go to particular places, etc. It is actually quite complicated as there is a very fine line between what people want private on Facebook, as I explain above, and what Facebook users really want to be displayed to others. boyd, along with Judith Donath, have determined that

people display social connections to reveal information about who they are.

Not only are people focused on their Facebook connections for their social lives, but according to Life Hacker’s article “Glassdoor Mines Your Facebook Connection to Help You Find a Job,” your display of Facebook connections can actually affect your professional life as well. The article reinstates the common line,

Finding a job, we’re often told, is more about who you know rather than what you know.

While for years this has been true of personal connections in the physical world, this may be truer than ever through social media. Glassdoor connects to Facebook and when you are searching for anything job related, Glassdoor allows you to see which of your Facebook friends are connected to the specific company, aka “you might have an ally in your job application.”

Friending, Friends, friends and friendships will always create a complex discussion in both the online and offline world. For now we should be cautious of our “friends” 
online while also learn how to utilize our connections to our advantage. We will never be able to distinguish the fine line of privacy, but while we have lost much of it due to social media, we should focus on embracing the potential advantages of our social connections.

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One comment

  1. Talia I think that your discussion in regards to Life Hackers article resonates well with this week’s discussion of ties. Life Hackers supports the claim that the weak ties we form on Facebook can provide certain resources (job interviews ect.) that our strong ties cannot. The Ecard that says “ I think the ‘ People you may know’ section on Facebook should be changed to ‘People I’m deliberately not friends with’” pokes fun at latent ties: we could potentially connect through this channel but we haven’t yet- and maybe for good reason. I have left a handful of friend requests pending as I neither want to accept or deny the person because sometimes saying nothing is as easy as saying yes (an idea Boyd brings up in her article). In regards to the “ to friend or not to friend” dilemma we can also look at Bourdieu’s categorization of taste preferences. Could it be that we won’t accept someone until we have changed our tastes to reflect theirs? I had a close friend in high school that would often change her favorite bands based on the guy she wanted to impress- a statement of differentiation yet completely theatrical at the same time. And I will admit that I have lied about my age and therefore had to rush home and hide my birth year from that person before accepting their request. Now I have just hidden it from everyone- an act that I think Slater would call minor disembodiment, as I am not explicitly disconnecting from my body by writing a different year on Facebook. So when we call authenticity into question I can’t help but wonder: is withholding information is the same as lying about information?

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