To Friend or …Not to Friend

In her article ““Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites””, Danah Boyd‘ argues that “friending” on social networking sites is a way in which people write their community into “being” online. It helps people to create and define themselves, but friending isn’t always a simple process. As Social Networking Sites began expanding, context collisions among friends and those in positions of power became an issue.  

When these sites started to pick up some momentum, it was clear that there was a growing need for some tweaks for better/stronger privacy settings. The options have evolved from the very simple choice of setting your profile to either public or private to some of the most customized privacy settings you can imagine. 

What we use social networking sites for is changing, who uses them is also changing when and where we use them…yeah, that is changing too. Facebook is far beyond the days of being a social networking site for college students. My high school teachers, my boss, my cat, kids I used to babysit… all have Facebook profile pages now. My mom is even on Facebook. And by that I mean I log on to her Facebook about once every 4 months or so when I am home and I read her the random friend requests she has, which inevitably results in us getting through maybe 2 of the 10 pending requests because she sits there and debates whether or not she wants the person friending her to “see all of her stuff” on Facebook. She has ONE photo and its a picture of a sunset and all of five people have posted on her wall since she signed up for Facebook so I am not sure what “stuff” she is actually worried other people will see. 

I gave up ever having to worry that I would post something on Facebook that would render a not-so-happy phone call from my mother about a week after she signed up for Facebook, forgot her password, guessed too many times triggering the automatic temporary lockdown feature on her profile. However, this isn’t the case for a lot of people. Boyd argues that

the users of social network sites are faced with the same conundrum, particularly those who must simultaneously interact with their peers and those who hold power over them” (Boyd).

This argument still holds trueeven in the rapidly changing world of social networking sites. A recent example of this is discussed in the article “To Friend or Not to Friend” in the American Journalism Review, which involves the decision Stuart Leavenworth, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee,faced when California’s Secretary of State Debra Bowen friend requested him on Facebook. He explained that he has left the request “pending” because he likes to “post goofy photos and post goofy messages” and isn’t too sure on how he feels about the secretary of state and other people he does business with having access to all of that information. 

If anything, users of social networking sites face this issue of simultaneously interacting with subdivisions of their peers as well. This is where Boyd’s analysis might need an update. While she covers the social consequences of growing social networking sites in terms of attracting more users which results in context collision, we are now facing another growth issue. Not only are social networking sites expanding to new categories of users, but we are slowly growing up on these social networking sites as well. 

Think about how long you have had your Facebook account. I remember creating a Facebook profile during the beginning of my junior year of high school. Back then it might have been weird when your grandmother joined Facebook, and your much younger/older siblings, and maybe even anyone who was not your peer for that matter … all started joining Facebook. All of us were just starting to learn the ins and outs of creating an online social network back then. Friending was a little bit easier to navigate, as in “these are my friends, my teammates, as well as the occasional nice people I had a class with in high school: ACCEPT, REQUEST SENT, and ACCEPT.” Last but certainly not least, you would probably decide to either keep mom and grandpa in “pending requests” for as long as possible or just get it over with already and hit ACCEPT for them too. 

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We had profiles, we searched for more people to add, debated adding certain people all while uploading, tagging, and commenting. Now people have Facebook friend counts in the thousands, accumulated over the course of the past five, six or even seven years for some of us. It is no longer just about teenagers

trying to find ways of way of being simultaneously cool to their friends and cool to their parents

like Boyd says. Now it is about navigating through this social network you have built up and are still building (and by building I mean “friending”) that contains your old friends, your new friends, work friends, your family, your family friends, your bosses, teachers, former roommates, current roommates, classmates… the lists go on and on. Social Networking SItes like Facebook have become so much more than ways of keeping in touch with old friends and communicating with new ones. They are transitioning into a way of documenting all areas of our lives as well. Some of the most recent evidence of this is Facebook’s new option to add that you are expecting a child (with room to include all of the details like whether you are expecting a boy/girl, who the other parent is, when your due date is, and they even left space for you to include a photo) to your timeline. Josh Constine of Techcrunch points out that

this new life event for expecting a baby also opens up a new advertising is another sign that Facebook is maturing as its original user base of college kids from 2004 start hatching little ones who can join Facebook 13 years from now

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Social Networking Sites allow all of our “friends” we have added to our network over the years to be a part of this, everyone from the the “silent stalker” types to the nonstop commenters. This is probably why all of your Facebook “profiles” are now “timelines” and why the research done on “friending” via social networking sites needs to be revised to now look at the ways users continue to add to their growing network of friends as their lives are becoming more thoroughly documented through social media. 

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One comment

  1. If you looked at my Facebook friends, they consist of (estimating, of course) 40% people from high school, 40% college friends or classmates, 15% random people from my hometown, 4% co-workers, and 1% family (sisters and mother). As you can see, I somewhat know all these people (I don’t friend people I don’t know… creepy!) but this list of friends is made up of a very diverse group of people. Because Facebook has the timeline, as you mentioned, it makes it easier to “stalk” me and harder for me to hide certain posts or pictures from those who I may not want to see them, like certain family members (cough cough my mother). But on Facebook, I do not care and post away anyway. I am probably my most “true” self on Facebook because I do not really censor what I say. Why is this? I don’t really know. Maybe because I have been using Facebook for years and didn’t think about the repercussions of acting my true identity before. Or maybe Facebook’s affordances almost require this: documenting one’s true actions through posting pictures or liking movies or music.

    Though the study of how actual SNS’s are changing is interesting (as you mention in your response), another aspect to look at would be the change of one’s featured identity on different SNS’s. I find it most amusing to study and compare one’s network across SNS platforms, like Twitter, for example. I had to get a Twitter account this past summer as research for my internship. Because employees of the company I interned for follow me and also various members of my family members, like grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins, I tweet very professionally (aka news links, funny political happenings, or anecdotes from my classes). I actively choose not to document my nights out or everyday life. Why do I take Twitter so seriously, but not Facebook? (as others do too). The better question is: why do we friend, and not care how we are viewed, on some sites and friend, and very much care how we are perceived, on others?

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