Users Going Private?

“Friends, Friendsters, and Myspace Top 8” by danah boyd was interesting to read because it is obviously a little dated (I don’t know anyone that uses Myspace anymore and Friendster no longer exists).  boyd discusses the concept of “friending” someone and what exactly it means to be friends on a social network; she calls attention to the fact that people who are unfamiliar with social networks are sometimes misled to believe that your friends online are actually your friends offline. She argues it’s more about networking and that it’s very likely most people don’t know all of their online friends personally.  People are not as selective with their online friends for a wide variety of reasons, such as the awkwardness of declining a friend request or the fact that having more friends make you look popular.  While networking with people you already know was originally the intention of the creators of Friendster, users themselves shaped the way in which the site was used.  Years ago it seemed normal to friend random people but nowadays, I feel that things are a little different.

Now that social networks have been around for about a decade and the majority of the population (at least in the United States) uses some form of social network, it seems that people actually do know most of their online friends in person.  Personally, I don’t add people on Facebook if I don’t know them face-to-face. Additionally, there are so many more security features that enable users on Facebook and Twitter to protect their information and censor what others can see.  While originally, as boyd discusses, the fear was that strangers can find out too much personal information, now this is not really the case. Fake profiles are harder to come by on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; most of the time people are really who they say they are and it’s becoming strange or outside the norms of social network usage (at least on Facebook) to friend users that you don’t know in person. It’s no longer a popularity contest to see who has the most friends; there is even a feature on Facebook so you can block everyone from seeing who you are friends with. Social networks are spaces in which we can keep up with old friends and bridge geographic and spacial separation.

To update boyd’s argument, according to recent studies, statistics point to an increasing number of people utilizing more privacy features and being more selective with their friends online in order to uphold a positive online reputation.  In her article, “Facebook and Google+ users becoming more private,” Sharon Gaudin states, “an increasing number of social network users are tightening up their privacy settings, ‘pruning’ their personal profiles and unfriending people, according to the US study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.” She goes on to reveal that fifty eight percent of social network users have their profiles only able to be viewed by their friends. It is no longer a popularity contest because people are being more selective with friending.

boyd also touches upon the drama that arises among adolescents in regards to the ranking of friends, like Myspace’s Top 8 feature. She really is on point with this argument because I can remember in middle school actually being upset over my friends’ placement of me on their Myspace pages.  Drama caused by social networks is reality and although it may seem insignificant, social networks were, and still are, the site of a lot of drama (mostly among middle school and high school ages). People can post statuses about someone they dislike or have the ability to comment something mean on a photo. This theme is still very relevant on social networking sites today, especially Facebook and Twitter.

The term “cyber bullying” is commonly used to describe the bullying or drama that occurs on social networks, like Facebook.  This bullying has surprisingly been linked to suicides and physical harm among school-age children. The article “Cyberbullying-where does it end? Local parents seek help with teen’s racist remarks”  by Kim Hilsenbeck explains yet another recent account of online bullying that occurred in a middle school. Racist comments were made on a thirteen year old boy’s photo who was running for student council, forcing his father to speak out about the school’s discipline policy.  While it is no longer drama being created from a Top 8, as boyd describes, drama is still a relevant issue that needs to be taken into consideration in the discourse surrounding social networks. 

Social networks are always evolving with new features and uses.  Users transform social networks to fit their own lives.  Over the years it seems as though privacy has become a huge issue with social media and in turn people have increased the precautions they take in making their profiles more private rather than trying to network with users that they do not know.  

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