Fauxlationship Troubles

In my group of friends, I am pretty much notorious for being single. They all know that if I am in a relationship with someone, it is bound to be serious, as I don’t take dating lightly, so when I changed my Facebook relationship status to “in a relationship,” I could only imagine the confusion that would follow. Not only am I not generally the girl in the relationship, but I am also never the one to publicize my personal life via Facebook or any other social media platform. I anticipated either receiving an influx of text messages or private messages from my best friends, as my friends generally aren’t the type to comment publicly, or for people to overlook it entirely, knowing that I was making, what Liu would call, a theatrical statement.

Generally, I try to portray an authentic taste statement on my Facebook profile, so I hoped people wouldn’t automatically assume that I was making a theatrical statement by changing my relationship status; however, if I had changed other aspects of my profile, such as my political views or gender, all at once, people may have sensed an aura or play or performance/inauthenticity, such that Papacharissi addresses. In other words, they would have known the changes weren’t real, and I wanted to try to maintain my authentic taste statement, to make the change seem legitimate.

I actually considered going all out and changing my sexual preference to ‘interested in women,’ but I decided against it, mostly because of the potential backlash. First of all, I have a lot of gay friends who may be offended by the theatrical performance, as well as my family in other countries who may not understand the social cues, even once I would have revealed that it was for class. This is a perfect example of avoiding the “nightmare audience” by utilizing self-censorship.

Within the first fifteen minutes, alone, my relationship status change got six likes and a comment from one of my friends. Not to mention, I also got a text from my high school’s biggest gossip asking who the “lucky guy” was. Though, my personal favorite was a message from my cousin (basically my brother), calling my bluff rather humorously.

*Note: Crude language has been censored*

One discomfort I did have in changing my relationship status was that I wouldn’t want certain people, such as my bosses, ex-boyfriends, etc. to see that I am in a relationship (which is why I generally don’t post personal facts like this to Facebook). This clearly exemplifies context collapse, in that once the status change is posted to Facebook, unless I had put certain privacy blocks on it, every single one of my friends can see it- bosses, exes, and family members alike.

One consequence I wouldn’t have foreseen was that in changing your relationship status, you put yourself into an entirely new group of targeted advertisements. Now, in addition to my usual food, manicure, and fitness ads, I am occasionally given advertisements for chick-flicks. If I had to guess, Facebook has probably placed me in the movie-date target category. As Marwick points out, advertisers have placed consumers into predetermined categories based on shared interests, and use these interests to target their ads. While they may be helpful at times, it often forces us to abide by distinctions that we may not normally agree to. 

Though, of all of the new ads I had received, my personal favorite is actually about breaking up! As soon as I changed my relationship status, I immediately received an advertisement about how “breaking up isn’t so bad.” If this was a real relationship, it would be a little short lived to be predicting the breakup already, don’t you think?!

Having completed this participant observation activity, it is clear that the relationships we maintain on social networking sites definitely differ between strong ties and weak ties. People I would consider myself strongly tied to did not publicly reveal their confusion with my status change. Instead, they either sent me private messages or texts. 

On the other hand, the people that I am weakly tied to were the ones who “liked” the status. This shows that “liking” something is less of a personal response, and more of a public acknowledgment, whereas a private message is more personal. Additionally, a majority of the private messages acknowledged the fact that this most likely wasn’t real, as my strong ties believed they would have known if I was dating someone before it hit Facebook! If anything, my best friends were almost insulted that I hadn’t notified them before changing my Facebook status. It was as if I had violated 

a social norm by publicizing it before they were in the know. Though, I will say, I found it pretty funny that my grandma “liked” the change. For her age, she is pretty tech-savvy. Some may argue that she violated a social norm by liking my relationship, as some may be embarrassed that their grandma is liking their Facebook posts, but I’m pretty close with my grandma, so we’ll let it slide.

My mother, on the other hand, does not get a free pass. While she observed the social norms, and didn’t like my status publicly, the message I received from her was far worse than a simple “like.” Arguably, as insulting as you could possible imagine, she said:

Clearly, my mother either A: has low expectations for me in life, or B: has little faith in my dating abilities. Either way, WTF, ma?!

All laughs aside, this assignment reveals that Facebook has become a go-to source for information, and that information found on one SNS can lead to other modes of interaction. (media multiplexity, anyone?) The fact that I had received text messages asking about my relationship shows that something posted on Facebook has the potential to spark communication through other platforms. On a positive note, those routine late-night messages from random guys from my high school that I had frequently been receiving begging me to come home for the weekend have “miraculously” subsided. Coincidence? I think not!


One comment

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post! It’s funny how your social experiment ended up playing out on Facebook. I found it particularly interesting that you chose not to alter too much of your profile for the fear of any potential backlash or the potential in offending any of your friends. I agree that, although you would be portraying a theatrical taste statement if you changed your sexual preference, it could still be offensive to others especially if you’re someone who is normally authentic on Facebook. This way, it would seem you would be making fun of an otherwise serious subject. Changing your relationship status instead seems like a good alternative in studying and analyzing how people use Facebook.
    You mentioned that when you changed your status to being “In a Relationship”, you suddenly received new advertisements that were related to dating. I had a similar experience after we discussed the “It Gets Better” movement in class. I had visited the “It Gets Better” page on Facebook and that afternoon, I noticed that I started receiving advertisements to support gay culture and the LGBTQ community. It’s amazing how every click you make on Facebook or any social networking site, creates a digital footprint.
    Overall, its fascinating how friends who are both weak ties and strong ties react to your experiment on Facebook because as you said, it really highlights the difference between the two.

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