Beer vs. boyd & Ellison vs. me

Beer’s response to boyd and Ellison’s article was composed of three arguments. First, he says that using “social network sites” was too broad of a term for all sites that boyd and Ellison consider to be SNS. He warns that using too broad of a term is too safe and would only make studying social media more difficult, as different platforms have different elements that make them distinct. Beer suggests that using more narrow terms would allow us to “work towards a more descriptive analysis” (Beer 518). Secondly, Beer criticizes boyd and Ellison for separating online and offline friends. He argues that they are inseparable because “young people grow up and are informed by the connections they make on SNS” (Beer 520). Lastly, Beer points out that many of boyd and Ellison’s questions may be answered by simply making social media a part of their every day lives. He continues to say that the concept of capitalism cannot be disregarded. He says that it has “sunk into the background as a sort of analytic given with no or little explanatory sociological purchase,” but capitalism has all the influence on a consumer’s actions as a consumer’s actions in social media has on capitalism (Beer 524).

Though sometimes unnecessarily lengthy, Beer’s article offers a reasonable critique of boyd and Ellison’s piece. I agree that we shouldn’t describe every social media site as an SNS, but I don’t think what we coin social media sites really matter. We all have an implicit understanding of what a social network site entails and have in common—members that form a network. From that simplistic core defining factor, we can branch off and study more specific elements that differentiate each site from one another. Frankly, I think he makes too big of a deal about the name boyd and Ellison chose. Additionally, boyd and Ellison were right to make the distinction between social network and social networking sites, because networking does imply individual instigation.

When it comes to online and offline friends, I fall somewhere in the middle of Beer’s and b&E’s arguments. It’s hard to generalize that all online relationships are like or unlike offline relationships. Online and offline relationships depend on circumstance. They can often resemble real, offline relationships, but  they often do not. For instance, I have plenty of friends on Facebook who I’ve only met once or talked to a couple of times. However, I am much more comfortable just randomly chatting with them on FB than I would be doing so in real life. Facebook is able to mediate these undeveloped real-life relationships because it enables us to feel comfortable with creating a new relationship in an old, familiar space. These relationships, however, don’t necessarily transfer to your offline life because they are sporadic and almost always intrinsically meaningless. Perhaps we need to develop genres for different types of relationships (real life close friends, real life acquaintances, strictly online friends, friends of friends, etc.) and study social media on a genre-by-genre basis to understand online and offline interactions more accurately.

I absolutely agree with Beer when he argues that we need to participate in social media to really understand it. Pure observation does no good because you won’t be able to grasp why someone would “like” or “retweet” something if you haven’t had that impulse to do so yourself. Considering capitalism in social media studies is also crucial because we are a highly consumer-driven society, and we, as “netizens,” have become marketable products. The information that we inadvertently “sell” to social media data analyzers is in turn fed back to us, which we spit back out again to those marketers, making it a cyclical process revved by our capitalistic mindsets.

Beyond Beer’s criticisms, I think that boyd and Ellison should examine the types of users that SNS draw in and what their reasoning for joining is, as that may speak to the cultural need the site is fulfilling. Facebook may drive people to its site because it keeps members connected with almost everyone they know or may have met. Twitter promotes people who like to share their entire lives with others to do so and has also become a medium in which we can get news that we couldn’t have possibly gotten in any other way before. LinkedIn allows you to actually network and stay connected with useful contacts that can help in developing your career. All of these sites help mediate your relationship with people who you know or know of in the real world. But what about the “other” types of social networks such as Second Life, which is quite literally an online world, different from ours, in which you can be whomever or whatever you want?

What kind of social purpose do those type of sites fulfill? Can those sites be considered SNS because they do form very large networks of people? Or does SNS need to resemble some sort of relation to the real world and real social circumstances? While Beer believes b&E’s argument is perhaps too broad, I believe it may be too narrow and should extend to include all types of social media, mainstream or not.

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2 Comments

  1. sn1014

     /  February 9, 2012

    This post got my attention because I felt your analyses of “offline vs. online friends” was one I was able to relate to. It was honestly a surprise to me that so many blogs agreed with Beer’s opposition to the distinction between online and offline friends. Even more so, I was shocked from the bloggers that believe online relationships can be more real than physical life relationships. Reading their blogs definitely provided me with a new way of considering the realness of online relationships; It is true that because we are constantly submerged in the web off numerous connections (sites, apps, texting, etc.) virtual relationships are given much time and attention. However, I still stand strong on my opinion that there should be a distinction between on and offline relationships.
    As you described, I believe there exists a “middle ground” in Boyd and Ellison’s arguments for certain relationships to inhabit. I agree that “It’s hard to generalize all online relationships are like or unlike offline relationships.” As you mentioned, I also agree the categorization of the relationships depend on the circumstance. It is safe to say, in my case, that most of my Facebook friends are people I have only seen once or twice, or people who may have heard of me through a common friend (and vise versa.) Perhaps it is my community that works this way, or maybe I am out of the ordinary- but over half of my Facebook friends I would not say hello to on the street (even though I know them by name or have heard of them.) Therefore, when I read a blog post that contained the fact that around 80% or so of Facebook friends already have a pre-established (offline) relationship, I laughed.
    Back to topic, I believe that in person (real physical relationships) are worth more than online friends. A picture, in my opinion, is not enough to interact with personally fully. Means of expression, personality, and many qualities are lacking through virtual relationships. Therefore I believe in the distinction between the two relationships. Call me out-dated.
    I know responses shouldn’t be this long, but I also wanted to respond about your post on “second-life.” When I first saw the picture, I thought it was the SIMS. I then Googled second life and learned it is similar to the virtual simulation game of SIMS but in second-life (unlike SIMS) the player is granted the opportunity to create a virtual reality (a second life, and interact with other players.) To answer your questions about virtual simulation sites, I believe the sites can definitely be considered SNS because they do form networks of people. These sites fulfill the social purpose (again, in my opinion) of granting people the life they wish they had. On these sites, one can create for themselves a dream; They can finally own a nice car, a large house, (especially when you find the cheat codes ) sexy bodies- really anything. This is a pleasure to many people, as we already know from those who create profiles on Facebook or Twitter in hopes to create a second personality for themselves: one which they molded for others to believe. I definitely agree and believe that virtual simulation sites (and programs such as the SIMS) should be categorized as SNS.
    Shelly Navarro
    #CSMT12 #GROUP4

    Reply
  2. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  February 10, 2012

    Shelly, I like that you point out how variant different users’ experiences with SNSs can be. Makes it even harder to draw conclusions from research studies, since it’s hard to know if we can ever generalize from one group of people we study to another!

    Reply

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