The definition of “social network” as provided by Boyd and Ellison is split into three parts. First, a social network site (SNS) must “construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system” which is exemplified by Facebook’s “Walls” and more recently the “Timeline” feature. Second, SNS must “articulate a list of other users whom they share a connection” which Twitter does well with the “Followers / Following” lists. Lastly, a social network site must allow users to “view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.” Beer has a problem with the way Boyd and Ellison go about analyzing social media sites, due to a variety of reasons.
One of the more major points that Beer disagrees with is the distinction that Boyd and Ellison make between “Friends” and “friends.” Boyd and Ellison say that “Friends” (with a capital F) are friends when they are online while “friends” are the friends you associate with face to face, or with unmediated communication. Beer’s response to this is that there is no such thing as unmediated communication. All forms of communication are mediated in some way, according to Beer, because we filter ourselves depending on situations we’re in. Once the point that unmediated communication does not exist, the distinction between “Friends” and “friends” becomes much less clear. Even if the communication we have with our “Friends” is slightly more mediated because it is going through a medium that is not as personal as face to face communication, the relationships are founded on the same type of communication. I find myself agreeing with this point.
I’ve been able to experience firsthand this lack of distinction. Finding friends online and building the relationship through the Internet as a medium is just as rewarding or maybe even slightly more rewarding than making friends in person. This is because when you find friends online, it is usually due to a mutual interest, and the rise of fan forums online is a perfect example. Soshified, a fan forum for a very popular pop group in South Korea Girls’ Generation, brings together fans and allows them to communicate with one another. This strong common interest that the forum’s members share allows an easy way to form strong friendships. Often these online relationships become personal friendships through “meet ups” organized through the site.
Beer also thinks that Boyd and Ellison address the situation from the wrong viewpoint. The question should not be how people are using social media. Beer suggests that we should be asking broader questions and using social media as a tool to answer them. From an anthropological standpoint I think that this is a very interesting point. Social media is a huge part of our culture at the present time, so do we analyze it as a part of our identity or do we use it to answer questions about our identity. Beer is suggesting that we use part of our identity to find out more of our identity and I agree, mostly. I think that understanding how we are using SNS is important, not only for the companies running these sites and making money, but also to gain an understanding that I think both Beer and Boyd and Ellison are all trying to grasp. The questions Beer wants us to ask are ones that should come out of our understanding how we use social media. Boyd and Ellison provide the first step to satisfying Beer, and it confuses me that Beer is opposed to Boyd and Ellison because I think that they work together.
For example, a trend in social media that has been rising recently is using social media as a news source or for gathering information. In an interesting article from Social Media Today an example of how the use of social media is helping to ask the right questions can be found. Students and parents alike are using social media to find information on potential college choices. This is leading to the creation of SNS tailored to high school students looking to go to college such as Mytonomy which allows current college students to upload video or written testimonies on certain topics for high school students to watch and read and respond to with questions. With this use of social media pinned down, the question can be asked, “Why are students in America trying to hard to get into secondary education?” Once the question is asked, spawned from the understanding of the use of social media, social media can once again be used to answer the question.