Critiquing the Critic

In response to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison’s article on the basics of understanding social network sites, Dr. David Beer proposes revisions to their definition of SNS, their underlying theory, and their suggested direction for further investigation. First, he believes that the way the two authors use the label “social network sites” is too broad and complex. Instead, it would be beneficial to establish an umbrella term that encompasses the different user-generated web applications, such as social network sites, social networking sites, folksonomies, etc., to make the distinctions clearer. Also, Beer critiques boyd and Ellison’s separation of “Friends” online and “friends” offline (Beer 520). He indicates that since social network sites are becoming increasingly assimilated into offline life and that “Friends” and “friends” are sometimes the same people, it is unnecessary and misleading to refer to them as distinct entities. Lastly, Beer points out that instead of solely basing further research around the users of social network sites, more time should be spent exploring the “knowledge capitalism” that is generated from these sites. By this he means, how third parties, such as advertisers, are taking the information users voluntarily provide to satisfy their own motives.

I agree with both articles on varying arguments. In their article, boyd and Ellison only differentiate between social network sites and social networking sites. The former emphasizes its primary use as allowing users to communicate with and make visible their friends in the physical world, while the latter stresses its capability of initiating relationships among strangers (boyd & Ellison 211). They also assert that the title “social network sites” sufficiently groups together the motley of sites with these capabilities. However, similar to Beer, I believe that it confuses the relationship between the two types of webpages further. I do not think a narrow word such as the one given should have the ability of being detached from its umbrella term. It mirrors how a dog and a cat have comparable structural features like walking on four legs, but one would never consider dogs a stem of the cat category. Thus, social networking sites and social network sites should be on the same playing field under a more comprehensive phrase such as Web 2.0.

Although I do recognize the disappearing boundary between online and offline Beer mentions, I still find it necessary to distinguish between “friends” and “Friends” as insisted by boyd and Ellison. Many individuals, including myself, friend (yes, as a verb) and accept friend requests on Facebook from people we barely know. It is not to say that they are complete strangers, but I would not consider them friends outside of the internet. For example, I currently have 1,082 Friends on the site. However, many of them are schoolmates who I have met only once or had minimal conversation with in the physical world. Why I felt the need to become Friends with them on Facebook is beyond me. Maybe because it is socially expected? Maybe because I secretly enjoy creeping their pictures? Maybe because I want to keep up with their lives? Whatever the reason may be, if I saw them on the street, I would probably walk past them and I am sure they would do the same. Therefore, until this discrepancy between “Friends” and “friends” vanishes, they should still be referred to independently.

While both articles propose advantageous routes for future researchers to investigate, I believe they should take it one step forward by examining how one’s identity is portrayed through these sites and how it is perceived by others, especially employers. In recent years, there has been a huge scare over social media sites being used by corporations to gain more insight into the lives of their future employees. To some, this is a great idea especially if they do not do well in interviews or do not think that a piece of paper can accurately portray the type of person they are. They see it as a better way for employers to get a glimpse of their real selves. However, others view it as problematic, usually those just entering the job market straight out of college who have numerous pictures of them partying. It is not so much that they are ashamed of displaying this side of them, but that it may shed a negative light on them in the eyes of others. Many stories report individuals not being hired or even fired because of certain elements of their Facebook profiles. In order to judge whether social network sites should be utilized in judging one’s character is up for debate since these sites foster identity crises for individuals. Some people believe the real you is shown on your profiles, while others believe it’s a superficial or limited view. Factors that contribute to this identity crisis include the lack of context given surrounding comments and pictures. For example, one may post a sarcastic remark on a close friend’s wall on Facebook, but if an outsider who is reading does not know their relationship, he or she may form a wrong opinion. Also, some individuals pretend to be someone they are not, but on the other hand, some believe they can fully express themselves online more so than offline. However, it can also be argued that the real you is never portrayed in the physical world since we behave differently depending on who we are addressing. Thus, in combining all three author’s proposals for the future by examining how users view their profiles and how third parties evaluate them, the controversy over whether sites like Facebook should be considered accurate portrayals of the users would be closer to being resolved.

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1 Comment

  1. Chelsey Walsh

     /  February 6, 2012

    While reading each article, I found myself thinking similar ideas that you have touched on in your blog post. I appreciate the brief summary you provided before jumping into the analysis of the readings because it reminded me of each author’s point of view, which I probably wouldn’t have remembered clearly without re-reading a post of my own. I also wrote that I agreed with Beer’s point of view more, although I acknowledged that boyd and Ellison’s analysis provided interesting insights on the study of social media.

    After reading Beer’s perspective, I thought back to our first class when we listed all the sites that we considered to be SNSs. Thinking of most of them, I do think that each site should be classified depending on their intended purpose of establishment, rather than just user behavior. For instance, I consider Facebook a social networking site because complete strangers are able to interact with each other. However, YouTube is more of a social network site because users stream video with different intentions, but direct interaction with other users isn’t the primary purpose of the site, although commenting and video responses is an option.

    I also completely agree with you on your explanation about Facebook as far as having “friends.” I have about 1600 friends, and I probably only speak to fifty at the max in person, and everyone else were just brief encounters or complete strangers. Yet, knowing this I accept their friend request anyway, and then complain about people “creeping,” when I find myself doing the same at times although I would never admit it. Funny phenomenon the way the internet is growing. Overall, great post, I enjoyed it.


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