Danah boyd and Nicole Ellison are very thorough in their scholarly study of Social Network sites, at a time when the craze was emergent. Their work is however, not without oversights and unclear assertions. This is where David Beer comes in. In his article he responds to boyd and Ellison’s study.
Beer takes issue with boyd and Ellison’s lack of clarity and classification in their definition of and inquiry into ‘social network sites’, suggesting that it is too broad and has the potential to encompass a range of very different sites. Beer believes more distinct classifications are necessary to have a more rich and descriptive analysis.
Beer also takes issue with boyd and Ellison’s differentiation between online and offline life. Beer suggests that relationships both online and offline overlap and connect. Next, Beer does not agree with boyd and Ellison’s differentation between mediated and unmediated communication because it allows us to forget that all communication and social structures are in someway mediated. Beer argues that in today’s time of an engaged and plugged in generation it is hard to think of unmediated social structures or spaces. Essentially, Beer feels to have the best analysis it would require having more clear definitions of terms and fewer ‘umbrella’ terms, less generalization and to question the implications these SNS have on capitalism and the economy rather than what users are doing on them. For Beer thinking about the economic and political forces of these sites and how they reinforce dominant ideologies is key.
I agree with many points Beer makes in his critique of boyd and Ellison’s article. However, there are also aspects of their article that resonated with me. Boyd and Ellison’s three parts definition of a social media network seemed to me on point. They outline it as 1) construction of a public or semi public profile, 2) articulation of a network and 3) view and traverse your connections and others connections with the nature and nomenclature varying by site. These three aspects encompass a great deal in a very succinct but perhaps too broad of a manner. I agree with the first because in my opinion, in order to be a social and interactive media, the user should have a profile, at least semi public, presenting themselves to their network. This self presentation is important because as Donath asserted, “knowing the identity of those with whom you communicate is essential for understanding and evaluating an interaction”. People adjust their communication style depending on these aspects. Next, boyd and Ellison assert that the user must have an articulation of network, or essentially their audience. I disagree with this notion in that it can be confusing, because on YouTube for example, you have no idea just who your network may encompass at any given point, but YouTube is arguably a social network site. Beer takes issue with this network aspect as well, asserting that boyd and Ellison’s use of ‘network’ and ‘networking’ is misleading. Lastly, the third criteria is easier to agree with given that they identify the fact the degrees to which connections and traversing those connections are possible may vary. I agree with the statement overall since on most sites you can view and interact with registered users.
I also agree with Beer’s suggestion that online and offline relationships, or ‘friends’ and ‘Friends’ as boyd and Ellison put it, is a redundant differentiation given that these relationships often overlap and that social media sites generally reinforce existing relationships. Furthermore, I agree with Beer’s assertion that all communication is somehow mediated and that the separation of mediated and unmediated communication is untrue. This is especially when communication is happening all day long, via email, social network sites, face to face; these have all become intermixed and mundane, with little difference registering.
Beer’s suggestion of questioning the economic and political structures of such sites through looking at the connection with capitalism and presence of dominant ideologies is an interesting one. However, I do not feel that these questions should replace boyd and Ellison’s questions of how people use media, but instead add the question of what their use can tell us about society and the underlying forces. Ideally, a study encompassing both boyd and Ellison’s ideas and methods as well as Beer’s would provide a detailed and thoughtful analysis.
What has changed since Beer’s article is the saturation of social network sites on communication. Many SNS platforms are now linked, sometimes without the user knowing or consenting. Essentially, a user can tweet, Facebook post, tumble and email something simultaneously. I feel this addition would interest Beer in terms of his interest in question the forces of capitialism: now each site can profit from that person’s click, friend’s visits, adlicks, etc (I am entirely clear on how these sites make money…). Also, the relatively new use of social media sites as political tools by both citizens and political parties has increased recently. There are applications for the upcoming US election, people across the world are using Facebook events for rallies and protests and online petitions have unprecedented reach and influence. I think each of these examples are awesome, for me social media as a tool of empowerment and knowledge is great. It fulfills a need our society already had, just organizes more efficiently now. Would Beer agree?
What would Beer think of these cross platform connections and the impact on dominant ideologies and the capitalistic economy?