LIFE ONLINE

Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison and Dr. David Beer present different views about the history and development of Social Network(ing) Sites. Boyd and Ellison differentiate between social networking sites and social network sites. They define social network sites as web based services that allow individuals to construct a profile, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view yours and others networks. Social networking sites are different because they do not have sustainable, displayed networks between individual users. The public display of connections is very crucial to Boyd and Ellison’s definition. They believe these social network sites reinforce preexisting “offline” social ties and that these two types of relationships are mostly separate from each other.

Beer disagrees with Boyd and Ellison; he believes that the “social network site” is not the most useful framing because it does not delineate what people are really using the sites for. He believes it is too broad of a category that groups together extremely different sites with very different functions. Beer also opposes Boyd and Ellison’s distinction between physical and online life because the two are one in the same, reflections of the other. He thinks that instead of asking how people are using social media we should ask what people’s posts are saying about society. There needs to be a critique that challenges social media.

One aspect of Boyd and Ellison’s argument that should be challenged is their focus on the importance of the public display of social connections. Although the network between friends is imperative to the existence of social network sites, its display is not necessarily that effective. For instance, on Facebook one has the ability to hide their list of friends but they still function as a part of that network. The workings of their page do not change at all and it is still very much a social network site. Beer’s critique of the “social network site” term itself should be examined as well. He believes it is too broad and gives little information about the actual sites it includes. Sites like Tumblr, where the friend list is still displayed publicly, maintain a network, but a very different type of network than Facebook or Twitter. On Twitter and Facebook, you mostly follow or friend people you know or people you know of, but on Tumblr, there is a strong sense of anonymity. Its users follow Tumblrs containing content that correlates with their own interests and desires, regardless of the identity of its owner. Yes, friends follow each other’s Tumblrs, but that is not the main function of the site. According to Boyd and Ellison, Tumblr is considered a social network site, but its network is unlike the networks of many other sites in their category.

Something all three of these authors encourage is research on social media, its effects, its users, etc. Boyd and Ellison focus more on the individual’s use of media while Beer focuses on what the individual’s posts say about society as a whole. Scholars should study all aspects of social media and not focus on one angle. The New York Times published an article about social media claiming “we should not view social media as either positive of negative, but as essentially neutral… it’s what we do with the tools that decides how they affect us and those around us.” A man named Dr. Moreno studied how adolescents use social media and how it affects their development and physical and mental health. He came to the conclusion that although there are risks and dangers surrounding the increased presence of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, these outlets are becoming increasingly important in adolescent development. Instead of trying to protect teens and children from these harsh media sites, Dr. Moreno believes they should be educated to defend themselves and use technology wisely. His research, in my opinion, is extremely valuable. He examines the uses of social network sites as well as their affects. He presents a critique but also provides constructive and informational research. Moreno’s research aligns with Boyd and Ellison’s article because it is a study of individual users and with Beer’s because it finds commonality between physical and online life.

NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/10/health/views/seeing-social-media-as-adolescent-portal-more-than-pitfall.html?_r=1

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2 Comments

  1. You support compelling arguments against both Beer’s and boyd & Ellison’s take on “social network site” but I would also consider the context in which the “network” takes place. Yes, a Facebook user still technically functions within the same network as their “Friends” or “friends” even if they choose to hide their friend list, but I think there is an inherent need to display one’s network publicly to fully engage in the “network” experience. I would even take that argument further and say that someone’s list of friends is a reflection of that person’s social profile and imperative to shaping his/her online identity. We may exist (well, we certainly exist) within a network even if it is not publicly displayed, but we don’t truly exist.
    A social network site like Facebook functions solely on the inter-web of connections made within a community of Friends/friends, and that web gets spun bigger when people can create ties with “mutual” friends. For example, John Doe is cruising on his friend’s Facebook page. He recognizes Sally Mae from his friend’s friend list (that is purposefully displayed prominently on the left hand side of the page), and notices that they share 33 mutual friends (which is also made prominent). As they clearly share a similar network, John decides that it is socially acceptable to befriend Sally–a friend request is sent.
    On the other hand–and to challenge your claim–had Sally’s Facebook friends remained private and unseen, John would hesitate to send that friend request. And even if he did, Sally would hesitate to add John without the security of having “mutual” friends. And let’s get real, when we get a friend request and we can’t see who they’re friends with, we automatically think a) it’s a bot, or b)it’s a creeper, and, often disturbingly enough, even c) both.
    Friend request denied.

    Reply
    • lauraportwoodstacer

       /  February 10, 2012

      Haha, good points Tanya. You eerily foreshadow some of the things we’ll be reading about next week as well…. 🙂

      Reply

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