A Friend is a friend is a Friend is a friend

Note: I linked online versions of each of the articles, but the pages I use as citations are from the PDF versions provided on Blackboard.

In “Social network(ing) sites.revisiting the story so far: A response to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison,” Dr. David Beers shares his opinions on information about social network sites that is articulated in boyd and Ellison’s article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”. Beers takes issue with a few things, such as the definition for SNSs that boyd and ellison give, as well as the questions they ask and who they ask them to. Beers feels the definition given in their article is “too broad [and] stands for too many things” (519). He also doesn’t think there is a need for the well-defined labels between online and offline relationships since the Internet and digital media are becoming such a large part of physical, “real” life. Furthermore, Beers disagrees with the distinction between mediated versus unmediated communication, claiming that all communication is somewhat mediated (521). According to Beers, boyd and Ellis are also asking the wrong questions. Inquiries should be more broad e.g. what do Facebook posts say about society? Perhaps one of Beers’ biggest issues is conducting surveys on an individual levels. He thinks the economic components should be considered and that social media should be thought about in regards to the reinforcement of dominant ideologies. For example, mentions and critiques of capitalism should be inserted into boyd and Ellison’s discourse to avoid it becoming naturalized (525).

I personally agree more with boyd and Ellison rather than Beer. I think the distinction they make between social networks and social media networking makes perfect sense and isn’t too broad, as Beers argues. Merriam-Webster defines a network as “a usually informally interconnected group or association of persons (as friends or professional colleagues).” Networking is defined as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” I associate a network as something as closed, almost exclusive. When you first join Facebook, when joining a network you need your account to be verified by someone already in that network. This suggests that everyone within a given network has at least some kind of existing relationship with other members. On its own, the word “networking” instantly makes me think of job searching and interviewing. This morning I attended NYU’s career fair and expo. I spent my time “networking” with potential employers i.e. people I hadn’t met before and am trying to initiate some sort of relationship with. boyd and Ellision distinguish “networking” as something that “emphasizes relationship initiation” (211). Because the two words mean different things, I think that it’s important to distinguish between them in order to study their effects on society and culture.

I also agree with boyd and Ellison’s take on “Friends” versus “friends”. Like “network” and “networking,” the two must be separated, regardless of “SNS moving into the cultural mainstream” (Beers, 520). For me personally, I don’t really think that the two are really merging into one category. As previously mentioned, everyone within my network of Facebook “Friends” is somebody that I have some sort of existing relationship with: former classmates, colleges, family members, and actual “friends.” One groups falls within the other, but the two terms are certainly not interchangeable. I don’t consider all 762 of my Facebook “Friends” to be my “friends” that I’d confide in and hang out with.

Beers noted that we should view SNS “in the context of knowing capitalism” (525). I think that since his article has been published, people actually have started thinking about SNS in this way. Beers writes, “I’m being speculative here, but it does not take too great a stretch of the imagination to anticipate that SNS as commodities or collections of commodities are being used as data sources to inform organisations about their populations” (525). Yesterday I tweeted a New York Times article entitled, “Personal Data’s Value? Facebook Is Set To Find Out,” which included the sentence, “The company has been busily collecting that data for seven years, compiling the information that its more than 800 million users freely share about themselves and their desires.  Facebook’s value will be determined by whether it can leverage this commodity to attract advertisers, and how deftly the company can handle privacy concerns raised by its users and government regulators worldwide.” (Sengupta). This sounds just like what Beers expected, especially since the company’s value is being evaluated in order to file a public stock offering.

I think that scholars should approach the study of social media on both an individual and a societal level. From surveying and studying individuals, it’s much easier to pick up on specific habits or patterns that may go unnoticed when studying platforms on a much larger scale. At the same time, I also think it’s important that scholars study social media on a societal level because SNS have become extremely prevalent in our culture overall, which means certain aspects of the society and culture are being altered as a result.

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  1. christinechoucair

     /  February 9, 2012

    I really enjoyed reading this post because it challenged a few of my opinions and thus lead me to new perspectives. Bringing in the dictionary definitions of “networking” and “network” helped me to visualize boyd and Ellison’s point better. Maybe it isn’t so much an issue of what scholars should coin the terms, but rather a focus on, as you mentioned, how these words shape and dictate our use online. How do our connections with non-friends (celebs, strangers, etc.) on sites like LinkedIn and Twitter fill a void in our physical world? What would we see if we profiled who uses “network” sites vs. “networking” sites?

    The NYT article you shared, led me to wonder how Twitter makes money, seeing that there are no advertisements in sight. After reading various articles, it appears that Twitter sold rights to Google, Yahoo and Bing to display live tweets on trending topics. Secondly, on the Twitter help center it discusses “Promoted Tweets.” This is currently a slow process, but hopes to mimic what Facebook has done, twitter-style. I am curious if anyone has received one of these “promoted tweets” on their timeline.

    It feels like people have thought about the capitalist perspective in more of a selfish way than how Beer hoped. The bloggers, celebrities, advertisers, companies etc. on Twitter (and even Pinterest), are so focused on selling their brand. Are they really aware of how capitalists use them? Are capitalist practices hidden from the typical user? Why?

    • lauraportwoodstacer

       /  February 11, 2012

      Interesting question about whether capitalist practices are hidden from users… worth thinking about some more! My personal opinion is that it’s probably a mix of hidden and overt practices. In a lot of cases, people are aware when they are being advertised to on their SNSs, but there may be other “capitalist” processes at work that they are less aware of, like how the information they post is being aggregated and analyzed for the benefit of companies who are willing to pay for the info. Of course, it’s still a question of whether users actually *mind* their info being used that way, and whether there are consequences for this that we can’t foresee yet!


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