SNS: a Friend, a friend, a Foe, and a foe

The success and failure of Friendster and Myspace laid heavily on their marketability of building networks outside of your own. As strangers met, friendships spawned and romance blossomed, but so did online pedophilia and stalking, which left most people harboring social paranoia as they surfed these social mediums. The success (and continued success) of Facebook relied on their emphasis of rekindling real friendships or acquaintanceship within your network. As more and more people joined Facebook, their networks also felt obliged to join because everyone you knew was on it. Facebook created a community—a spider web (pun intended) of connections, and no one wanted to be the virtual social pariah.

In boyd and Ellison’s article, the writers distinguish the differences between the bases of Myspace and Facebook. “Social networking sites,” like Myspace, “emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers,” while “social network sites,” like Facebook, function on “’latent ties’ who share some offline connection.” Author Beer takes issue to this clear-cut distinction among other terminology boyd and Ellison uses. In his response, Beer says their categories are limiting, as most social network/ing sites do not fit squarely into just one or the other. Instead, he offers that we “should be moving toward more differentiated classifications of the new online cultures and not away from them”, also adding that “boyd and Ellison themselves point out that these emerging user-generated led sites have a number of shared features and some important differences.” Beer then continues his finger-waving at boyd and Ellison’s “Friend” vs. “friend” dichotomy. According to boyd and Ellison, a “Friend” is exclusively a connection made online and a “friend” is a real-life, real-time friendship. Beer says the problem with this is that “increasingly, in the context of SNS moving into the cultural mainstream, the ‘every-day sense’ of friend can often be the SNS Friend.”

side with Beer.. but not entirely. Facebook has trumped the other social media by allowing us to first translate our offline friendships to the online sphere, and through those friendships, we meet new online “Friends” that eventually become offline “friends.” I also agree with Beer that thinkers boyd and Ellison were asking the wrong question; instead of looking at the utility of social media, we should be looking at the social or political impacts it has on the physical world. The fact that Facebook pushes us to build online “Friends” (through ‘mutual friends’ feature that appears on the right-hand side of every page you visit) changes the scope of friendships and the way that these relationships are built. Because you share real “friends” in common, it has become socially acceptable in the virtual and the tangible world to create and build online Friendships that are as authentic as the real thing. But at the same time, Beer’s argument  is a little pessimistic and technological deterministic. By focusing on the aftermath/impacts of SNS, it seems as though these media have been imposed on us and completely control our behavior from above. Instead, I’d offer to say that we should find a medium (again, pun intended..) between its use and its effects. We should simultaneously make a link between how we use social media and its implications—we need to be moving toward an anthropological and psychological approach when dealing with the great force that is SNS.

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2 Comments

  1. maddiechivi

     /  February 9, 2012

    I totally agreed with many of the points you made- especially in the beginning. Your explanation on how it has become a necessity to join these social networking sites is very true. Without a MySpace you were not “with it” and if you don’t tweet then you are a shot in the dark. I think that this point correlates to what you agree with Beer about. When something becomes so necessary in order to be “social” and considered “normal” it does become very much a part of our every day lives. Do these companies and websites control us? I hope not… but, they definitely have a particular magnetism that forces us to check them daily, and constantly remain in contact with those people on our facebook or Twitter. Also, the “social web” these companies have created is very tangled. As you explained, our ability to connect with Friends, as boyd & Ellison put it ,becomes normal. If, for example, Michelle’s friend Jon from home is in the same web as mine, I might as well add him because we have a friend in common. These people we add, though we may not know them personally, indirectly join our social circle both online and offline. Now if I bring up Jon to Michelle offline, in a regular discussion, it would be totally normal. Similarly, we come across people daily saying things about what they’ve seen on these sites. “OMG did you see that picture Jessica posted of her friend Megan? Megan was so wasted!” Do we know Megan personally? Maybe, maybe not. But Megan indirectly becomes a part of our web and then after this one incident perhaps we may add her to be amused by her ridiculous pictures. Many people call this ‘stalking’ however, I think that it is more of our way of moving our offline connections and discussions into our online world. Whether we like it or not, if you check facebook daily, it becomes a part of your everyday life outside of technology. When discussing facebook, people don’t solely stick to discussing things via these medias, they bring their perspectives, opinions, thoughts and moments (in pictures, or tags, or videos) from the physical world to the online world.

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  2. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  February 11, 2012

    Great points, Maddie. And Tanya – the title of your post made me wonder if we’ll ever have a social network where we can designate our enemies, in addition to our friends (maybe “Foe” will become a verb we do to people the same way we “Friend” them now). Ok, probably not, but it would make a funny sketch on SNL, right? 🙂

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