SNS: Looking At The Bigger Picture

In their article, danah boyd and Nicole Ellison inform the reader of all things social network.  They define “social network sites,” give plenty of examples throughout history, and shed light on studies surrounding these sites.  David Beer responded to boyd and Ellison’s article critiquing the questions that arose in their writing and suggesting alternative areas of SNSs that should be paid more analytical attention.

To begin with, Beer does not think an emphasis should be put on boyd and Ellison’s distinction between “social network sites” and “social networking sites.” Boyd and Ellison say that “social network sites” should be the terminology used, since people “are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social networks” and therefore are not “networking” with strangers (boyd and Ellison 211). Beer says although this differentiation is true, it should not be focused on, and instead categorization of sites within a broad term, such as “Web 2.0” should be utilized (Beer 519).  I tend to agree with Beer.  Boyd and Ellison’s argument seemed a bit insignificant, and even when I read Beer’s classifications, such as “wiki’s, folksonomies, mashups, and social networking sites,” the organization of what was to be studied already seemed clearer than the confusing “networking” matter (Beer 519).

Another topic that Beer critiques is boyd and Ellison’s separation of online and offline living, and the difference between Friends and friends. Boyd states, “Friends on SNSs are not the same as “friends” in the everyday sense” (boyd and Ellison 220).  Beer disagrees with this assumption.  He believes, “we cannot think of friendship on SNS as entirely different and disconnected from our actual friends and notions of friendship, particularly as young people grow up and are informed by the connections they make on SNS” (Beer 520). I completely agree with Beer, especially in today’s world where children are growing up with technology in their lives as opposed to being introduced to it in the middle of their teen/young adult years.  The usage of social media has become second nature in today’s culture, and I think today’s relationships online are just as “real” as relationships offline.  I would even go as far as saying online relationships could be more “real” than offline ones, because of the easy accessibility, mobility, and permanence of social media platforms. Of course this can be refuted with SNS “flaws” such as lack of authenticity and elimination of face-to-face social cues, but overall online and offline relationships are both substantial in their own ways, and often enhance one another, eliminating the divide between Friends and friends.  To make matters more complicated, I definitely think there are different categories of friends in the online world, as presented by this diagram by Mike Arauz.

Perhaps scholars could delve into this topic more. I would find it very interesting to see if they agree or disagree with these classifications.

Beer is also keen on taking a capitalistic approach at studying SNS.  Beer says that SNS users’ information is being, “used to predict things about us, to find us out with recommendations, or even to discriminate between us as customers” (Beer 525).  Beer is adamant that scholars are aware of this fact SNS are used as data sources and can be manipulated by users so they are “treated favourably” in a capitalistic sense (Beer 525).  Beer says all of this with a quite wary tone, yet I don’t seem to understand why.  As long as no privacy barriers are crossed isn’t this capitalist-consumer SNS relationship a good thing? Businesses are able to target niche audiences and consumers will encounter advertising that caters specifically to them.  I know that I personally like picking a commercial that is more suitable for me when I’m watching a TV show on Hulu, I will occasionally click on a band that is advertised on the side of my Facebook profile, or I’ll even check out a promoted tweet on Twitter. No matter how private one’s profile is, I think SNS users are aware that the Internet is indeed a public forum, and the information published on it can be used in a myriad of ways.

Overall, I like Beer’s broader questions about social media.  Boyd and Ellison do a good job at analyzing the platforms themselves, but what about the people that use them? What does the way people utilizing SNS say about society? Social media has become so engrained in today’s culture that we must not study it as an entity separate from daily life, but as an ingredient and indicator within it.

Leave a comment


  1. Dani-

    I really enjoyed the way that you expanded on a few points of Beer’s article, especially since I agreed with those points as well. I was especially interested in the spectrum of online friendship you posted. I have half sisters who are seven and nine and watching the way they use social media to interact with their friends has absolutely changed the way I view social media friendships.

    For example, they each got an iTouch for Christmas this year, and my nine-year-old sister says she is more popular because of it. While that may be the more general technologies role in her life over the specific SMN’s role, I think it’s an amazing statement to just how important digital technology is in maintaining friendships in our modern world. They also use the iTouch, and apps such as Text Free and Instagram, to talk to their next-door neighbors who they definitely consider friends. Although at first I was a little frightened at the way this simple device has changed their friendships, thanks to the boyd and Ellison’s discussion on the history of social media, it seems almost logical that this would be the future of friendly interaction.

    I also agree with you that it would be interesting to see scholar’s talk about this idea of online friendship more. As children my sisters’ age grow up I know their lives will be drastically more mediated than mine was and I am curious to know what this means about their futures. I don’t want to cast judgment and say their lives will be worse than mine, because I feel like that’s what our parent’s do to our generation, but I know that the way they form friendships will be different than the way I did in my pre-teen and teenage years, and I would love to know more about exactly what that means.

  2. Hi Dani,

    I agree with you when you say “social media has become second nature in today’s culture” because certain platforms (FB, Twitter, etc.) have become so prevalent, used and talked about that it is hard to ignore and not participate in those worlds. However, I don’t think you can generalize and say all relationships online are just as real or even more real than offline relationships. Online relationships can mediate existing offline relationships or help in resparking old relationships, but it is often very difficult to create an authentic bond with strangers or acquaintances online and transfer it offline because neither of you are presenting your complete true selves. Sure, one could argue that this new relationship formed online doesn’t need to be transferred offline, but if it can’t survive or be as successful as it is online, then what kind of relationship is it really? Perhaps I’m too old-fashioned, but the relationships that I value the most and that I believe are genuine are the ones that are strong both online and offline.

    On a second note, yes, SNS are accessible and mobile, but certainly not permanent. SNS are constantly changing and transforming, and none of them are safe from user boredom, not even Facebook. Yes, it sounds crazy, but I don’t think FB will one day be the empire it is now. A lot of my real offline friends have already deleted their FBs because it does nothing but hinder their real lives. I would have deleted mine months ago if only it didn’t act as such a great storage platform.

    Lastly, to answer your question, I think that the way people use SNS is a direct reflection of our social needs, desires and tendencies. But of course, everything is a cyclical processes, so SNS also direct and mold those needs, desires and tendencies of ours.

  3. Morgan,
    I have a teenage brother too (16-years-old) and it’s quite fascinating to see how he communicates via Facebook. Aside from the abbreviations and the not-correct-english they use, he happens to have more friends than I do and I’ve lived longer and have lived in 3 different cities! It’s incredible. Definitely an interesting topic to expand on.

    I too am guilty of deleting my FB because I was wasting too much time that could have been used to write my thesis. But what made me come back was my family back in Mexico. They asked why I wasn’t on FB anymore when I was home for the holiday break. They told me that they kept track of everything I was doing over here through my status updates. It became a conversation starter, “Aye Mija, I saw you went to New Orleans! How was it? Did you like the food?” etc. They are new to the whole thing and are avid Facebookers these days. Addicted one might even say. So I caved and reactivated.

    Great discussion going on here.


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