Thoughts on SNS Sites

While Beer does not dispute the facts presented in Danah M. Boyd’s and Nicole Ellison’s article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, he does try to frame the study of Social Network sites differently than they do in their article. He establishes from the start in “Social network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far” that the authors’ emphasis on a distinction between network and networking is unnecessary. In fact, he wishes to have one umbrella term so even more distinct categories of social media can fit under the umbrella (519). Another part of their article he disagrees with, is the author’s thoughts on online and offline behavior, especially in regards to friendship (520). Another issue he has with their article is how they think of mediated communication. Even though SNS sites have become so popular and domesticated, the authors continue to think of communication as being either mediated or unmediated (521). The truth is that most of our communication is now mediated due to technology’s prevalence within society. Lastly, Beer argues for a new way of studying SNS sites, which includes paying attention to the third parties involved and how they collect data to participate in a “more knowledgeable capitalism” (525).

In Beer’s creation of a different outlook for the future of SNS sites, in comparison to Boyd and Ellison, his first and last point are the most striking to me. Beer’s thoughts on the offline and online behavior is fascinating. It has been four years since his article and I believe we can no longer think of living life in this online versus offline terminology. Although there is a large part of the world that is incapable of having this technology, I will speak only of the part of the world that has access to this technology for argument’s sake. I would argue that the rise of social media shows that people are content with making and performing friendship online. This type of friendship is not any less real than any form of friendship that is created or performed in the physical world. While some would argue that the ability to be anonymous online does not allow for true friendships, I believe this anonymity can function in a truly positive way. This anonymity allows for friendships that are merely based on behavior or interests. Basing a friendship on these reasons rather than looks, location, or class, seem, to me, to be a far better basis for a friendship. So while I believe that we should not speak in terms such as online and offline friendship, I do believe that the way in which we form online friendships can be an excellent asset to those trying to chose their friends in the physical world. It reinforces better reasons to form a friendship than the superficial reasons that are more likely to dictate friendships in the physical world.

In regards to his last point, I believe that Beer’s ideas about third parties being involved in social media is the most important for our generation. The controversy surrounding Facebook for so long and the controversy that will no doubt soon follow Google is that these sites collect data on users. Moreover, how this data is being used is a major concern as well. Beer suggests that we now operate in a “more knowledgeable capitalism” due to the actions of these sites (525). The issue of privacy on the web is extremely important and it seems that these sites do not concern themselves with helping the users. I feel as though these sites, as social media, should be helping people connect not helping third parties make money. In a recent letter to investors, Mark Zuckerberg said, “We don’t build services to make money. We make money to build better services.” While I would like to believe this, it seems unlikely that the reason for all the recent changes on Facebook were to create better services. In fact it is common in most classes to hear students bemoaning the latest Facebook changes. It is clear that upgrades such as the compiling of topics and the timeline feature merely serve to give third parties more information about their consumer.

Ultimately, I believe that the future of SNS sites should focus on Beer’s concerns about third parties and evaluate the language surrounding this online and offline dichotomy. I think it would be far better to stop using words to create a polar relationship between online and offline. In fact, as I argued above the friendships formed online may even be more authentic. In addition, the issue of SNS sites collecting user data must be a much a greater topic of discussion when thinking of SNS sites. Issues of privacy and control are at stake in a world where these third parties can know any piece of information about users that they like.

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1 Comment

  1. nicoletteursini

     /  February 9, 2012

    In your post, I believe that you made a few interesting points about the capabilities and the future direction for research of social media network[ing] sites (whichever you prefer to call them). The potential for anonymity on these web applications is usually described in a negative light as opening the door for criminals to accomplish their evil doings with ease. However, you brought up that the ability to hide one’s race, class, etc., online can lead to a stronger foundation for a friendship, which is an advantage that is often overlooked. Although I agree with you on this argument, I do believe that the dichotomy between offline and online friendships, despite being increasingly harder to distinguish, is still a necessary distinction. Yes, many people especially on Facebook have the same friends online as they do in the physical world; therefore, rendering the division irrelevant. However, I can admit to being “Friends” with people that I have only met once offline, which is also common on Facebook. Despite them being labelled as “friends” on my profile, I would never refer to them that way especially since I would probably walk past them if I saw them on the street. I agree with you that online relationships sometimes are deemed less real than offline friendships, which I do not believe is true, but I would not know how to regard those individuals who I barely know outside of Facebook if the terms “Friends” and “friends” were not used. Overall, I believe your post was insightful and well written.

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