How Your Relationship gets Caught Up in the “Web” (and Eaten by Spiders)

Being a single old spinster gal, I haven’t experienced much of the drama or tension underlying the convergence of romantic relationships and social media.  On a subconscious level, however, I have always been acutely aware of it.  Each time Facebook relays relationship information about my peers, I am mesmerized.  I don’t have to know the people well, and I like to think my relatively insignificant level of “Facebook stalking” has spared me the red-flag level of voyeurism that plagues plenty of people on many social networking sites, but that is one thing that strangely captivates me.  I’m intrigued by what people will and won’t reveal about their relationships, how they publicly interact with their significant others over social networks, and how they interact with other people of the opposite sex when they are clearly (or not) in relationships.  This is why I was particularly interested when I found a local Colorado NBC News article, “Social media can both help and hurt real-life relationships.”  Having just watched the utterly disturbing documentary Life 2.0, this timely article piqued my interest.

The article begins by addressing the magnitude of how many people are using social media today, and on that note, seeks to issue a friendly Valentine’s Day warning: “Social networking sites can open a Pandora’s box of relationship destroyers – unleashing everything from affairs, the rekindling of past toxic relationships, jealousy, imaginary online relationships that replace face-to-face intimacy, and online stalking, to name just a few.”  That’s a pretty daunting “few.”  The rest of the article lists bullet points of the most common relationship problems developed or exacerbated through social media.  They begin with words like “Trust” or “It’s Permanent,” and follow with a definition of what that means and why it’s ominous.  While those theories are relatively interesting (and may be a good lesson for the legions of negligent internet idiots out there, what is slightly more interesting to me than the actual content of the article is the way in which it was written.

The article was undoubtedly written from a negative perspective on the role social media plays in relationships.  The bulk of the article comprises the problems caused by social media, and how and why to avoid them.  The other significant portion of the article builds up the importance and usage of social media, so as to frame the subsequent argument in the utmost profound context.  A reader begins with the notion of “wow, social media plays SUCH a huge role in my (and virtually everybody else’s) life—I really can’t imagine life without it.”  Then, they are hit with a cautionary warning about how their relationships are in jeopardy as a result of using those precise networks.  The beginning sends a message of profundity, community and solidarity, which is then shaken with fear over something highly personal, and issues stemming from things that most people are in some way guilty of doing.  What I love is that right before issuing the cautionary warning, the writer inserts a blind, uncorroborated “The potential to enhance intimate connections is unlimited.”  Despite the “unlimited” positive possibilities, the writer neglects to insert just one (Facebook sexting, anybody?).  And yet, negative consequences are doled out like they were kugel at a Yom Kippur break-the-fast.  There is definitely a clear bias.

Even the words selected to demonstrate the problems are spun.  One bullet features the bolded words “Full disclosure.”  Last I checked, this article wasn’t a legal briefing.  And the point the author is trying to make is that significant others should be public and honest about their relationship status on social networks.  Why they didn’t merely use the term “Honesty” is something I will be scratching my head about for the next while.  I do think that picking something so serious and negative sounding makes the issue sound worse.

Another interesting component of this article is that we don’t even know who the writer is, yet they have taken the liberty of giving the world some much-needed advice.  I don’t know how credible they are as relationship experts, but their suggestion surrounding trust issues is that “if a trust issue has come up and your relationship is potentially on the line, both partners should be willing to share e-mails, Facebook and text messages to provide reassurance.”  I may not be experienced in dating in the age of dominating social media, but I’m pretty sure that is a creepy suggestion.  At least for relationships that are not marriages.  And maybe even for marriages.  Regardless, that is a bold suggestion to make without readers even knowing the background of the writer.  I would feel more inclined to follow the advice of Sue Johanson, since I at least know who she is and that she is credible (though she is bizarre and makes me moderately uncomfortable).

I’m happy to read this article after viewing Life 2.0, because I think it reaffirms how I initially felt about the film.  I was upset by how biased people felt it was.  I felt like it was pretty honest.  Perhaps it felt negative because the truth is not pretty.  I thought it was fairly realistic, and as honest as the context and goals would allow for.  They did not ignore the positive components of the site (as a certain biased article mentioned above did…).  Even the people who had was one might construe as “sad” endings had happy and glorifying moments.  I think that is what I felt made it click.  I think people may not have appreciated the lack of coverage of users who went on Second Life “in moderation,” however, I’m quite certain that those types of people were not meant to be the means or ends of the documentary.  The goal was to depict three different (but probably common) types of situations for heavy users.  And in that frame, I think we got a pretty comprehensive view of what their lives, their behaviors, and their backgrounds entail.  It’s interesting how that kind of a film gets shot down by so many viewers because it is so bitterly honest, and yet people will glaze over an article like the one listed above and just mindlessly slurp up all the tips.  I will cease to be amazed by how little people can recognize what they are actually being manipulated by—but then again, it’s all subjective and nothing is without bias, so that is just my humble opinion.

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  1. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  February 22, 2012

    even though the link didn’t work, I appreciated the Sue Johanson reference!

  2. I agree that the article you chose has an overarching tone of negativity towards social networking and the ‘havoc’ they are poised to wreak on users’ relationships. I think it is interesting that as you note, this unknown author alludes to the boundless positive aspects of social networking on relationships yet never identifies them. While the title suggests that social media can help and hurt relationships the author chose to hone in on the hurt part, leaving me wondering why the title was chosen in the first place. This attitude and this arguably technological deterministic discourse surrounding social media networking and their effects on society can be found in a countless many articles. I find it is disturbing that people can put so much blame on the medium and not the users or some other component. I would argue that Facebook cannot present challenges to a relationship that is not already struggling with the same or other issues off the internet, and all of these articles (including the one I used for my post) that say otherwise are simply deluding users in unhealthy relationships and allowing social networks to be the scapegoats. Many articles I came across have negatively connotated titles, alluding to the fact that social mediums are ‘killing’ relationships and ‘making you’ jealous.
    As you say, Life 2.0, presented an arguably unbiased and balances presentation of heavy users of Second Life. I agree with this notion in that the scenarios they presented covered a wide array of possibilities, some negative, and some positive. I would like to see a discourse surrounding social media and relationships evolve to that point; where there is a balanced and unbiased presentation. For the most part, the discourse surrounding these media is saturated with negativity and technological determinism.


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