With Valentine’s day just having passed and with a slew of messages of love permeating our social networking sites, it feels fitting to now consider the darker side of social networking sites and their effect on relationships. The Huffington Post article “Facebook Relationship Problems: How Social Networking and Jealousy Affect Your Love Life” from October 2011 examines the popular site and how much it really causes problems in relationships.
The introduction is quick to recognize that the majority of Facebook users use the site as a means of keeping in touch with people or as a concentrated source of information about those we may not communicate with all that often. However, it quickly shifts to citing examples that frame Facebook as a source of relationship-ruining-evil, most commonly spurred by what the author coins “Facebook jealousy,” or the feelings of envy we have when we are presented with information on this social site without full context or explanation from those involved (like when we browse through old photos of our significant other with their ex, or when we see that one of their exes “liked” our status). The articles cited are interesting and take a strong stance against Facebook’s harmlessness in relationships—the 18 year old guy who had an asthma attack sparked by his ex girlfriend’s online “friending” of other males on Facebook, or the frequency with which Facebook flirtations play a part in divorce cases.
The Huffington Post article then cites the most common problems that come about from Facebook, including the extent to which they each share details about their relationship, photos from past relationships, engaging in secretive behavior, or even accepting or maintaining friendships with exes online.
However, this article frames the social media platform in a more clever way than the ones it references, claiming that Facebook is not so much as the reason for relationship turmoil, but rather a vehicle that can amplify preexisting issues with trust and communication that are just further enhanced by the structure of this online system and its permanence; it simply makes existing information more easily accessible (and visual). Especially with the addition of Timeline, a characteristically jealous person can easily navigate and relive their significant other’s past. But the person to be gravely upset by seeing remnants of past relationships online is likely to be the same that would be jealous if he or she stumbled upon an old photograph of their significant other’s ex or ran into them on the street or at a restaurant. Though Facebook may make it easier to seek out this information, it is still dependent on the person viewing the information to process it in a healthy and non-destructive way. As stated in the article, “Facebook isn’t usually the problem. It’s the behaviors that are the problem.”
That statement is complicated by Donath and Boyd, who claim in their research “Public Displays of Connection” that the “main point of social networking sites is to help people make new connections” (77). With such reasoning, one may find sufficient reason to feel suspicious or inadequate if their lover spends more time on Facebook, or accepts new friend requests at a more frequent pace. But is that really a problem with the social media platform, or with our own insecurities?
When considering both this article and the documentary Life 2.0, we can argue both sides of that question. The structure of Life 2.0 sets up its characters as counterparts to their online personas, and shows their favor toward their life online as opposed to their real, physical life, where houses are small and messy, where relationships are subject to fights and miscommunications, where you can’t really just pick up and fly anywhere. The documentary does show background stories about the characters and presents them within the context of their real lives, but it doesn’t delve too far emotionally or psychologically into other events that may have contributed to or driven their behavior on Second Life or their behavior in their real lives and toward their families. Aside from the creator of Ayya, there was little evidence provided as to what may have driven these people to behave as they did online. In contrast, the Huffington Post article draws more parallels between life online and life offline, considering more heavily the counterinfluence those two spheres have on one another. I feel that the framing of the latter provides a more accurate and approachable context under which to examine these behaviors.
Though the article does list out “problems” caused by Facebook, it is clear to articulate that those problems are neither isolated nor omnipresent, but rather appear in conjunction with other more inherent problems that permeate behaviors in all spheres of life. It would have been interesting to have examined cultural differences with regard to Facebook’s integration in relationships as well (I was recently in London and was surprised at how the majority of my friends there did not consider themselves to be in an exclusive relationship unless it was “Facebook official”), though such an angle may have been too broad for this article to encompass.
What it all comes down to, I believe is communication and trust, both online and offline. The two work in conjunction with one another, increasingly so as we incorporate these online spheres into the foundation of our relationships. And really, if you’re not happy and in love offline, no amount of pokes or status likes are going to change that.