Lisa Eadicicco of International Business Times wrote in her article “Is Facebook Bad for Relationships” about a study done by the University of Guelph. In the study, the researchers seek the find out if Facebook makes people feel more jealous in their relationships. The article claims that the study actually found a correlation between time spent on the site and feelings of suspicion or jealousy, attributing much of the problem to a lack of context. The article then continues by stating that Facebook can also hurt relationships with the added pressure from Facebook’s “relationship status” section on users’ profiles.
Now, based on our class discussions, a lot of this information is bothersome. For starters, Baym clearly states that theorists who believe social media works as an external agent for societal change buy into the theory of technological determinism. The researchers clearly feel that Facebook has the power to force change upon its users, and this belief was easily reinforced by the findings of their study. But if we truly think about it, Facebook doesn’t force us to feel feelings of jealousy or suspicion. There is nothing inherent about the site that forces one to spend their time looking at/creeping on current or ex-boyfriends, so to me it’s only logical that those feelings stem from each user’s own jealousy issues. Likewise, it is not Facebook that pressures a couple to commit, but rather our own insecurities about how our profile is being perceived (for some, being seen as single may be embarrassing, while for others being seen in a relationship wouldn’t be in keeping with their intended persona). Facebook has rather become a means for the hard conversation that often occurs in the early stages of a relationship, the imfamous “soo…..what are we exactly?”
People would like to see their Facebook life as somehow different than their offline life, and many succeed in living like this (only communication with certain people on Facebook and projecting an entirely different persona than what they project in their physical world) but our relationships deflate that separation. We can’t actually have relationships with other users that don’t permeate our Facebook experience, whether the status was changed or not. We have little control over how much someone will view our profiles or how much weight they place on Facebook’s role in our relationship. For some, a loved one not writing “Happy Birthday” on their wall or liking a status of an ex-fling is grounds for a very real argument in the physical world. Facebook use can even affect a relationship with a non-Facebook user, similar to the issues we observed in Life 2.0. The movie shows a couple falling apart because the man plays Second Life and the woman not only can’t understand it, but doesn’t approve. For many, not being able to relate causes the very real threat of never being able to understand or see eye-to-eye where the site in concerned. Ironically enough, in the movie we also see a couple that used the site to participate in an adulterous relationship, a relationship that started based on equal understanding of a website they both enjoyed. In this way it seems clear to me that any social media site has the power to affect a relationship if the participants are willing, helping people to play into vices that a false sense of privacy allows them.
While their study did have conclusive findings, their research method was all wrong. They used the survey method to collect their data, having just over 300 grad students complete an online questionnaire. While this method does allow for anonymity, complete control over questions asked and answered, and a direct way to analyze data, it is really not the best method of finding out about people’s indiscretions. On the one hand, people may be more honest because their names aren’t attached but how many people do you know who openly admit their shortcomings? When asked, a person may not even be able to accurately evaluate their true responses to a wall post from an ex or an “It’s Complicated” relationship status. In my opinion, participant observation would have been a much more useful experiment. How else could you know how and why jealousy manifests itself on social media sites without enveloping yourself in the day-to-day culture of the site?
When I really think about it, the researchers weren’t answering anything I couldn’t tell you by amateur usage. I think people would be just as jealous in the physical world if we constantly watched our loved ones interact with their peers, exes, and friends. The real question of interest for me is why we’re so wishy-washy about our sharing policies. Why is it that a question about relationship status (a question Facebook lets you opt out of answering) has ever promoted profile deactivation?? Do we find our profiles to be some sort of broadcasting system, over-sharing all of our information? And in that case, if that really makes us uncomfortable how are we even comfortable using Facebook at all? Why are we willing to share status updates about our day, photos from the events of our lives, sometimes even major emotional or psychological burdens, but not our measly relationship status? And moreover, what does our constant jealousy over our loved ones say about human nature? These are the studies I would like to see conducted, offering me the answers to how our own neurosis are effecting our social media use. I believe in the theory of social shaping, that societies and technologies work in tandem to effect, mold, and change each other. So what interests me is not the surface correlation, but the reason behind it. As a user, chances are you already know the WHAT, I’d like research to give me the WHY.