Is it Social Media’s fault that ‘It’s Complicated’?

The article “Facebook Relationship Problems: How Social Networking And Jealousy Affect Your Love Life” from the Huffington Post  discusses ‘the green-eyed (or in this case, blue and white logo’ed) monster known as Facebook jealousy’. Bindley at the beginning of her article asserts:  “Facebook itself isn’t to blame for the demise of domestic bliss. Instead, it’s an avenue by which threats can develop if you fail to communicate about them,   and one that can exacerbate problems that already exist”.  She then goes on to outline four relationship Facebook scenarios that most often cause strife: Over- (or Under-)sharing, Tagged Photos Of You With Your Ex, You Just Got A Friend Request From An Ex, Someone You’re Already Friends With Gets Friendlier, You See Something Worrisome On Your Significant Other’s Page and Facebook Secrets.
The experts Bindley discusses these issues with propose various solutions from ‘deny, deny, deny’, having a face to face conversation with your partner about it or hiding something of your own. The solutions seem to me to be unhelpful to the problems.

It appears to me that this article is influenced by the professionals and experts that the author brings in to the discussion. Bindley herself asserts at the beginning that Facebook does not cause problems but rather exacerbates them. This notion is contradicted in the article by Jennine Estes, a couples’ therapist who says she hears about Facebook issues on a daily basis in her office with issues such as one party reconnecting with an ex to one not mentioning the relationship on Facebook at all.  Estes says, “these problems aren’t limited to relationships with pre-existing problems. Facebook presents so many challenges to committed relationships”.

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. Bindley says, “Messaging someone you hooked up with before you met your current love interest, analyzing a wall post on your significant other’s page, stewing over a suspicious picture but not actually asking about it — all of these have been known to tank relationships”. These things alone do not ‘tank relationships’.

The discourse in this article and generally surrounding social media and their effect on relationships seems to be one of blame. Many articles I came across have negatively connotated titles, alluding to the fact that social mediums are ‘killing‘ relationships and ‘making you’ jealous. This sort of discourse around social media suggests that people are jealous and relationships end because of social networks such as Facebook. However, I think it is all to easy to use social networks as scape goats when the reality people have always been jealous and always will be, regardless of the platform or facilitation.

danah boyd speaks to this notion in her article Friends, Friendsters and MySpace Top 8. boyd says, “Part of what makes the negotiation of Friendship on social network sites tricky is that it is deeply connected to participant’s offline social life…Social network sites are not digital spaces disconnected from other social venues- it is a modeling of one aspect of participant’s social worlds”. In other words, to understand and interact with social network sites it is vital to keep in mind that these sites are deeply intertwined with our physical lives and the relationships there in. Social network connections are not separate entities in themselves. It is this idea that Bindley’s article seems to disregard. The problems identified in the article are not because of Facebook nor are they limited to the social media realm; they real life roots and implications.

Judith Donath and boyd discuss these notions as well in their article Public displays of Connection. They say, “In the physical world, people display their connection in many ways. They have parties…they drop names…they decorate their refrigerator with photos…These displays serve various purposes…Seeing someone within the context of the connections provides the viewer with information about them”. The authors then go on to discuss the inferences drawn and reliability of these displays. This description of the physical world is no different in the social network world. This is even further evidence that actions or lack there of social media are simply displacements of something that would probably have and may still happen else where in a physical context without social media. If it wasn’t someone writing on a boyfriend’s wall that would ignite jealousy it would be seeing that person text him, approach him at a party, etc.

One thing to take away from my original article is their last piece of ‘advice’ 

“Our experts agree that the golden rule of Facebooking while committed is that on FB, as in life, you shouldn’t be doing anything that you wouldn’t want your partner to see.”


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1 Comment

  1. zoiemancino

     /  February 24, 2012

    I’m choosing to reply to this post because I completely agree with what you’re trying to say; people put way too much stock in blaming SNS sites for their relationship problems when in fact the blame still lies with people. I agree with Bindley when she says that Facebook “exacerbates problems that already exist” and lists the 4 scenarios that often cause strife in relationships. Looking at the 4 scenarios, it’s easy to see why they they can be exploited by people who already had a tendency to doing these things in the physical world:
    1) over (or under) sharing — this problem is going to affect people who, both in the physical or online world, either are too extroverted or too introverted and this can affect relationships without Facebook’s help…but if people already are inclined to be a certain way (like they talk too much about their relationship publicly) then posting pictures of their personal lives is tantamount to that, and the damage is the same, regardless of the medium it’s presented in
    2) tagged photos of you with your ex — once again, the fact that these photos popped up on Facebook doesn’t mean that Facebook FORCED somebody to go hang out with their ex…before Facebook people used to call/text friends to tell them that they had seen their friend’s significant other with somebody else…sneaking around happened before Facebook, and will continue to happen after.
    3) You just got a friend request from an ex — the real world version of this could be running into an ex at the grocery store; also, it depends on the person, I think that in most cases a mutual friendship is preferred after a break up
    4) Someone you’re already friendly with gets friendlier — yes, it sucks to be harassed online by people, but it sucks even worse to be harassed in person by people. If somebody is constantly Facebook chatting you or coming on too strong, they’re definitely like that in person too.
    5) You See something worrisome on a significant other’s page: Once again, if a girl flirtatiously writes on your boyfriend’s wall, most likely the crush developed outside of Facebook, not because of Facebook

    From these scenarios I gather two things about Facebook: it might be a good thing, a way to make transparent the actions of others that would be easily hide-able without the advent of social media, because you can’t know what somebody is doing 100% of the time. Like Boyd says, these sites are connected to the physical world, if anything, they’re the Private Investigator of life and are ultimately helpful in detecting sneaking around, etc. So, that leads me to my second point, which is total compliance with what you say about Facebook being a scapegoat and biased heavily in articles as the perpetrator that “kills” relationships. Facebook saves relationships and people from dishonest relationships because it’s ultimately so hard to privatize everything and make other people use it with discretion. If anything, it’s the PI of life that is making life more transparent than it has ever been before. Nice post!


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