In the article “’It’s complicated’: Handling social media when your relationship implodes,” Sarah LeTrent of CNN discusses the complex issue of online and offline breakups (http://articles.cnn.com/2011-10-07/living/living_social-media-relationship_1_relationship-status-social-media-active-facebook-users/2?_s=PM:LIVING). In our society today, becoming “Facebook official” is often more serious and meaningful than a first kiss or verbally establishing a relationship. Because of the digitalization of relationships on sites like Facebook and Twitter, when a breakup occurs it is much more public than in the past. A simple change of status can inundate a Facebook page with messages of support, anger, etc. that make the breakup undeniable. One woman, Chayra, broke up with her boyfriend but immediately deleted the status update in order to avoid the dramatic aftermath. Her boyfriend, on the other hand, launched a virtual tirade against her. The need for external validation and admiration is one of the main causes of excessive public sharing of personal information. Jason Krafsky, the author of Facebook and Your Marriage advises couples going through a break up to unfriend of block the ex; “by removing them from your Facebook life, this allows the necessary emotional healing to occur.” “If you trust your partner offline, you should as well online.”
In “Friends, Friendsters, and Myspace Top 8” Danah Boyd (http://www.danah.org/) writes: “the architecture of unmediated social spaces, these sites introduce an environment that is quite unlike that with which we are accustomed. Persistence, search-ability, replicability and invisible audiences are all properties that participants must negotiate.” This statement ties is nicely with what the CNN article has to say. Social media is a somewhat new space that does not have the same social cues and rules as the “real world.” Participants of Facebook, in this case those who are in relationships, must negotiate the space and figure out the best way to deal with the public display of their personal lives. Both LeTrent and Boyd discuss social media sites as distinct, different environments that must be managed with care in order for their users to properly function within their digital realms.
In “Personal Connections in the Digital Age” Nancy Baym (http://people.ku.edu/~nbaym/) writes: “Just as critics cautioned that digital communities would replace locally grounded communities, the internet and mobile media raise fears that digital media lead us to substitute shallow empty relationships for authentic personal connections. Instead of being present with those who share our physical environments, we may become separated, isolated, and never more than partially anywhere.” Like LeTrent and Boyd, Baym assigns a significant amount of power to social media technologies. They all suggest that sites like Facebook have control over our lives and govern the authenticity and emotional impact of our relationships.
Although Sarah LeTrent’s article is insightful and informational, it seems to ignore the importance and influence of offline, “real” relationships. Defriending or blocking an ex on a social media site may help ease the pain of a breakup, but that does not mean they do not exist in the individuals offline world. They are still a real person and, assuming the exes live in similar areas of the world, the chance of them running into each other on the street or at a party is substantial. Yes, Facebook does make everything much more public and difficult to deal with (I know from personal stalking experience), but removing an individual from your digitally is only one step of a process, not the end all be all. I also believe there is more overlapping in online and offline life than LeTrent allows. She says, “if you trust your partner offline you should as well online.” Is trust different on and offline? What exactly does she mean by this? If you trust your partner then you trust your partner, it is still the same person. Individuals can present themselves a certain way online, but if you are in an offline relationship with someone, you hopefully know them better than a random online friend. I think LeTrent should have presented Facebook as a powerful social media tool, but recognized the importance of offline life as well.