You Are The Social Network You Keep

Caught in the Web” by Hilary Stout is a timely New York Times article on the role and consequences of online representations, “Friends” (boyd 2006) and “public displays of connections“. (Donath and boyd 2004) It details how content, including Friends, on the Facebook pages of various people was a major player in life-altering decisions. It gives the example of a single mother of a teenage girl who applied for the purchase of a co-op. The board was skeptical about the sale because it was a one-bedroom apartment. However, after some profile scavenging, they found endearing Facebook photos of their travels together, what gave the go ahead and sealed the deal. So was the case for a couple with a 16-year-old son looking to rent a vacation apartment. The boys Facebook profile was the deal maker – he was a socially conscience entrepreneur. The article explains how real estate brokers, landlords, and co-op boards are now turning to social network sites as supplements to disclosure forms and background checks. The reason being that it provides a more intimate understanding of the personal applying for residence. What’s more, some brokers are going beyond the surface information found on Google and on profiles to look at the “mutual friends” listed in their networks. “Mr. Goldschmidt [senior vice president of the Warburg Marketing Group of Warburg Realty] says board members sometimes call those mutual friends and ask for their impressions of the applicant. (He said he would not, however, ask a mutual friend to sneak him onto another person’s page.)”. (Stout)

This article prove that your social network does in fact add, or take away, to the construction of your identity. The parents in this article could not have guessed that their children’s online persona would have been a deciding factor in the monetary transaction between adults. What’s more, the display of our connections on our “Top Friends” are not the only things that contribute to the creation of our image – photos and comments with and from our connections are also looked at and considered carefully. It’s interesting to note, also, that while boyd and Donath’s theories help us understand how we get to  know people, so to speak, through their online connections, in the cases presented in this article, it goes well beyond that. We can create meaning about a person through that person’s relationships, even if that person doesn’t have a public list of friends  or a profile, as was with the parents in Stout’s article.

In these examples the final results were positive; however, Stout gives six, well-balanced examples in total. Two searches were negative, revealing a bribing knifeman and a party monsters; the last two were lukewarm, showcasing two tenants with mirky pasts but believable alibis – they were still accepted by the boards which they applied to. She also includes a range of reasonable real estate brokers and landlords that seem to understand social media well and that make social networks still seem like a safe and uninhibited place to display your personality, be it through text or connections. “Information gleaned from Facebook, blogs or other Internet postings “is not pure data,” said Beth Markowitz, the president of Merlot Management, a company that manages about 32 co-ops and condominiums throughoutManhattan. Therefore, she said, it is not necessarily “true, accurate or unbiased.” (Stout)

Still, though, it’s hard not to think of Facebook and your Friends list like a resume, especially after a title like the one on this article. It also closes with the cautionary story of the broker/owener who found that her potentioal tenant had been arrested for threatening to cut off another man’s hands and genitalia if he didn’t give him $200,000; and the closing quote was of the broker declaring that he was denied. She could have ended the article by speaking of “online intelligence” as mentioned earlier in the article or of such firms as Your Net Coach that teach real estate firms to use the internet wisely and to their company’s advantage.

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