take 2

Boyd & Ellison have differentiated our relationships from the physical world and the digital world in their article Social Network Sites: Definition, History & Scholarship (http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html). They explain that our friends and our Friends are different. Capital, F, being online, lowercase, f, being in the physical world. They also distinguish between mediated and unmediated communications. Is there really a difference though? Beers is able to contradict both their theories on differences in context with the digital world we “live in” verses our other life, in the physical world.

Beer critiques almost everything that Boyd and Ellison say (it’s obvious they must not be FB friends or follow eachother on twitter). And if so, Beer wishes there was a dislike button, because he basically disagrees with all of what they say and then digs the knife deeper by explaining what they forgot to discuss, or maybe didn’t understand: capitalism.

Beer doesn’t think we need to distinguish between Friends and friends and well, I agree. Most of my Facebook friends are people I know in the physical world. And most of my relationships online are similar to that of the ones I keep in the physical world. I simply use digital media to remain in contact and facilitate my communication with people I would otherwise grow distant from.

I do think, however, that Boyd and Ellison have a point. At times, we follow people we really would never have contact with. I mean come on, how many of you would LOVE to be friends with hmm…

OR

Yes, we might follow Barack or Britney, but not in the same way we follow our best friend or that girl you took chemistry with in High School. There is a difference. Maybe Barack and Britney are “Friends” (as boyd & Ellison put it) but, most of the people I follow are friends and the way I communicate with them does not differ from how I do in the physical world.
The one thing I will say is it can get you in trouble. How many of you have left a sarcastic remark that, well, written down without the tone of your voice does NOT come off sarcastic and instead plain mean? Or , how many of you have tagged somebody in a picture you know they won’t like or gave been tagged? It is far from fun, but it’s the price we pay. Though digital media is meant to facilitate already existing relationships, it can definitely do some damage. There is NO doubt about that.

Something Boyd & Ellison left out that I thought was very interesting was the “capitalistic” perspective. Thinking about the fundamental business models for many of these media platforms makes you question, where do we tie into this? How are they making money off us? With this, we must think about how saturated our lives have become with social media. Most of us cannot survive without it, yet, we don’t think about the person or company out there controlling our every move when it comes to socializing through these mediums. It’s not really like gambling (though just as addictive), but instead, we don’t lose anything from it, we instead feel like we’ve gained. They however, determine what information we provide, how we provide it, to whom we provide it, etc. Does this make you question how it ties into our physical world?
Though the relationships we maintain online parallel mostly to the ones we have offline and our friends are just our friends, no need to capitalize the, F, or differentiate, do we think about how controlled they are? And the setting in which our communication is mediated. We can only say a certain amount of words on twitter. On Facebook, we must control what we say and who we say it to, because it may offend others or cause problems with information and written words that will remain available to the public forever.

So many of us cannot go a day without checking Facebook or Twitter. However, without thinking about the business perspectives are we just puppets? It is ingrained in our lives. Beer brings up a very good point. Thinking about capitalism is extremely important. Especially when we realize how closely these platforms tie into our everyday life in the physical world.

Social Network Vs. Social Network(ing): Context Specific?

Dr. David Beer responds to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison’s article by criticizing the lack of clarity in their formulated definition of “Social Network Sites” (SNS), as opposed to their definition of “Social Network(ing) Sites”, which is something very specific implying that networking is the main purpose of those participating on networking sites (518). In addition, Beer proposes that such distinction between the two terms merely causes confusion and serves to be unnecessary. Instead, he believes that setting these terms under a bigger umbrella terminology where multiple categories can be included would be a better alternative (519). Beer also opposes boyd & Ellison’s differentiation made between offline “friends”  and online “Friends”. He sees the two terms as overlapping, where many times, online “Friends” are also one’s offline “friends”. Thus friendship that takes place online and offline are very similar and shouldn’t be categorized into two distinct groups (520). Beer critiques boyd & Ellison’s proposed issue of SNS users’ lack of knowledge and understanding of other users’ identities and purposes by pointing out that if anyone just takes time to observe each other’s online activities, such questions will be answered. In addition, users should not only limit themselves to identifying what users use SNS for, but learn about their activities and associate themselves with them (522). Beer also perceives that people should shift their attention to something more important. The way capitalism affects us, and how third parties and advertisers are using these SNS to their advantage (526).

I personally agree with both articles to a certain extent. I do see the difference between “Social Network Sites” and “Social Network(ing) Sites”, however many social media sites fall in someplace between the two, creating confusion. In a sense, I do agree with boyd & Ellison’s distinction between the terms, but I certainly don’t view the terms as something everyday SNS users should really be aware of or focus on because like I said , most SNS fall into both categories. The only difference is one may carry more qualities of one than the other. So why bother taking the time to strictly categorize which type of site one may belong to? Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter according to boyd & Ellison would fall into SNS. However, I see such categorizations to occur under context specific conditions. With Facebook, most of my friends have a Facebook account, and most of the time I only comment on pictures, walls, and statuses of those I am friends with offline, or closer to, but if a total stranger who has no mutual friends with me messages me or ‘friends’ me, I would 99% of the time ignore it. Why? Because the amount of friends I actually know offline outnumbers those I don’t. Facebook here, for me would be categorized as a SNS because of the fact that I’m only connecting with those I know offline rather than meeting and ‘networking’ with strangers. However, the case here is different with Twitter. When I first started using Twitter, barely any of my friends were on it. So of course, I mostly followed celebrities and Youtube stars, basically people I didn’t personally know. Random Twitter users would follow me, which I found to be very shocking at first because I was so used to the norm built around Facebook, the norm that people only connect with people they actually know. And so I would also randomly follow them back, and next thing I know, I’m engaging in interesting conversations or “tweets” with total strangers around the world. So wait a second, doesn’t this seem like Social Network(ing) because strangers are connecting with each other? My point is that categorizing different social media sites into one or the other is all context specific. If 90 % of my friends were on twitter, then yeah, I guess I would mostly engage in tweeting with my friends only, but would I ever follow back a fellow Twitter user I’ve never come in contact with before? Probably not. Then, in this case Twitter would be a SNS according to boyd & Ellison’s definition.

Now my perspective on “friends” vs. “Friends”, are they much different from each other like boyd & Ellison proposed or are they very similar, according to Beer? My answer is that they can be both. Again, I see this as context specific. On Facebook, I would see the two terms as overlapping because most of my “friends” are my “Friends” on Facebook. However, using the Twitter example, I do see a difference between the two. I would say that more than half of my followers are people who are subscribed to my Youtube channel, in other words people I don’t personally know or, “Friends”. What’s ironic about Twitter is the fact that they list the people you follow as your “Friends”. Now whether that “Friend” is with a capital “F” or not, would be different for everyone. In conclusion, I see neither one of the articles to be more empowering over the other. It all depends on the context. My critique is that everything should be carefully evaluated. Always take the context surrounding the information into concern.

Re-revisiting the Story So Far

In “Social networking(ing sites…revisiting the story so far:  A response to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison,” Dr David Beer offers a different approach to the ways in which we analyze social media today, nearly five years after the boyd and Ellison’s work has been published. In their article, boyd and Ellison provide an in-depth historical account of social network sites from Six Degrees in 1997 to Facebook in 2006. The authors define social network sites as online sites that allow the user to: (1) create a profile, (2) articulate a network, and (3) view your and other individual’s networks.  They clearly differentiate this term from social networking site, which is solely to be used to cultivate new relationships.  One of Beer’s biggest criticisms pertains to boyd and Ellison’s terminology and the way in which they frame their approach.  Beer’s reproach is that such classifications prove to be too broad – and ultimately problematic.

Beer also dislikes the distinction boyd and Ellison create between online and offline relationships.  Whereas boyd and Ellison differentiate online “Friends” and fleshy “friends,” Beer is adamant that the two are equivalent. He asks, “how can it be profitable to separate our offline and online relations and spaces or online and offline forms of living?” (Beer 520).  Given my experience with social network sites, I was at first torn between boyd and Ellison’s distinction of Friends/friends and Beer’s recursive interpretation of the phrase. Would I refer to all of my Friends on Facebook to be my “friends” offline?  Absolutely not.  I have dozens of Friends that I’ve met simply on one occasion. However, the mere fact that I have access to the most intimately personal information of these so-called Friends – photos, status updates, life events – makes me feel innately closer to them. I also agree with boyd and Ellison in the sense that my online relationships primarily solidify my already existing ones.  My personal Facebook timeline and Twitter feed highlight interaction with my friends that I spend the most time with.

In some respects, I do believe that there still is a divide between our online and offline friends – just because I liked someone’s status doesn’t mean that I would say hi to him or her on the street. More or less, I find myself siding with Beer in the sense that with the increasingly interchanged nature of relationships, we may have to redefine friendship altogether.  Beer is more in touch with what social network sites are used for today – a voice.  Today, many SNS like YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. are used as platforms for sharing multimedia content. In these online communities, personal identities are often ambiguous. Idealized profile pictures and absence of social cues make us wonder:  is there such thing as true presentation of self?  Thanks to pseudonymous communication, we are able to thrive within these social network sites while maintaining a constantly cultivated identity.  The older social network sites boyd and Ellison referenced (like MySpace, Facebook, Cyworld and Bebo) were intended for bilateral communication and expanding preexisting networks.  Today’s social media lean more towards social networking sites, as clever Twitter handles and YouTube subscriptions allow us to create and maintain online relationships with people we wouldn’t necessarily communicate with offline.

Beer further disagrees with boyd and Ellison’s distinction between mediated and unmediated communication.  Given the “switched on” nature of today’s world, we are constantly filtering our own ideologies.  Consequently, even if we’re not using a social network our messages are still being sent or received by a medium in some way.  Social media is an increasingly defining and integral part of how people live, even more so than when Beer’s article was published (Beer 523).  Nevertheless, to separate our online lives from our so-called offline lives is completely out of the question.  In 2007, the year boyd and Ellison’s work was published, 48% of adults in the U.S. used the Internet every day while only 5% of adults used a social networking site daily.  When Beer’s article appeared just a year later, the percentage of U.S. adults using the Internet jumped to 54% and those using social media increased to 13%.  Nevertheless, I could see how boyd and Ellison were able to make the online/offline distinction, which is virtually unthinkable today.  And as of May 2011, an estimated 78% of American adults use the Internet daily and a whopping 65% use SNS!  Given the rapidly growing nature of SNS, it would be wrong to deny them of their role within our lives.

Ultimately, Beer believes that boyd and Ellison are asking the wrong questions altogether.  Despite that boyd and Ellison’s studies of social media target individual users, Beer wants to know more about the other players and their role within the system.  Who’s running these sites? How are they making money?  He suggests that questions pertaining to the role of SNS in capitalism are “more difficult and overlooked” (Beer 523).  By not asking these questions, I agree that we risk not questioning or challenging the way our SNS operate. Social media provides us with an opportunity to evaluate how our social system is being perpetuated online. Despite that Beer describes the collaborative and collective nature of this capitalist system, he never clearly defines the role of the individual.  Given that we can make a case that boyd and Ellison’s work is outdated, the same argument can be made for Beer’s.  Since 2008, a plethora of relevant SNS have emerged and it would be interesting to hear what boyd or Beer has to say about these sites.  Social network sites such as Yelp and Urban Spoon mean businesses are now dependent on user reviews.  While all of the authors are concerned with how third parties attain and distribute information, it appears that neither boyd, Ellison nor Beer have given their thoughts on how individuals play a role on shaping the companies around them.   As new technology emerges, it is critical to understand the relationships and implications  of all aspects of social networking sites.

LIFE ONLINE

Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison and Dr. David Beer present different views about the history and development of Social Network(ing) Sites. Boyd and Ellison differentiate between social networking sites and social network sites. They define social network sites as web based services that allow individuals to construct a profile, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view yours and others networks. Social networking sites are different because they do not have sustainable, displayed networks between individual users. The public display of connections is very crucial to Boyd and Ellison’s definition. They believe these social network sites reinforce preexisting “offline” social ties and that these two types of relationships are mostly separate from each other.

Beer disagrees with Boyd and Ellison; he believes that the “social network site” is not the most useful framing because it does not delineate what people are really using the sites for. He believes it is too broad of a category that groups together extremely different sites with very different functions. Beer also opposes Boyd and Ellison’s distinction between physical and online life because the two are one in the same, reflections of the other. He thinks that instead of asking how people are using social media we should ask what people’s posts are saying about society. There needs to be a critique that challenges social media.

One aspect of Boyd and Ellison’s argument that should be challenged is their focus on the importance of the public display of social connections. Although the network between friends is imperative to the existence of social network sites, its display is not necessarily that effective. For instance, on Facebook one has the ability to hide their list of friends but they still function as a part of that network. The workings of their page do not change at all and it is still very much a social network site. Beer’s critique of the “social network site” term itself should be examined as well. He believes it is too broad and gives little information about the actual sites it includes. Sites like Tumblr, where the friend list is still displayed publicly, maintain a network, but a very different type of network than Facebook or Twitter. On Twitter and Facebook, you mostly follow or friend people you know or people you know of, but on Tumblr, there is a strong sense of anonymity. Its users follow Tumblrs containing content that correlates with their own interests and desires, regardless of the identity of its owner. Yes, friends follow each other’s Tumblrs, but that is not the main function of the site. According to Boyd and Ellison, Tumblr is considered a social network site, but its network is unlike the networks of many other sites in their category.

Something all three of these authors encourage is research on social media, its effects, its users, etc. Boyd and Ellison focus more on the individual’s use of media while Beer focuses on what the individual’s posts say about society as a whole. Scholars should study all aspects of social media and not focus on one angle. The New York Times published an article about social media claiming “we should not view social media as either positive of negative, but as essentially neutral… it’s what we do with the tools that decides how they affect us and those around us.” A man named Dr. Moreno studied how adolescents use social media and how it affects their development and physical and mental health. He came to the conclusion that although there are risks and dangers surrounding the increased presence of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, these outlets are becoming increasingly important in adolescent development. Instead of trying to protect teens and children from these harsh media sites, Dr. Moreno believes they should be educated to defend themselves and use technology wisely. His research, in my opinion, is extremely valuable. He examines the uses of social network sites as well as their affects. He presents a critique but also provides constructive and informational research. Moreno’s research aligns with Boyd and Ellison’s article because it is a study of individual users and with Beer’s because it finds commonality between physical and online life.

NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/10/health/views/seeing-social-media-as-adolescent-portal-more-than-pitfall.html?_r=1

Blog Post 1- Social Networks: Friend or Foe?

Boyd and Ellison’s article describes what they believe is the definition of a social network.  Their three part definition states “we define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (boyd & Ellison, 211).  Beer’s response, is more than anything a critique of their work.  He believes that boyd and Ellison do give a thorough analysis of social network sites (coined SNS), however, he feels they did not conduct it in the correct manner.  As we discussed in class; Beer thinks, instead of asking how do people use social media, we should be asking broader questions, and using social media to ask them.

One problem Beer has with boyd and Ellison, is their varying definitions between “social network” and “social networking.”  They believe social networking is when users of a site initiate meeting new people, etc.  While social networks maintain already substantiated relationships.  Beer believes by creating this shift in definitions, there isn’t much you are achieving.  He feels that instead, there should be one extensive term, like “Web 2.0,” that will be able to define the shift and fitting of different categories within the spectrum of social networks.  I tend to agree with Beer.  While discussing the difference in class between “social network” and “social networking,” I was left very confused and puzzled.  Giving two separate terms doesn’t create something that is profound or noteworthy, rather it just leaves people being even more speculative of the whole institution of social media networking/networks then they were before.

Another criticism of their work that Beer maintains, is boyd and Ellison’s classification of “Friends” and “friends.”  They believe that “Friends” online, are those people that we are connected with whether it be from school or work, and “friends” are those friendships we have in the real world.  Beer believes hat there is no difference between our online and offline relationships.  He feels that making this distinction is not useful from a sociological perspective.  I tend to both agree and disagree with Beer and boyd and Ellison.  Boyd and Ellison are right about the difference that “Friends” are people you’ve known throughout your life but aren’t as close to as your real “friends.”  However, I agree with Beer that their distinction with these “Friends” and “friends” is not truly the best thing.  We have a separate life than that that of such social networking sites like Facebook.  This life is with our friends and family, interacting face-to-face.  Whether it be sitting at home and just watching a movie together, having a conversation on the phone, shopping at the mall, or grabbing a coffee and talking about what’s going on our lives.  However, this separate life can be continued through sites, to maintain these friendships as boyd and Ellison claim as the purpose of social networks.  For example, on Facebook, we are able to post links or other sources of media we find funny to our friends’ walls.  We can write things related to discussions we had in our previous face-to-face interactions, or even continue those conversations through chat or message.  The video below is a little bit of comic relief towards differentiating “Friends” and “friends.”

Finally, Beer also believes that people like boyd and Ellison, are not inserting a critique about capitalism when it comes to social networking sites.  He feels that they are looking at specific users rather than looking at the economics of the sites.  I also agree with Beer’s claim.  What really is the agenda of these sites?  Yes we use them as a relief from our own lives as either entertainment, or catching up with friends.  However, there is something much bigger that is going on that people may be overlooking.  When we sign onto sites like Twitter or Facebook, we see there are all these different pages about different consumer goods, restaurants, movies, television programs, etc.  We are able to “like” these pages or become “fans” based on our interests.  Yes we may have interests in these things, however, what is the goal of creating these pages?  To perhaps create a larger audience for these products, shows, etc?  To create more of an awareness?  This is all used by big businesses for their own benefit because everyone’s goal is to make money at the end of the day.  Also, sites like Facebook are able to take user’s information that are provided from their interests, activities sections, etc. to put advertisementss on their sidebars that are related to the information that is retrieved.  This not only exploits user’s profiles, but it also leads to privacy issues.  Jessica Mintz states in an article featured in Bloomberg Businessweek entitled “Microsoft, Facebook team up on social search, “Privacy concerns have plagued Facebook over the years as the company has encouraged members to reveal more details about themselves. The site has a history of introducing features that people must then remove, or opt out of, instead of waiting for members to actively sign up for the new features. That approach has riled privacy advocates” (http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9IR22AG2.htm) Creating all of these features and applications “intended” to express who users are as individuals on Facebook, coincidentally allows Facebook to use it’s power to create a major consumerist machine.

SNS: a Friend, a friend, a Foe, and a foe

The success and failure of Friendster and Myspace laid heavily on their marketability of building networks outside of your own. As strangers met, friendships spawned and romance blossomed, but so did online pedophilia and stalking, which left most people harboring social paranoia as they surfed these social mediums. The success (and continued success) of Facebook relied on their emphasis of rekindling real friendships or acquaintanceship within your network. As more and more people joined Facebook, their networks also felt obliged to join because everyone you knew was on it. Facebook created a community—a spider web (pun intended) of connections, and no one wanted to be the virtual social pariah.

In boyd and Ellison’s article, the writers distinguish the differences between the bases of Myspace and Facebook. “Social networking sites,” like Myspace, “emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers,” while “social network sites,” like Facebook, function on “’latent ties’ who share some offline connection.” Author Beer takes issue to this clear-cut distinction among other terminology boyd and Ellison uses. In his response, Beer says their categories are limiting, as most social network/ing sites do not fit squarely into just one or the other. Instead, he offers that we “should be moving toward more differentiated classifications of the new online cultures and not away from them”, also adding that “boyd and Ellison themselves point out that these emerging user-generated led sites have a number of shared features and some important differences.” Beer then continues his finger-waving at boyd and Ellison’s “Friend” vs. “friend” dichotomy. According to boyd and Ellison, a “Friend” is exclusively a connection made online and a “friend” is a real-life, real-time friendship. Beer says the problem with this is that “increasingly, in the context of SNS moving into the cultural mainstream, the ‘every-day sense’ of friend can often be the SNS Friend.”

side with Beer.. but not entirely. Facebook has trumped the other social media by allowing us to first translate our offline friendships to the online sphere, and through those friendships, we meet new online “Friends” that eventually become offline “friends.” I also agree with Beer that thinkers boyd and Ellison were asking the wrong question; instead of looking at the utility of social media, we should be looking at the social or political impacts it has on the physical world. The fact that Facebook pushes us to build online “Friends” (through ‘mutual friends’ feature that appears on the right-hand side of every page you visit) changes the scope of friendships and the way that these relationships are built. Because you share real “friends” in common, it has become socially acceptable in the virtual and the tangible world to create and build online Friendships that are as authentic as the real thing. But at the same time, Beer’s argument  is a little pessimistic and technological deterministic. By focusing on the aftermath/impacts of SNS, it seems as though these media have been imposed on us and completely control our behavior from above. Instead, I’d offer to say that we should find a medium (again, pun intended..) between its use and its effects. We should simultaneously make a link between how we use social media and its implications—we need to be moving toward an anthropological and psychological approach when dealing with the great force that is SNS.