Social networking has its pros and cons when it comes to relationships…

In a recent article, ABC News published an article about how SNSs can both help and hurt relationships. In the article, Barbara Smith discusses the pros and cons of social network sites, especially when it comes to dating. One interviewee agrees that while sites like Facebook are great for keeping up with old friends, they aren’t necessarily the best for forging a relationship with a potential love interest. Lynette Williams, a life coach, argues that while online daters may get along fabulously online, the only way to know if there’s genuine chemistry is to meet in person. A survey of Utahns taken on Valentine’s Day shows that most people agree with the fact that nothing can compare to face-to-face interaction.

In addition, Williams points out that it is easy to get yourself in trouble on an SNS. It is easy to fall prey to someone falsely representing themselves. Reconnecting with someone can rekindle an old flame and/or cause trust issues with a current romantic partner. Over-sharing information by venting online can also have damaging effects. Most times, it’s much better to say it to the person’s face or not at all. Under-sharing information can also be damaging. Someone not listing a current relationship or fully disclosing other important personal information when on a dating site can be just as harmful or even more so. Williams argues that if your romantic partner refuses to list your relationship, to take it as a red flag.

SNSs have quickly become a big part of our social lives, both virtual and physical. After reading Nancy Baym‘s Personal Connections in the Digital Age, it is easy to see that this article examines SNSs from a social shaping perspective. This perspective can be seen in the title, “Social Networking Can Help And Hurt Relationships.” Smith discusses sites like Facebook as though they will greatly affect our relationships for better or for worse, “with the click of a key”. The technology itself isn’t seen as a detrimental or helpful tool by itself, but rather it is the user who determines how a relationship is helped (or hurt) through the use of an SNS.

This article gives lots of credit to the user in helping or hurting relationships. However, I think that this article is presented in a very logical way, and it is done through the social shaping discourse of new media. Social shaping acknowledges that the technology is powerful, but that the user/existing social forces are equally as powerful. Together, these two elements create the power that social media has in our relationships. I think it was very wise to shape the story in this way rather than through technological determinism or social construction of technology. In my opinion, both of these discourses give too much power to either the technology or pre-existing social forces. This is not a world where technology makes the rules, nor is technology completely shaped by its users. It’s definitely a combination of the two, and this article demonstrates that.

What Smith fails to acknowledge is how the SNSs themselves can add to or detract from our social lives regardless of what we post on them. In Life 2.0, we saw numerous relationships start or deteriorate because of the users’ addiction to the SNS itself. This perspective lends more to the technological determinist perspective, but it is an important aspect to examine. This article gives a lot of credit to the user’s use of the SNS, but when it comes to an actual addiction such as those seen in the film, the user gives up some of their power to their addiction. Needless to say, addiction to any SNS ultimately results in the demise of face-to-face interpersonal relationships. Watching the movie really helped me clearly see the negative affects that SNSs can have on our relationships. Before, I never thought of the consequences of “bad” use of SNSs to be so great, but it is clearly an issue that needs to be examined further.

Overall, I thought that this article did a good job of revealing the ways in which users fail to use SNSs correctly, which can lead to a damaged relationship. So much of the media today blames the technology for the harm done, but the people involved are just as responsible if not more so.

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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.

Social Media Crossed Lovers

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.

The Complexities of Facebook

In her book, “Personal Connections in the Digital Age,” Baym discusses the idea of community and how there are five specific characteristics or qualities that a community must have to be considered as such. These five characteristics are: sense of space, shared practice, shared resources and support, shared identities, and interpersonal relationships. As long as communities have these characteristics, it doesn’t matter if they are physical communities or viral communities (found on the internet).

Claire Suddath’s article, “How Not to Be Hated on Facebook: Ten More Rules” reminded me of the quality, shared practice. This article lists a few “electronic friendship guidelines” or “etiquette rules” for Facebook users in a comedic yet semi-serious way. Personally I enjoyed the ones connected to friend request etiquette (3,4, and 5).   In class, we discussed how shared practices referred to the linguistics of a certain SNS and how they unconsciously form a set of rules or norms as a way of keeping users in line. Suddath’s “list” seemed to emphasize how important it was to follow the norms or rules on SNSs and how users should be “prepared for people to de-friend you” if they don’t follow them. While Suddath’s article was entertaining, I thought that is was biased in that it portrayed how users can easily be ostracized from the Facebook community through their lack of knowledge when in my experience I realized that people are very unlikely to de-friend another user unless there is a legitimate reason. I guess you could say that Suddath’s etiquette rules or guidelines seem trivial and random in my opinion. In other words, I think that Suddath failed to acknowledge the diverse network of users and how individual users friend other users based on different contexts, which goes back to my previous comment  about how people have their own understandings of various terms. For example, while some of my friends “de-friend” people they have rarely see in the physical world, they don’t “de-friend” users because the user kept taking quizzes or had mundane status updates. They “de-friended” because they no longer felt that they had a connection with that user. Suddath also seems to have created this set of guidelines based more on her beliefs of Facebook etiquette and not on a vast survey. Like the film, Life 2.0, seemed focused only on the extreme users of Second Life,  I felt that Suddath focused only on a certain extreme and not on the vast array of users. Perhaps if she had interviewed or surveyed a variety of Facebook users to find out what made them “de-friend” other users, she could have compiled a better set of guidelines.

In another article, “Your Facebook Relationship Status: It’s Complicated,” Suddath explores how the SNS Facebook has influenced the interpersonal relationships between different people. While Suddath brings up how facebok has come to reflect how we view our lives through “photos [that] broadcast the fun they’re having, status updates [that] say what’s on their mind,” she focuses on how the relationship status is the only thing that involves other people. In other words, this mini-declaration is one of the few bi-directional connections within Facebook. Suddath then continues to explore how this “relationship-status” affects the interelationships in the physical world.

Suddath focuses on both the shared practices of Facebook (relationship etiquette), interpersonal relationships and the sense of space. Facebook has six different relationship categories: single, in a relationship, engaged, married, it’s complicated and in an open relationship. Throughout her article, Suddath explores how this seemingly uncomplicated factor of Facebook has become a complicated issue and I admit, the facebook relationship status can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. While some people don’t like listing their relationship status on facebook and others don’t acknowledge your relationship because it isn’t “facebook official,” news of relationship changes can cause a lot of chaos. In this article, Suddath takes into account a variety of users who use the relationship status. For example, while there are some people who don’t use the relationship status, there are others who consider the relationship status as a “deal-breaker.”  This idea that some people want relationships to be “facebook official” reminded me of Boyd’s article “Friends, Frienders, and Myspace Top 8” because suddenly it brings up more conflicts within relationships. Take for example the woman who updated her status to “engaged” before even telling her family that she was “engaged.” Unlike her other article, which in my opinion was a bit biased and comedic, this article looked at how this feature affected the Facebook users and how Facebook seems to have redefined the term “relationship” for some users. The article also seems to show that while the relationship status can be informative, it also can lead to conflict if you aren’t careful. However, I felt that Suddath’s article implied that the relationship status is a very huge part of Facebook when personally I believe that it isn’t that big of a deal. I also wished that she had explored the idea that some people change their relationship status “just for kicks.” For example, I was “married” to my room mate for a semester and all of my friends knew that it didn’t necessarily mean that I was actually married to her.

I feel like Suddath’s articles are lacking in research because it seems like she only looks at a certain aspects  and categories of Facebook. Like the film Life 2.0, I think that her articles give a distorted or partially untrue presentation of Facebook and how the relationship status feature is used.