Everyone gets either super anti-love or super into love around this time of year – and leave it to social media to take complete advantage of it. Whether you were tweeting about your distaste for the consumer-driven holiday or actively participating in it, there was no way to avoid the bouquet muploads or love-inspired hashtags this past Tuesday.
Ever so fittingly, Rueters’ Andrew Stern published “Plenty find love online, where lies abound” on Valentine’s Day eve. The article illustrates a recent study by Euro RSCG, profiling the emerging patterns of online dating. The piece is broken down into three parts: how the Internet helps with making relationships, how the Internet plays a role in breaking relationships, and lastly how deception plays a huge role in it all. It concludes with the theoretical proposition that we may have a device for screening lies online in the future, yet the author states, “that may take a while.” Overall I felt there to be very negative and disapproving undertones throughout the story, as if the web remained a gateway for the unfaithful and promiscuous.
The Euro RSCG study has been showing up a lot on the blogsphere lately. However, I chose this news source in particular for its choice to leave out what everyone else seems to be talking about: the sexiness of social media. True to its news-driven nature, Reuters isn’t interested in whether or not Twitter users refer to themselves as “sexy.” Consequently, its way of representing the data ends up being a process of calculated selection.
After doing some research, I found the Euro RSCG’s own take of the study on their social blog. What was most striking was that this representation of data projected a light-hearted perspective of social media’s influence on interpersonal relationships. It emphasizes the study’s quirky highlights concerning the sexual and political preferences of different platform users. In the Reuter’s article, on the other hand, even direct quotes that were originally used to support social media relationships were ultimately edited to make them appear pessimistic and technologically deterministic. To be perfectly honest when I first started reading the Reuters article I had no idea it was even talking about the same study. For me, the differences in reporting between the two stories study could not go unnoticed.
In my opinion, I felt both of these representations to be skewed: one too distrustful of the role of social media in our relationships and one too optimistic of what our social media habits say about our interpersonal lives. boyd only further encourages the need for balance when she says, “social network sites are not digital spaces disconnected from other social venues – it is a modeling of one aspect of participants’ social worlds and that model is evaluated in other social contexts.” Thus we must realize that our actions online have repercussions offline as well. This influence isn’t one way or another, rather, our online relationships have just as much weight as those we have offline. For crying out loud we live in the generation of “it’s not official until it’s on Facebook.” Additionally, Donath and boyd’s arguments that “relationships are contextual” and “identity is faceted” could also come into play here. How much of those “Facebook official” relationships are really just jokes? How much of our own profiles are carefully manipulated? As individuals we take on multiple roles on a given day and it is virtually impossible to be able to represent all of them, nevertheless create an “ideal self” for that matter, via social media platforms. For that reasoning alone we should take the presentation and interpretation of online identities and relationships with a grain of salt.
I think the Reuters article resonated a lot more with me after having seen Life 2.0. The piece warns, “What people did online stayed online… Now our two worlds are blended, and the people we meet online and how we behave on social networks is affecting us at home and at work.” Such was the case with the affair we were shown in the film. Leaving class on Monday I couldn’t stop thinking how ridiculous it was that one woman was having a separate relationship in Second Life and actually ended up seeing him in person as well. The fact that her husband knew about the affair – and her hidden “second life” for that matter – was completely outlandish. But I can’t help myself from wondering just because these interactions occur online; does it make them any less real? The Reuters article had a very similar, skeptical affect on me. Given that these platforms can open the door for new relationships, how willing should we be (and are we) to accept them? Statistics provided suggest that 80% of people stray from the truth in some way online, and this is definitely not limited to unfaithful marriages. I think that both the film and the article convey the idea that it is just as important to be open to new social platforms as it is to be mindful of them. Despite that they provide the opportunity to enhance our relationships, they can just as easily damage them.