How should we talk about Social Media’s Effects on Teens?

During this past week, Huffington Post, the online newspaper, posted an article entitled, “Social Media Makes Teens Aware Of Others’ Needs, Study Says”.  According to this study conducted by Harris Interactive 55 percent of teens (13-17) said that Facebook and Twitter “opened their eyes to what others are experiencing”. Furthermore, in this same study 91 percent “felt it was important to volunteer in the community”. In addition, 68 percent of the same teens surveyed agreed that “the benefits of social media outweigh the risks of being on these sites”. After listing all of the collected data, the article continues by informing the reader that many non-profit organizations have even recognized this trend and are now using their social networking site profiles to raise awareness and garner support for their causes. The article even goes on to share the story of a user of the popular site, Reddit, who was able to raise money for a bone marrow transplant for his girlfriend’s nephew through this online community.

After reading Baym’s book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, it is easier to interpret the information presented within the article. This article is clearly supporting a technological determinist perspective of social media. This framing can instantly be seen in the title, which emphasizes that it is social media making teens more aware of their peers rather than teens using social networking sites to be more aware of what is going on among their peers. The problem with framing the article in a technological determinist perspective is that teens using these social networking sites are given no power, they are seen as merely being affected by the technology. In addition, by framing the article in this way the technology is taken out of any kind of social context. For anyone to truly understand the technology and its users we need the context for both. This article also seems to have domesticated social media with the use of the word “liking”. The beginning of the article mentions “liking” without explaining what this word functions as and which social media this function is attached to. There are probably many people, who do not use Facebook, that would not have understood the reference.

Although the article presents its information about social media in this technological determinist perspective there are other ways to frame the story. For one they could have framed technology using a social construction perspective, by showing how the creation of social media was a response to teens who wanted to become more aware of their peers and were interested in volunteering. Based on what I have learned so far from this class, I think that the best way to frame this article would have been by using the social shaping perspective. Through a social shaping perspective, the interaction between technological possibilities and social dynamics can be met and a better evaluation of the technology can take place. The Huffington Post could have talked about this study in a way that highlighted the technological affordances of social networking sites, specifically that they provide us with a way to communicate more efficiently and keep in touch with people we know, while at the same time emphasizing that we as a society find these site useful because we always try to find new ways to communicate and learn about others.

After this week’s classes and the study of perspectives, it was interesting to compare how this article framed technology and how the documentary Life 2.0 framed technology. This documentary showcased the lives of several users of the popular Second Life virtual game. The documentary illustrated various negative effects of this technology on the users such as divorce, theft, and addiction. In comparison, this article illustrated positive effects of technology, including increased awareness and volunteering among teens. Also, Life 2.0 showed the users of the Second Life virtual game as being extremely cut-off and distant from the rest of the world while this article details how technology has actually made people more involved with charities and aware of the people around them. Instead of being distant as the Second Life users were depicted, teens, according to this study, have become more likely to connect and want to help others through the use of social media. While overall the article seems to be promoting social media’s positive effects, there was one line that mentioned the risks of social networking sites. Just as in the documentary, it seems to be an assumed fact that there will always be risk when using any type of social media. Hopefully, one day this assumption can be erased and a more balanced discussion of social media technology can occur.

Has online dating lost the “weird” stigma?

Living in a big city, we are privileged to often be the first to watch social change happen.  Over the past few years, I’ve noticed this being true when it comes to online dating, especially for young adults such as we in college or freshly starting our careers.  The understanding of what “online dating” entails is changing as the social media arena opens up in this sector as well, as discussed by Kelly House in an article written out of another big city, Portland.  She discusses how sites like still cater to older generations who are established in their lives and looking for a serious, stable relationships, however, it is becoming more and more popular amongst younger generations to utilize sites like OkCupid and Plenty of Fish for more casual networking.  This is because more serious sites, many of which charge membership fees, match their users based on very specified reasons that they would make a good couple.  As the Internet is becoming ingrained to our lives more every single day and social media networks are becoming solidified as our own personal networks in “real” life too, House notes that “savvy web entrepreneurs are betting that young singles represent an untapped revenue source.” Thus, these smaller, more casual sites have sprung up to cater towards them.  She explains that “they tend to be more tech-savvy, carefree and interactive” and focus more on location and shared interests to create potential matches.

The story is presented in a manner that shows examples of different sites and explains the basics as to how online dating has been changing, but it doesn’t dive enough into the reasons why.  Although she explains that the stigmas of online dating have changed somewhat  because “today’s 20-something grew up online. Using the Internet as a dating tool seems natural,” House fails to express enough how online dating can lead to and potentially create meaningful relationships via the ways we are now able to contact each other online and share ourselves as well. It is indeed correct that these sites and the way views have changed about them have allowed for more casual connections to occur offline like meeting for a concert you both enjoy, however I think it is more important to note how the Internet has allowed for connections to deepen in the online realm as well.  For example, an online dating site is very much its own community as its users share something in common: no matter how casual or serious of an interaction they are looking for, they are trying to make social ties in some way.  Nancy Baym explains that “online, we bump into the people who share our interests rather than those who happen to be in the same physical location. This leads to connections that might not otherwise form.” It is important to look at this alongside how our social cues have changed as well.  In 2012 as opposed to 1980, it isn’t as common to spot someone at your favorite coffee joint and ask them on a date because we seem to have become much more avoiding of strangers than in the past (a blog post could be written on this topic alone.) If you spark up a conversation on the Internet, however, about the latest YouTube video that had you in tears laughing or the awesome new band you found on Spotify, you might be more apt to meet them later in the week and see how you hit it off in person.

What House fails to discuss is how important it is to think about online dating in juxtaposition with the self we are creating online. With our own networks, it is very easy for Internet savvy individuals (ones who would be more inclined to use dating sites) to show exactly who they are in “real life” on the Internet via the unlimited content available to be shared as well as the networks that can be used to display who we are (such as our Twitter feeds.)  It is possible that Internet dating is becoming more generally “accepted” in society because of how “normal” other Internet communities like Twitter and Reddit have become and how the social interactions we have on them can so often make us feel close to strangers in a way very different than ever before.  “Strangers” in 2012 can become “friends” in the matter of seconds and with new features like Facebook Timeline, we have the ability of finding out almost anything about someone in a matter of minutes (*cough “Facebook stalking” cough*.)  In my eyes, the stigma once associated with Internet dating is breaking down so quickly in front of us because the Internet has become a means of documenting every part of oneself, and thus it is easy to get to know someone without physically having the chance to do so.

The Presentation of “Dangers” of Relationships Mediated by Online Dating

Online dating conman 'left me hurt and violated'

Online dating conman 'left me hurt and violated'

In response to this week’s prompt, I examined a recently published BBC News article titled “Online dating conman ‘left me hurt and violated’.” The article outlines the latest in Internet scams, the latest being a 59-year-old woman – Vicky Fowkes – who signed up for an online dating website, and fell in love with a man who didn’t exist, or rather, a man whose actual persona did not exist. It is to say that Fowkes fell for a scam in which she was emotionally captivated by someone who then proceeded to swindle her out of nearly £40 000. The culpable man has yet to be caught and the money has yet to be recovered.

The question of framing most certainly comes into play with this article. Where Fowkes is positioned as victim in this series of unfortunate events, one could just as easily point out her faults of not having better implemented uncertainty reduction theory strategies, which include passive, active, and interactive, before becoming both emotionally and financially involved. Granted, there were mentions of telephone calls; however, it is also duly noted that there were no records of photographs exchanged or any instances of face-to-face communication (FtF). For this particular case, the FtF (given that the man was based in Africa) could have been mediated/facilitated/substituted by Skype (acknowledging that it is an in-between medium comprising of both FtF and computer-mediated communication [CmC]).

With regard to the article’s presentation, I feel that it most certainly could have been presented with a much more critical lens, asking questions as to why Fowkes was so ready to provide financial aid without engaging in strategies that would minimize her loss and guarantee authenticity, as well as asking questions of how deceptive this scammer must have been. American academic Nancy Baym outlines in her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age (2010) the possible ways in which men and women are able to draw more inferences out of the one another’s small cues than they would in a usual FtF encounter. These small cues may be a number of things, ranging from a single photograph to a short self-summary or even to the grammar/language in messages. Thus, for Fowkes to have believed such a performance, it would have to mean that “John Hawkins,” as the man referred to himself in conversations with Fowkes, most certainly managed to play to the “right” cues so as to make himself convincing in CmC. Of course, we come back to the question as to why Fowkes was so ready to provide financial aid without furthering her uncertainty reduction by means of crossing FtF and CmC – a question that leaves unanswered in this article.

In some ways, I find the article to be similar to “Life 2.0” in which the conflict of self-presentation and online identities comes to light. Where in “Life 2.0,” the online couple found themselves attracted to one another by the performances given off (Goffman 1959) in a virtually constructed world, Fowkes found herself attracted to a persona that was presented/performed in a bound space. The distinction between world and space, for this purpose, can be noted as the following: the “world” refers more so to the realm of graphic virtual interaction, whereas “bound space” refers to a web location/structure.

Despite the revelation of the “physical world” self of Fowkes’ “lover” being more drastic, the experiences of online dating between Fowkes and the couple in “Life 2.0” are similar in some respects. For instance, both fail to accommodate for the fact that the Internet is more conducive to selective self-presentation (Walther 2006), meaning that only certain facets of personality are conveyed in the online sphere.

However, the main point on which they greatly differ from one another is the consideration of authenticity. Granted, “authenticity” is a difficult topic to broach, especially in the realm of online dating; however, there have been several contentions made over the years. The first being that the intention of online dating is to attract a mate in the physical world; as a result, information, to some degree, finds itself closer to truths than lies (Toma & Hancock 2009, Toma & Hancock 2010). And secondly, online deception is not as rampant as some would like to believe, especially given the consideration that “lying is a daily occurrence.” (Ellison et al 2006 : 420)

That said, it is following to note the following: Fowkes’ case is one that illustrates the subversion of the norm, and the relationship in “Life 2.0” merely illustrates one of the many “goals” of that virtual world of Second Life. In effect, the two platforms have different goals, and we are merely examining the commonality of “dating” between these two platforms for the purposes of this post.

So, the question to ask is how do the two stories differ from one another in their presentation? The answer, first and foremost, comes back to the goals of the two platforms. Second Life is viewed as an open-ended system in which the interactions do not have the end-goal of being romantic, though it is a possibility. As a result, the documentary explains the root of the “love” of the couple and follows them so as to track this “peculiar” development within the virtual world. However, given that online dating’s goal is to assist in the finding of a mate for the physical world, the story is framed in such a manner that exposes, as opposes to follow. Since the nature of the story is one of subversion of the norm, as opposed to “peculiarity/possibility in a virtual world of many facets,” the BBC article immediately paints a darker picture.

What we come to realize and ask ourselves is the following – must all relationships be verified by some sort of FtF, even if it must be mediated? And if the answer is yes, the next question to pose is the following: are we always bound by FtF if there are ways to subvert the intentions of new CmC platforms?

Culture vs. Cult: The Role of Social Media in Our Lives

In an article from October on the Huffington PostKatherine Bindley explores what role social networking and jealousy play in “your” life. Her main argument is that while Facebook is a very powerful tool to help people connect and stay connected to one another, it has equally as much capacity to effectively ruin relationships. Specifically, she points out a few main things that people tend to do (or not do), which lead to their partner to feel either jealous or uncomfortable. Some of these examples included things like over/undersharing about the relationship on the network, having tagged pictures of exes, and seeing ‘worrisome’ things on partners’ pages and assuming the worst.

With all of this, though, it becomes clear that the underlying issue is a lack of communication rather than anything Facebook itself is doing. In fact, Bindley quotes a couples therapist from San Diego, Jennine Estes as saying, “Facebook isn’t usually the problem. It’s the behaviors that are the problem.” This statement is particularly important, because it immediately takes out considerations of Facebook being the ‘active ruiner’ of relationships. Such a blame on Facebook would be a very blatant statement of what Judith Donath (and others) would describe as technological determinism. In fact, Estes goes even further, saying:

“To be clear, Facebook itself isn’t to blame for the demise of domestic bliss. Instead, it’s an avenue by which threats can develop if you fail to communicate about them, and one that can exacerbate problems that already exist.”

Again, this is a very clear way to disprove arguments of technological determinism and instead emphasise what more looks like a social shaping view of technology, where people’s usage of new technology are taken into account. Because Bindley presents this concept early on and comes back to it throughout the article, the general ‘story’ of what she writes does not blame Facebook for strains in relationships, but rather points out how people can abuse its capabilities in ways that lead to a strain of trust.

The jealousy that a boyfriend or girlfriend might feel as a result of something done on Facebook is not very different from the ‘psychological warfare’ that dana boyd describes from the MySpace ‘Top 8’ feature.  Again, however, neither boyd nor Bindley suggest that the social networks are to blame (although in the case of MySpace, it’s hard to imagine a practical use for ‘ranking’ your friends), but rather that people are quite prone to be sensitive in these publicly social spaces. Overall, then, I think she presents the possibilities of Facebook in a reasonable, objective manner.

In the film Life 2.0, however, the users of Second Life are presented in such a way that they come across as if they were members of a cult: that they got into ‘this thing,’ couldn’t stop, and may or may not have made it out. In fact, the way it was put together made me think of the movie Jonestown, (trailer below)  where the people who joined the ‘People’s Temple’ cult were vulnerable for some number of reasons, found a comfortable, welcoming environment in the cult, eventually found out that it was ‘bad,’ and either made it out or didn’t (although obviously there was no mass suicide shown in Life 2.0). Although the stories presented in Life 2.0 had varying areas of success, I felt like the filmmakers generally presented Second Life as something that could be very dangerous, and that it was best to get out of it rather than lose all touch with reality.

Because of the way Second Life seemed to be shown as ‘dangerous’ in the film, I would argue that it takes more of a technologically deterministic view, where people have little or no control of what they are doing once they sign up for the game. To avoid this, the filmmaker could have shown a few people who use Second Life casually and who still maintain normal relationships with other people. This would have given proof that there is nothing inherently wrong with Second Life, but that it may bring out underlying social issues in some people who play it. In fact, I would imagine (or hope) that the stories shown in the film were extreme cases chosen to exhibit an entertaining yet disturbing look into the lives of Second Life addicts, posing them as an ‘other’ character for people to laugh at and maybe feel better about their own interpersonal relationships.

Given these two differing perspectives on social media, I think it is important to study these areas through an unbiased lens and present all sides of the story. Rather than present the audience with predetermined judgements, it would be better to show people how a social network works in its most basic form and how people have changed and adapted this, but most importantly, that all these uses are different for everyone.

Four Ways

The Social Media Examiner considers itself the “world’s largest online social media magazine…designed to help businesses discover how to best use social media tools like Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn to connect with customers, generate more brand awareness and increase sales” (1). I have personally used it extensively to learn how to reach out to residents in the NYU Lafayette Dorm. I am a resident assistant there in charge of curating content for our Blog and our Facebook page. The Social Media Examiner gave me ideas and advice on how to better interact with my fans and spread the word on the latest building programs.

There is one article on their blog titled, 4 Ways Social Media is Changing your Relationships, which I thought addressed the prompt of this post very well. But of course, this is a more informative article. It discussed in detail 4 fundamental ways social media is changing the ways we relate with people. One, it allows us to connect with others faster. The more connections we have, the more ideas and resources we have access too. Two, It’s easy to overestimate the how intimate our online relationships can be. We might alienate offline friendships and networks in pursuit of online ones. Three, we become more susceptible to the social media contagion effect. This means that we begin to make the behaviors and attitudes of our social network our own. And fourth, social media pushes us to compare ourselves with others. This can have positive or negative effects.

Social Media is responsible for changing our interpersonal relationships in a myriad of ways but the four that this blog chose to focus on are factors that almost anyone with even limited social media experience can relate to. Danah Boyd, in her article, “Friends, Friendsters and Myspace Top 8: Writing Community into Being on Social Network Sites” wrote at length about the social norms of Top 8 culture. The “Top 8” feature was implemented by MySpace to allow users to select eight friends to display on their profile. According to Boyd, this changed the social dynamics of how to order friends. She also agreed that MySpace Top 8 was the “new dangling carrot for gaining superficial acceptance.” The social media examiner’s second way of change, alienation, can be seen in this feature. In pursuit of eight specific online relationships, users alienated their other offline relationships as a result.

Not only that but Boyd wrote that “friending” on social network sites is “deeply connected to a participants offline social life.” In Nancy Baym’s book, Personal Connections in a Digital Age, she says that online groups provide contexts for forming interpersonal relationships. Offline friends acknowledge the new friendship or romance the users make visible to the online community and in turn these connections provide viewers with information about the user and his or her connections, such as: social status, political beliefs, or musical tastes. J. Donath and D. Boyd talked about this in their article, “Public Displays of Connection.” Donath and Boyd both saw how the public display of the “company one keeps” verified one’s own identity.

The Social Media Examiner discussed this in it’s third and fourth change, both of which have to do with the online social network community at large. The connections we make with others, which are public, define who we are online. The effects can be that we start adopting the behavior that we observe in the online space as our own, regardless of whether that behavior is positive or negative. Also, images, updates and content that we view others contributing prompt us to compare our own contribution to theirs. To go deeper, we also start comparing our offline selves to our online friends.

In comparison to Life 2.0, a documentary about several users of the virtual online world, “Second Life,” not much is different. The Second Life users all displayed signs similar to other social network users, albeit in more extreme ways. They created a profile, their avatar. They would network with other users, make new friends and play games. All these are available on social networks like Facebook, even though this social network caters more to the visual and auditory aspects. However, all four changes that the Social Media Examiner discussed apply to Second Life as well, especially number 2. Second Life users, particularly the ones in the documentary, overestimated how intimate their relationships on the site were and this had mostly negative consequences for their offline relationships.

Lying by Omission

Fortunately for us, during this past week, America celebrated the most romantic day of the year: Valentine’s Day. During this Hallmark holiday, the web is overrun by fake touching love stories and cliché creative how-to guides, however if you put in a little effort and do a little digging, you might be able to find an article or two with actual blog-worthy content.

On Valentine’s Day, news source Mashable released a video that focused on a study done at Brigham Young University that concerns the effect of online role-playing games on marriages. According to Mashable, the study concluded that 3 out of 4 spouses of online games wished their partner would “put more time into their marriages than their avatars.” Mashable also reports that the primary reason for why online role-playing games negatively affect marriages is not because of the amount of time the gaming spouse spends online but the amount of time the couples spend arguing and disrupting bedtime routine. However Mashable ends the video on a more positive note pointing out that not all relationships suffer from online role-playing games; in relationships where both partners play, gaming actually strengthens the relationship.

For a one minute video Mashable does a fair job in presenting what are probably the most interesting findings of the BYU study, however judging by the title of the video “Study Shows Online Role-Playing Can Damage Marriage,” and the fact that they spent eighty percent of the video discussing the possible damages shows Mashable placed an emphasis on the negative impacts of online role-playing game. From a business perspective, that would have been the appropriate way to market the video since the common view towards online role-playing games and people who play online role-playing games are generally negative and people like to read things that confirm their beliefs, however from an academic standpoint, Mashable’s biased presentation is misleading and can be considered an example of lying by omission.

This also occurred in the film Life 2.0. Like the Mashable video, it portrayed online role-playing games and its players in a very negative light by focusing only on failing stories of Second Life, but in reality, there are a lot of success stories stemming from Second Life. In 2008, Wired Magazine published a story about Second Life user Amanda Baggs who is autistic and does not speak. However when she plays Second Life, she has no problem communicating and behaves like what we consider normal social behavior. This has forced scientists to rethink autism and turn to new unconventional ways to communicate with autistic patients. This made absolutely no appearance in Life 2.0 even though it made headlines back in 2008 and really put Second Life on the map.

Because I found the BYU study interesting but the Mashable video lacking in more details, I searched for more content revolving the study on Google and found on Slate an article titled “How Playing Online Video Games Can Help Your Marriage.” This article is based on the same study as Mashable’s video however the title implies a positive conclusion had come out of this study. This article also goes more in depth than the video in how the study was conducted and not only does it touch on how online role-playing games have a positive impact but it also touches on the negative impacts giving a better complete overview of the findings.

Because one source is an article and one source is a video, it reminded me of our discussion in class regarding social cues and its importance. Many folks find face-to-face interactions more informing because seeing the person’s facial expressions and body movements helps us determine the message’s meaning more clearly however in this case, the article was much more clear than the video even though I was able to see the presenter as he spoke about the content in the Mashable video. This reminded me that even though we spend so much time worrying about what social cues may be omitted in certain mediums, we need to also focus on the source of the message and whether or not content is being omitted. If the content is distorted or tampered with, it doesn’t matter if the receiver understands the message or not because it is ultimately false. I feel like we’ve lost sight of what the purpose of communication is and are too wrapped up in the medium rather than the validity of the content.

Celebrity – Fan Relationships through Social Media

Before Twitter first launched in 2006, the idea that celebrities interacting with their fans was limited to a simple autograph and maybe a photo. The communication shared between fans and their favorite celebrities was perhaps one of the most limited forms of communication before the rise of social media. An article in The Post Game titled Tebowmania And Social Media Coach Boost Eddie Royal’s Facebook And Twitter Stock explains the rise of sports stars in social media. Especially in America, sports stars are glorified. Feats of athleticism are replayed over and over on Sportscenter and off field antics fill the pages of newsstand tabloids. Unfortunately, the media tends to jump on negative portrayals of athletes much more so than the good.

The article studies the case of the Denver Bronco’s wide receiver Eddie Royal and his huge Facebook and Twitter followings. Royal is not known as a huge star athlete, yet he still has over “100,000 likes and has surpassed 50,000 Twitter followers.” The way Royal does this is “through content, not because of his name or even necessarily his game. And he knows this.” Royal connects with his followers, posting often enough and almost always offering something personal to the fans: a video shoutout, a picture, and the most popular, free tickets to a Broncos game. The article mentions that Royal has a “social media coach” named Jeff Weiner. His motto is that his clients should interact consistently with followers and engage with them on video. The point is not that the communication between the stars and their fans becomes unmediated, that may never be possible. What social media has done for this particular relationship is remove a layer of mediation.

An issue that should be addressed is whether or not the relationship between fan and star is an interpersonal one or not. The way I view it, the relationship between an individual fan and a celebrity is not interpersonal, but the fandom, the collective group of individuals that consider themselves fans, has an interpersonal relationship with the celebrity. The two are cleraly interdependent because one would not exist without the other. Therefore it is the fandom that is benefiting from social media, not the individual fans, although there are cases where celebrities do interact with individual fans through social media. The experience is more equivalent to the “communities” that Baym in her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age. The communities she describes form their own mannerisms and support one another online. In very large communities, individual relationships may occur, but the focus is more on how the group has a whole interacts with one another.

The article presents all this information in a fairly objective way. The author, Steve Henson doesn’t add very much commentary either explicitly or implicitly. However, the information presented is of a positive nature and it comes out feeling as such. I very much agree with the way this story is presented. It shows how technology is shaping society and affecting relationships as stated by Baym. The presentation in the article stands in stark contrast to what was shown in the film   Life 2.0. The film portrayed these extreme cases of interpersonal relationships formed through the online social platform called Second Life. It can be argued that the presentation of the situations of these extreme cases was objective in that there was not an extensive commentary on what was being shown, but the relationships themselves gave a feeling of negativity to the notion of interpersonal relationships being formed online, and in some cases brought out of the virtual world into the real one.

Any statements made in the article I chose were immediately supported by a quote or statistics. A different approach to this article could have been much more subjective in terms of the writer expressing his opinion on the matter. There was no praise or criticism of the actions of these sports stars. If there had been, the article may have been more interesting to read (from the standpoint of a non sports fan), but would have had to been classified as an editorial, not an article. This is the problem I have with Life 2.0. This documentary sells out to the fact that people do not want to watch normal people interact with other normal people on Second Life. Perhaps the article I read could have presented a negative effect of professional athletes interacting with fans.

Interpersonal relationships online can be positive, and they can also be negative. The discourse surrounding this developing phenomenon should represent both sides of the story, not try to portray it as either. No interpersonal relationships are that binary, the writings on the topic should reflect this.

Love and Lies 2.0

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, RuetersAndrew 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 blogWhat 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.

It’s Not Official Unless it’s on Facebook.

Watching Life 2.0 reminded me of many simulation games that I have played and experienced including: Neopets, Sims, Counter Strike, WOW, etc. There are many platforms that allow relationships, similar to the ones discussed in Second Life, to develop. It is very easy to get caught up in these virtual worlds and become part of the communities surrounding it. This is especially true if it is a game because it allows players to freely express themselves and their imagination without boundaries. We began discussing in class the perspectives the director uses to portray the people in the film. One of the biggest flaws is the over dramatization of the situations presented. The most dramatized situation was the love story of Amy and Steven, where they are the narrators of their story. They are shown within Second Life as their avatars and we see their fantastical relationship developed through their imaginations. Throughout class, many were laughing and found their relationship to be humorous. Amy is often portrayed as giggling and a little ditzy and Steven is slow and easygoing, it is a very surreal love that the audience witnesses. We also find their adjustments to their relationship in the real world to be funny and we could infer that they would not work out. Although it seems that the director may be exploiting their emotions, I think it is important in showing how emotionally attached one cam become. It solidifies the realness of the situation that is being portrayed.

The article I have chosen is from USA Today, “Social media can both help and hurt real-life relationships”, by psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser. She writes about different aspects of relationships that could be tarnished by social media. The article is humorous and I don’t know if it should be taken seriously. However, it is clear that she believes that social media, specifically, Facebook, is an important part of a relationship. She gives the example of “full disclosure” where your partner should publicly display your relationship in their social network. Basically her article redefines relationships and integrates them into social networking. Kaiser understands the growing importance of establishing not only individual identities but making connections between couples in real life into couples online. She also suggests that social media can hinder trust issues between partners. I think it is true that social media is an individual and personal thing that we do. We have discussed in class the different personalities and identities we take on while networking. She suggests freely opening up e-mails, texts, and even Facebook, so there is no privacy between partners. She takes a very open approach to relationship problems, and although she understands the importance of social media, I don’t think she understands the importance of how singular social networking is. I would say it has a lot to do with the fact that she is a woman so her solutions to the problems she poses are a little skewed.

I think both situations focus strongly on the emotional aspects of interpersonal relationships and social media. Not only are couples connected in the virtual world or networking sites but their bond has more at stake. They have real commitments, they see each other in real life, and their virtual connections are more emotional with each other than they would have with other people. Is there a rising importance in establishing relationships in social media? I would assume so because social networking platforms often reflect real connections and situations. You can’t be married in real life and still single online; it needs to be parallel. Unless there is a motive for your online identity to be single.

Barely Scraping the Surface

Jennifer Mattern’s article, “Is Social Media Killing Personal Relationships?,” gives us a quick general overview of her opinion on how social media affects relationships. She gives both good and bad ways in which social network sites (SNS) have affected her own, personal relationships based on mere observation and usage. She suggests that closer relationships are maintained through more personal and private conduits, while more casual relationships are dealt with through social media.

I see many flaws in Mattern’s article. First of all, she uses her own personal experience, which I guess can technically be considered “participant observation,” but she leaves out the observation part and uses her “best guess” about how other people use social media. Her guess is that most people use SNS the same way as she does. Already off to a wrong start! However, I do understand that her article isn’t research-based and she is merely putting her opinion out there, but I think any opinion needs some valid evidence and not only assumptions. I will give her this though—she did a good job of surveying her readers about their thoughts and experiences, though her audience may be a little biased towards her opinions since they all are from the same or similar network.

I believe Mattern’s article could have been made stronger and a lot more though-provoking if she had reached out and fished for people who had stories about more successful and fulfilling online relationships than offline ones. A good source would be people who have gotten married after meeting on SNS or dating websites, or even just articles about online-turned-offline relationships. Any sort of general probing outside of her own experience and thoughts would have led her to make stronger arguments for either side of her topic.

Moreover, Mattern states that her deeper relationships were generally maintained through email, the phone, personal contact and snail mail, which brings up the issue of privatized vs. publicized relationships that I wish she would have explored a little more. In comparison, the film, Life 2.0, does a great job of showing a variety of accounts of the differences between online and offline relationships. Even though the film did try to show Second Life members as “weirdos” who do not really have a great grasp on reality, it does capture all of the personas that a member possesses—the person behind the computer screen, on the computer screen and away from the computer screen (interacting in the real world). Perhaps people online act differently than they would offline, hence creating deeper or shallower relationships online. Perhaps people create whole new identities online, rendering any relationship they are involved in “fake” or not genuine and unable to be transferred to the real world. Mattern takes a very technologically deterministic view of social media (Nancy Baym). She says that “social media makes it easy to get to the point and move on. And it makes it easy to provide so much “fluff” information that information overload results and you just don’t care enough to want to know more mundane things about a person’s life. So you don’t reach deeper when communicating.” In the cases we saw in Life 2.0, it seems to be the complete opposite when we’re shown how invested people become in their online relationships, even to the point where they become part of each others’ realities. Sometimes the comfort of hiding behind a screen and anonymity allows a person to open up and “reach deeper when communicating.” Mattern seems to neglect all the different types of users there are out there, and though Life 2.0 is biased and exploits the negative aspects of becoming a heavy SNS user, the film shows us three very different accounts of users and their relationship to both the online and offline worlds.

Though Mattern’s piece is meant to focus on personal relationships, she completely disregards the one thing that links two individuals together—community. In Baym’s book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, she says that communities are based upon shared practices, space, resources, identities and support, and the interpersonal relationships within them. In conjunction, Danah Boyd writes in her article that “the architetcture of unmediated social spaces, these sites introduce an environment that is quite unlike that with which we are accustomed.” Mattern should have taken another view and seen how communities online and offline differed and maybe seen how that might have some effect on personal relationships because the two worlds are very different social playgrounds. I understand that her article had no intent on being a research piece, but if I were to rewrite an article with a more compelling argument, I would look into many different aspects of personal relationships.