Re-appropriating Connections and Networks on YouTube

In a recent feature by KVUE ABC, it has been noted that a particular trend is emerging – the re-appropriation of YouTube into a physical appearance rating platform for adolescents. The question of “am I ugly?” seems to be one that teenagers are asking anonymous audiences. The focus of this article is on young girls, specifically, with no mention of boys; the raise for concern stems from the consideration that self-esteem levels are volatile at this age, as well as the consideration that these girls are soliciting “words of truth” from strangers.

Before dissecting the article, it must be noted that the author presents a quote that creates some discomfort for the analysis of this article. Although the title makes the insinuation that it is to target YouTube specifically, a statement from the interviewed professor, Stella Lopez of the University of Texas at San Antonio, says otherwise: “When they open themselves up to social media, such as YouTube or Facebook, you are going to get a wide variance of responses. And responses may be very positive and encouraging or it could be very nasty.” Hinting at the use of Facebook to create “anonymous” queries has not been otherwise outlined in the article, and considering that, I will continue my argument from the standpoint of these questions of appearance being posed solely on YouTube.

Academic Rebekah Willett offers her observations on adolescent user of social network sites in her article “As Soon As You Get on Bebo You Just Go Mad: Young Consumers and the Discursive Construction of Teenagers Online.” She states that youth are able to express themselves and perform their identities through updating and customizing their profiles. On a similar thread, academic danah boyd offers the idea in her piece, “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life,” that adolescents have moved into this particular space on account of the fact that they have “no where else.” It is to say that this particular online space that MySpace offers can be claimed as “their” own, much like how the mall was considered to be a hangout for adolescents in earlier years.

As opposed to using the Internet for the means of transitioning their offline social communities to online ones, these girls are in fact making use of the space afforded to them to disengage from offline communities. In effect, what is being observed is the mentality of creating one’s own space, as opposed to the group mentality of creating a collective space with individual elements. Granted, YouTube does allow articulate networks similar to Facebook of “friend/subscriber lists,” but the focus here is the articulation of adolescent females who primarily focus on receiving “feedback,” as opposed to the usual reciprocal behaviours found in network sites of both sending and receiving messages.

In some ways, it can be inferred that this particular behaviour of abandoning the communal public space in which one is easily recognized as, not necessarily an attempt, but rather, an echo to the notion of subculture and counter-hegemony (Hebdige 1979). It is to say that this action of creating another identity, one that is personal but at the same time anonymous, is one that is not considered the norm, and goes against the established cultural values now in place (of being identifiable, contacting only those you know, etc). That said, it should noted that subculture is neither inherently good nor bad; subculture simply goes against the norms in place.

To add, the use of YouTube (in opposition to Facebook) is a curious choice, but one that may be easily explained. Where Facebook concentrates solely on the articulated network, YouTube (as well as Pinterest and Tumblr) also disseminate the produced information to the larger network on hand, meaning that all users of the particular website have access despite not necessarily having a direct connection to the uploader. In effect, and in theory, there is an audience immediately available to “review” one’s body, whereas to create an anonymous or inauthentic account in Facebook would require an unrealistic amount of effort to garner an audience by friending random persons as a means of acquiring a sample group.

Coming back to boyd, where the allusion is made of MySpace to the mall, it could be considered that the “anonymous” account on YouTube is the teenage bedroom, and the YouTube audience merely acting as the mirror with its replies. Such an idea can easily find itself tying to Willett who considers the social network to permit for the construction of self, which in turn draws similarities to Canadian-born sociologist Erving Goffman’s notion of the “front stage.” In effect, the questions of “am I fat?” on YouTube are the backstage, where the real self is able to express his or herself.


Blog 2: Why not just have an affair?

As I searched for an interesting article on interpersonal relationships and social media, I came across too many of the same problems. Man leaves wife for Internet “friend.” Child is molested because of social media networking pedophiles on Myspace and the list goes on and on. Are there ever any positive stories about social media on the news and online? Doesn’t really seem like it. So to follow the negativity, I chose an article title “Can Social Media Break Up A Marriage?” written by Jennifer Ludden. Can social media break up a relationship or do people break up their relationships?

Mike Green, a typical married man who completely trusted his wife and lost all of that love and trust after her affair with her coworker. Seems like an ordinary everyday problem, right? No. In this modern age of social media, her outlets for having an affair increased tremendously through her use of texting, Myspace, and Facebook. Back in 2005, Mike’s wife asked to get texting on her phone and her husband paid no interest and added texting to their phone service plan. Mike soon noticed she seemed to text all the time because he came home late from work almost every night. He noticed a phone bill and saw hundreds upon hundreds of texts from particularly one number. Mike eventually realized it was his wife started to have an affair with her colleague and whom she left him for. She used Myspace and Facebook to talk to him all the time. Poor Mike, right? Maybe not.

The article continues to state “when you don’t have nonverbal communication, the likelihood of being able to disclose at a deeper level is greater, because there’s less inhibition, so it’s going to feel like a more intimate relationship.” This can be why Mike’s wife moved on so quickly with a mere coworker. Later when Mike made his own social media connections and started texting he realized how easy and addictive it was. Was he starting to sympathize with his ex-wife? “I find myself still loving to get texts from females, and I text, text, text, back and forth,” says Mike. I don’t know whether I should be mad Mike is doing exactly what his ex wife did to cheat on him or happy that he’s finally accepting social media? Oh… the confusions of SMN.

Donath and boyd might explain this as “seeing someone within the context of their connections provides the viewer with information about them,” which later makes them feel a closer connection with that person faster. In the fascinating documentary Life 2.0, Amy and Steven have extramarital affairs through their use of Second Life. Their uniquely created Avatars on the site allowed them to meet online and eventually in “real life.” They both separated from their spouses and tried living with each other. “In the pseudonymous dating scene, a frequent complaint is that people act rudely towards each other in ways that they would not do to people they knew in a more integrated social environment.” At first it seemed like Amy and Seven were crazy in love after meeting in real life, but later the documentary goes to show Amy as the victim and Steven as a fake that left her for India. Was Amy really a victim or was Amy’s ex husband the victim of her affair with Steven? I choose her ex husband.

Ludden ends up portraying Mike’s ex wife as a “not so bad kind of a person because everyone does this kind of stuff.” He is a victim to a certain extent, but could he have been that naïve? No one deserves to be cheated on. I mean if you’re not happy, just leave? Why have an affair with your coworker? I just have a whole lot of unanswered questions after reading this article. Will Mike be able to fully trust a woman again? I wouldn’t. Texting, Facebook, and Myspace doesn’t necessarily lead to an affair or ultimately divorce, but it does give people a way to get more intimate with others fairly quickly. In the past, Facebook has caused me to have confusions and suspicions about a boyfriend or best friend, but it hasn’t been the sole reason of a “break up.” Loyola University issued a press release warning married couples to protect their marriages from Facebook. Studies say that 1 in every 5 marriages are ruined by Facebook. I don’t blame Facebook. I blame it on the cheating spouse. Connections formed on social networking sites aren’t simple at all and a spouse should know when they are crossing the line with the interactions they are having with friends, old lovers, etc. Communicate effectively not deceivingly.

We May Be Friends, But I Don’t Have to Like You

In their piece “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison provide a fairly thorough account of the rise of these types of sites and the various user demographics that engage with them, and also begin to scratch the surface of potential issues and concerns surrounding their usage with a rudimentary analysis. In his response to Boyd and Ellison, “Social Network(ing) Sites…Revisiting The Story So Far”, Dr. David Beer begins by praising their original piece for the work it does laying the foundation for further analysis, and then proceeds to pick apart aspects of their work that he finds problematic.

The first aspect of Boyd and Ellison’s piece that Beer takes issue with is their use of the terms “social network site” and social networking site”. For Boyd and Ellison, a social networking site is one whose primary purpose is networking; they “emphasize relationship initiation, often between strangers. On the other hand, social network sites “enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks”; “while networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them, nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication.”

Beer’s first criticism, which I agree with, is that the term “social network site” can then be used to refer to almost anything. Recalling our discussion in class, it took over 45 minutes to list dozens of social networks, and that list was nowhere near complete. Additionally, debate sprang up over whether this site or that site qualifies under the “social network site” criteria. Beer levels the charge that Boyd and Ellison put forth this vague terminology for the purpose of conveniently capturing too many vastly different applications under one umbrella. As he says, “it is intended to do too much of the analytical work”. In today’s social climate, where everyday I receive invitations in my inbox to join xyz new sites and pleas to follow all my friends, it seems elementary to try and gather so many examples under one heading. In my opinion, my interest in a blogging platform (WordPress for example) has little to nothing to do with my participation on Twitter, despite them both being considered social network sites. Or, for a more humorous example, Barack Obama’s activity on his Twitter feed is not indicative of his maintaining a page on Make Out Club, as he is not, to my knowledge, an “indierocker” or “hardcore kid”, as their tagline implies. Simplistic classifications inhibit in-depth analysis of trends, especially in a constantly evolving setting like the Web.

Another of Beer’s criticisms of Boyd and Ellison is their division of online and offline life, and by extension, the existence of “friends” on social network sites that differ from “real life” friends. I am not aware of the ages of any of these authors, but speaking for anyone I’m acquainted with in my generation, if someone isn’t your friend on Facebook, but they have a Facebook account, they’re not your real-life friend, period. They probably aren’t even your acquaintance. In my experience, a brief meeting or friend-of-a-friend intro is certainly enough to warrant Facebook friend status. The terms of a “friendship” have completely changed following the advent of the “friend” feature of social networks. The broadened connotation of the term means that lines of who constitutes one’s friends are blurred beyond recognition. There are hordes of people that have access to my Facebook page that I wouldn’t dream of talking to in real life. And yet, by Facebook’s (and by extension the Facebook user community’s) standards, that person qualifies as my friend.

Perhaps the largest issue I have with Boyd and Ellison’s piece, and one that Dr. Beer also outlines, is their assertion that there exists somewhere/sometimes segments of life that go “unmediated”. To me, in today’s world an unmediated scenario is mythical. Social media and the internet are so sewn into our daily lives that to pretend there are times when it literally has no effect whatsoever seems almost irresponsible or ignorant on the part of communications researchers. I recently read a piece on Thought Catalog by Brianne Garcia called “How Facebook Has Changed the Way Young Girls View Themselves”. In it, she explains her belief that Facebook and the omnipresent likelihood of photographic online exposure of a particular event have overhauled the mindset of young girls. Garcia notes, “ I never cared or even considered what I looked like from the side until Facebook taught me to.” This technological determinist viewpoint is one that I’m inclined to agree with.