In their article, danah boyd and Nicole Ellison inform the reader of all things social network. They define “social network sites,” give plenty of examples throughout history, and shed light on studies surrounding these sites. David Beer responded to boyd and Ellison’s article critiquing the questions that arose in their writing and suggesting alternative areas of SNSs that should be paid more analytical attention.
To begin with, Beer does not think an emphasis should be put on boyd and Ellison’s distinction between “social network sites” and “social networking sites.” Boyd and Ellison say that “social network sites” should be the terminology used, since people “are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social networks” and therefore are not “networking” with strangers (boyd and Ellison 211). Beer says although this differentiation is true, it should not be focused on, and instead categorization of sites within a broad term, such as “Web 2.0” should be utilized (Beer 519). I tend to agree with Beer. Boyd and Ellison’s argument seemed a bit insignificant, and even when I read Beer’s classifications, such as “wiki’s, folksonomies, mashups, and social networking sites,” the organization of what was to be studied already seemed clearer than the confusing “networking” matter (Beer 519).
Another topic that Beer critiques is boyd and Ellison’s separation of online and offline living, and the difference between Friends and friends. Boyd states, “Friends on SNSs are not the same as “friends” in the everyday sense” (boyd and Ellison 220). Beer disagrees with this assumption. He believes, “we cannot think of friendship on SNS as entirely different and disconnected from our actual friends and notions of friendship, particularly as young people grow up and are informed by the connections they make on SNS” (Beer 520). I completely agree with Beer, especially in today’s world where children are growing up with technology in their lives as opposed to being introduced to it in the middle of their teen/young adult years. The usage of social media has become second nature in today’s culture, and I think today’s relationships online are just as “real” as relationships offline. I would even go as far as saying online relationships could be more “real” than offline ones, because of the easy accessibility, mobility, and permanence of social media platforms. Of course this can be refuted with SNS “flaws” such as lack of authenticity and elimination of face-to-face social cues, but overall online and offline relationships are both substantial in their own ways, and often enhance one another, eliminating the divide between Friends and friends. To make matters more complicated, I definitely think there are different categories of friends in the online world, as presented by this diagram by Mike Arauz.
Beer is also keen on taking a capitalistic approach at studying SNS. Beer says that SNS users’ information is being, “used to predict things about us, to find us out with recommendations, or even to discriminate between us as customers” (Beer 525). Beer is adamant that scholars are aware of this fact SNS are used as data sources and can be manipulated by users so they are “treated favourably” in a capitalistic sense (Beer 525). Beer says all of this with a quite wary tone, yet I don’t seem to understand why. As long as no privacy barriers are crossed isn’t this capitalist-consumer SNS relationship a good thing? Businesses are able to target niche audiences and consumers will encounter advertising that caters specifically to them. I know that I personally like picking a commercial that is more suitable for me when I’m watching a TV show on Hulu, I will occasionally click on a band that is advertised on the side of my Facebook profile, or I’ll even check out a promoted tweet on Twitter. No matter how private one’s profile is, I think SNS users are aware that the Internet is indeed a public forum, and the information published on it can be used in a myriad of ways.
Overall, I like Beer’s broader questions about social media. Boyd and Ellison do a good job at analyzing the platforms themselves, but what about the people that use them? What does the way people utilizing SNS say about society? Social media has become so engrained in today’s culture that we must not study it as an entity separate from daily life, but as an ingredient and indicator within it.