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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Musings on the illusion of Facebook friendship

I'm going to have to say that Facebook has been an interesting social experiment. In terms of brands, businesses, and institutions, I think it is a great tool in marketing and building community support. In terms of personal accounts, I'm just not sure. Maybe moving everyone to a page platform where it is public or private (sounds very twitter like, mmm?) would clarify things.

Because if you know that everything you post is truly public, you WILL behave differently. You may behave better, or worse, but it WILL impact how you behave. I've always believed in standing behind your words. It's part of why I publicly blog and tweet. If you have to hide some of your words from some people, then maybe you need to reconsider. I also continue to be amazed at how much people are willing to reveal about themselves on a 3rd party website... I've always argued that calling a network "friendship" was an awful idea... but the more I think about it, the more brilliant I see it to be. I admit, I've been guilty at time in terms of buying into the "friendship".

More than once a coworker or friend casually mentioned an event planned by a mutual friend/coworker that I wasn't invited to ... Part of me doesn't take it seriously and brushes off the slight(?) (is it? what if I didn't know about it?), but a little part of me wonders why. ..and then there has been watching relationships implode, explode, and form... and then there are the people who suddenly takes me out of their network ("unfriend" - what a horrible word, right?) for whatever reason. No words, no apologies, no cares... and why should they? It's a network...but yet, that "friend" word hangs over it...

How about those who use Facebook to lurk, spy and gossip about colleagues, friends, family (or even former friends, relationships, etc.) ? By allowing them into our network we allow them the opportunity to see some part of us that our IRL (In real life) relationships may not see, especially since Facebook encourages such an easy mixing of professional and personal connections. Or they may get a slanted image based upon what you post (which can be good or bad). Facebook can humanize administrators, supervisors, teachers, doctors, judges...  anyone in a position of power or with a limit to access by allowing a glimpse into their "real" lives (albeit through the constructed lens of Facebook). Facebook can also devalue your worth, too, if what you post doesn't meet the expectations of your network.  If you primarily post personal stuff then your network may have no understanding of what your work is like - how well you are respected in your particular field, how smart or talented you actually are. Some would argue that you should filter your posts for select groups in Facebook, to solve that particular problem. Of course, your privacy settings only affect your settings, so if you comment on a friend's post, depending upon your settings and THEIR settings,  what you post may show up to others outside your network. So...

What Facebook has done is build a network - that is really all it is... but by using that "friend" word, they have implied a relationship, which is often misinterpreted and allows us to get lazy with our real relationships. We rely on Facebook to invite people to events, announce births, deaths, divorces, new significant others and everything else in between. Most people assume that what we see on Facebook is the real person (but even Rembrandt is on Facebook, so that can't very well be true... )

We mash it up with our social network (be it face to face or virtual), our friends, our colleagues, our families, our peers...

Perhaps, the biggest question is: are we allowed to be human and to what extent? I have friends who blogged through relationship problems, adoptions/family issues,  health issues -- in some cases, under a pseudonym. How would their "friends" have felt to read some of those writings, which were painfully brutal in their writing?  

Many of us already make decisions about what we post and what we don't. I've had a few different versions of my social media policy, most recently here   (an earlier version is here) but it basically comes down to standing behind your words.  Yet, politics, social issues, and religion/spirituality are deliberately left out of my social media presence. All of which are strong core beliefs for me (and only discussed with very few people) So, self-censure...  Some would then argue that what I present is a very slanted view of me.. true. 

A lot to think about isn't it? Almost makes you wonder if it is worth it. Quit Facebook?

..but should you? My answer is no at least not now. For now, Facebook is a good space to connect with others and one of the most active on the web. How you connect, how you shape that lens, is up to you. If your Facebook account was suddenly published on the web -- all posts (not messages), how would it stand up against your digital identity, your online persona? The fact is mine is inline with what I've publicly written and posted elsewhere - perhaps, skewed a little more to the irrelevant, personal, or silly with at times, a more casual use of language, but for the most part, the way I represent myself on Facebook is the same elsewhere (minus photos of myself, which I do not post online generally).  However, that doesn't mean that I want everyone to see my silly cat photos, either, because the reality is, we do judge people by what they post online and I'd rather be judged by the artistic and intellectual content that I create, rather than the fact that I'm a fan of LOLCatz (oh, no, I've outed myself..) ;-)

... this article particularly interesting in that it is someone who left Facebook but then ended up returning.  


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