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In this thesis I address the fundamental elements of Facebook’s makeup that affect resulting social behaviors from participation with the site. In my exploration I first define the relationship between communication and social realities. It is through this relationship we begin to understand Facebook’s significance in our culture. I then consider the forms of communication media by which Facebook exists and their qualities. After briefly describing the inclination of news media interactions to embody entertainment, I argue for Facebook’s presence as a news media platform. Once establishing this I discuss inconsistencies in the site’s social qualification and legitimacy due to the localization of users’ participation within the realm of a vast network of the possibly accessible information. Facebook space is qualified; that is, it has degrees of value that differ among users. These inconsistencies are the cause of new yet subtle movements within socially acceptable behaviors. It is the trust and reliance of other users to give and gain information, inter-user dependency, which realizes and perpetuates these movements.

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  1. 1. Legitimacy and Depe ndency: Qualificatio ns of Social Re alities on F acebook by Genevieve Costello A Thesis Submitted in Par tial F ulfillment of the Requireme nts for the Degree of Bache lor of Arts Departme nt of Visual and Critic al Studies The Schoo l of the Art Institute of Chicago 2010 1
  2. 2. Abstract In this thesis I address the fundamental elements of Facebook’s makeup that affect resulting social behaviors from participation with the site. In my exploration I first define the relationship between communication and social realities. It is through this relationship we begin to understand Facebook’s significance in our culture. I then consider the forms of communication media by which Facebook exists and their qualities. After briefly describing the inclination of news media interactions to embody entertainment, I argue for Facebook’s presence as a news media platform. Once establishing this I discuss inconsistencies in the site’s social qualification and legitimacy due to the localization of users’ participation within the realm of a vast network of the possibly accessible information. Facebook space is qualified; that is, it has degrees of value that differ among users. These inconsistencies are the cause of new yet subtle movements within socially acceptable behaviors. It is the trust and reliance of other users to give and gain information, inter-user dependency, which realizes and perpetuates these movements. 2
  3. 3. Conte nts 4 Introduction 13 Section I. 13 I.I On the Formation of Social Realities 16 I.II Mass Media, Broadcast Media, News Media, and Internet 20 I.III Click-Causality 24 I.IV Dissemination 29 I.V News as Entertainment 31 Section II. 31 II.I Facebook as News Platform 36 II.II Localization 39 II.III Legitimacy 39 II.IV Qualification 43 II.V Function of Dependency 49 Closing 55 Works Cited 3
  4. 4. Introduc tion Established in 2004, Facebook’s popularity boomed in my older brother’s freshman year of college. When I finally received my .edu email address I created my own account and began “friending.” About six months later I deleted it. I was turned off by being friended by people who ignored me offline, perpetuating shallow relations, and wasting time on the site when I felt as though I already wasted enough time looking into people’s open windows. It appeared to be a socially acceptable platform for the festering of unnecessary, insignificant, and complicating gossip and weak interactions. Instead of my peers and I attempting to grow up and become better communicators, the site offered a social platform requiring little to no effort to extenuate qualities of judgment, exhibitionism, listlessness, procrastination, voyeurism, gossiping, etc. It appeared to me as though Facebook seduced its masses through the exploitation of the “flaws” in human nature thus ensuring its pandemic usage by playing on the social necessity of conformity. As co-founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes, puts it best: If you don't have a Facebook profile, you don't have an online identity… It doesn't mean that you are antisocial, or you are a bad person, but where are the traces of your existence in this college community? You don't exist-online, at least. That's why we get so many people to join up. You need to be on it (Cassidy). 4
  5. 5. During my years of being a vocally avid hater of the social networking site, though, I intermittently re-logged into my old account for about three minutes, just enough time to permit a thorough peek at an ex-boyfriend’s page. I realized that despite my horrific hypocrisy, the site was undeniably addictive. When peers began openly discussing obsessively looking at strangers’ profiles, popularly known as “Facebook stalking,” the little shame originally associated with the activity quickly disappeared. Though it may seem obvious that a site that gives users a place to practice the above-listed perceived human faults would become socially popular, I was taken by the way in which it maintained such a thriving level of cooperation between users in such an indefinite space. That is, while a group of three girlfriends were getting on and creeping others' profiles six times a day and their affiliated friends on and offline were acting in an opposing manner, somehow, despite conflicts in the relevance of the site and how seriously it was taken in reference to life offline, few were aborting participation. Any other time I had been in a setting filled with drama, vanity, gossip, and other such things, which I believed the site to nurture, people reacted. They would hang out with different people or at least change something about the situation. Nothing of this sort seemed to be occurring, despite people being aware of and discussing the negative effects of Facebook participation, which seemed mostly a result of miscommunication or fickle treatment of the site’s value in reference to social life. About three and a half years later, after much deliberation, many an anti- Facebook rant, a full semester of anti-Facebook - dedicated research, and an anti- 5
  6. 6. Facebook term paper and presentation, I realized that I am a contemporary and my quick moral judgments of the most popular social networking site should be fully critiqued before being put into practice. I wanted to observe the site’s social effects instead of scoffing at it with disdain. My previous account was under an email no longer active so I started from the beginning. The site had changed quite a bit, with significant application additions such as the News Feed and status updates. Within the few years of my absence previously hush hush behaviors that would have been only discussed with a small group of girlfriends, like Facebook stalking, were now openly accepted. I noticed in-person conversations would begin as if from the middle of an already- had conversation, only, there was no original conversation. People were seamlessly integrating information picked up from online profile “noticing” (or stalking, depending on the situation) and inserting it directly into their offline communication. This integration was not acknowledged or discussed among my peers, but it was first-hand evidence of the simultaneous moving of social information from completely different communication platforms and moving of acceptable social behaviors. We observe these movements of social information and acceptable behaviors between online text-based and face-to-face vocalization as well as the change from Facebook stalking being a shameful and private activity to it being no longer stalking but a common practice for keeping up with your “friends,” or anyone with loose privacy settings for that matter. In Winter 2009, my friend Adam told me excitedly about this girl Kate he had recently met and started dating. It had been about two or three weeks. He 6
  7. 7. told me about all the good, new stuff, the fun freshness that comes from finding someone you really like. It was about thirty minutes into the conversation when he said, “…but there are a few red flags.” The first red flag consisted of direct Facebookstalker confrontation. Now, as someone who has been executing complete examination of the site for many months, I am not quick to call anyone a Facebookstalker. But, there are a few factors that definitely affect the possible stalker-label. Asking on a first date, before being Facebook friends, before ever hanging out at all before, inquiring, “who is ‘Haley,’” is still considered socially inappropriate (Haley is Adam’s on and off again ex-girlfriend. And she is indeed all over Adam’s Facebook page). The actual stalking activity is no longer inappropriate by normal standards, but vocalizing that activity to a stranger/dating prospect, particularly due to the fact that in advance to their meeting she made a decent effort to get onto and take note of particular presences on his page, pictures, wall posts, etc., is again, not yet a popularly established behavior. After my initial reaction of surprise (i.e. Kate’s a creeper), I realized that if Adam’s privacy settings permit non-friend access to his page and linked media, then this exposing sort of premature stalker behavior shouldn’t be so surprising. I then realized that though Adam referred to this as a “red flag,” it was the last piece of information he brought up after half an hour of talking about how great this girl is, thus showing that it wasn’t weird enough, or socially unacceptable enough, for him to really react, but was still bizarre enough to consider and discuss. I also realized that this behavior of clear exposure is merely not socially acceptable yet. 7
  8. 8. Before exploring the nature of these changes we must first have a general comprehension as to the functions of the site. Upon signing into the site, you see your homepage that includes the News Feed (this can be sorted by top news or most recent updates), access to messages, events, photos, friends, application, games, groups, etc. The News Feed consists of friends updates, including status updates, event RSVPs, changes to profiles, etc. I am able to “hide” people’s updates if I don’t care to read about certain people and I am able to control what personal information or changes show up on others’ News Feeds. If I have any new messages, friend requests, photo comments, wall comments, etc., there will be a little red notification next to the according icon. Here is what my homepage looks like: (Homepage). I am able to “go online” by clicking on the chat option in the bottom right corner and instant message with my other friends who are online. Only I can see my 8
  9. 9. News Feed. My friends and other users are able to see my profile. What my friends and other users may see depends on my privacy settings that may change in the Account section (to change my account settings I click on “Account” in the upper right corner). The blue bar at the top of the Homepage screenshot remains the same no matter what page I am on. This is my profile and my profile wall, info, and photos. These are the pages that other people see when they look at me on the site. My friends and I are able to post comments, photos, links, and updates on my wall. Facebook also offers the ability to join groups, make events, make notes, add videos, become fans of pages, and add various applications to your page. Extra applications are often seen at the top of my profile where the + icon is, next to wall, info, and photos. Applications are vast and greatly vary, such as the honesty box (where people anonymously write what they think about you) or the game Mafia Wars. I could also potentially link other social communication sites, such as Twitter or Digg, to my Facebook account. The Facebook arena offers much more than what I have explained but for the purpose of this paper what is most important is the basic understanding of the functions of the site. Below what others see when they come to my profile page. 9
  10. 10. (Profile with Chat) 10
  11. 11. (Profile Info) 11
  12. 12. (Profile Photos) This primary composition of Facebook is the platform upon which the social behavioral effects cultivate. I address the fundamental elements that affect on and offline social behaviors from participation with the site. In Section I I define the relationship between communication and social realities. It is through this relationship we begin to understand Facebook’s significance in our culture. I then consider the forms of communication media by which Facebook exists and their qualities. After briefly describing the inclination of news media interactions to embody entertainment, I commence Section II by arguing that Facebook has 12
  13. 13. presence as a news media platform. Once establishing this I discuss inconsistencies in the site’s social qualification and legitimacy due to the localization of users’ participation within the realm of a vast network of the possibly accessible information. Facebook space is qualified; that is, it has degrees of value that differ among users. These inconsistencies are the cause of new yet subtle movements within socially acceptable behaviors. It is the trust and reliance of other users to give and gain information, inter-user dependency, which realizes and perpetuates these movements. Section I. I.I On the Formation of Social Realities Facts do not represent the singular material occurrence[s] of actions made known to many. Reporting formulates an event, from which facts can be drawn; facts do not construct. People observe information from a source provider [this can direct and immediate viewing of the singular material occurrences] and interpret, in many ways unconsciously, what they see or believe happens; what is factual to them; thus creating a truth. Facts can create many different truths. In short, The telling of singular material occurrence[s] of actions CAN but does NOT ALWAYS equate to facts which CAN and ALMOST ALWAYS will induce social and individual truths. For example: I am in a café with a friend. I knock down a glass by accident due to a physical gesture made during a conversation. There are other people in the café who experience the action of the glass falling [the singular 13
  14. 14. material occurrence]. The waiter who comes to help clean it up, other guests- those closer to my table experience the action differently than those farther away, either noticing the occurrence more while those far away merely hear something and don’t see the action at all. If my friend and I never talk about that event, don’t react to it when it the physical motions of the material event take place, do not tell anyone we both know, and we never think about it in our lives [do not recall or remember it because of its minute nature to us], then to us, it can be considered, there is no fact of the event, therefore no truth of it. Despite me actually causing the singular material occurrence of knocking the glass down, if it is not represented to me, I cannot draw anything from it. The event is relative, therefore, while there is no event in my life of the glass being knocked over, the liquid in the glass may have hit the feet of the person next to me, thus staining and destroying their prized vintage Salvatore Ferragamo suede shoes. Completely irreplaceable, the shoes are dead. This day will forever be burned in this person’s mind, the date of a harrowing event caused by a stranger. This person complains about what happened to family, friends, pets, and coworkers. This person broadcasts the occurrence to every person they know, thus inducing facts and truths in others about an event they did not directly experience but affects their life. Through the relationship of me knocking over the glass, this person may think mean things about me. This person may also develop ideas about people who talk with their hands, about the wait staff at the restaurant, about the café table locations, about having only paper towels in bathrooms and not air dryers, etc. From these thoughts, all stemming back to the glass being knocked over, 14
  15. 15. come opinions, or just the faintest trodden path of what could be an opinion, or a thought that hadn’t been conscious before, or the ground of nursing an already existent thought, etc.: i.e. relative truths. This generalized and brief consideration of the development of represented events, facts, and truths gives framing to social news sharing, the movement of information in a society, and the mapping of the development of social and individual realities. Imagine this simplified description of reality shaping, occurring multiple times a minute, amongst over 400 million established identities (think about the example, the event came to being from the action of a complete stranger). According to Facebook statistics, about 30% of all users, or 120,000,000, of users are U.S. citizens, thus, with a population of about 310, 232, 863 according to the US Census Bureau, roughly 39% of US citizens are active users. Facebook affects a massive amount of American youth and young adult realities, thus making it a notable player in such participants’ on and offline activity as well as in defining popular social behaviors, standards, and cultural roles. Popular cultural communication mediums often dramatize and exaggerate for publication, but almost always derive from some sort of embodiment of what can be identified with socially, that is to say, what observable, recordable, and replicable social realities. We can see in earlier decades of the 20th century through today the incredible influence upon social realities the television, radio, films, newspapers, etc. maintain. These popularized communication forms represent, change, and define social behaviors, norms, and expectations, thus it is necessary to recognize social networking sites, especially the most popular, 15
  16. 16. Facebook, as a new and incredibly influential space occurring within the most accessible popular communication media, the Internet. What manifests within this space spreads quickly to a large number of participants and they react on and offline. A significant changing factor is what qualifies as newsworthy, what gains reactions, and who broadcasts the justified information. These changes occur on account of the nature of the site. I.II Mass Media, Broadca st Media, N ews Media, and Internet Mass media is a form of communication made to reach a large amount of people. Within mass media exists broadcast media, which can be interpreted many ways; often it is considered to be the transmission of sound and video through radio and television. Often people draw lines between print media, broadcast media, and internet media, but I believe that the term itself, “broadcast media,” represents a better comprehension of what it is: media that casts broadly, to broad audiences. I believe maintaining the view that broadcast media refers only to television and radio similar to if the terms music “albums” and music “records” were exclusively used in reference to a vinyl record, as this medium of mass music production came before tapes, eight-tracks, cds, mp3s, etc. This is not the case though. An umbrella term is created for referencing various forms of communication and usually does not conclude once newer communication technology develops and popularizes. By default, any media that offers the widely accessible electronic transmission of information falls into the category of 16
  17. 17. broadcast media, as it is under these conditions where the term came into existence. Within broadcast media falls news media, which concentrates on reporting relatively current information its conductors consider to be news, or at least “newsworthy,” thus transforming relatively current information into news through its presentation to a large amount of people within diverse broadcasting programs. I believe “news media” is incorrectly termed in that media refers to something larger than news. It is the technological mode of communication. News is the content. Although the medium of communication forms the context of what it translates, the context never becomes the media. It should be noted that we do not restrain any particular medium to sharing news, thus news merely inhabits within broadcast media. This leaves us with the idea of news programs: a performance, an agenda, a show, an organized presentation of current information deemed worth reporting. Because of the compartmentalization and localization of our society, news is flexible. The value of current and important changes through social planes, individual interests, popular interests, sub-cultural interests, political interests, is combined with the incredible accessibility of current communication media. This innumerable medium, literally, existing as a means by which information is carried, communicated, expressed, also intertwines with the American culture tradition of entertainment appeal. Because disparate social standards mobilize individual notions of what constitutes proper news it is important to comprehend the inconsistent nature of relevance and the relation of ideas of relevance to the specific program of news and its form of broadcast. 17
  18. 18. As Thoreau states in Walden, “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate” (36). This may have been true before the possibility of sharing information, but as soon as Maine heard about the “Bumpit” they began constructing as many telegraph poles as fast as they could.1 What is missing from Thoreau’s thought is there might be nothing important to communicate yet. Once the opportunity is there to know, we want to know. It is like not caring about knowing what the secret is before we are aware a secret exists, but once we are aware of it we want to be apart of it. News is relative; it is relevant current information that would otherwise be unknown unless transferred to listener[s] or observer[s] by other people or by communication mediums, which are almost always controlled by people. Widespread usage determines the legitimacy of a medium; acceptance of the information from the medium then affects a large amount of people, creating widespread notions of what is currently occurring, thus shaping the world in which we believe we live. If we believe something and react to it, applying our reactions into social decisions (determining aspects such as behaviors and/or lifestyles), then there is no longer a distinguishing factor between what we believe to be reality and our actual reality; if we live in it and of it, it is indeed our reality, and the many forms of news media which inform it should be recognized. The medium and type of program determines the presentation of news. A newspaper headline has very few words to express something that intends to catch 1 Popularized by infomercials, “Bumpit” is a plastic hair accessory used to create the illusion of volume. 18
  19. 19. someone’s attention quickly while a news channel must translate according to a different time frame, possibly to a different audience, at a different time during the day. What we expect to see in printed news media depends on the newspaper, just as what we see on televised news reports depends on the channel from which it airs and at what time it airs. It is not bizarre for us to hear an adultery-ridden voicemail of Tiger Woods, “Tainted Love,” and then a 30 second update on health care before commercials on our favorite radio station at 7:30 AM. The media of translation shapes the program-type and from the program observers know what kinds of news and presentation to expect, though, a popular consistency within news media proves to be the rapidity of dispatch. There is a striking association of speed with news update and delivery in our culture. The idea that “faster is better” does not derive from its catchiness (though possibly its use sustains because of it), but that faster really is better for retaining attention. Faster not only nurtures naturally short attention spans, but it also creates an aura of excitement, enticing viewers with fresh nibble of something we want to know, and we want to know because of its brevity, catchiness, and ease of interpretation. We see this in nearly all popular media, and it is within this nature of quick communication develops the inclination of news media melding into entertainment media, for popular entertainment quickly draws interest, retains attention, and instigates excitement. 19
  20. 20. I.III Click-Causality In many ways the speed at which we experience the visual world now, especially when moving on the Internet, is comparable to the idea of interpreting visual transparencies. I made up the phrase “visual transparencies” to specifically reference when we are on the Internet and moving between multiple tabs in our Internet browser, a few windows either up or minimized, and a few different windows of other basic computer applications like Microsoft Word. Though we usually concentrate on one or two windows at a time we maintain conscious awareness of what the other tabs and windows contain and know of their relationship to one another or to what we are trying to accomplish. We change what windows and pages we are concentrating on and intermittently move amongst them. The information of these windows and pages visually translate has a sense of transparency, though of different opacities, thus, I refer to them as visual transparencies. Below is an example of my current screen of visual transparencies: 20
  21. 21. Visual Transparency Example. To articulate the character of movement used when moving among visual transparencies I will use my term “click-causality.”2 Click-causality refers to what could be considered “surfing” the Internet. I believe there is an important distinction in that when surfing one merely moves from page to page, while navigating amongst many Internet windows with various tabs in each, clicking among them in a less “forward” motion than surfing suggests. Click-causality specifically references the necessary comfort and confidence in the explorative spaces of and in between sites and the movement, where the movement is directly between the cause and effect of the click. Surfing the Internet requires less knowledge and speed; it can be thought of in this way: a grandparent who spends little but occasional time on the Internet may surf with comfort, at their speed of 2 To maximize the use of this term while best maintaining the spirit of its definition I will use click-causality as a noun and a verb for lack of better phrasing. 21
  22. 22. choice. To present said grandparent with a relatively simple problem to solve occurring within multiple Internet pages and explain the plan for resolution would be quite confusing and time-consuming. Imagine that you are visiting a friend’s apartment and can’t remember a band name that you are trying to recommend to your friend. You know that you saw the band play at a certain venue in your home city, the name of the venue you also don’t remember, in a recently passed month with another band, the name of which you do remember, so you Google search for the remembered band’s name and attempt to find the backlog of their shows. You find the corresponding page but it does not list the names of the bands with whom they played. You remember you are friends with the band on your Myspace, so you then move to the new site, keeping the old page up in case you need to access the venue’s name that was listed. You are unable to log into your Myspace account because your friend’s computer won’t let you capitalize a letter in your password, so instead your friend gets on their Myspace account, clicks on your Myspace profile, clicks on your friend list, and scrolls through until the band’s name jumps out at you. This process which took about ten and a half lines to describe occurred in under a minute and the only words necessary are, “can you log into your Myspace account,” which could also be eliminated by using the right gesture. I use the term click-causality to emphasize the nature of the clicking, not the speed, for it is a casual movement, that of volitive fluidity. To label everything we see during such motions is unnecessary as it is ever changing; between the other sites that come up during a Google search, the ads on the side 22
  23. 23. of every page, the information presented to us that we don’t need. We cut it away like the fatty parts on meat. It doesn’t bother us because we are accustom to its presence and we effortlessly filter. This idea seems to be a progression from the chaotic experience of the masses and commodities in the urban setting of the early 20th century, commencing forth from the Industrial Revolution’s mass production. Theses collisions of images and objects are a developed electronic experience, a conglomeration of commodified information, whether it be seeing that according to Quiz Monster, if your cousin was a Muppet she would be ‘Animal’ because for her, “life is all about a rock and roll lifestyle,” that Borders is having a 25% off sale on the Twilight series, and that a Chicago mom lost 47lbs following one rule in your Gmail inbox. We experience these random visual bombardments, with commonality only of a shared space-location [physical or virtual] in which you happen to view it. In contemporary culture we still regularly experience physical inundations of random commodities, such as at the point of purchase in the grocery store. We see our personally selected items such as toilet paper and oranges, amongst celebrity tabloids, Martha Stewart Living, teeth whitening gum, berry gum, Snickers bars, batteries, car air fresheners, chapstick, FUZE drink, etc. In our conditioning to such atmospheres, we are little bothered by the extension of this idea as represented by pop up pages when traversing online. We know that when spending time on the Internet they are an almost promised encounter but we would never not use the Internet because of them. Whatever their message, we glide through them seamlessly, soaking in the commodities seemingly 23
  24. 24. independent presentation with less awareness than that given to billboards on the highway. 3 I.IV Dissemination The spreading of information is similar to how animals spread seeds; when users visit an online page frequently we often carry something from it to another place, online or not, thus developing a bounty of budding presences. Within this come some issues of privacy, but the overall theme of connectivity is one of reciprocal dependence and desire. The most popular search engines and social networking site grasped onto this inclination of users and now encourage independent website integration. For example, Facebook offers an “imported stories” application, meaning any activity done on other sites in which you participate will be posted simultaneously on your Facebook profile as well as your friends’ News Feeds. The available sites include Flickr, Digg, Picasa, Delicious, Yelp, Google Reader, YouTube,, Pandora, Photobucket, hulu, Blog/RSS, Kiva, Yahoo, etc. What this fluidity between such popular sites entails goes beyond the mere cooperation for the sake of the user. As communication theorist James Carey articulates, “…each modern media has increased the capacity for controlling space…by reducing the signaling time (the gap between the time a message is sent and the time it is received) between persons and places” (Carey, 104). Even if participation is free, the controlling of communication on sites commodifies the information. Most appealing is that this information is of social 3 In Section II.IV I explain how users qualify social spaces and information on those spaces. Because of this users are in a sense also commodifying these things, thus speaking to the similarities between offline materials and online social media participation. 24
  25. 25. value, not particular to a function, but literally conducting social effects which subtly infiltrate and evolve realities in popular culture through drawing in mass amounts of people who further spread at an incredible rate the popularity, usage, and influence of the site. The way we interpret mass amounts of virtual visual information is through ambient awareness, “…this sort of incessant online contact…it is very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does…out of the corner of your eye” (Thompson, 2). New York Times and Wired writer Clive Thompson coined the term “ambient awareness” in his article “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” published in Fall 2008, referring to websites like Twitter or the News Feed homepage on Facebook. Users keep updated through ambient awareness because it is faster, easier, and all- inclusive; the consistent and neutral presentation equalizes information. The flattening of presentation decontextualizes within the already bizarre aggregation of information. The personalized “omnipresent knowledge” that the News Feed provides is incredibly arousing, addicting, and easily swallowed because of ambient awareness. We are able to read these updates, tabloid-style, like a newspaper on the train on the way to work; scan over, remember key points of interest (Kevin is now listed as “single”), and go on with your day with the feeling of social happenings without dedicating any effort. The persisting immediacy of documentation and permanent recording of social information is a new phenomenon due to accessibility. In earlier communication history, the cataloging of events were those of broadcast media, such as TV or newspapers, or 25
  26. 26. infrequently popularized private diaries of the individual. The social activity recorded on the Internet requires such little effort and represents such a large demographic of menial activity, its brewing effect on the state of contemporary and future historical materialism should be acknowledged. After only a little bit the dialogue within our virtual habitats amass and become “…an invisible dimension floating over everyday life” (Thompson, 2). Interpreting all of this extremely different information consolidated through simultaneous presentation loosens the construction of what previously would have been the foundation for relationships of depth; Facebook’s News Feed and “tweeting” corrodes distinctions of newsworthiness and plays into the fact that previously irrelevant and menial occurrences can now be treated as events, worthy of broadcasting to the average user’s 130 friends. As Henry David Thoreau responds to the telegraph in “Walden,” We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough (36). It is quite entertaining to consider Thoreau’s quote in reference to the available and popularized sharing of information on the Internet, but more importantly we can draw from this quote the integral role of the attributes and function of popular communication mediums, an idea popularized by communication theorist Marshall McLuhan. Media theorist Neil Postman argues in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business that “the telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography’s definition of discourse, introducing on a 26
  27. 27. large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence…aroused by the fact that telegraphy gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information” (65). Ignoring Postman’s negative tone, he addresses issues of communication mediums that have remained the same for over a century, but are irrelevant themselves, proven by the latter part of the quote. Upon their popularization, fast- paced, cheap, and easily accessible communication mediums legitimize their content, therefore no matter the content; it reflects its carrier’s function. From this we can view virtual places like Facebook and examine how it reels us in with the speed at which we can acceptably attain social information that would otherwise be considered inappropriate; it is this change in what is socially acceptable in which we see the extension of McLuhan’s argument. McLuhan states that “electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of ‘”time” and “space” and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men” (16); though the Internet does perpetually pump information through us like the high-speed artery we-never-had, this statement is problematic.4 There is a current collapsing of space through fluidity between communication places, that is, how a social networking site exists at home on the desktop computer, on the laptop computer at the coffee shop, on your cell phone on the train, in conversation with a friend, etc. but most social networking sites and social media sharing sites record activity through exact time and dates. There is not a time structure unique to such sites and they are infinitely accessible but the sites do record user activity according to the 24-hour day, 365-day year, etc. The 4 I acknowledge that McLuhan preceded the Internet and its popularization by decades I believe most of his arguments are strikingly applicable in examining this later form of communication. 27
  28. 28. documentation of site participation is a common reference feature that plays into the sites connectivity between the planes of social relations that were previously distinguished; a recurrent phrase of this differentiation often includes something akin to “different worlds.” There are many variations of situations that exemplify the interaction between time and place, a simple yet popular scenario usually involving an employee taking a sick day [i.e., any sort of obligation avoidance] and a friend tagging them in photos at a theme park, posted that day; or the friend posts on their wall the morning of the skipped day, “hey don’t forget to bring the beers for the ride up to Six Flags, way to bail on your big meeting playa, woo woo!” The physical world and electronic world are no longer oil and water. There may be more of a mess to sift through on account of the incessant hum of information sharing but the flow still functions with the familiar reference of time. We integrate new places into time while space simultaneously stretches and tightens like an endless pulling of a Chinese finger trap. The Internet offers seemingly infinite space yet the more information and communication that occurs within- through-on it the closer the information and communication becomes. The more videos of kittens playing with mittens added onto YouTube [expansion] the more likely they will consist of the first links appearing on Google when you search “kitten mittens, which will lead you not only to the YouTube page of postings but also the many pages on which people have embedded the video[s], connecting you to more people who like kitten mitten searches [compression]. This broad horizon has led you to places you would have never been otherwise while 28
  29. 29. tightening your connectivity with others, thus making the world smaller through expansion. I.V News as Entertainment During our daily routine we frequently encounter images of people who are “in the public eye;” a generalized term for this is “celebrity,” and can include politicians, movie stars, soap stars, a local football hero, etc. These include American newscasters; news corporations publicize and brand their social actors, produced to represent a specific news program. Similar to being able to distinguish a Ralph Lauren ad from a Betsey Johnson ad, news networks put up ads on billboards, television commercials, at bus stops, train stops, etc. to encourage familiarization with their representatives, their newscasters. Networks celebritize, that is, the making of a celebrity in their roles as social representatives. 5 We can google their names, and find lovely photos such as this: (Juliebee, 02 News Billboard). 5 I realize that there is not yet a “real” verb form of the noun celebrity, but despite this I will use my verb “to celebritize” and all reasonable forms of it, such as celebritization or celebritizing, in my work because of its relevant nature to my topic and actual presence in the media world; thus, please recognize: Celebritize; (v) to make a celebrity. 29
  30. 30. American’s are quite accustomed to the dramatic airbrushing of our news representatives, but it is important to recognize the “show biz” quality of presentation. News flows through many filters, and it is our celebritized presenters who merely represent the icing on the nature of news creation. It is important to recall that we create news; news does not exist in and of itself. Thus, it can be thought that the conductors of news discernment must manipulate unfiltered information to fit into their program. The development of society’s obsession of being “newsmakers” and surrounding ourselves with instant updates through the opportunities from technological advancement speaks to the attributes of the utilized platforms and freedom for anyone to become a broadcaster. An article published in American Sociological Review in 1974 suggests “…one approach to mass media is to look not for reality but for purposes which underlie the strategies of creating one reality instead of another” (Lester, Molotoch, 111). By rendering “…otherwise remote happenings observable and meaningful” (Lester, Molotch, 101), broadcasters are able to show what they think will peak interest. Internet media provides the best yet realm for our interest in “trivial” news, however because of its widespread practice, it is no longer trivial. As sociologists Lester and Molotch state, “All events are socially constructed and their “newsworthiness” is not contained in their objective features” (110). This shows that any event has the possibility of being broadcast- worthy. Qualities of entertainment pervade, and I suggest we no longer consider this to be an issue but rather a neutral attribute our culture prefers and perpetuates, 30
  31. 31. from which we interpret effects of the good-bad value scale. As communication theorist James Carey articulates, no matter the …invented cultural form, news both forms and reflects a particular “hunger for experience” is not information but drama. It does not describe the world but portrays an arena of dramatic forces and action…it invites our participation on the basis of our assuming, often vicariously, social roles within it (17). I must again emphasize that there can be no “true” or “pure” interpretation of the world, and what Carey refers to as, “an arena of dramatic forces and action” is our world; and it is our world, not the world, in which our realities take place. Section II. II.I Facebook as News Platform Facebook is a space based on connectivity. In the most stripped comprehension of the site, users provide personal information and learn of others’ information. Information-availability varies, but ultimately, if no one shared personal information none would be gained. Facebook is titled as a social networking site, and though this is true, because of the personalized ceaseless flow of current information it offers a space for individually relevant news. This sort of news directly affects our daily lives and informs the gestures of our social participation. It must be recognized as a news platform that provides localized and grand presentations to a simultaneous broadcasting network and audience of over 400 million people, 120 million Americans; its medium is the Internet. The flow of information is immediate, consistent, accessible, incredibly easy to swallow, and hand-crafted to be of interest to users in that we only see the activity 31
  32. 32. of those we choose. The News Feed displays only our friends’ activity, and if we don’t care about certain friends’ activity, we may change our settings so it doesn’t show up on our Feed. We not only have come to enjoy the passing update of what our co-worker had for lunch, but we are able to see what group they just joined, in which we might see a tagged photo of someone whose name we didn’t know but face we recognize, whose profile we might click on, on whose wall we might notice a photo of a tree in the park one block away from our apartment, from which we might be inclined to ask if they live in Logan Square by Unity Park next time we haphazardly or purposefully bump into each other [depending on their privacy settings we might be able to see their status, updated 3 minutes ago, which might say “representin’ at Two Way”]. Having the ability to move from person to person is exciting, controlling our visibility, means being the ultimate news conductor, interpreter, and producer. Facebook simulates the teenage sensation of hanging out at the mall on a Saturday afternoon; users are able to cruise around the community site and feel a sense of “…hanging out in public…of seeing and being seen…You’re with friends, but you’re also creating the possibility that you’ll bump into someone else, in which case you might meet them, or at least be noticed by them” (Cassidy, 10). Instead of food courts and Hot Topic, it is Facebook that molds the setting in which we cruise. You may meander alone, with the “online mode” turned off so no one can see that you are on; you can be online but not talking directly to anyone; you can send messages, directly communicating, you can alter your profile, write on others walls, and all 32
  33. 33. the while your choices are visible to all you care to see, creating a broadcast of previously menial social movements. In our published activity we build our social credibility, our presence. We self-celebritize. Seeing posted photographs of yourself that are made visible to friends establishes an event from what once would have been mere participation in social engagement. Looking at others’ profiles isn’t even necessary to feel a sense of connectivity and presence. Users reconfirm what sort of social person we are through obvious yet significant elements within the image such as time, setting, location, dress, facial-expression, relationship to others in image, etc., but have public documentation of a social and individual self. You reaffirm to yourself your presence, existence, and significance in relationship to others, which is pertinent for the social experience of nearly all-coexisting beings. You have documentation that helps you evaluate what others think of you, and you have a good amount of control in specific self-representation within the social boundaries of the site, such as not de-tagging bad photos of yourself. A friend of a friend, Kristin Farina, tagged me in the photo below. 33
  34. 34. (Caitlyn and Genevieve, Two-Way) This immediately provides links from me to her, her networks of Richmond, VA, Virginia Commonwealth University, those prospective shared friends and anyone else who is able to see the photo depending on privacy settings. This photo exists among 25 other tagged photos of me, and because of the small number it can be thought that any viewers will be more likely to glance if not click through those photos; thus the contents and attributes of this photo and what it entails will be countered or aided by that of the other photos. There are the obvious factors, such as the title of the album, when it was uploaded, the background outlined in tacky string lights, a pool table and line of liquor bottles distinguishes the setting to be a bar, the pale sweater-clad girls indicating the bar to be more of a dive, most likely not in Lincoln Park, the pictures in the rest of the album [it appears to be from a “visiting – friend” trip, discerned through photos at 34
  35. 35. the Bean, at the Lincoln Park Zoo, a visit to the Sears Tower-as she titles the photo, not in ironic quotes, among others], etc. This information can be viewed, interpreted, and stored within 30-40 seconds, depending on the level of interest. In addition to those more atmospheric observations I see the emotions of the photo, that of fun, silliness, tipsiness, possibly low-key due to dress and setting. These quick connotations affect observers' thoughts on dive bars, girls going out in chunky sweater, stick-on animals, the peace sign, scrunched noses, whiteness of teeth, hair styles, and so on; the relationship to the photographed, the documenter, and up-loader alters the degrees of affect and can also encourage purposeful efforts to either increase or decrease the degree of that relationship as well. 6 The fast pace at which the stream of relevant changes [to YOUR life] and the movement of information are a personalized collection of images that we see, consciously and subconsciously. This is like advertisements in between television shows; even if we don’t care about the ad we retain some sort of cultural nod. If we were asked to describe basic elements of TV commercials that are broadcasted during a show we watch regularly, no matter our interest or lack thereof in the advertisements, we could indeed provide some sort of recollection. We see images of text, communicating activities, participation; we see images of ourselves, friends, acquaintances, strangers of interest, family, professors; we see images for advertisements, friend suggestions, questionnaires, and fan pages. The movement of current activity is relentless yet effortless, subtle, and comforting. 6 Information is modulated and repeated in many different areas of the site, such as a profile photo update. The photo changes on your page, it can be announced on the News Feed and simultaneously posted on someone else’s wall. 35
  36. 36. Whatever we don’t care to interpret becomes a slight background buzz while Kim’s new photo album surfaces, quickly to be replaced by the infoMania fan page. Cultural conditioning through fast images effect the ways in which we see, look, consider, and act and we have adapted; not only in moving seamlessly through according behaviors of different mediums but by storing social connotations. As Postman states, “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They no longer exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials” (92-93). I believe this statement is not wholly true, but does indicate the importance of image flow through the entertainment-bedazzled communication media. We now unfurl our social selves through ever-updated constructed presences based on the dissemination of purveyed particularities. II.II Localization I grew up in Richmond, Virginia but moved to Georgia for some time and then Chicago, IL. I have been in Chicago for about two and a half years now but only in the past year have I made friends with people originally from Chicago (most of my friends had moved to Chicago from other states or countries for school specifically). This past September I met and started hanging out with a boy from Northbrook, Illinois. As we had mutual friends and lived within a four blocks of one another we saw each other quite frequently and in November we started dating. Now, I had met many of his friends, but only in social outings such as at bars and parties, usually after 11PM on Saturdays. Though I was 36
  37. 37. familiar and friendly with the people he grew up with, his general social circle, I was not aware of certain behaviors that often differ from city to city. Though some differences were nonchalantly and humorously discussed, such as “pop” versus “soda,” there was a whole world of uncertainty as to what was acceptable and normal of which I could not inquire. I could not inquire, “if we are dating, is it okay to add you as my boyfriend on Facebook,” or, “if you leave me a wall comment on Thursday about going to a party Friday night but you don’t give me explicit details as to the address and it is Friday afternoon should I ask you via comment to your comment on my wall, a new comment on your wall, message you, text you, call you, ask a friend who may also be going, or wait to see if you contact me in some additional way.”7 These may seem to be general uncertainties typical of the early dating stage, and though they are of that genre, they occurred on Facebook and must be considered how they are different because of that. Most people are aware of not only what is socially normal behavior among their group of friends but also the norms associated with correlating ages of groups in reasonable proximities. For example, if I went to the local university in downtown Richmond and started hanging out with a boy from a different high school, county, group of friends, etc. I would most likely have at least an idea as to the answer of these questions, and if I didn’t I’d know someone who I could discreetly ask. I would know instinctively to respond via text but definitely not call or respond via Facebook because most people in your group of friends are not 7 It could be argued that I wasn’t restricted from inquiring. Though this is true, it would be incredibly awkward socially and most likely hinder my somewhat tender relationship not only with the boy but with associated friends as well. Also, for the purpose of being clear, the two questions I have provided are more tangible than many related to situations such as this. Often such uncertainties are too abstract and subtle to formulate a statement or question about them. 37
  38. 38. the biggest of Facebook frequenters, and definitely not waiting to hear from you again because if you contacted me via Facebook in the first place it was super casual, like a last minute thought.8 Instead, I had these questions in a setting displaced from my local awareness and had to wait out the tender situation.9 In Section I, I outlined how social realities are relative. It is through examples such as the one just described that we are able to understand the role of social locale in participation on the site. We can break down what occurs in the example through this structure: Localized social truths [ realities] [refer to section I, On the Formation of Social Realities]10 Determine The terms of qualification of the social space Which determine The legitimacy of social behaviors Thus we observe Inconsistent behavioral norms. 8 These sort of uncertainties are, of course, extremely varied and can be quite intricate among even a localized group. I use this simple and obvious situation for the sake of providing a clear example. 9 After me changing my relationship status from being nonexistent on my profile to “in a relationship” about a week after we had the boyfriend-girlfriend talk, I waited to see his response. There was no response and no change to his non-existent relationship status after about a month so I deleted mine. About two weeks later he added “in a relationship” to his profile and about a week later I added “in a relationship” back to my profile and asked him to accept my relationship status request, which he accepted. Thus, after about two months of us seeing each other all the time, talking about everyone under the sun, and in general being very much privately and publicly new- relationship infatuated, we never once vocalized this online relationship dance. I did bring it up a few months later when I decided to write about it. 10 The telling of singular material occurrence[s] of actions CAN but does NOT ALWAYS equate to facts which CAN and ALMOST ALWAYS will induce social and individual truths which ultimately create social realities 38
  39. 39. II.III Legitimacy I came to the term legitimate from political theorist Chantal Mouffe usage of it in her work “The Democratic Paradox,” where she applies it to the idea of a political adversary. I find “legitimacy” useful due to her characteristics of it, such as the respectability of something even if you do not agree with it or act in such a way. Though Mouffe uses this term for referencing a kind of enemy, the acceptability or appropriateness of social behaviors directs whether we are able to respect its presence or practice. The behaviors are usually not adversarial or at extreme odds, but they do cause the sort of movement among which Mouffe suggests should occur within ongoing confrontation. Facebook acts as the platform for this movement. II.IV Qualification Social truths are localized because they are specific to smaller groups of people.11 Therefore, there will be differing expectations and desires among these localized groups when considering social spaces, i.e., terms of qualification. For example, if you accidentally fall out of a window and hurt your foot terribly, you go to your medical doctor as you most likely feel unable to determine the severity of damage and proper care (assuming that the severity of the injury is clearly beyond popping an Advil, propping up foot, icing foot, etc.). The doctor examines your foot and takes x-rays. He is concerned about something he sees in 11 I realize that some social truths can be relatively true on a larger scale, such as the appropriateness of fashion trends or human rights. The general acceptance and use of Facebook as a site for social networking is a large-scale social reality, still considering certain countries and different age groups. 39
  40. 40. the x-rays and sends you to a podiatrist for another examination from someone he feels is better qualified to determine the injury. This example shows the function of qualification; we know the regular medical doctor is qualified because they earned a degree at medical school within our country and work at an established doctor’s office. They may be considered more qualified after many active years in their profession. We know they treat general medical issues and trust that they will send us to a foot doctor if a complicated injury specific to an area outside their general comprehension occurs. We believe that the foot doctor will be better qualified to determine the injury due to their earned degree specific to the foot. We would not go to the foot doctor if we have the flu because, though they went to medical school, our regular doctor is better qualified to treat general illness. We evaluate social spaces with the same use of qualification. If the majority of my friends were in bands and mostly used Myspace for their band sites, I would be inclined to also use Myspace for music sharing. In this situation, friend’s music is the commonality and most significant shared aspect among the small group of people. This aspect serves as a social truth among the small group of people. When considering the various online social spaces, this small group of people will determine what best suits them by noting which site offers the best space for sharing their music. Thus, as you trust the doctor is better qualified to determine an injury than you because of his medical degree earned at Johns Hopkins, you trust Myspace is better qualified to serve you and your friends than Facebook because of its better interface for music sharing. 40
  41. 41. The qualification of a social space also occurs through inclinations of how seriously we consider activity on the site, how relative it is to other sectors of our lives, specific areas within the site, etc. For example, a group of eighth-grade girlfriends on Facebook will use the site differently than a group of college-aged friends. Breaking up with a boyfriend via a relationship status change may be less appropriate in a group of college students than it is with the group of eighth grade girls. While it may be socially acceptable for eighth grade girls to post thirty photos of various hairclips and ponytails from a sleepover night, have fifteen siblings, eight children, and two parents all consisting of your twenty-five best friends, or claiming a birthday six years prior to the actual day, such actions would be somewhat uncommon and weird if enacted in the group of college-aged friends. The purpose of the site is accepted by nearly all users, to “help you connect and share with the people in your life” (, but various interpretations of the qualification of the site directly conflicts with the fundamental function of dependency among users. These examples are more obvious than social differences found among people in similar age groups but are still worthwhile to consider as they contextualize the basic idea of inconsistent legitimacy of social behavior, stemming from the site, but relevant on and off the site. I will now give an example of a less distinguishable inconsistency among people in the same age group. The other day a boy who I have had exactly two class sessions with friended me on Facebook mid-week between our second class and upcoming third class. We had only spoken briefly once before, talking about the class we shared 41
  42. 42. during a break. I accepted his Facebook friend request, and looked at his page for a quick spell, during which I noticed we shared the same birthday and said so by commenting on his wall. About twenty minutes after I caught an elevator in the school building, he got on and I immediately and excitedly said, “Hey we have the same birthday”! I was only able to know that because he friended me on Facebook and by saying the statement, in person, I made it known that I had accepted his friend request and had also looked at his profile. I am comfortable with obvious Facebook on and offline person-to-person integration and willingly make such statements. The boy reacted very surprised and slightly taken aback by my quick response and openness about my personal time taken to look at his profile to his online request. Below is a visual diagram of these unfolding of these occurrences. (Birthday-Elevator Example) 42
  43. 43. Within this exchange we see the slight schism in the possible qualifications of the site and its effects on legitimacy of behaviors in a relatively localized setting. To me the site is qualified to exist as a site for somewhat fluid social communication. It is not self-contained. If I RSVP “attending” to an event, on or offline, I mean I will be there. If someone friends me, I believe that it means I am welcome to look at their profile or notice and recall a status updates that catch my eye, to which I may bring up in conversation if worthy of verbalizing if we haphazardly encounter one another while walking to class. I will not use the site to search for my third grade best friend. I do not determine to be a part of my interpretation of what qualifies the site as a communication platform. This interpretation of the site is not consistent. For many the site is qualified to find all fifteen of their third grade best friends but completely inappropriate, i.e., not legitimate, to let on they notice someone’s status update, in an offline conversation. Despite these skewed planes of qualification and legitimacy, users still depend on one another to give enough and get enough. Because of these inconsistencies, this mode of dependency can be problematic yet pluralistic. II.V Function of Dependency The desire for human connectivity fuels this cycle of social networking spaces of which commodification seems to always pursue since the mass production of communication mediums.12 The interest of the self, the other, and 12 Qualification of Facebook space and relations among users stands as a form of commodification. 43
  44. 44. reliance on one another for such communal relations nurses the growth of communication mediums. Because of the dependent nature of communication relationships issues of public and private accessibility persist. Though McLuhan believes, “electrical information devices for universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance are causing a very serious dilemma between our claim to privacy and the community’s need to know” (10), it seems as though we willingly give up privacy for community. We experience this community gained from less privacy on online social network communities as well as participation on sharing-based sites including photo sharing, video sharing, business information sharing, product information sharing, etc. These spaces inform our realities because we want to share norms to feel comfort in a recognizable identity, even if it is the mere trust in a product review on Amazon or a job posting on Craigslist because of the fact that the site functions on the integrity of the participant. People identify through, within, and amongst one another, and we want our traces to be documented, desired, and recognizable. Popular American culture idolizes celebrities, encourages popularity, and pursues material mass production of our idols. The Internet offers a place for not just the few elite to control what is worthy of broadcasting but instead offers a fully accepted, integrated, and appropriate venue for what would have been previously considered shameless self-promotion or stalker-like behaviors. We want to participate because of the accessibility and ultimately we control what information is publicly accessible- it’s just a matter of awareness. Internet spaces offer the buzz of ambient love, reassurance that you are not the only person awake at four AM, not the only 44
  45. 45. person with semen anxiety, not the only person who needs to double check how long meat lasts in the freezer, not the only person who searches for kitten mittens, not the only person who wants to illegally download “Three Ninjas.” As James Carey states, it is not “…the extension of messages in space but…the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs” (15) which communication mediums embody. The movement of information between cultural spaces must resonate in the expansion of communication production. It is the mass virtualization of the everyman’s learned social co-ordination that embeds our historical presence, updated by the millisecond. It is the dependency among the mass amounts of users for personal gain that facilitates and maintains the site. This self-enhancing induced reciprocation is not selfish or negative, though it could become such, but instead an innate element of organized social relation spaces. For example, in established and safe structures of social relations, such as a graduate thesis group, two core aspects of successful functioning of the group involve the co-creation and perpetuation of the setting and the personal gain that evolves from the setting.13 There is a trust amongst participants that each will put forth corresponding individual efforts. Through the dependency for personal gain comes inclusive space no matter differences in thought or relation, thus representing a safe territory for possible contestation. As described in Section IV, it is the inconsistencies of Facebook’s qualification and legitimacy, or in this example, the ideas in the grad thesis group, 13 This example of offline relations is important in exploring online relations as it takes precedent and offers a firm reflection of relational behaviors that may occur off and online. 45
  46. 46. that induce movement (of behaviors or ideas). Though there are many aspects of how this could fail, the most basic is that someone will not put in the expected or desired efforts. How Facebook avoids such failure is by offering no expected efforts. Localized expectations affect Facebook participation and by no means must participation to be evenly distributed among groups or individual users. As Internet technology writer and consultant Clay Shirky states, The most active contributor to a Wikipedia article, the most avid tagger of Flickr photos, and the most vocal participant in a mailing list all tend to be much more active than the median participant, so active in fact that any measure of “average” participation becomes meaningless…though the average is easy to calculate, it doesn’t tell you much about any given participant. Though Shirky describes different social communication sites, he encapsulates the pertinent fact that users of like-sites are inconsistent in their activity. Again, this speaks to differing qualification and legitimacy of Facebook space, which perpetuates from the unnecessary unification of such participation and interpretation. The localization of expectations is fluid; that is, Facebook space moves information by user volition. Yes, the site does its best to nurse users’ desires to move information, but ultimately if no one cared about other users and self- perception, the space would cease to exist. Facebook friends, usually those who we most communicate with on and/or offline, articulate participation expectations. It is in this setting that a sense of social pluralism formulates. Art critic Grant Kester’s assertion that, “…dialogical exchange [is] based on reciprocal openness …see[ing] the identity of the...[relations, participant to participant]… as produced through situational encounters…” (90), reiterates this 46
  47. 47. idea. Localized relations act as suggestive guidelines for acceptable behavior in situational encounters. The terrain of Facebook could be considered as one based on likeness, not conflict, but the purpose of the site is neither, serving to give “… people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” ( It is true that people often connect through likeness and the space of one’s profile offers a brief on who one is, or, rather, how they want to appear. There have been studies done to prove people mostly manipulate their profiles as well as that profiles do indeed well – represent the user. Exploration into the accuracy of self-to-profile representation is unnecessary to this current exploration.14 People frequently alter self-representation, on and offline, and though in extreme cases the detachment between shades of identity can be troublesome, accuracy of profile identity does not dictate the activity on the site; it commences as neutral space. It is not grand-scale likeness that perpetuates the social pluralism practiced on the site. There does remain the common shared intention of connectivity, but is the most general commonality. The localization of participation quality and self-controlled exposure, to others and what you see of others, affects users. Most people participate because their friends, known 14 See Patrick, Costello. "Facebooksurvey." 11 Apr. 2009 <>. The survey conducted in June 2006 asks 102 college students, 45% male and 55% female, about their Facebook experience and reasons for membership. The survey also questions users about any expected responses as Facebook becomes more commercialized; and Parker Pope, Tara. "Is Your Facebook Personality Genuine?" New York Times 2 Dec. 2009: n. pag. Web. 2 Dec. 2009. < 02/is-your-facebook-personality-genuine/?hp>. University of Texas study done with 236 Facebook profiles of young adults exploring the accuracy of profiles to offline user personality. The collected research suggests that participants do indeed well - represent offline identities, not their ideal personality traits. 47
  48. 48. offline, participate. Once people add online relations to their offline relations, they instigate a new space for interaction. This may seem like an insignificant addition and change, and most people do not acknowledge this effect, but the new social space indeed commences many kinds of confrontations. These confrontations are often considered and treated as trivial, frequently not openly discussed, but it is these “trivialities” that now bring changes to social realities; changes in acceptable behaviors, expectations, roles, etc. There are significant issues supported or attacked in Facebook groups but it is the usually disregarded subtle social conflicts that speak to the agonistic nature of the communication documented on the site. Varieties of confrontations occur between user and user (ex. my friend and I), between user and localized acceptable behavior (ex. relationship status confirmations and readings), between user and Facebook interface (ex. lack of “dislike” buttons, changes in News Feed), and between user and stranger (ex. photo sharing privacy settings; user may be tagged in 45 photos but a friend of theirs may only be able to see 19). It is the perpetual movement between these documented social conflicts in which the push and pull among user’s divergent qualification of the site bubbles, thus encouraging changes in social standards of different scales and in different social arenas. This flux and flow of possible forms of communication and representation within an established space creates disparate interpretations of what relations are legitimate, but because the space itself sustains non-conclusive and documented relations, no matter the sundry shades of participation, there is a core legitimacy gained from the participation, in and of itself. 48
  49. 49. Closing Understanding the nature of Facebook and its effects on social behavioral norms is significant because from these norms have come cultural communication trends. My examination helps explain this contemporary form of transporting information. We see differently, thus we interpret differently. These changes in how we interpret are subtle, fast-paced, and widespread. Ideas of privacy have been recently redefined because of sharing-based online communities like Facebook. Privacy has become secondary to the spreading of social information. We give and take information quicker and with less effort, and we want it enough to not be bothered by the inconsistent behavioral norms. It seems that not a day goes by, though, without a new blog post or editorial harping on Facebook’s privacy “issues.” However, despite all the blowback, the majority of users don’t care about their privacy (or at least don’t care enough or yet). The individuals that do care merely put in the extra effort to change their settings every time Facebook creates a function that affects privacy settings. Social media researcher danah boyd argues that, “most people signed up for Facebook with the understanding that their information would be available only to an approved circle of friends” (Worthman). Even if that was their original understanding, the changes in Facebook over the years have been to enhance visual capabilities of as much as possible. Meanwhile, Facebook user numbers have risen dramatically. This idea of Facebook users signing up to only give and have access to an “approved” circle of friends seems incorrect as well. According to, the average number of friends is 130 and if we 49
  50. 50. consider the Clay Shirky quote in section II.V, “…though the average is easy to calculate, it doesn’t tell you much about any given participant,” this isn’t saying much. I have been a member of Facebook for only eight months and out of my 140 friends, the majority of them have between 400 and 900 friends.15 These numbers don’t seem to fit into the modest idea of a “an approved circle of friends,” but rather a giant network of varying levels of acquaintances, classmates, coworkers, general people we have some awareness of, as well as actual friends. If we think about the changes Facebook has conducted in the past few years they have nearly all been to enhance user visibility. One of these changes pertains to wall comments. If a friend wrote on my wall a few years ago I would have to either click “see wall-to-wall” or would have to go to their page to comment back. Now, a friend (or I) can write on my wall and I (or any of my friends) can comment on their comment. Any friend of mine can comment on other comments on my wall, even if two friends of mine aren’t friends themselves. I act as a neutral “base” as a mutual friend among disparate friends. If one of them posts and tags me in a photo, that photo will show up on my friends’ News Feeds even if they are not friends with my friend who posted the photo. They will not be able to comment on a non-friend photo even if they are able to see it unless it is posted on my wall. Though this may seem like a ramble of insignificant particulars, much information can be observed from these particulars. These additions to the site have not been among the popularly complained topics. In fact, I have never once heard of anyone acknowledge the usefulness of visibility to non-friends that 15 These are not Facebook-obsessed people, but average life-offline participatory people with work, school, family, friends, hobbies, etc 50
  51. 51. the comment-on-comment addition provides, but I have heard the recognition and discussion of previously unknown people, events, and information gained from reading comment-on-comments and seeing tagged photos from a specific albums. These smaller changes move popular concepts of privacy and the concept of the stranger, while enhancing our comprehension and motions from visual transparencies. For the resulting transferences of visual transparencies, those of click- causality, I will play on the idea of word of mouth and call them “word of visualizing” tendencies.16 I use “visualizing” and not “visual” because participants indirectly give and take the images, interpret, and give flat images of words meaning. Word of mouth doesn’t need to be “word of talking” because the sharer directly vocalizes the words. A example of word of visualizing is when I see on my News Feed a friend became a fan of a page of which I was previously unaware of and I go ahead and join because the page was of interest to me. It is important to realize the use of word of mouth marketing in business, because by a new and widespread practice of word of visual in the social arena, there is a new arena within which marketing can play. Word of visualizing derived from Facebook functions and user volition within those functions, and outside businesses recognized this new transference and decided to use it. This past Earth Day Starbucks created a page promoting a cup of free coffee for people who visited a store with a personal mug. Though Starbucks could have stayed with 16 Postman’s previously used quote on page 33 is another excellent reference for the necessity of this term, word of visualizing, for this sort of trusted information transference. Postman’s quote refers to supposedly superficial and a negative movement but I am considering his statement more generally and positively, the visual transference of social information. 51
  52. 52. advertising posted on the side of users’ Facebook pages, the store took advantage of word of visualizing and made an open event, “Make a Difference and get FREE Coffee.” Because the event was open, users didn’t have to be invited to join. This group reached out to at least 672,364 users. This number only includes the people who were invited and responded, many were able to look and take note and not join and still participate and tell other people. By advertising the brand and the free coffee promotion this way, actively engaging with users’ social realities instead of passively posting ads for hyper-targeted consumers, Starbucks avoids the “stranger” identity to users. The slew of privacy complaints about “strangers” tapping into our Facebook profiles reference actual individuals we do not know, non-friends, as well as corporations attempting to collect personalized user data. “The stranger” has been ingrained in us during our childhood as someone unknown, scary, suspicious, etc. Though when we click-causality through Facebook, we sift through our friends and often their friends who we may not be friends with. There is the popular concept of “six degrees of separation” and similar thought can be applied to how we end up on peoples’ pages we don’t know personally. Though we may not know them, we come to know them through people we do know. To refer to this relationship as one of “strangers” does not seem to fit. It is more like feasible-acquaintances; people we could per- chance be familiar with through established relations but don't necessarily ever come into contact with offline. It is the companies that take information from our 52
  53. 53. profiles to advertise more specifically to users, referred to as focused ads and hypertargeting, which seem to disturb certain users. Though it may not appear a groundbreaking concept for companies and businesses to create Facebook fan pages, group pages, or events, but the actual effort of it indirectly places the companies and business as a brand into the social reality of the user. Facebook doesn’t allow non-persons to create a personal page there remains the distinction between a users and a company/business/store, etc., but nonetheless by becoming an active participant, not just a side advertisement, the company enables the localization of its own identity through integration with users. Starbucks has its fan page and it creates events. No one is oblivious to the enormity of the company but when a Starbucks event is wedged between “Ladies Who Lunch,” “All School Meeting,” and “Party City! Block Party Film Screening,” in my Facebook Events calendar, it has become apart of my localized reality. In doing so is becomes socially qualified, given some sort of legitimacy, and settles in with various behavioral norms. In the advertising mindset, Facebook gives users the opportunity to rebrand any previous notions of Starbucks identity once it becomes apart of our social realities within the Facebook platform. Though people who become fans of Starbucks on Facebook or RSVP to its event already have some sense of Starbucks in their general social realities, when the company participates within the specific social platform of Facebook it subtly creates new, more specific, user-created brand identity through users’ identity. 53
  54. 54. This thesis is meant to provide insight to an area of culture in a way that doesn’t demean the popular spirits of social and youthful communication. Whether you are in marketing and want to critically evaluate social media sites to gain a better understanding as to how the ever-loved functions can be best utilized to promote businesses and products or if you are an over-pensive Facebook user who wants to better understand the cultural behavioral relevance of the site, this thesis is meant to speak to you both. The explored Facebook-derived social realities, their foundation and their massive breadth, should be respected at least for their impact and influence on the contemporary mass culture. We cannot deny the usefulness of Facebook and its innovative play on popular social participation. My thesis offers conception of how the largest social networking site engages users social realities, how the movement of communication on the site relates to notions of acknowledged media, and how we should define recognizable attributes of Facebook relations. In understanding these fundamental gears users are able to be conscious of their participation on a larger, cultural scale, as well as better comprehend how business act as birds and squirrels within users’ social networking tree. How users choose to respond to a new presence of advertising and the role of marketing strategies integrating into the movement of originally purely social seedlings should be individually decided, but indeed should be decided. Users’ site navigation derived from natural inclination, from which Facebook responded and expanded its offered functions. The shifts in user behaviors from Facebook participation may be localized but have been influential on a global scale in all aspects of contemporary communication culture. 54
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