The New, Confusing, Online Social World

by Stephanie Rewis on May 12, 2008

I'm not one to put a lot of personal information on my blog. I don't have problem with people that do it, it's just not my personal style. When I was first on the web, it took about 3 or 4 years before you could find a picture of me anywhere (as a woman, I needed brain respect first). I was one of the last people I know to join Facebook (never have had a Myspace page). Don't get me wrong, I love the web, but I've just never found the need to expose a lot of personal information there.

Enter our new, confusing age

I've posted here about Twitter. And I do love it for a variety of reasons. I post more information there than I do in other places. Oddly, it feels like I'm talking to my friends–in some giant, controlled IM. Of course, I know that since I don't protect my tweets, anyone that follows me, google, and the world can read them. Still…

Facebook however, has turned out to be another animal entirely. After joining for an orchestrated birthday prank on a friend, I stayed and connected with a lot of folks–from real life friends to web friends I've not yet met in real life (IRL). In the past few months in fact, I've connected with several old friends, from grade school to college. It's fun to see what they're doing now.

Facebook is a Tattler!

What I and others seem to forget though, is that when you change anything on Facebook, it is broadcast to all your friends. Relationship status is a perfect example. When Greg and I got engaged via Twitter in March, most of my online friends knew what was going on. But my real life friends, the ones that I see at volleyball or on the weekends (as if I had weekends) are also connected to me on Facebook. Since I was headed out of town, I didn't have time to let most of them know, but intended to when I returned. Unthinkingly, I changed my Facebook relationship status to engaged instead of, in a relationship. Duh. Instantly, I started getting wall posts and emails — Why didn't you TELL me!!? Ooops.

I'd say, in fact, that I know more about some of my friends from Facebook than I do from real life. Casual acquaintances, that I connect to there, show things like their new tattoo. They probably wouldn't have displayed it to me if we met on the street. Maybe they post pictures of their wild beer pong bachelor party. Who knew? People obviously feel safer in online social networks than they do in personal interaction.

Tonight I was reminded of just how far reaching this phenomenon is. I went to Facebook to join a group I was invited to by email. Somehow I followed a rabbit path ending at my younger son's girlfriend's page. I noticed she is now listed as single. Not surprisingly, so is he. We live in the same house. We talk a lot. I even knew he had told her we were moving at the end of the summer. But he omitted this one small detail about the outcome. Weird world where you learn of things in your own house through Facebook, eh? Maybe that's why my nineteen year old refuses to be my friend there, eh?

So how do you know WHO to friend?

This question has arisen in my own mind several times recently. I used to have much stricter rules for who I'd friend (though admittedly, not as strict as those that will only friend someone they've met IRL). On Twitter, if someone's witty or relevant, or knows lots of my friends, I'll follow for a while. But I try to keep the numbers I follow within reason so that I can actually pay attention. About 250 is the max I can comprehend. On Facebook, I tend to want to actually know the person somehow. I think it's because Facebook "feels more locked." I actually put my real email address there (though I don't list my phone number like some do).

But now there's BrightKite. BrightKite tells people your exact location (or a close proximity if you don't mark them as a trusted friend). So now I'm rather befuddled as to who to accept as a friend or not. When people ask to be friends, I (probably just me) feel bad to decline their friendship. I mean how do you meet new people if you decline anyone you don't know. But again, as a woman, how do you know if there are any "unsafe" people you're connecting with. This new, online community is a new and different place to navigate–that much is certain. What do you think?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jodie aka doodelicious June 2, 2008 at 4:50 pm

I bought the book Mastering CSS w/DWCS3 and stumbled across your blog. I don’t normally comment on blogs but felt compelled – I love social networking sites, of all shapes and sizes (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and LiveJournal). I’ve been able to connect with people in ways I never imagined. Texting, messaging, uploading, emailing, updating…it has become my main tool for interacting with others. As a communications major, I am amazed by the cultural phenomenon it has created. And as a web designer/developer, feel partly responsible for it, too. But the amount of personal information we share online sometimes is overwhelming.

One more thing to add – with so many profiles floating around out there, they have become different personalities for me. Twitter is witty/silly, Facebook is adult-like, MySpace is super-ego, LJ is vulnerable. That being said, I’ve discovered a new etiquette rule that I cannot stand online friends breaking – it is when they make reference to one profile on another profile. Perhaps it’s tweeting about a blog I wrote on LJ or writing on my FBWall about a pic I posted in MySpace. Maybe it’s just me, but I do notice others reflect different aspects of themselves in different places and I’m often uncomfortable when those different “personalities” cross paths.

~Angela June 3, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Speaking only of Facebook in this comment… (I have stronger feelings regarding other sites.)

As you know, Facebook has lots of add-ons like joining a cause and fun little quizzes and whatnot. I feel bad not accepting all the offers I get, but I don’t have time for that stuff. It makes me feel like a bad friend…

On the other hand, I feel like I’m in the loop by reading up on people I know occasionally.

I’m somewhat torn on the topic, but really I think I’d much rather use traditional ways of communication like the good ole telephone or hanging out in person above all else. I’m pretty selective about who I will add, but like you I feel bad declining people so I try not to.

Speaking of communicating… We haven’t caught up since December’s wall-to-wall; tsk tsk, shame on us. ;-)

Scott Valentine June 5, 2008 at 11:09 am

I just jumped into MySpace last year to get my geek on with some cast members of a favorite TV show.

Mid May saw me add Twitter, and last week, Plurk. I have a Blogger spot, and have started my own for marketing purposes, though I’ve been contributing to a friend’s blog for over a year.

While it’s been good to get into some targeted networks, and the odd friend or two has cropped up, I feel like extroversion by proxy is the new black. However, fewer folks have gone out of their way to be jerks, realizing that there never really was any anonymity, and with a call or two, legal action can be started. This offers some rudimentary protection.

The other side of social networks is the increased vectoring for spam. I’m getting friend requests on both twitter and plurk that are of the “get your college degree online in only 8 minutes” variety. Male enhancement drugs are sure to be close behind.

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