“When we blog or use social networking sites, we not only present ourselves as individuals, we also publicly proclaim our relationships.” (Source.)
When going to complete this week’s assignment in Weblogs in Wikis, I chose to focus on the performance aspect to social networking in Jill Walker Rettburg’s third chapter of Blogging. I found this challenged my conception of how direct and simple maintaining an online presence is; there’s certainly much more to it, especially when it comes to this topic. In a way, we are creating personas rather than profiles.
When attempting to do research on how social networking has become a performing art in addition to a sharing one, I was presented with dozens of articles and posts on how to improve my performance in such a way that I could reach whatever goal I was trying to achieve, whether it was becoming more popular, selling a product, or making people more aware. Which wasn’t quite what I was looking for. As Rettburg points out, this is more than about an image. It’s about who we link ourselves to and the message we’re sending. It’s about how we’re using our online social spaces.
According to Danah Boyd, there are four characteristics of these online social spaces.
4. Invisible audiences
The persistence comes from the fact that anything we type or post is saved and can always be searched or viewed. Which leads into the searchability aspect of social networking. Nothing is ever permanently deleted, even if we press that button. There is an excellent TED Talk by Juan Enriquez on how social media is “permanent as a tattoo”.
Conveniently, this explains replicability. Even if the original version of a status or post is removed, copies are easily made and accessed. There is also a fascinating article on how over three years later, “deleted” Facebook photos are still online, which is just one alarming example of that permanence. This is a key factor in cyber bullying, which is a dark form of social network performance.
This leads us into invisible audiences. Anyone can read this, and there is no way to tell who, as pointed out by Alessandro Acquisti in his TED Talk of why privacy matters. This can lead to dangerous outcomes, one example being your boss seeing something that causes termination. There’s also colliding networks, which is a “problem is that two social networks that are meant to be separate collide”. A video on YouTube spells out just how many people use social media, the privacy policies of Facebook, and what we can do to ensure our own safety. There are also numerous students investigating this and creating excellent Prezis on the matter.
Simply put, having an online presence is something to be carefully considered and navigated. There are consequences to the choices we make on these sites, and the image we present is who our friends and family will believe us to be.