Friday, 25 July 2008

Facebook, Identity and Friends

Went out for lunch today and picked up a copy of The Independent, to later find the following inside...
The first I knew about it was a phone call. My girlfriend admonished me for succumbing to the temptations of Facebook, a website whose poisoned fruits I had previously said I found unappealing. I stood accused of two crimes: a lack of willpower and a failure to confess.

Not guilty on both counts, I pleaded. Alas, I was the victim of a fraud. Somebody, somewhere – and believe me, I'm pretty sure I know who you are – had launched a vendetta. They hated me. And what a visceral, calculating and malicious hate it was.
(More here.)

It might sound a little brain-dead of me to say so but I never thought about the possibility of this kind of fraud occuring before. I already have a Facebook profile and so the idea of someone setting one up for me with the intention of defaming me hadn't crossed my mind.

A drunken woman... vomiting. Found via Wikimedia Commons...A significant proportion of people - most of them students - probably do a pretty good job of defaming themselves on the site anyway, via drunken photos and carelessly filled-out profiles. It's interesting the way some people casually put up (or at least put up with) their bad pictures in what is arguably a public forum - as the article says:
Online networking [...] destroys the boundary between public and private. My public identity becomes not so much a consequence of my achievements as of your dodgy snaps from last Friday.
In many cases those 'dodgy snaps' become a matter of pride - how many of them do you have? How many comments are there for each one? More recently, I've noticed via my own newsfeed a tendency for comment-trading. People commenting on others' pictures - often making only short remarks, in order to start up conversations around the images and how they look. It seems to border on obsessional in some cases. It's not just comments which are quantified in this way...
Online social networking is having a profound effect on the way in which people communicate, chiefly by substituting virtual association for real friendship. In so doing, it is also redefining friendship, giving it more porous boundaries and relaxing the rules by which two people, or a group, interact.
This, I think, is the largest consequence. I've had conversations with friends about this (I mean actual conversations with real friends - in a physical place where you can hear yourself talk - remember those? Or am I getting old-fashioned here?). Different people I know have different policies toward it. Some accept friend requests from everyone (even if it's the kid they hated at school), some only accept requests from people they like(d) and for others only the people they're currently in touch with will do.

I think there are three main "policies", each with their own argument:
  1. Kennedy and Khruschev: not friends exactly but they understood the notion of stockpiling...Stockpile "friends". Why not? Your number goes up which means you look more popular and you get to play the voyeur by checking out what these people are up to, what kind of online conversations they have and even what their weekends and holidays look like. The more you accept, the broader a view of humanity you have!
  2. "Friends" reunite. You may not know them now but that doesn't mean you won't ever know them again. Why not maintain a connection with the people you liked from your past? It could lead to some interesting places or offers... and even if it doesn't you still get to spy on them.
  3. What are "friends" for? If you accept or add anyone, then your "friend" count on Facebook isn't really a truly reflection of your actual circle of friends. After all, friendship by definition should be about quality and not quantity and you shouldn't let social networking re-define that for you.
Perhaps someone can think of other approaches or arguments like this... What are your thoughts?

Anyway, I could go on. But I'll round up here: I have friends (again, actual friends) who, like the author of the Independent article, would follow that last argument. The difference between them and the author is that they actually have set up Facebook profiles. They say they're nearly always on the verge of deleting their accounts but then as long as they dictate the terms by which they use it, I don't see why they should.

Especially, if someone's going to go and set one up for them otherwise.

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