Facebook "Friends" (one of my more rambling blogs)
I recently coauthored a short conference paper (just submitted...keeping my fingers crossed) on what it means to be a "friend" on Facebook and the types of communications that are shared amongst "friends". Its funny that someone who is a friend of a friend in real life that I have only met once is provided with the same insight into my life as a good friend of 15 years! Granted, you can segment friends into groups of permissions and privileges, but I suspect that few people really take the time to closely filter their Facebook friends as such. Or maybe I am just lazy.
I was speaking with a real life friend today who made the "relationship" aspect of her profile hidden because she was going through some ups and downs with her partner...and kept receiving comments when her status changed from "in a relationship" to "its complicated" to back to "in a relationship". I also have a Facebook friend who I rarely see in real life (who is actually an adjunct instructor) who publishes some pretty biting political status updates about the current election. I noticed about 20 updates to her status she masde during one of the televised debates, essentially using the status update feature to communicate, in real time, her commentary! It was absolutely fascinating. While politics can be a touchy subject in face-to-face environments, here was her very liberal viewpoints broadcast under the safe boundaries of Facebook for all to read! I don't know her well enough to say that she wouldn't be so vocal in front of all of these friends, but I suspect the added layer of distance in the virtual world facilitated her comfort in broadcasting her perspectives.
Friendship on Facebook means letting these contacts in on as much or as little as you'd like, with occasional unintentional consequences. For example, this past week I had a number of academic responsibilites, such as working on this Facebook paper, and preparing for my annual PhD evaluation. Yet, because some of the faculty members on my evaluation committee are my Facebook friends, I deleted some of the new stories about myself that showed I was playing games on Facebook because I found myself fearing they might see that and judge me in real life because of it!! My co-author on my Facebook conference paper even made a few jestful comments because I told her I was too busy one evening to work on another draft, but yet she saw I had taken a survey on Facebook!
A participant on Facebook foresakes a few degrees of privacy in order to interact with those that have been deemed as "friends". I know there are instances when I want to say something in my status update, or a comment I want to make on someone's photo, and I reel back because some "friends" I do not want to see such details. As I said above, permissions can be provided...but by and large, that is an onerous task. The design of the site seems to encourage an rank of equality amongst most, if not all friends. So, he or she who is an aquaintence or a friend of a friend of a friend of a relative, and he or she who I have intimately known for as long as I can remember, all are provided with the same insight into the details of my life I choose to share.
Perhaps I need to simply spend less time ON Facebook...