Facebook: The Tension Between Public and Private

Written by Bev. Posted in Musings

The popularity of social networking websites, in particular Facebook.com, has picked up much steam recently. I must admit, I was an early Facebook adopter and enthusiast. I’ve witnessed the website evolve from a very simple archetype with only one tiny profile pic for each person who had a college/university verified email to a site open to anyone and everyone, with unlimited photo storage and the recent addition of various “applications”. It went from a very organic feel to one that resembles “that other social networking site” with tons of, dare I say it, tacky flashiness and conspicuous add-ons. I suppose my enthusiasm for Facebook has significantly diminished as of late, not only as a result of graduating but also the huge changes in format. But that is a rant onto itself. The reason for this entry is about something I came across on the site that I have to shake my head and marvel at the complete irony of some Facebook users’ mindset.

I came across a Facebook group on my groups page (as someone on my friends list had recently joined and it showed up on my end) that was called “BITCH!!!! Thats Why You On My Limited Profile!!!”. I snickered not just at the lack of proper punctuation and exuberant amount of exclamation marks but also the name of it. Why, I wondered, would you even add a so-called “Facebook friend” if they are condemned to the “limited profile” privacy setting? If one does not want someone, let’s call her Suzy, reading things that have been deliberately shared publicly on the site and would rather them be left in the dark when it comes to one’s personal life, then why be “Facebook friends” with Suzy? Is this some new concept of friendship, even if it is on a pretentious “online basis”, that I simply do not understand? Or, the more likely scenario, these social networking websites are just about accumulating a larger than life friends list to keep up appearances. To give the “allusion” of popularity or at least e-popularity. I guess that clicking “reject this friend request” isn’t really an option in this scenario.

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But back to the Facebook group in question. If you view the description in the screen capture above, you might notice some discrepancies besides the obvious lack of proper English usage. The idea here is that these group members are up in arms over people not minding their own business and getting up into other people’s business via snooping around on Facebook. That is correct, right? I mean, for all I know, I “translated” that gibberish wrong. But here is where my inquiring mind is at a lost. Why is it that these people are intentionally writing, posting up pictures, etc, in the public domain (or at the very least in the closed network of friends) when they are so worried or angered by other people, for which these messages or pictures are not meant for, viewing it as well? Why not, and here’s a revolutionary thought, just use email or something instead of posting it PUBLICLY?

As I’ve always said, if I want to tell my friends something that isn’t just random gobbledygook or a simple message like a birthday greeting or pleasantries, I will tell them privately by means of email, telephone, instant message, text message or even the message feature on Facebook. If I write anything on their wall, it’s known and expected that other eyes will see it, even eyes that I do not want seeing it. So why do these group members not take this idea to heed? Why ostentatiously proclaim minute or potentially scandalous details on someone’s wall when other means of communication are readily available? What makes writing on “the wall” a favoured option and really, what’s the purpose of such blatent showiness? Is there really any reason to make plans to meet someone public knowledge by using this wall feature? Or writing about gossip on there and potentially having that nip you in the butt later on?

My hypothesis in regard to people having to ostentatiously post information publicly that is better off left to private means of communication has to do with, again, the allusion of popularity. I had once written a paper on social networking but focused on the site MySpace instead, but it’s still generally the same idea as both sites make use of these public commenting systems and profile features. Just as a large group of friends equate to e-popularity, so does a large amount of public comments. It is like a filled up wall shows everyone who visits that, yes, people do enjoy talking to me and my company. What better way to show that off than having everyone see “Dude, last night was awesome” or “We’re going clubbing next Friday, I can’t wait” when they come by our profile. It’s like a trophy of sorts, a public display of our worthiness as social creatures and how cool or e-cool we are. In my paper that I mentioned previously, I argued that we derive some degree of self-worth and affirm self-identity through these constructions of ourselves online. As with offline, your clothing or fashion sense conveys an aspect of your personality, perhaps the inclusion into a certain subculture such as goth, jock or hipster, so does your profile online. Your profile’s personal information does this, quite obviously, but so does your friends list and public comments received. The theory goes that a bustling online profile with tons of friends and comments equates to the popular kid in high school and the rather meager friends list with little to no comments equates to the loser eating lunch by themselves. Or, as I’d like to think, the profile with a discernable lack of friends and comments is a person who chooses to only associate themselves with people they know and like (rather than adding every random stranger and acquaintance) and chooses to leave communication to private, less showy methods. The ostentation does not even end there. The addition of the status feature not too long ago also fulfills this need to announce to the world information about ourselves. If Suzy had a hard night partying and, heck, wants to tell everyone even if they don’t care, Suzy would simply have her profile proclaim “Suzy is drunk off her ass!”. More minute and vapid information shared with those around while adding to her self-identity, which is to hopefully be validated by others if they respond to it. We seek validation from our peers offline and we do the same online, maybe to a larger extent due it not being face-to-face interaction. All this is not to say that I don’t, at least occasionally, participate in this search for validation on the web or that I am impervious to this line of thought. I just try to keep exercise common sense and remain cognizant of my actions online.

This is not a dig at social networking because, frankly, I think it’s a phenomenal thing. I’ve reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in decades thanks to this website. But I just find it so ironic for someone to complain about their privacy being threatened when they have intentionally allowed for this information to be in the public. If you really have a problem with others “getting up in yo business”, here are a few thoughts:

  1. Don’t write things you would not want anyone besides the owner of the profile to see on the wall. Use an avenue that is confined to the eyes of the receiver only.
  2. Don’t accept or add everyone and anyone to your friends list if you don’t want said person “in your business”. No need for “friendwhoring”, this is not a contest.
  3. There are privacy options available so that your profile can or cannot be viewable to your network(s). Use it.

Disclaimer: No offense to any Suzy’s out there whom I might have known or know. It was just a random name that came to mind. Also, no, I don’t have an entirely pathetic looking friends list or wall, it’s just probably not as copious as some folks who live and breathe Facebook. Nor am I bitter I am not e-popular. Okay, well, maybe I am *tear* 🙁

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I enjoy pop culture and traveling so mainly I blog about that.

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