I remember being given my first laptop – a shiny tangerine-colored iMac with a plastic handle and nothing but Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer 6.0 installed. My parents gave me my laptop at the start of 6th grade under one condition – I could only use it for school purposes. This meant no Myspace, no Facebook, and no AOL Instant Messenger. I lived vicariously through my friends from school and would sneak peeks at these trendy social media sites whenever I could. Without an online presence, I relied on flip-phone text messages to stay connected. I never ended up making a Myspace profile (missed that wave), but I did join Facebook and created an AIM username right before I entered freshman year of high school. It was the start of the “dance2music5678” era.
It’s truly fascinating what I can find in what Facebook has encapsulated these last six years. With Timeline, I can scroll through and easily see the way my use of Facebook has changed over time. My very first action on Facebook was to upload photo albums for the previous two summers. Looking back, the statuses I posted were rather entertaining, and possibly worthy of joining this Buzzfeed collection of unforgivable status updates. I posted everything from “is can someone plz take me to Chipotle? I’ve never been” (the “is” was apparently necessary to make it a grammatically correct sentence), to speaking in third person “is enjoying her four-day weekend” and “is oh no, her four-day weekend is over” to updates that no one ever needed to know like “cannot smell right now.” There’s a huge contrast in my time of intellectually-stimulating updates to these days, where I rarely use Facebook except to maintain a photo album for the year. I can’t even remember when my last status update was, and I now prefer scrolling through Instagram as a more efficient way to discover what my social circle is up to. According to this SocialTimes article, Instagram is now more popular among teenage users than Facebook and Twitter. As penetration grows in this demographic, I am curious to find out how Instagram will leverage this and whether increased monetization tactics (they’ve already snuck in sponsored posts) will ultimately drive users away. The amount of personalized information every social media platform has at their fingertips is astounding – Facebook has my targeted advertising down pat – but this can be a deterrent for people who are turned off by what they perceive as an invasion of privacy. Facebook messenger is a useful way to converse with friends, especially given the disappearance of AIM and MSN Messenger, but iMessage, Snapchat, and GroupMe apps on mobile and laptop are largely the communication norms now. The trend is towards convenience and efficiency – quick flashy updates rather than extensive summaries about what one is doing. I’ve never used Twitter, but this tool’s popularity is no doubt also explained by this consumer trend.
In terms of privacy settings, I would say I have become stricter with my social media accounts as I’ve grown older. In the past, I didn’t think twice about sharing pictures and status updates publicly, but now I am careful to only share with friends. Even then, I often don’t know who exactly is seeing my social media posts as I know I have friends and followers who are nothing more than acquaintances or friends of mutual friends. I became more wary of my postings when I started applying to internships in college under the mentality that it’s better to be safe than sorry. I remember once being advised to conduct a google search with my name and to check what popped up. Doing so and finding images from my Facebook out there in the open, as well as dance videos on Youtube that other people had posted without my knowledge simply reinforced the fact that realistically, I cannot always control where my online information goes.
In Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory, Trebor Scholz talks about how “the majority of social network users are unaware of how the platform owners profit from the volunteer content of their communications, or indeed how they themselves are generating monetizable product for the owners.” While this intransparency does exist, I am less inclined to actively work against this because these companies provide me virtually free and unlimited access to their platforms and software. I believe that in today’s day and age, those without social media profiles are losing out due to our increasingly interconnected world. Even if the mass public were to discover just how asymmetric the economic exchange is (consumers versus company), I doubt that the majority would cease using these tools and it would be very hard to change the status quo.
Turning to LinkedIn for a moment, I first joined LinkedIn when I was just starting my internship search my freshman year. This social media site has a very specific purpose – to help bridge the gap between employers and potential candidates. It has always been interesting to me the differences in how users behave on LinkedIn versus other sites like Facebook and Myspace. There is barely any “trolling” on LinkedIn simply due to the fact that profiles are permanently tied to your professional identity and everything posted can be traced back to you by a future employer. While this may raise the quality of discussion on LinkedIn, I wonder if users feel limited in how they express themselves as a result. Facebook and other non-professional site users are brutally honest, but it can be hard to have a respectful discussion on a controversial topic. Anonymity gives users a stronger voice, but at what cost?
A New York Times article entitled “This Story Stinks” discusses an experiment conducted to measure “the nasty effect” – how much of an impact negative reader comments had on opinions regarding the content of the article. The results were surprising — “uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.” While some media outlets have found ways to reduce uncivility and ad hominem attacks, “reader interaction is part of what makes the Web the Web — and, for that matter, Facebook, Twitter and every other social media platform what they are.” Perhaps these social commentary norms will change in an increasingly integrated social community on the web.
Brossard, Dominique, and Dietram Scheufele. “This Story Stinks.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <This Story Stinks (The New York Times) By: Brossard, Dominique, and Dietram Scheufele. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/opinion/sunday/this-story-stinks.html?_r=0>.
Scholz, Trebor. Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Stopera, Matt. “The 34 Most Unforgivable Facebook Statuses.” BuzzFeed. 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.
Zhang, Mona. “Instagram Is More Important than Facebook to Teens.” SocialTimes. 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <http://socialtimes.com/instagram-important-facebook-teens_b202855>.