Social Network Sites – friend/Friend/defriend

On: September 27, 2009
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About Kimberley Spreeuwenberg
Currently I am a Master student of New Media at the UvA. In 2007 I graduated in Graphic Design at ArtEZ, Arnhem. During the study at ArtEZ I was introduced to some ‘grande’ theorists, like McLuhan and Manovich. After working as a graphic designer for one year I decided to expand my knowledge of the media I use as a professional designer and the way these media influence society. My interests in media are very broad, but I am especially focused on Internet and Internet culture. At this time I still work as a graphic designer. In my assignments I combine low and high technology tools (analogue and digital techniques). Visit my site!

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http://kspreeuwenberg.wordpress.com/    

Social Network Sites (SNSs), like Facebook and Hyves, are focused on ‘Friendship’. As SNSs get more mainstream and infiltrate in our everyday lives the use of the term ‘Friendship’ becomes more problematic within the SNSs discourse. Using the labels of friend, Friend or defriend is not as obvious as it seems.

friend vs. Friends
boyd points out that “the term ‘Friends’ can be misleading within SNS, because the connection does not necessarily mean friendship in the everyday vernacular sense, and the reasons people connect are varied.” [1] boyd emphasizes that people do not just add friends to their network, but also acquaintances and people they feel socially awkward to say no to. [2]

The term friendship in itself is not one-sided in it’s meaning either. People address different relationships to the term. In everyday vernacular, a friend is a relationship that involves some degree of mutual love or admiration. Some people exclude sexual partners and family members from this category while others talk about how such an individual is also a friend in order to indicate a degree of trust. [1]

In the quotation above, where boyd explains that the term ‘Friends’ can be misleading, it becomes clear that boyd makes a distinction between offline, ‘everyday friends’ and online ‘SNSs Friends’. Beer explains that this distinction between offline and online friendship is not correct in a context where SNSs are getting more mainstream and part of our everyday lives. ‘Evereyday friends’ can not be seen as separate from ‘SNS friends’ or the other way around. [4]

Beer states: “So what we are missing here is a sense of the recursive nature of these processes as SNSs become mundane and as the version of friendship they offer begin to remediate and shape understanding of friendship more generally” [4] ‘Everyday friends’ and ‘SNS Friends’ are intertwine, they can not be seen as two separate elements. The offline friendship shapes the online Friendship and visa versa. The social software remediates the social relations and this changes our whole concept of friendship.

Defriending
At the beginning of 2009 the Whopper Sacrifice action called attention to the defriending ‘hype’. Defriending is the deletion of friends from the contactlist of a SNS. Burgerking promised with this ‘Whopper Sacrifice’ action a burger to every American who at least deleted ten of his friends from his Facebook network.

It is questionable if there is really something like a defriending hype. As de Bruin points out the hype is written about frequently, but there is no actual evidence of people really deleting friends in a drastic way. De Bruin also argues that this action creates the idea that people sacrifice their vague friends for a burger. In this way they would choose for qualitative friendships instead of superficial Internet contacts. [3] Defriending is presented here as a way to differ in different kinds of friendships. If you look at this from the notion of friendship as Beer described this does not make any sense. As he points out the difference between real ‘everyday friends’ and vague ‘SNSs Friends’ does not apply anymore.

Is it necessary to make a difference between acquaintances, family, colleagues, friends and friends of friends? Is it necessary to label your friendship? Friendship seems to be more about a kind of connection than about a label. “Being ‘just friends’ indicates ‘voluntary relations, the content and future of the bond being always at the discretion of each party” [1] The things you share shape your friendship, not the term ‘SNSs Friend, ‘everyday friend’ or ‘defriend’. Defriending is a too severe rupture. It implies that there is no connection to the person in any way.

A better solution to deal with the shaping of friendship would therefore be the concept of ‘Walled Garden’. The concept of ‘Walled Garden’ is explained as a way to differentiate between friendships through levels of ‘inclusion and exclusion’. You can differentiate in the levels that different people have access to your personal information. In this way friendship is formed by the things you share and not on the label – friend, Friend or defriend – you attach to them.

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Important website concerning SNS research
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This blog post is based on an essay I wrote last year about defriending. You can find the complete essay (in Dutch) on my research blog.

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