How Facebook made my Boyfriend Cry: About Social Networks and Worst-Case Scenarios

On: October 4, 2011
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About Roos van Tongerloo
I am Roos, I like robots, loads of shiny gadgets I cannot afford, philosophy, my own cats, the smell of an old book and words. I hate numbers; namely math, statistics, databases and phone numbers. Actually all kinds of numbers. And, although in real life I might seem like a pretty decent person, please do not try to phone me; I get nervous on the phone and will most definitely make an ass out of myself.


Last monday, just after the first lecture, I went home sick. Not that much of a problem, thank God, but I forgot to ask about the assignment at all. Luckily, Geert was so kind as to send me an e-mail in which he asked me to write about ‘why I hate Social Media’. At first, I was a bit confused about the apparent assumption of me hating social media, because I consider myself quite the addict. I would even argue that I love social media, since I cannot recall a day in the last few years I haven’t used a social application or logged on one of the many social networks I am registered to. I discussed this ‘problem’ with some of my friends and relatives, and my mom was able to remind me of a few weeks, half a year ago, during which I detested everything about social media, especially Facebook, and promised myself never to log in again.

This post is from a very personal perspective and deals with a problem other than the ones I am most familiar with and, in my opinion, overanalyzed and (apart from the privacy issue) pretty much dated; The problem of the narcissistic digital self, the fact that people create unrealistic versions of themselves online, can play with identities, change the definition of friendship and communication and reduce those concepts to flattened versions of what they used to be. I believe that as media students, we are all aware of these issues. But the reason for my, although temporary, ‘complicated relationship’ with social networks had to do with another problem, one that had never had my attention before until I had to explain to my boyfriend why I suddenly wanted to break up with him, even though he himself had absolutely no clue. And after figuring out what caused me to come to such a rigid, sudden and most of all stupid conclusion, I concluded It wasn’t just me or the fact that I am a woman (and an emotional wreck), it was Facebook.

About half a year ago I went on a holiday with my mum and my little sister, just for a couple of days. When I came back, I of course told my boyfriend about the days with mum and sis and, naturally, asked him about his week. He said he had a nice time, had a few parties, a concert, read a book, watched tv, visited his parents and of course that he had missed me terribly and was so damn happy I was back. Nothing unusual there.

Later that week, I met some of my friends for coffee and from that moment the feminine paranoia started to play it’s part. One of friends saw of Facebook some pictures of my boyfriend and this girl, who wasn’t me. Since I was on a holiday and had to promise my mother not to ‘waste any time on screens’, I didn’t pay any attention to Facebook during the days I spent with her. But my friend insisted I took a look at the pictures she kindly saved for me.

‘Look!’ she said ‘They’re in all the pictures together! He must have spent the whole evening with her! And she likes all the pictures! And his posts! She must be crazy about him!’. I told my friend to stop it, and that it was most certainly just a coincidence and that I did not want her to think so badly of my beloved boyfriend. Then an other friend started talking: ‘Well, I don’t think you should just let this be. It could be something you know, I mean, why does this happen when you’re out of the country? Why didn’t he mention her when he told you about the party? You must keep an eye on him. Seriously.’

So, partially because I didn’t want to let my friends down and partially because now I wasn’t sure anymore who to trust, I did.

Or at least, I tried. I checked his profile ten times a day, I tried to check hers but I couldn’t since we are no Facebook Friends (well doh…), and I kept staring at the pictures, trying to find a clue or some kind of evidence. Obviously, I couldn’t find a thing.

Unfortunately, I have to mention the paranoia which I am capable of. Making up worst-case scenario’s seems to be the only talent I have developed to the max. And beyond.

So, since I couldn’t find any evidence in the obvious content (his wall, the comments and likes and the pictures) I turned to more complex conspiracy theories based on any possible clue I could imagine. For example; I started making up theories about the order of someone’s friends in the friendlist. Most people would argue they are ranged in a completely random way, but I figured that maybe that range was based on how many times the owner of the profile visited their walls or clicked on their pictures, liked their posts and commented on them. Also, I looked at certain events and who was invited, and the range of the invitees. Certainly, I thought, the ones at the top are the ones he must like the most. I even peeked at his screen to see what photo’s were recommended in the side bar of his homepage. Those photo’s, so I figured, were of the people who’s wall he probably visited the most.

In short: I had entered a state of complete paranoia. My friends agreed with all of my ridiculous conclusions and believed even my stupidest made up theories. This was serious business, they told me, and I agreed.

That night, I told my boyfriend to sit down and started spitting my collection of B.S. I said I knew what was going on and told him I was hurt and that I didn’t know how to trust him anymore.

He was in complete shock and unable to say something other than ‘Err, but.. what!?’. That wasn’t exactly the reaction I was hoping for. I got angry and showed him the ‘evidence’. Then, the truth came out. The pictures were taken at a party were the girl asked him to pose and then a dozen pictures were taken in less than a minute. He was not even aware of the fact that she liked all of the pictures and had no interest in her at all. Also he showed me that, if my ‘Friends Order Theory’ was right, he would have a major crush on some bearded older guy he knew from a seminar a few years ago.

I have never been more ashamed in my life.

Not only for he fact that I chose my friends opinions over the truth, but most of all for the way I had led Facebook construct terrible worst-case scenario’s based on practically nothing:

Online there is no such thing as context. Facebook takes photo’s, events, sentences and comments completely out of context. Real social structures aren’t visible there. Every friend is worth the same and what happens out side of the online environment cannot be taken to account in your view on the online social network. Therefore it is just bizarre to draw any conclusion on someone’s social life by looking at that person’s social network online. Also it is fertile ground for the most extreme worst-case scenario’s because most of the Facebook ranges and orders are constantly changing and we users have no idea of how the order comes to be. This, in combination with the present changes in Facebook, which give even more information about what our ‘friends’ are doing, is in my opinion a true danger to the network existing in our so called Real Life.

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