Camarilla: New Concept of Social Media or Not?
Is it not cool to have so many friends on social media anymore? Do social media undermine the definition of friendship? Are we ever more concerned about our privacy? These questions are provoked by the emergence of a social networking service (SNS) that celebrates “genuine friendship” called Camarilla.
Camarilla was launched in September 2016 as the smallest SNS in the world (Crook; Camarilla). What it means is that it lets users have maximum only 15 friends. Just like other social media, users can post photos, comment on other friends’ posts, and so on.
Yet, Camarilla is not the first SNS that sets the limit of the number of connections a user can have. Similarly, Path initially allowed users to have up to 50 friends, though it changed it to 150 friends, then now there is no limit at all (Kincaid). Users can, however, set their “inner circle” which allows more intimate connection within the group.
However, what is unique about Camarilla is that interactions between users are only visible to those who are involved in that interaction. For example, if you comment on a photo of your friend, your friend and you are the only ones who can see the comment. In this way, Camarilla is very private and image of users is not affected by other users. So, it is rather different from other SNSs.
Camarilla’s motivation is “to make social media social again” (Camarilla). The CEO of Camarilla, Constance Scholten says that their focus is to foster “real connections” in her interview. They are taking a different direction from other SNSs like Facebook and Twitter (one-to-many type) that afford us to have many friends or followers and that make users want to have more ‘likes’. Camarilla’s claim seems to suggest that their services are better for us and try to remind what socialization really means.
To think of what being social means, let’s discover how small SNS like Camarilla emerged.
First, think about the historical background of socialization. Before SNSs, we didn’t have an opportunity to present ourselves in front of multiple different social circles to which we belong simultaneously (Ellison and Boyd). For example, we see our family at home and not at school, and we see our school friends at school and not at workplace. But on SNSs, everyone can be at one place. This is not what we are used to have and this kind of communication can be uncomfortable. So, people tend to use different networks to serve different needs at a given time (Ellison and Boyd). Camarilla may have emerged as one of the options for people who are not fond of tailoring themselves in the way that is appropriate to show to everyone on their online networks.
Second, Camarilla’s emergence may reflect on how social media users are getting tired of its norms, such as trying to get more likes and comments. Usually comments on photos are compliments: This is to get a comment back from the receiver of the comment to build their profile look better (Schwarz 169). This practice gives themselves social worth in online community. Thus, we tend to have the idea that we should have more friends and post prettier pictures. SNSs make people as brand in this sense (Schwarz 175). Furthermore, users tend to care more about the rules of SNSs (e.g., “don’t insult people” or “don’t talk about too personal things”) when they are interacting with acquaintances or not-so-close-friends because they interact mainly online, while people probably see close friends physically, i.e., outside of SNSs (Bryant and Marmo 1030).
Third, users may be more concerned about publicness. Traditionally there was a clear distinction between audiences and performers (e.g., concert and theatre). However, social media made audiences more visible due to its affordances that let people speak up easily to the society. We have become more aware of the value of ‘the private’ because of its capability to make our stories public and us impacting unknown publics (Baym and Boyd 324).
Misunderstanding between imagined and actual audiences can occur in social media (Baym and Boyd 323). This is because anyone can technically view anyone’s footage, even those whom one would not have imagined of. Nevertheless, some say that they are fine with their own self-disclosure online because they are in control of their self-image; however, they are concerned with how their friends affect their profile by their comments and so on (Jensen and Sørensen 57). Although SNS Users can decide who sees their posts by changing their privacy settings, it is usually the case that they do not differentiate their friends once they are ‘friends’ (Jensen and Sørensen 58), meaning that all friends are more or less handled equally online. So, Camarilla makes it easy for users to share their stories without worrying, because there is no need to imagine unknown audiences.
So, what Camarilla thinks is social is perhaps to connect with people in a rather natural way so that they feel comfortable enough to behave like themselves without having to act like someone else.
Now, why aren’t other social media (bigger SNSs like Facebook and Twitter) social as Camarilla suggests? Specifically, why don’t they embrace genuine relationships?
This claim that bigger social media don’t support real friendship could suggest that users cannot distinguish different kinds of people they are interacting with. The definition of friends in social media is both acquaintances (i.e., those who one has met) or someone one hasn’t seen (Jensen and Sørensen 49). Users say their actual friends are only 25-30% of all friends online (Ellison and Boyd), thus, they do distinguish different types of relationships online. However, it is true that around 70% of their “friends” are not their actual friends and there is no concrete distinction between personal and mass communication because of that.
The purpose of SNS is to share and communicate. Friending is a main thing about SNS (Ellison and Boyd) Interestingly, a lot of users use SNSs to maintain the existing networks that aren’t too developed at the moment but could be useful in the future (Jensen and Sørensen 54). So in this way, communication that happens on SNS is not for the sake of getting to know other users, but rather for the sake of their future success.
Initially, friending practice was reciprocal. Facebook still is, but Twitter is not. However, an option to hide their posts from certain friends makes this practice not entirely reciprocal (Ellison and Boyd). So, it is very easy for users to become friends with anyone, and to have one-way friendship. For example, you are talking to a group of friends but one of them is completely ignoring you and the unique thing about SNS is that you do not notice that you are being ignored. That is not a very genuine relationship indeed.
However, bigger social media like Facebook are social in some ways besides their capability to connect the unlimited number of people from all over the world and to allow us to share and communicate with others very easily.
Being able to see someone’s friend’s list is unique to SNS and a big part of making SNS social (Ellison and Boyd). This makes it easier to see mutual contacts with someone, and reconnect with old friends and so on. Though one can make one’s friend’s list invisible, the default setting of friend’s list is typically public. Thus, the design of the platforms allows users to surf around friends’ networks for further socialization beyond their own friends.
Publicness is an issue of SNS as we have already discussed; however, this contributes to making SNS social as well. In today’s society, it is difficult to avoid the online world and it is important to be able to see oneself among other people. Users are becoming more aware of where they situate relative to imagined audiences (Baym and Boyd 325) because they have been being trained to do so while using SNS. I think that knowing where they stand in online community is already social because they are actively trying to find the connection with other people to find where they situate. In this sense, by engaging in a big online community, users are building and supporting the networks.
Camarilla may be missing something social that is important for us today…
Medium has always been uniting people, overcoming the geographical difficulty (Baym and Boyd 321). It gives a sense of community and allows people to imagine themselves as a part of bigger communities. For example, a national newspaper allows them to feel that they are a part of the nation. Thus, social media isn’t new in this sense, though the scale got much bigger.
On Camarilla, one can have someone who are physically far away. However, Camarilla emphasizes on family and close friends with whom one has once spent a lot of time together physically. Camarilla does not help us understand where we situate in a wider context nor makes us feel we are part of a broader community. However, understanding this is important today since a lot of the contents online are generated in such contexts. And to have a better understanding of people offline as well, because people who make the online community are more or less the same as the members of the offline community. There is no one who resides only in an online community. A difference is that all people can be in one place online.
Furthermore, others cannot build up one’s profile, while nowadays a lot of websites are collectively built. In other words, they try to gain feedbacks and reviews so that they get credibility and trust from the users. But with Camarilla, one is solely in charge with one’s own image! In this sense, Camarilla may be going backwards in the history of media.
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