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Running head: TO SIMPLY LIKE

To Simply Like: The Realities behind the Implications of the Facebook Society Libby Lussenhop Michigan State University

TO SIMPLY LIKE Introduction and Methodology

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It is no coincidence that the 2010 movie The Social Network received unprecedented ratings and international attention. Since its dramatic birth in 2003, Facebook has seized the worlds attention and maintained it through the ambiguity of its purpose. In questioning this purpose, however, one encounters a broad, ever-changing answer. Facebook mirrors both the close relationships forged through mutual experience as well as the weak ties created through numerous group assignments and coincidences; one also recognizes the similarities between the self-image and its Facebook profile cognate. Facebook is a social network that was originally created to simulate the relationships, interests, and structure of the social experienceso what better way to study this culture but through the juxtaposition of the social and the social network? In this study I will take an objective approach to the culture of Facebook, observing trends in the Facebook community, utilizing and unpacking key words and phrases found in the Facebook sub-cultures, and analyzing the effect of real life on Facebook (and vice versa). To do so, I carefully documented my every reaction and interaction within the social network, as well as its ties to the three-dimensional world that it is presumed to mirror. I also conducted extensive online interviews with over 150 (anonymous) Facebook users so as to observe habitual and linguistic trends among individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Finally, I compared social studies and theories from Margaret Finders, Thomas Hine, Malcolm Gladwell, and Manuel Castells to the realities I faced in my everyday Facebook immersion. In synthesizing the works of these accredited scholars with my own findings, I discovered implications within the Facebook community that can be extrapolated to real-life society. Still, I discovered several


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subtleties of Facebook that should serve as red flags to real-life society; in addition to analyzing the benefits of Facebook, I am obligated to share its dangers. In exposing the culture and subculture of Facebook, especially in terms of the threedimensional world, there are some key terms that I will identify now to prevent future confusion. First of all, I will use the term poster to refer to one who posts, as in a Facebook user who posts an update or comment. On a more complicated subject, I will frequently differentiate between Facebook society and real life society. The larger question here, however, is this: what makes Facebook different from real life? Why are the two not interchangeable? After all, Facebook was created to mirror real social interactions and relationships. While portions of this study will be dedicated to illustrating the differences between the two, I will use some time here to give an overview of the separation between Facebook and real life. While real life possesses the four cornerstones of this Facebook studythe power in relation to language and literacy, the structure in terms of interaction, competition and standards, an influence on the individuals self image, and morereal life does not present these cornerstones in a single visual media. While all of the implications of the Facebook society are present in real life society, real life society does not portray them in the straightforward, constant way that is characteristic of Facebook. Simply put, Facebook and real life are separate entities because, although Facebook was created to imitate real life, Facebook is limited to its concrete two dimensions online and real life is limited to its abstract three dimensions everywhere else. Although the two are closely intertwined, they cannot be interchanged. Throughout this study, I will expand on this concept, referring to real life as life in three-dimensions, real society, and the like. This study will target four key aspects of Facebook, each one found under a different section in this response: language and literacy, structural implications, competition, and the


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users self-image. I will recognize the positive and negative aspects of involvement in the social network, especially to the extreme at which most users are immersed within it. Through this response essay, I ask that the avid Facebook users remove their heads from the sandor the Newsfeedand observe the social network from the objective viewpoint from which I will write. By making the all-too-familiar Facebook unfamiliar, I hope to uncover the distortions in the social networking mirror, illustrating that Facebook is not the innocent society that it is often perceived to be.

TO SIMPLY LIKE I. Reading into Facebook:

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The Power of the Social Network in Terms of Language and Literacy In studying the culture of Facebook, one must first study Facebook as a social construction. Facebook is unique in that it provides each user with a fundamental structure that can be personalized according to how the individual wishes to be portrayed. In a way, using the Facebook community is like continuously painting an ongoing, very dynamic self-portrait. In addition to the language found verbatim in the Facebook structure, there are also numerous language threads found in the more abstract subculture surrounding the social network; in conversation about Facebook, users of all ages and backgrounds have a tendency to use similar words and phrases that are mere implications of the network. As a whole, Facebook has dominated the connotative power of numerous words, phrases, and language threads and has shaped the literary community at large in a way that parallels its purposes. This section will discuss how Facebook works through and within language in order to become a prominent aspect of real life. Primarily, Facebook is organized into separate pages with simple titles that have come to redefine the titles original connotations. The Wall, for example, is the users homepage, where a visitor can view information, pictures, notes, status updates, and posts from the user and the users friends, all displayed chronologically in two dimensions. The Wall represents the afore mentioned fundamental structure of Facebook; just as the fundamental structure of a home or building is comprised of walls, so the Facebook structure is made up of each and every Wall and its connectedness to other Walls through friends networks. Also, just as a building is better reinforced as the walls are more numerous and interconnected, so the stability of the Facebooks functionality is determined by the number of users and by the number of connections between


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users. The social network becomes increasingly indispensable as smaller networks of friends expand and create more connections through mutual friends and shared events. The power of Facebook is determined by the users and their reliance on Facebook to maintain their connections and individual social networks. This is a prime example of the power of Facebook through language; by using the word wall to refer to the individual users contribution to the social network, the Facebook structure becomes a more concrete aspect of real life. Another common language thread is not one found explicitly in the structure of Facebook, but rather in the culture surrounding the Facebook construction: Facebook stalking or creeping. Revolutionizing the once negative connotations of this verb, the Facebook community has turned stalking into a harmless, recreational activity in which one follows the posts of a specific individual for any duration of time. Rather than implying danger or discomfort, a Facebook stalker is merely one that takes the time to absorb the information that a user has injected into the Facebook community. To have numerous stalkers is, in fact, regarded as highly as being the most popular student at school, but in a two-dimensional, Facebookliterature way. The only way to know if one is being stalked is by confession of the stalker, since the Facebook lacks a dependable way to track page hits and hit sources to the personal Wall. Therefore, to be a Facebook stalker is often regarded as a positive, even comical title, and Facebook users will even compete for the attention of stalkers. While the alteration of this single word may appear harmless, Facebook represents the threat of communal desensitization to real social issues. Facebook allows for the mass distribution of information, regardless of its relevance to the target community; therefore, the target community possesses a resulting skewed perspective of a social concern, sending said concern into a downward spiral of irrelevance and insensitivity.


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Similarly, Facebook language has found its way from the constrictions of cyberspace into everyday conversation in other ways as well. A romantic relationship must be made Facebook official in order for it to be of genuine intentions. Facebook users will often refer to aspects of real life with the phrase I am a fan, a button-click function presented on Facebook pages designated for popular culture (celebrities, consumer products, television). As a result of the communal obsession with Facebook, chatspeak or text lingo has become prevalent in real life in addition to being the dominating literary factor within the social network. Abbreviations and acronyms found in Facebook messages, posts, and chat often bleed into verbal conversationand, alarmingly, even prose written by students, from written notes to schoolwork. One can walk down the hall of any high school and hear BTW (By the Way), JK (just kidding), or the unforgettable LOL (laugh out loud). Indeed, Facebook and the real world have become so interconnected that the abbreviation IRL (In Real Life) is found frequently in the social network so as to roughly differentiate two worlds that are indubitably intertwined. While the interconnectivity between the social network and the real world may be reassuringin that Facebook reflects real life and functions as a supplement to face timeit is disconcerting to recognize the power that Facebook has demonstrated in redefining aspects of the English language. However, the power of Facebook in language should be relatively unsurprising due to the very function of language in the social network. On Facebook, literacy is constructed as a social event (Finders, 1997, p. 54); language serves as a means to the end of maintaining social operation. In the words of Margaret Finders (1997), literaciesboth sanctioned literacies and literate underlifeserved to maintain particular social roles and document particular allegiances (p. 41). In this statement, Finders is discussing the power of


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language and literacy use amidst junior high girls. In this sense, language is what is written, while literacy is the presence of writing itself as it appears within the community. Finders expands her description of literacy in the lives of the girls.

In all of the literate underlife, there existed a tremendous sense of play. Embedded within the play, the social queens used literacies for the following purposes: establishing a set of agreed-upon norms, competing for social status, connecting within a community, staking a claim, and defying authority. Clearly many literate behaviors supported more than one function, but all focused on the social aspects. Literate underlife, those literate practices that occur away from and in resistance to the institution of schooling, became a useful tool to mark status and document one as an insider in this group. Likewise, literate underlife was carefully monitored to keep outsiders out of the circle of friends (Finders, 1997, p. 54-55).

This passage serves not only to describe literate practices among junior high girls, but it also documents the motivations and purposes behind literacy in the Facebook community. The act of writing is as meaningful as what is written. Although the literacy and language in both communities is oriented around colloquial interaction, the very location and timing of the writing serves to maintain the social structure within Facebook, as well as the social structure that Facebook exists to reflect. Also, the ability to delay ones response contributes to both the placement and content of language in the social network. In a phone or face-to-face conversation, there is an expectation to respond within a brief period of time that is comfortable for all parties involved. Mere seconds


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pass between exchanges. On the other hand, the capability to revise a post before sharing it implies a great deal of confidence and sincerity, regardless of whether or not any time was taken to revise said post. Thus, each word is more significant on Facebook for three main reasons: Facebook structure means that the post will exist forever, what was said in the post received more prior thought than a spoken statement, and the location of the post implies a target audience or friend circle. Language and literacy within Facebook, therefore, cause a juxtaposition of the power of prose with the interaction of casual conversation, all within a context of calculated exchange. The problems that arise within the social network stem from a lack of understanding that those three aspects are interconnected and inseparable; if one disregards the power, the interaction, or the context of Facebook language and literacy, the intent of the post can be misinterpreted, and the potentially positive effect of Facebook on our linguistic society is distorted beyond recognition.

TO SIMPLY LIKE II. The Facebook Framework:

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How Structure has made the Social Network Indispensable In Malcolm Gladwells The Tipping Point(2000), the author describes social epidemics (p. 10) and the factorsor agents of change (p. 19)that result in a prominent societal trend. As Gladwell defines social epidemic over the course of The Tipping Point, a social epidemic refers to any trend that spreads through society and remains prevalent in society for an extended period of timenot unlike a contagious disease. The first factor is called The Law of the Few (p. 19), which essentially states that certain people are more valuable than others in relation to a social epidemic. Different skills are required depending on the trend, but those who possess the desired skills cause the social epidemic to explode within communities and make the social epidemic incurable, in a sense. In the case of Facebook as a social epidemic, the most valuable members are those who add every user with whom they come into contact as friends, those who update frequently, those who generate responses and likes, and those who utilize Facebooks every aspect to its full extent. Not everyone can contribute to the Law of the Few, but everyone is certainly affected by it. Without this small percentage of truly valuable members, Facebook would become irrelevant and unused. Gladwells (2000) second factor in generating a social epidemic is the Stickiness Factor (p. 19), which describes the necessity of a social epidemic to have a meaning or concept that sticks in the minds of the people who perceive or experience it. In other words, this is like having a more subtle, conceptual slogan that is equally important as its designated worded slogan. Facebook is a success because it has social stickiness factors that exceed its simple, practical uses. For example, as was observed in section I, the language and literacy of Facebook are often reflected in everyday conversation, leaving the voice of the Facebook community ringing in the


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ears of the conversations participants. If Facebook did not engage members of society in such a way that they would remember it, have an interest in it, and ultimately have a necessity for it, the social network would not remain as successful as it has. Thirdly, Malcolm Gladwell proposes that the final agent of change is the Power of Context (p. 19), which describes how a change in the environment indefinitely alters the events that take place within it. For example, Gladwell gives the example of crime in New York City. As the city was physically cleaned upthrough graffiti removal, fixed windows, and fresh paint and plantsthe amount of crime in the city drastically decreased. This illustrates that it is human nature to be exquisitely sensitive tothe kinds of contextual changes that are capable of tipping an epidemic (Gladwell, 2000, p. 29). In the case of Facebook, the environment found in real life is paralleled to each and every page of the social network, such as the Wall of any user or the Newsfeed. Essentially, the user manufactures a safe environment within the social network in which to post and thrive. Since the use of Facebook requires the user to individualize a portion of it (to some extent), the social network is highly conducive to participation; every user is provided with a highly individualized context in which to share and from which to expand throughout the network. Similarly, Facebook allows users to seek out contexts that give them a sense of comfort and belonging, allowing for further networking and publicity. Facebook is, in essence, a utopian community that provides for the needs of each and every citizen through contexts specifically designed for the various sub-networks within it. In overview of Gladwells three agents of change, it is evident that Facebook was specifically designed to be an incurable social epidemic. Between a variety of expert networkers, a flexible, impactful purpose, and a customizable construct, the social network has become an integral part of society. Even as a skeletal structure, one can clearly recognize the


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deliberate steps that the founders of Facebook took to weave the social network into the real life society that already existedwhether this was intentional or not. The user determines his or her activity within and in relation to the network, meaning that Gladwells Law of the Few, Stickiness Factor, and Power of Context are relevant to Facebook regardless of the users individual style and preferences. The social network was structured so as to be a community that serves every individual in equal measure, which draws new users into the community, resulting in the Facebook social epidemic. Furthermore, the Facebook has the advantage of simply being convenient. Users admit to being online constantly; having the Facebook available via desktop, laptop, mobile, and iPod makes it a priority for sharing information because the luxury is always available. The very framework of Facebook requires that one shares information and documents everything through ones Wall and Newsfeed so as to keep ones self-image up to date. In this manner, updates are constantly arriving in the Newsfeeds of ones friends, providing every Facebook user with a steady stream of new information. However, it remains to be noted that the Newsfeed is not necessarily comprised of what was once news. Rather than receiving updates concerning major world events and ways to improve ones way of life, Facebook users receive news made up of their peers lunch food of choice, favorite song lyrics, or gaming requests. (Indeed, many users Walls are entirely dominated by Farmville or Mafia Wars icons, two of the many interactive and inter-user games presented via Facebook.) The information overload displayed by Facebook results in a general, subtle incapability to differentiate between worthwhile, accredited news and the offhand thought of a frienda thought that would be overlooked in face-to-face conversation or in a phone call. Facebook allows users to personalize the network, but it also gives the average member of society the means to document his or her every thought and action, regardless of its


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magnitude or relevance to the community. Facebook also allows for news of genuine importance to be recorded, however, and the result is the unfortunate juxtaposition of valid information and useless gabble. In this way, the structure of Facebook is so all-encompassing that it often creates a disregard for valuable information of global interest because it is presented next to useless information of personal interest. Even when analyzed only in the structural sense, Facebook has social implications that influence the overall use of the interface. As stated by a Facebook user, it is a visual reassurance of ones place in society. Truly, Facebook is a carefully constructed social hierarchy in which the number of reigning powers is potentially infinite, and their roles in the social hierarchy are entirely undefined. To use the Facebook jargon, the hierarchy is determined by general likeability, which will be further discussed in section III under the topic of competitive social networking. Through the structure of the Newsfeed, the comment capability, and the like, the social network creates a very prominent depiction of societys preference for particular users. Additionally, the Newsfeed is programmed to show ones favorite friends posts before the rest. For example, of my 1400 Facebook friends, I see the updates of only 50 to 100 friends. Thus, I will comment and like more posts of these friends, resulting in a continued Newsfeed preference for those same friendstherefore, my Newsfeed continues to show only these friends. As a byproduct of the smart Newsfeed, Facebook almost chooses my friends for me. Unless I specifically visit a different friends Wall to comment on a post, that person may become entirely forgotten in my Facebook community. The smart Newsfeed is one of the most prominent methods incorporated into the Facebook structure to determine relations between users, although it appears to be nothing more malignant than an ingenious programming concept.


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Additionally, the structure of Facebook has a sizeable impact on both communication and relationships. Even with the friend-organizing function, the social network is notorious for the blurring of the boundary between friend and acquaintance, as stated by a critical Facebook user. While one can place Facebook friends in different categories such as family or school, Facebook lacks the capability to differentiate between actual context- and emotion-driven types of relationships. The social network links every user with the same, infinite spool of yarn when, in reality, some relationships merit a standalone steel cable while still others require nothing stronger than tooth floss. The skewed, robotic system of systematically linking people together results in a similar social structure in the three-dimensional world, in which the strength of relationships is approached in a logical manner rather than in a way that is reflective of genuine social context. As a result of social networking, relationships are based on the mental tallying of interactions. As a byproduct of these robotic relationships, the structure of Facebook has automated communication. Efficiency (as noted in section III) is most desirable; conversation is a means to an end; much interaction has a mock-serious, impersonal tonality that is appreciated both comically and sincerely. By Facebooks creation of an efficient means of communication, it has also presented a mass-production style of connection with other users. Through this objective, mundane style of conversing, communication via Facebook has assisted in the blurring of the boundary between different types of friends. Impersonal communication leads to robotic interaction, which directly corresponds with relationships founded on frequency of Wall posts and not genuine emotional ties. An addition to the automated communication style within the Facebook community is the like, which is a simple option given under every post to each and every friend of the poster


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one may press the like button if one has nothing to add to the post, or ignore the post altogether. There is also a like function for every comment added to any post, so that one has the option of liking a comment if the post itself is not to ones liking. The like button is a powerful factor in the success of Facebook in maintaining the strength of weak ties (Gladwell), because with a single like, one projects his or her name onto the posters Wall and under the radar of fellow likers of the post, and makes him- or herself visible to the posters friends. In a split second, the liker has made him- or her-self exposed to hundreds, or even thousands of individuals with a single like. It is an effortless means to creating and reinforcing bonds within a community that is distant by nature. Where one would normally leave a brief message in order to stay in touch, participants in the Facebook community need only press a button to perpetuate communicationor so it would seem to the user. What Facebook users forget is the benefit of losing efficiency for the sake of clarity and sincerity. As the like and other Facebook communication methods continuously expand into the three-dimensional world of interaction, the substance and thought behind communication continues to decline. The danger presented by the structure of Facebook is the users growing disability to separate Facebook structure from real societal structure. A common language thread among Facebook users is a reliance or dependence on the social network. The Facebook interface was designed so as to be user-friendly and useful for every individual, and is continuously updated with the goal of remaining so. However, it is evident that the discussed structural implications of the network have become the users only means of making sense of real society. Facebook users demonstrate a desire to categorize every aspect of society, from friends to events to status updates. The challenge of every Facebook user who wishes to fully experience life in


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three dimensions should be to exist without categories; through a detour from the organized tendencies of Facebook, one can determine ones own social role and context.

TO SIMPLY LIKE III. The Facebook Celebrity:

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Viewing Social Networking through a Competitive Lens In his book concerning societys urge to shop, I Want That! How We All Became Shoppers, Thomas Hine (2002) analyzed the relationship between shopping and human psychology. He portrayed the natural process of trading currency for goods as being comparable to sexual activity, especially in reference to competition. Hines describes this theory thusly:

Indeed, shopping has a lot in common with sex: Just about everybody does it. Some people brag about how well they do it. Some keep it a secret. Most people worry, at least a little, about whether they do it right. And both sex and shopping provide ample opportunities to make really foolish choices. Some shopping is, like sex, an effort to fulfill fundamental biological needs. But shopping, like sex, is often playful, though the play is very serious. In sexual relationships we learn about ourselves in relationship to another person. In shopping, we define ourselves through our relationships to things and to the meanings that our society attributes to them (Hines, 2002, p. ix).

Throughout this analysis, one could very easily replace shopping with Facebook and the theory would still be extremely applicable. There are those who are more talented at networking than othersin reference to the Law of the Few from Gladwells (2000) strength of weak ties from section II. Facebook users often compete for recognition as one of the Few in the Facebook social epidemic. For some Facebook users, it is used as a highly publicized outlet, while others maintain their Wall in modest silence out of self-consciousnessbe it in respect to the competitive wittiness of ones updates or the versatility of ones posts. As far as


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foolish choices are concerned, both Facebook and sex can have inescapable repercussions, should one conduct oneself in a way that is less than appropriate in any given context. On Facebook, it may be a thoughtlessly rude comment or an angry status update, carelessly cast into cyberspace in a moment of weaknessor perhaps in a moment of competitive haste to out-do a fellow user. In respect to biological needs, every human being certainly craves attention from others, and Facebook is a means to fulfill this necessityalthough Facebook is more of a means to demonstrate how much attention a user receives. While an attention craving is not altogether analogous to the biological need to reproduce, there is still a sense of urgency about receiving notice (or notifications, to use Facebook terminology) from a fellow being, because with notice comes status. The following section, however, exists chiefly to target the remainder of the passage: the idea of serious play, the relationships that stem from this play, and the meaning constructed around the interactions regarded as harmless to the untrained eye that can all be traced back to the fundamental aspect of competition in the Facebook community. In respect to social function, Facebook is a venerable vessel for competition. As stated by Manuel Castells (2010) in his composition entitled The Power of Identity, one could explain Facebooks structure in our competitive society thusly: In simple terms, identities organize the meaning, while roles organize the functions (p. 7). This explanation encompasses the construction of the social hierarchy within the Facebook community, especially in terms of inclusion and exclusion. Individuals contribute to the definition of Facebookwho is a member and what is postedbut the role of each member in the network determines why the network is used by different levels of the social hierarchy. The amount and variety of posting, the number of friends, the frequency of updates, and the overall likeability of a user generally determines his or her role in the Facebook hierarchy.


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Frequent posters and updaters are generally accepted in the social network at large, free to post wherever, whenever. Therefore, users are constantly competing for this invincible status, in which style and placement of ones posts are overshadowed by the users superior place within the Facebook social hierarchy. In reference to style and placement of a post, users will admit that it is occasionally not socially acceptable to write on a certain persons Wall, or to send a friend request to a certain user. This social acceptance, or a lack thereof, is generally a byproduct of face-to-face interaction; the more one interacts with a person in real life, the more appropriate it is to Facebook that person. However, it is not necessarily advisable to, for example, post a joke on the Wall of a classmate with whom you have had classes over the past decade, unless it is a joke that you specifically have in common with that person. In the chatter composing the spoken sub-culture of Facebook, out-of-place posts are discussed with disdain and the poster is regarded as being less than a functional member of society. In the act of writing, students inadvertently may mark themselves as outsiders by writing a message judged inappropriate by others (Finders, 1997, p. 44). Users constantly fight the looming threat of becoming an outsider due to a deviation from the social expectations of the user in reference to Facebook. The social network requires users to be completely dependent on fellow users for acceptance and reciprocation, and are subliminally excluded from the community if they do not meet social standards. Therefore, the competitive element within the Facebook network revolves around sustaining a level of likeability that is high enough to excuse one from worrying about the appropriate wording, placement, and timing of a post. As the likeability of any user is determined by fellow userswho are all attempting to outdo the likeability of an y other user as welleach comment and like possesses a heavy weight on the scale of likeability. The


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omnipresent spirit of competition results in a diminished frequency of liking while simultaneously lending great power to the likes that do appear on a post. The like, in addition to being a structural function of Facebook (as described in section II), is a clear means of illustrating who is in support of whom when it comes to climbing the social ladder of the network. To expand on the support between users, Margaret Finders discusses a similar conundrum in respect to yearbook signing among junior high girls. Allegiances became visible in both the act of writing and in the messages themselves. What is written and to whom is controlled by ones social status (Finders, 1997, p. 43). The allegiances on Facebook are not determined by who is friends with whom, but rather the individuals who conduct reciprocal interactions. The more back-and-forth discourse between individuals, the more apparent their allegiancejust like in real life. Also, different styles of writing are appropriate for different tiers of the Facebook structure, and if the dialect rule is broken, the speaker is shunned from the Facebook society. The dialect rule refers to the length of a post, the level of spelling and grammatical correctness, and the mood or tonality of a post in any given context. There is an expected informal, brief dialect between best friends, and a more formal interaction between classmates posting about a group project, for example. These expectations cannot be altered by a single person or that one person is excluded from likeability status. Making other users uncomfortable through a change in habit is not the way to compete for the attention of Facebook users that regard the social network as a predictable space. In this sense, the allegiances in the Facebook network are demonstrated and perpetuated in similar ways to real lifein reciprocal conversation and a similar style of communicatingand, therefore, the allegiances of Facebook are most likely the most honest representation of real society in the context of Facebook.


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However, the element of competition is incalculably more prevalent in Facebook, in that the user strives to maintain numerous allegiances, and strives just as enthusiastically to make these allegiances apparent. Within the Facebook society, there is also a mutual expectation that updates and posts should be witty in some respect; if not witty and casual, a post must have tremendous meaning, and any update that falls in between witty and meaningful is ignored or attacked. In observing the yearbook signing habits of junior high girls, Finders (1997) noted that if one believed she was not savvy enough to create an appropriate text or powerful enough to forgo judgment, often, out of fear of marking oneself as an outsider, one just scribbled safe messages such as Have a good summer or See ya next year (p. 44). While this junior high trend may sound familiar, it is alarming in that Facebook solicits a remarkably similar response from each and every user. The safe message on Facebook is pressing the like button, or perhaps posting a generic, simply likeable status about the enjoyable weather or a deliberately irritating television persona. Users are encouraged to be competitive in wit and meaning, because these two factors directly correlate with the likeability of the usera significant likeability being the ultimate goal of every Facebook user. Due to this additional social expectation, cyber-bullying emerges through Facebook and creates a tense atmosphere of inclusion, exclusion, and forced conformity. On the subject of yearbooks among junior high girls, Margaret Finders (1997) makes another observation that may be interpreted in terms of the social network of Facebook as well: Unknowingly, some are allowed to speak while others are silenced, some to write while others are written upon (Finders, 1997, p. 47). A clever status update may be invaded by users that disagree with the context of the update as opposed to the update itselfin other words, a status may lose any


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likeability because the user that posted it may not have any likeability in the first place. In contrast, an entirely average update may receive extensive positive attention because the higher a users likeability level, the more users want to be associated with that user. Thus, cyberbullying is a means of including and excluding oneself and others for the express purpose of heightening ones perceived social standing. Modern society is known for hiding behind a screen, but none of this hiding is quite so cowardly as Facebook cyber-bullying. The most prominent element of cyber-bullying is the power in the delay. There is a great sense of security in the knowledge that one can wait for the most impactful response to arrive in the mind, ready to be transferred through the keyboard to the Newsfeed of countless Facebook users. When the battling posts, comments, and comebacks appear in the Newsfeed, however, fellow users do not witness the time spent thinking of what to sayall that is visible is the quality and effect of the response. A scatterbrained insulter may appear eloquent and scathing online, an illusion that serves the dual purpose of bullying the victim into retreat and boosting the insulters ego. This results in an endless cycle in which users are continually silenced while abusers cultivate greater and greater opinions of themselves, until the number of users that are allowed to post updates has been severely depleted. In terms of competition, cyber-bullying is a method of eliminating the competition; since it cannot be prevented or even slowed, it is one of the most prominent trends both within the Facebook community and in the Facebook subculture. As a general rule, Facebook use inspires competitioncompetition that too frequently evolves into interactions that benefit very few users. Every Facebook user is running the same race with a common finish linethe finish line being the highest level of likeability and the race being the networking skills required to reach it. As a society that is founded on mutual


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obligation to one another for success, the Facebook community should be an encouraging and polite one, but this is clearly not the case. Users depend on one another for social status within the social network, but the prominence of cyber-bullying has severely diminished the level of trust within the community. Ideally, Facebook would develop a sense of healthy competition or a complete lack thereof, in which the social expectation is solely that users respect one another as members of a society with a common goal: the sharing of thoughts and information.

TO SIMPLY LIKE IV. The Facebook Funhouse Mirror:

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How the Individual is Portrayed in the Social Network In a mental health study concerning teenagers and the growing Facebook obsession, researchers recognized the risk of depression among users due to the skewed view (Tanner 2011) of the community offered by the social network. The author of the research article, Lindsey Tanner (2011), describes the key problem thusly: Online, there's no way to see facial expressions or read body language that provide context. Through the research, psychologists discovered the powerful impact of Facebook on the self-image of the user. There is an acute awareness of ones number of friends, the amount of interaction with those friends, and ones own likeability. The question that emerges from the topic of Facebook and self-image is not whether or not Facebook influences the users perceptions of the self, but how the social network has managed to instill itself as a societal mirror within individualsregardless of the individuals recognition of this installment. Primarily, one must recognize that the user, in creating a Facebook account, is essentially constructing a counterpart persona that lives, breathes, and grows within the social network. However, unlike the real world, Facebook offers a readymade template for the creation of this online alter ego; while there is comparison between individuals in the real world, Facebook makes the ability to compare individuals infinitely more straightforward. The template offers the same information of every member: education, work, family, birthday, photos, and a list of friends, among a few other informational pages. In the words of Castells (2010) concerning social networking and identity: It is easy to agree on the fact that, from a sociological perspective, all identities are constructed. The real issue is how, from what, by whom, and for what. The construction


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of identities uses building materials from history, from geography, from biology, from productive and reproductive institutions, from collective memory and from personal fantasies, from power apparatuses and religious revelations. But individuals, social groups, and societies process all these materials, and rearrange their meaning, according to social determinations and cultural projects that are rooted in their social structure, and in their space/time framework (p. 7). In the words of a Facebook frequenter, Facebook shapes identity through connection. The individual is perceived based on who he or she knows instead of based on who he or she is. Each user can only modify the foundation from which every user creates an identity. Because of the template from which every member creates an identityalong with the endless lists of friends, mutual friends, and relationship statusesthere is truly no conceivable way to exist as a standalone member of the Facebook community. This means that the individual perceives him-or herself in the context of othersand, if we adhere to the discussion concerning competition in section III, the individuals object of comparison is an intensely competitive community that portrays itself at its highest point of cleverness and general success. Thus, link between Facebook and depression is fortified; the individual places him- or herself, in full awareness of his or her flaws, next to the romanticized lives of competitive Facebook personas, and feels less than adequate by comparison. Castells (2010), in synchronization with Gladwells (2000) Power of Context, states: How, and by whom, different types of identities are constructed, and with what outcomes, cannot be addressed in general, abstract terms: it is a matter of social contextThus, our discussion must refer to a specific context, the rise of the network society (p. 7). Indeed, not only are social identities constructed through the social network, but the very prevalence of


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social networking in modern society determines the extent to which the internet persona invades the three-dimensional persona. Due to the level of importance placed on Facebook as a utility and oftentimes as a necessitythe self-image of the user is shaped largely by the image projected by Facebook. However, the real danger emerges when the Facebook user forgets that he or she does not create the Facebook persona from scratch, but modifies the default persona that lies within every Facebook persona, regardless of time, place, or preference. When the Facebook user begins to view him- or herself in terms of the Facebook alter ego, the individual recognizes the fundamental similarities between Facebook personas in the entire community and feels insignificant. The structural conformity of Facebook may lead the user to lose his or her sense of individuality. In her ethnography analyzing literacy among junior high girls, Margaret Finders (1997) writes the following about yearbook signing: Messages were borrowed, erased, and scribbled over to present a particular kind of self as well as to document and deny allegiances (Finders, 1997, p. 41). This truly represents the identity shaped by Facebook. Users borrow thoughts from other users and sources, delete posts, comments, and photos, and comment endlessly on a point of interest. Not only do these actions contribute to the individualization of the social network, but this also defines the user based on his or her sources, interests, and conversational partners. The scribbling over of the junior high yearbook is reproduced within the Facebook Profile, as users scribble over the monotonous structure and impersonal operations of the social network. However, it is crucial that the user recognizes that the scribbled over structure is still present underneath the Profile of each and every user, and true individualization is impossible. In conjunction with section I, it is crucial to analyze the connotations and implications of the Facebook Profile when determining the impact of Facebook on the individualand vice


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versa. Merriam-Webster (2008) defines a profile as a representation of something in outline. The fact that the individual on Facebook is defined by his or her Profile is reflective of the idea that the Profile is an incomplete representation of the individual it is expected to define. Thus, the individual Facebook user is outlined in terms of the Profile and is perceived by others in terms of this silhouette. The main reason that the Facebook Profile acts solely as a silhouette is due to the actions of the individual; the social network is generally utilized as a means to convey the extremities of ones life. Of course, extreme in the context of Facebook is not necessarily extreme in the context of real life. The Facebook extreme is anything that snags the attention of other users in terms of likeability, be it a clever comment or a strange coincidence. Generally, status updates and posts are used to draw attention to something specific, such as a witty thought or an exciting occurrence. Every human being has thousands of thoughts every daymost of them mundane and unappealingbut only a few of these thoughts will be documented on Facebook, and those documented thoughts will no doubt be the very cleverest. Accordingly, the public perception of any one user is based solely on his or her most intelligent thoughts and the most interesting aspects of his or her lifestyle. This is the key instigator of depressed emotions among Facebook addicts, and this is the main reason that Facebook does not provide a useful reflection of the user; rather, the social network illustrates a funhouse effect, in which the user is exaggerated in some ways and forcibly shrunk in others. The shrinking effect of the Facebook funhouse mirror is evident through censorship of the user; while Facebook users are free to express themselves to an extent, it is society that suggests what should be left out of the social networks discourse. Facebook users call this censoring a filter, and oftentimes refer to fellow users based on their concept and utilization of


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this filter. Just as there are aspects of the self that are not shared in the real world public, so there are expectations to omit aspects of the self from the Facebook public. However, while real society asks for censorship for the sake of personal modesty, Facebook requests censorship for the sake of public appreciation. Participants in the social network are expected to filter out those updates and comments that wont please the Facebook community in some way. Thus, individuals within the Facebook community find themselves defined by this expectation to filter, seeing as this expectation forces them to alter their portrayals of themselvesthat is, if they wish to remain at a respectable level in the Facebook hierarchy. The Facebook community sets standards, and users are expected to change themselves so as to fit these standards; if the user internalizes this altered self, the self-image of the user in real life is altered accordingly. Furthermore, no Facebook user is exempt from the laws of the social network due to equality of exposition. To use the language of Facebook, it is impossible to keep a low profile when it comes to the social network. Beyond privacy settings, every user displays the same type of information at a similar frequency and with a similar degree of publicity among his or her friends. This displays yet another tool of assimilation among Facebook users; in the threedimensional society, different individuals have a different presence in a group, inspiring various dynamics across different social contexts. This is eliminated from Facebook, however, due to the template from which every user constructs a more personal identity. For example, real-life social dynamics in individuals can be placed on a spectrum ranging from painfully shy to exceedingly outspoken, and every aspect of this spectrum is accompanied by appropriate body language and the individuals function in an interaction. In the Facebook society, shyness and outspokenness can only be differentiated from one another by frequency of postingwhich generally does not differ noticeably across personality types due to social expectations of


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postersand the body language and personal style of interaction are removed from the online society. As long as individuals heed the unspoken, unwritten laws of Facebook maintenance, every Facebook persona has the same demeanor when it comes to the online social dynamic. In short, the real danger of Facebooks influence on personal identity comes from the individuals credence in the social expectations of the social network. Truthfully, identities can also be originated from dominant institutions, they become identities only when and if social actors internalize them, and construct their meaning around this internalization (Castells, 2010, p.7). To take the laws of the Facebook community as the laws unto ones life is to welcome assimilation into a congregation made up of entirely different personalities. On the other hand, it is undeniable that Facebook provides an inescapable template from which all Facebook personas develop, meaning that regardless of ones resistance to the social expectations of Facebook, one cannot escape the conformity that is implied in the very architecture of Facebook. The safest solution to the issue of identity in Facebook, therefore, is to separate the two selves: the actual self and the Facebook self. In doing so, one eliminates the chance that the Facebook personaconformed by natureshould contaminate the true individual that legitimately participates in the real world.

TO SIMPLY LIKE Conclusion: Reflection

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To analyze the culture of Facebook is to study a global community that is constantly evolving and becoming something new. I chose to study the Facebook community because, as a college student, I have learned that Facebook is almost always the primary means for communication, event planning, and distraction. My interest in Facebook is perpetuated by its prevalence in my own social circles, both online and in person. In tackling the implications of Facebook in terms of real life, I was able to separate two-dimensional Facebook from threedimensional society and recognize how they influence one another. What I did not get the chance to unpack, however, were other forms of communication, especially texting, phone conversations, Skype, and similar methods of communication that are irreplaceable in modern life. Despite the absence of analyses of other communication styles, I am pleased with the outcome of this study. In discussing Facebook and social reality as two independent, yet interconnected social constructions, I discovered aspects of the social network that I either overlooked or chose to ignore previously. As the writing of the paper progressed, I continued to learn about the social network in which I have been grossly involved for years, but never really observed with a close and critical eye. I discovered its subtleties and can now recognize why Facebook has become such a prominent social trend. Due to its very structure alone, Facebook has become indispensable in society to an almost alarming extent. If I was to expand this paper or start from the beginning again, I would conduct fewer, more extensive interviews so as to gather key words and phrases about the social network, but also to delve deep into individual users thoughts concerning Facebook. I had approximately 150 users responses to the same questions, and was able to find linguistic trends due to sheer numbers, but it may have been more beneficial to explicitly ask Facebook users specific


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questions concerning the four cornerstones of this study in order to grasp the individuals perceptions of language, literacy, Facebook structure, competition, and the social networking self-image. Had I asked more deliberate questions, I could have discussed each cornerstone both based on what individual users said about the cornerstones, but also through the trends found in the responses from users as a group. This would have resulted in a more in-depth description of each cornerstone in this response to the realities of Facebook. Additionally, the structure of this study was a challenge on its own; seeing as Facebook is successful in part due to its multifaceted nature, it was difficult to find controlling concepts that werent deeply intertwined with other concepts. I chose to separate my findings into the four cornerstoneslanguage and literacy, structure, competition, and self-imagebecause I believe they represent different aspects of the society. Language and literacy function as the abstract subculture surrounding the network; in contrast, Facebook structure offers a concrete method to study the social networks ties to real life; competition highlights user-to-user interaction; the self-image section represents the introspective part of Facebook, to counteract the interdependency (or the lack thereof) found in Facebook competition. Overall, my organization of Facebook-related topics seemed to fit with the overall theme of comparing Facebook society to real life society, because each section offered ties to real life. The study of Facebook culture, as a whole, merits more time and explanation than any work I could offer in a fragment of one semester. One could publish a novel solely describing one of my four Facebook cornerstones, especially since all four cornerstones are so deeply intertwined that one could describe all of them while attempting to discuss a single one (which may have happened periodically throughout the paper). The greater message in this study, to make an overwhelming topic more manageable, is that Facebook and real life are irreversibly


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interdependentyet they are indubitably so different from one another that they should not be utilized as representations for one another. Upon approaching Facebook and its many aspects, the key lesson is to check the power of Facebook in real life society, and to assure that Facebook is no more than a supplement to ones three-dimensional existence.

TO SIMPLY LIKE References Castells, M. (2010). The power of identity. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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Finders, M. (1997). Just girls: Hidden literacies and life in junior high. New York: Sage Publications. Gladwell, M. (2000). The tipping point; How little things can make a big difference. New York: Little, Brown and Company. Hine, T. (2002). I want that: How we all became shoppers. New York: HarperCollins. Tanner, L. (2011, March 29). Docs warn about teens and 'facebook depression' . The Associated Press. profile. 2008. In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved April 26, 2011 from