For this assignment, I decided to change the education information on my Facebook profile to make it seem like I would be transferring to University of Miami for the coming spring semester. I only let my roommate and my mother know what was going on beforehand so it wouldn’t cause any issues going forward. Because I have a number of friends at UM, I needed it to be believable and seem authentic, so I did research on how their transfer process works and the majors they offer. They use a rolling-admissions system for their spring semester with a deadline of November 1st, therefore timing was perfect and I decided the Motion Pictures major in their School of Communications would be a match. I had a school and a major; it was time to post the status:
That status took me about half an hour to make. I did about five different versions, and my roommate even attempted one. The challenge was in creating a status that kept in mind my the different groups of people I was connected with on Facebook that would likely see it (or as Baym would call it, my imagined audience): family, high school friends, NYU friends, Florida friends (specifically those that attend UM), while also keeping in line with my ‘Facebook personality.’ My roommate had suggested something along the lines of explaining that while I enjoyed my time at NYU and am sad to go, I look forward to a new journey at UM. However, I tend to stay away from posting anything remotely sentimental and tend to be ‘safe,’ because I really have no interest in having people ask what happened, if I’m okay, or causing internet arguments. According to I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately, Alice Marwick and danah boyd would probably refer to my method at trying to navigate through these multiple audiences as the ‘lowest-common denominator effect,’ where people post things they believe would appeal to the broadest range of their audience. Navigation was key in trying to post a status that would seem like my authentic self, but would interest people at the same time.
In the same article, the authors state, “Context collapse creates an audience that is often imagined as its most sensitive members: parents, partners, and bosses [in my case: family, UM students, and skeptics]”, and people who fall victim to context collapse tend to misinterpret the message or the context in which it was produced to be consumed. I was sure context collapse was bound to occur, since not everyone is expected to get the implication behind ‘Hurricane Steph’ (while the UM mascot is an Ibis, students call themselves Miami Hurricanes), but it was sure to intrigue and attract the attention of those I was trying to reach. An example of context collapse that occurred due to the status would be the following:
It took a good 15 minutes to explain that by putting ‘Hurricane Steph,’ I was implying I was now apart of the University of Miami community. Which then leads to my next phase: the reactions. While some commented on the status,
Others reacted through messages:
In Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities, Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell touch on the idea of performance Erving Goffman discusses in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he talks about the concepts of front-stage and back-stage. Front-stage is where we, as the performer, do our act in accordance with our audience. Back-stage is where the performer doesn’t have to stick to the act because there is not the pressure of an audience witnessing your every move. In this case, my front-stage would be my status and the comments posted underneath that are made visible to anyone in my network, while back-stage would be the individual messages people wrote me in response to the status.
I found it interesting that some people decided to approach me about the status through ‘back-stage’ methods rather than just commenting underneath the subject matter. I guess that would be a testament to ties and relationships, something Haythornthwaite talks about in Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects. In the article she talks about there being three different types of ties: latent, weak, and strong. Latent ties would be those connections you have with people on social media, but don’t really interact with (maybe there’s an occasional ‘like’ here and there); weak ties would be those connections with which you have limited communication with (maybe you just talk to them on Facebook), and strong ties would pretty much be your BFFs (anyone you interact with on a daily basis off/on more than one platform). By choosing to approach me about my transfer via messaging and texting, it shows that my relationship with these people are most likely strong ties, or at least stronger than weak ties and feel close enough to contact me directly instead of a place where anyone of my connections would interact with me. As for the people who commented under the status, while some are weak ties, majority are closer to strong ties, which makes me think of the concept of facework.
Facework, based on the Asian concept of face, as described by Lim, Vadrevu, Chan, and Basnyat in Facework on Facebook, is this idea of gaining (or losing) a certain level of status or social capital through image representation. Self-face deals with concern for one’s own image, other-face is concern for another’s individual image, and mutual-face is concern for not only the image of individuals involved but also the relationship. It can be argued that the people who messaged me individually, were concerned with self-face, trying to show me that not only do they care, but they went through another means of communication to show that they care. The people who commented on the status, would likely be showing mutual-face because not only are they are showing me that they care, but they are showing the world that they have this connection with me.
In addition to the status, I changed the pre-determined profile category for education, knowing that it would show up in the news feed in case they missed the status:
This also got a couple hits:
I even ‘liked’ the UM Facebook page:
For the next several hours following these profile changes, I noticed that not only were more University of Miami related things showing up in ads, but also in my newsfeed. I was seeing more about the Miami Hurricanes than NYU Secrets. Also, friends who attend UM, who don’t usually show up very often in my newsfeed became more frequent.
In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Baym talks about how disembodied identities, common in social media and determined by our activity (statuses we make, things we like, and general online activity), opens up new possibilities for exploration and deception. SNS (Social networking sites) are said to engineer self-presentation with things like their pre-determined categories. By utilizing Facebook’s education category and ‘like’ system, I’ve presented myself as a UM student, not only deceiving the people I’m connected with, but also Facebook itself if the activity on the site following the changes are any sign.
Overall, I’d say the ‘experiment’ was a success. Initially, I chose this because I figured it would be interesting to see how people would react and if I would be able to make it seem authentic enough that it’d be believable, and didn’t think it would cause too much of an issue (forever thinking of nightmare readers I guess). However, there were some instances where I felt uncomfortable with it, usually relating to the very excited reactions of family and close friends. So while I was kind of hoping to get it done with so less people would be affected, I was also dreading changing my profile information back, therefore revealing the transfer to UM would not be happening.
I changed it back after about 10 days. This is some of the feedback I got:
So people clearly aren’t happy with me right now. Oh, well. What I found interesting was that there were people who ‘liked’ my change back and the reveal, but hadn’t ‘liked’ or commented on the initial change so I wasn’t even aware that they knew of the change. Because of the reduced cue environment, I wasn’t sure how to take this. A person liking something that relates to something it seemed like they weren’t even aware of. Did they not interact with the initial change because they weren’t sure it was real, or was it because they weren’t sure how to express their reaction? Or maybe by not liking or commenting, they were actually expressing their disapproval of the change? Still not sure, but definitely food for thought on the new ‘social cues’ or ways of expression brought into social media.