I found a boyfriend on October 28th, 2013.
“Does he speak English?” says my high school history teacher, skeptical that I could ever obtain a boyfriend. He doesn’t speak English. He actually doesn’t speak at all! But that’s only because he doesn’t exist.
My 558 Facebook friends didn’t know that though, and judging by their responses they didn’t even bother to think that this update was false. On Facebook I connect with mostly people who I know in my offline world, or close friends of those people. And everybody who knows me well knows that I am rather independent and I have never been in a relationship- so pigs flew and my phone exploded when the status change was made.
Why is it that a click of a button sent my family and friends into a frenzy? Why does an online declaration not just mean a declaration on the web- but actually means something happened in my physical world?
There are roughly two reasons:
1) My online profile mirrors my offline identity. For the most part, my Friends on Facebook use their profiles in the same way. Nancy Baym discusses in her book that the online world provides the option for new identities to emerge, ones that are potentially separate from who we are seen as in the offline world- this notion is called disembodiment. While we have the ability to make profiles that do not reflect our one physical body, my profile is very much “embodied”. It is filled with pictures of myself and filled with posts/information about what is happening in my life. So therefore when I post opinions, thoughts or updates my Friends assume those are all true to what is really happening in my world- and therefore use my Facebook as a way to keep tabs on what I am up to in New York City.
2) My online profile is authentic. Okay, so sure I post pictures of myself and my activities on my page so people know it is in fact me- but why should they believe I’m telling the truth? Social theorist Anthony Giddens discusses the self as a “reflexive narrative”; a story of ourselves that is constantly changing but is still coherent. In “The Concept of Pure Relationship” Giddens says “the authentic person is one who knows herself and is able to reveal that knowledge to the other”. I know myself, and my Friends know me as well. Not only does all of my information match who I am in the offline world- but what I post online mirrors the way my brain works and the way I would speak in real life. As my life moves along with new realizations and as I grow as a person, my online narrative does the same- it has been this way since I got signed up for Facebook several years ago. Not only do I create my identity online but my Friends contribute as well. I am tagged in posts and pictures by other people which adds another layer to my online profile, making the online portrayal of life even more authentic and valid in someways. These types of posts are what my family seems to like the most.
My Friends assume (correctly for the most part) that I am being my authentic self online. A couple days prior to changing my status I tweeted a joke a friend made about me not having a boyfriend- I explicitly stated that I DID NOT have a boyfriend. But a day later when I changed my Facebook profile my friends who are tied to me on Twitter and Facebook still believed that I was no longer single. This is because I do not lie on my Facebook or try to turn myself into a different person… Until October 28th that is. *evil laugh* When I fooled everybody!
Weak Ties Helped My Lies
I have maintained a stable narrative for years, so now that I made this false change- I was extremely nervous, mostly because I felt like a liar. I also did not want my family and friends to think that I was living a secret life here in New York City.
After revealing that it was fake my Friends approached me in real life saying things like “Yeah I texted *insert friend name here* to ask what was going on!” A lot of people were talking to each other and avoiding confronting me! I suppose this is because the majority of people in my Friends list are people whom I have “weak ties” with. In her book, Nancy Baym says “although people in close relationships do use SNSs [social network sites] with each other, most relationships maintained via SNSs are weak.” About one hundred people liked my status change, are these people all my best friends with whom I am in constant communication? No, that would be nearly impossible. However it is the people with whom I am only connected with in only a few ways who helped perpetuate this lie. My close friends and “strong ties” contacted me directly and soon figured out that this was all a joke (I am a terrible liar), but those who do not talk to me often seemed to discuss the change amongst themselves which got me more likes and got even more people believing my story. It would appear that Friends on Facebook with whom we do not typically connect with via other mediums are more likely to accept the changes of online profiles as changes in the person themselves.
Social media is an extension of ourselves. We have the ability to become people who we are not or act in ways we would not act in the offline world. However, SNSs that are driven by profile seem to be used as a check in point or a gossip magazine for those we know to keep up with the latest gossip in our lives. However, no matter how trustworthy or authentic a profile seems it might be best to remain a tad wary of profile changes because who knows who is really telling the truth, or who will make you a participant in their latest social (media) experiment.