The “Reader’s Digest” Version of Gustav Foray’s “Considering the Rhetoric of Facebook”

NOTE: This post is an edited version of Gustav Foray’s original article, “Considering the Rhetoric of Facebook.”

“She has 1,437 friends?” Welcome to Facebook.

As of April 2008, Facebook officially became more popular than MySpace. This shift is important because, fundamentally, Facebook and MySpace are the same. And thus the switch from one to the other reflects the preferences and values of its users. Furthermore, this shift is due to differences in design and management. One of the most common reasons for switching to Facebook was the promise of “security.” However, though Facebook thrives due to its reputation for privacy and security, its ultimate aim is to blur the definition of “friend” and “distant acquaintance.” In doing so it negates the effect of its security regulations and instead coaxes its users into a mode of public “self-broadcasting.”

Though one of Facebook’s defining features is its “barriers,” which can be changed at the will of the user through numerous security settings (Who can see my profile? Just friends? Friends of friends? Anyone?), its true intention is to dissolve these barriers and make every user feel part of a common community; Facebook. One of Facebook’sfacebook "like" button unique components is its “networks”; in setting up your profile you automatically align yourself within a group (i.e., a network). Within these networks people can search for each other, and often people of the same network do not have to be explicit “friends” in order to view each other’s profiles.

Two of Facebook defining features, those that define it against MySpace, are its security measures and its emphasis on networking. By emphasizing networking, Facebook emphasizes that people in similar networks automatically share similarities, they are automatically “friends” of sorts. Furthermore, Facebook’s legacy of exclusivity, its “gates,” act to make people feel that they are uniquely part of something, of the community of Facebook.

And thus Facebook is not really “secure”, so to speak. However, Facebook cannot guard against friends of friends, not against every stranger. For instance if someone is “tagged” in a photo album that includes somebody else’s friend, a friend of that friend can look through the entire album. In this way signing up for Facebook is an inexplicit agreement to self-broadcast oneself.

Facebook is organized such that it seems like an extension of our personalities, however, when it extends to the aspects of human nature that illicit “people watching,” Facebook magnifies the behavior past anything seen in the real world. The extension of people-watching into the Facebook is often playfully called “Facebook stalking.”

This is the inexplicit point of Facebook, one that is obvious when considering its structure and architecture. Unlike MySpace, the first page a user goes to after logging in is a “mini-feed.” MySpace is about the individual; MySpace. Facebook is about the community—it’s about looking at friends along with people who aren’t really friends. Furthermore, Facebook allows a user to go “offline.” A user can dodge the embarrassment of being seen on Facebook for several hours, i.e., looking/stalking people’s profiles.

In “stalking” our friends online what we are doing is inferring the character of their lives from a seemingly vast, but actually sparse amount of information. This is where the “book” aspect of “Facebook” comes in, where the fiction comes in. With Facebook, each user can write a version of themselves. Consider for instance that the largest thing on the screen after the login menu is the phrase in which one can then write an update one’s “status.” What is important is that the prompt is not “I am,” but is instead in the third person. This dissociates the user’s online identity from their actual identity. In doing so it brings an element of fiction into the Facebook.

Though new in some senses, Facebook is mostly a recasting of basic social networking, for Facebook is not a forum in which people create friends. It is not “friend-building,” but rather “people-monitoring.” You know, important stuff, like discovering some guy’s personal disaster when his toaster’s bit the dust. The extent of the monitoring is unprecedented, but its root is common in all of mankind. People are interested in people, that is one thing that I am sure will never change.

In Tweat Speak…

Sharing the events of your day with your Facebook “friends” means sharing yourself with the world—but then that’s the appeal, right?

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~ by lookATLANTA on September 4, 2011.

One Response to “The “Reader’s Digest” Version of Gustav Foray’s “Considering the Rhetoric of Facebook””

  1. Congrates Laurie – I googled the phrase “Condsidering the rhetoric of facebook” for the article and noticed that your blog was the SECOND hit!!! I thought this was very cool and just wanted to share.

    S

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