Monday, September 25, 2006

Using and Utilizing Facebook

Since the conception of Facebook, the world of social networking has drastically changed. We no longer rely on address books, US mail, or even phone calls to keep up with distant friends. In fact, our childhood friends may not even receive a text message, e-mail, or e-card from us as an attempt to keep up and say hello. Instead, the communication medium of choice has gravitated towards Facebook for many of our social networking interactions. By conducting a simple search, we can add a friend, acquaintance, or even stranger to our “friends” list and have access to a list of information about their lives. As friends, we can write on their walls, send them messages, and comment on their pictures.

At first glance, the first thing we may notice about the anatomy of a Facebook profile is a picture at the top left side of the page. Individuals can selectively put up any picture they choose as long as it is not pornography or subject to copyright protection. Because we can choose this photograph, we are able to portray ourselves to the world in the manner that we feel best represents ourselves- or that we would like ourselves to be represented. When searches are conducted by scanning for our names from any computer, this picture is immediately seen and can be used as a tool to identify the correct individual.

Below the photograph are a number of hyperlinks to other photographs and notes posted by the individual. A computer user with access to a profile also has the opportunity to send the individual a message or add him/her as a friend. Further down on the left side, photographs are shown of mutual friends that the computer user has in common with the individual’s friend followed by six randomly selected photographs of the individual’s friends from his/her school. Below the images of friends are hyperlinks to lists of friends in other networks. At the bottom of the left bisection of the screen are links to photograph albums posted by the individual in the profile.

The right side of the bisected webpage focuses more on information and less on hyperlinks and photographs. On this side of the webpage, an individual can selectively post information such as university, year of graduation, address, phone number, and other forms of contact information. There is also the new and highly controversial “news feed” section which traces his/her recent activity on Facebook. This general information is followed by much more personal information such as relationship status, interests, favorite movies, favorite bands, favorite quotes, and an open “about me” section. In this section, the individual can post anything at all to briefly describe him/herself. This section usually ranges from approximately one character to one thousand characters in length.

Directly below the personal statements are links to the individual’s university and high schools so the person viewing the webpage can search for other individuals from those schools. Perhaps the most intriguing and most-viewed section of the Facebook webpage is the wall section, in which the individual’s friends can post anything on a miniature blog that is viewed in reverse chronological order. The individual can modify any aspect of his or her profile by changing information, detagging photographs, changing and adding photographs, and deleting wall posts.

For this assignment, I asked a childhood friend to rate her profile for accuracy, and I found some interesting results. I chose this particular friend because I know almost everything about her, and I did not have to consult any other sources to assess the accuracy of her profile. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact tactics she uses to selectively post favorable information about herself. After examining her self-reported scores, I knew that she was not fully aware of her attempts to deceive strangers and friends.

My friend gave herself very high scores for accuracy for almost all of her profile statements except for “interests” and “about me” which she gave a score of 4 for accuracy. In my opinion, not many Facebook users are motivated to misconstrue factual information, but many of them are inclined to exaggerate the information found in the sections open to interpretation. Overall, I found the information to be very accurate in her profile, except for her “interests” section. Although she claims to enjoy salsa dancing and watching alternative films, I know she has only done these activities once or twice each. However, I found the most interesting forms of deception in her photograph.

In studies of online dating, Catalina found that women are more likely to than men to lie about weight and to select their most attractive photographs. Women are also more likely to lie about weight than height, and men are more likely to lie about height than weight. Women portray themselves as lighten than they really are, and men tend to say they are taller by a few inches. Based on my assessment of my friend’s profile, my results support Catalina’s general findings about women.

Although my childhood friend rated her photograph on Facebook as completely accurate, my idea of a “completely accurate” photograph is one that could be taken at any point in time and would give a general image of how the person looks. My friend’s photograph was a photograph taken by a professional photographer for which she had hours of preparation. In fact, this photograph is one of her modeling headshots, and she is wearing intense makeup. Her hair was curled by a hairstylist, and her clothes were selected by a fashion expert and do not belong to my friend. The background is photoshopped to perfection to accent the color of her eyes. To top it off, this photograph was taken more than four years ago when she was a member of the high school track team. Although she still looks basically the same, I would say that there might be some deception involved about her current appearance in terms of weight. It would be difficult for her to maintain her high school weight when she is not running six to ten miles each day, and I estimate that this photograph is at least ten pounds off.

My findings support Walther’s notion of selective self-presentation. In particular, I believe my friend presented herself in such a way to make herself attractive to other men, even though she is in a relationship. The expectancy discordance model shows that men look for physical attractiveness and youthfulness when selecting a mate. Although I do not believe my friend was consciously promoting herself to find a future boyfriend, I believe she realizes that these features are attractive to men. As Catalina explained in class, studies in evolutionary psychology have shown that men look for youthfulness and attractiveness for a future mate as a way of spreading their genes in the world. On the other hand, women are hardwired to look for a man who can provide the resources to care for their offspring.

Although it may seem like a stretch to apply the expectancy discourse model to an online social networking website, I believe this model can be demonstrated in the ways that men and women portray themselves on Facebook. My friend’s took advantage of selective self-presentation to present herself in a way that she believes is most attractive to men. Although I have not seen results from any other class members, I hypothesize that men might focus more on their social status by displaying groups and jobs (such as investment banking) on their profiles to indicate an ability to provide resources to women. It will be interesting to see the results of the class.


At 1:01 AM, Blogger Corey Ryan Earle said...

I enjoyed your observations about your friend's profile. I think the "salsa dancing" type of deception is quite common. People say something is an interest when it really has very little to do with their real-life activities. Same thing about the photograph. Glamour shots are definitely common on Facebook as well, even when they're from years earlier.

I thought your most interesting observations were those regarding the "evolutionary psychology" and how people selectively self-present. I'm curious what the results would be if someone studied if there was actually a gender difference regarding groups and jobs. Do men really emphasize those aspects more often? I'd never considered that, but it may well be true. I agree that women seem to place more emphasis on the photograph, while guys tend to upload whatever is available. Sounds like a good paper topic...

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