boyd—None of This Is Real

None of This Is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster

by dana boyd

[Boyd, Danah. 2008. “None of This Is Real.” In Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, edited by Joe Karaganis. Social Science Research Council.]

Points

  • Based on fieldwork among users of the social networking site Friendster, specifically during the year 2003
  • Explores how the built in affordances of what was intended to be a dating site both constricted user communication and provided avenues for creative expression

Initial design of Friendster

  • Friendster allows users to see people at up to four degrees distance from themselves, which is much more than is possible in face-to-face social engagement
  • however—”Friendster flattens those networks, collapsing relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous “Friend.” More problematically, Friendster does not provide ways of mapping or interpreting the contextual cues and social structural boundaries that help people manage their social worlds” (134).
  • So—”Not surprisingly, participants responded to the lack of differentiating texture and shared reference points in Friendster’s flattened social networks by negotiating new social norms and rules of conduct, communicable through the existing features of the system” (134).
  • This lead to the invention of fakesters—”fake profiles that signaled not the individuals behind the profile but communities, cultural icons, or collective interests” (139).

Participatory Performance

  • “The performance of identity relies on the active interpretation of social contexts. Familiarity with a context increases a person’s ability to navigate it—to understand what is appropriate or advantageous within it—and thereby shapes choices about the persona one tries to present within it (boyd, 2002). Contexts are not static backgrounds, but constantly evolve through this process (Duranti & Goodwin, 1992). Digitally mediated performance is no different, but the novelty and narrower channel of interaction affect our capacity to interpret context” (141).
  • The user interface started to interfere with users’ performance of impression management (Goffman 1956)
    • “A growing portion of participants found themselves simultaneously negotiating multiple social groups—social and professional circles, side interests, and so on. Because profiles presented a singular identity to the entire network, however, this diversification brought with it the potential for disruption of individuals’ carefully managed everyday personas” (142-43)

Articulated Participation

  • “Although transparency of information poses an interesting challenge, where the information comes from is also a problem. As Jenny Sundén (2003) noted, digital embodiment requires writing yourself into being. On Friendster this means an explicit articulation of who you are and how you relate to others, using the predefined mechanisms for expression. Through a series of forms, profiles must be crafted to express some aspect of identity and relationships must be explicitly acknowledged in order to exist within the system. Unlike everyday embodiment, there is no digital corporeality without articulation. One cannot simply “be” online; one must make one’s presence visible through explicit and structured actions” (bold added 145).
  • Friendships became strategic—”Impression management is encoded into articulated networks. The variable ways in which people interpret the term friend play a critical role, as does the cost of signaling the value of a relationship” (147).

Rise of the Fakesters

  • Many Fakesters began as practical endeavors to connect groups of people; alumni networks were constituted through Fakesters representing universities, and Burning Man was crafted to connect Burners .., Fakesters were a way of “hacking” the system to introduce missing social texture. These purposes were not limited to group networking: The vast majority of Fakesters were exercises in creative and usually playful expression” (148).
  • Friendster began cracking down on the Fakesters, deleting profiles that seemed fake, and the Fakesters became political.
    • “the Fakester Revolution … crafted “The Fakester Manifesto” (Batty, 2003) “in defense of our right to exist in the form we choose or assume” which included three key sections:
      1.  Identity is Provisional
      2. All Character is Archetypal, Thus Public
      3. Copyright is Irrelevant in the Digital Age (151).
    • Fakesters created Fraudsters, who impersonated other people on the service. Fraudsters were meant to confuse both the Friendster service and serious users …
    • Pretendsters combined random photos from the Web and random profile data. They were not fraudulent portrayals of any particular person, but automated Fakesters that mimicked real profiles” (152).
  • “Although Fakesters had taken on a collective impression of resistance, their primary political stance concerned authenticity. In discussing Fakesters, Batty was quick to point out that there’s no such thing as an authentic performance on Friendster—“None of this is real” …
    • “Through the act of articulation and writing oneself into being, all participants are engaged in performance intended to be interpreted and convey particular impressions” (153).

BIG POINTS

  • The abolition of distance—the classic Internet virtue—rendered many social distinctions invisible; the impact of Friends’ performances on individual profiles undermined the individual’s control over social performances; and the binary social network structure—Friend/not-Friend—erased a broad field of relationship nuances. Absent these strong orienting features, participants negotiated new norms and reintroduced new forms of social complexity” (154).
  • “digital networks will never merely map the social, but inevitably develop their own dynamics through which they become the social. The interaction of people with information systems is recurrently marked by play and experimentation, as people test the limits of their settings and manage the consequences of unexpected interactions and altered contexts” (155).

Annotation Summary for: boyd – Karaganis (ed) – Structures of Participation in Digital Culture (2008)

Page 133 (135), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Friendster is a social network site that invites people to post profiles detailing a range of personal information, and to link those profiles to oth- ers on the service (“Friends”). Soon after its launch in fall 2002, it became a phenomenon among large numbers of educated 20- to 30-something urban dwellers, initially concentrated in San Francisco and New York.”

Page 133 (135), Underline (Red): Content: “(McLuhan,”

Page 133 (135), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Recent research, suggests Rather than initiating relations with strangers, instant messaging, email, and other digital communication tools are used primarily to maintain relationships with people in close physical and social proximity (Haythornthwaite, 2001; Licoppe & Smoreda, 2005).”

Page 133 (135), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Although the”

Page 134 (136), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “service models a (potentially) global network structure, single participants have only a limited view of this scale—the network representation is lim-ited to four “degrees” of separation (friends of friends of friends of friends). On the one hand, this keeps the fun and challenge of social networking on Friendster manageable (four degrees exposes much more of our social envi-ronment than is normally possible); on the other, it motivates some to wantto see the global picture. ”

Page 134 (136), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Friendster flattens those networks, collapsing relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous “Friend.” More problematically, Friendster does not provide ways of mapping or interpreting the contextual cues and social structural boundaries that help people manage their social worlds.”

Page 134 (136), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The distance between the office and the pub is not just a practical convenience but also a tool for interpreting and main- taining boundaries between connected social worlds.”

Page 134 (136), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Not surprisingly, participants responded to the lack of differentiat- ing texture and shared reference points in Friendster’s flattened social net- works by negotiating new social norms and rules of conduct, communicable through the existing features of the system.”

Page 135 (137), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Children play in order to make meaning out of social cues and to understand the boundaries of social norms. Because Friendster requires participants to reassess social boundaries and limitations, it is not surprising that play became an essential aspect of participation, as users worked out social norms and reinserted valuable missing social cues.”

Page 135 (137), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Drawing on ethnographic data and personal observations, this chap- ter analyzes the growth of Friendster and the negotiation of social bound- aries among early adopter populations.”

Page 135 (137), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “methods”

Page 135 (137), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The flattened representations of social worlds characteristic of online com- munities can be difficult to study: Their limited frameworks both condense and obscure the complex social dynamics they map.”

Page 135 (137), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I had close connections to the first three subcultures that made significant use of”

Page 136 (138), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Friendster: Burning Man art festival aficionados, Silicon Valley techies, and the urban queer communities.”

Page 136 (138), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “By mid-2004, early adopters had mostly abandoned the service and a new generation of users had emerged among teenagers in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. This intriguing global migration falls outside the scope of this chapter and my data collection.”

Page 136 (138), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “early adopter subcultures”

Page 139 (141), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The dating archi-tecture quickly proved flexible and expressive enough to support a wider range of activities than originally anticipated. Some used the service for dat-ing while others used it as their primary email and messaging tool; still othersused it for drug distribution and race-based harassment (boyd, 2004). The most consequential and—arguably—inventive direction of user innovation, however, was the exploration of new ways to signal group affiliations and boundaries through the profile system itself. This culminated in the prolifera-tion of Fakesters—fake profiles that signaled not the individuals behind the profile but communities, cultural icons, or collective interests. ”

Page 139 (141), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “Fakesters”

Page 139 (141), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Gay men often perceived Friendster as a new gay dating site, while Burners assumed it was a tool designed for them. Both groups were broadly ignorant of each others’ presence, as well as of the Silicon Valley geeks on the service (although the geeks were typically aware of both Burners and gay men). Because access”

Page 140 (142), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “passed only through those “in the know,” Friendster initially acquired cachet as an underground cultural tool.”

Page 140 (142), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Although subcultures are often per-ceived as distinct, their social networks are frequently connected through shared late-night venues, music and clothing stores, and political activities.Many individuals bridge multiple scenes, resulting in labels like “graver” (goth + raver). Friendster made many of these interconnections visible and gay men started to see Burners and vice versa”

Page 140 (142), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “participatory performance”

Page 141 (143), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The performance of identity relies on the active interpretation of social con- texts. Familiarity with a context increases a person’s ability to navigate it— to understand what is appropriate or advantageous within it—and thereby shapes choices about the persona one tries to present within it (boyd, 2002).”

Page 141 (143), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 141 (143), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Contexts are not static backgrounds, but constantly evolve through this pro-cess (Duranti & Goodwin, 1992). Digitally mediated performance is no differ-ent, but the novelty and narrower channel of interaction affect our capac-ity to interpret context.”

Page 141 (143), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Although participants play a strong role in the development of cul- tural norms, Friendster is still a privately controlled environment. The company sets guidelines for acceptable practice, via both rules of conduct and architectural constraints.”

Page 142 (144), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “When a friend and fellow social software analyst selected a random photo from Google and depicted himself as an “old, white balding guy from the Midwest,” my profile became visibly similar to those of the Suicide Girls (see Figure 8.2). Because his photo was prominently displayed on my page as a Friend, his choice in photo dramatically affected my performance. On Friendster, impression man- agement is an inescapably collective process.”

Page 142 (144), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Conventional understandings of how identity is performed often assume a high degree of individual agency: People convey impressions, and these are usually deliberate. For Erving Goffman (1956), impression management was fundamentally a process involving the per-former and the reader, although teams could also consciously work togetherto convey particular impressions. Friendster participants quickly encoun-tered the limits of the latter process. ”

Page 142 (144), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “A growing portion of partici-”

Page 143 (145), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “pants found themselves simultaneously negotiating multiple social groups— social and professional circles, side interests, and so on. Because profiles pre- sented a singular identity to the entire network, however, this diversification brought with it the potential for disruption of individuals’ carefully man- aged everyday personas.”

Page 143 (145), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Photos were the most common problem; those that signaled participation in one group were not always appropriate in another.”

Page 143 (145), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “participants chose to professionalize their profiles in the same way that early web developers did when the sites became more accessible to their colleagues. On Friendster, this significantly impacted the forms of sociability underlying the service.”

Page 143 (145), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Because Friendster flattened multiple local social contexts into a single performance space, it neither represented nor provided the means of man- aging the multifaceted performances that characterize most people’s lives.”

Page 144 (146), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In June 2003, a young San Francisco teacher joined Friendster to con- nect with her Burning Man friends. In September some of her 16-year-old students approached her with two questions: Why do you do drugs, and why are you friends with pedophiles? The teacher faced a predicament—if she deleted her account or her links to Friends, she signaled guilt to her students.”

Page 144 (146), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “articulated participation”

Page 144 (146), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Transparency—of social networks, of personal histories, of judgments of others—is a powerful idea that drove much of the early exploration of dig- ital networking.”

Page 145 (147), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Although transparency of information poses an interesting challenge, where the information comes from is also a problem. As Jenny Sundén (2003)noted, digital embodiment requires writing yourself into being. ”

Page 145 (147), Underline (Red): Content: “Jenny Sundén (2003)”

Page 145 (147), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “On Friend-ster this means an explicit articulation of who you are and how you relate to others, using the predefined mechanisms for expression. Through a series of forms, profiles must be crafted to express some aspect of identity and rela-tionships must be explicitly acknowledged in order to exist within the sys-tem. Unlike everyday embodiment, there is no digital corporeality withoutarticulation. One cannot simply “be” online; one must make one’s presence visible through explicit and structured actions. ”

Page 145 (147), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 145 (147), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “It is hardly surprising that many participants find social interactions on Friendster formulaic. The social structure is defined by a narrow set of rules that do little to map the complexities and nuances of relationships in other contexts.”

Page 146 (148), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Friend requests on Friendster require people to make social judg- ments about inclusion and exclusion and—more to the point—to reveal those decisions. The lack of strategically ambiguous excuses for denying a request means that refusal has a potentially high social cost.Many participants feel pressure to accept connections with people they do not regard as friends simply so that they do not have to face the challenges of rejection.”

Page 146 (148), Underline (Magenta): Content: “Con-sider the case of Cobot, a robot that collected social data in LambdaMOO (Isbell, Kearns, Korman, Singh, & Stone, 2000). When the system began shar-ing what Cobot learned about who spent the most time talking to whom, thesocial structure of the system collapsed. Even though the quantitative infor-mation said nothing about the quality of relationships, having that infor-mation available made people doubt their relationships with others on the system. Trust collapsed, and the culture of the community was undermined by transparency. W”

Page 147 (149), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Connections on Friendster do not signal strong relationship ties; people often connect to others whom they simply recognize, a connec- tion that would never appear in a sociological network.”

Page 147 (149), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Impression management is encoded into articulated networks. The variable ways in which people interpret the term friend play a critical role, as does the cost of signaling the value of a relationship.”

Page 148 (150), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “fakin’ it: the rise of fakesters”

Page 148 (150), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Because participants have to write themselves into being on Friendster, there is no necessary correspondence with the embodied person. From the earli-est days, participants took advantage of the flexibility of the system to craft “Fakesters,” or nonbiographical profiles.”

Page 148 (150), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Fakesters were created for famous people, fictional characters, objects, places and locations, identity mark- ers, concepts, animals, and communities. Many Fakesters began as practical endeavors to connect groups of people; alumni networks were constituted through Fakesters representing universities, and Burning Man was crafted to connect Burners.”

Page 148 (150), Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““Fakesters,””

Page 148 (150), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Fakesters were a way of “hacking” the system to introduce missing social texture. These purposes were not limited to group networking: The vastmajority of Fakesters were exercises in creative and usually playful expres-sion.”

Page 151 (153), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “When Friendster eliminated the “most popular” feature in May 2003, they also deleted both Burning Man and Ali G, each of whom had more than 10,000 friends. This was the start of a Whack-A-Mole–style purge of Fakesters, in which Fakesters and Friendster competed for dominance.”

Page 151 (153), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““the Fakester Revolution” crafted “The Fakester Manifesto” (Batty, 2003) “in defense of our right to exist in the form we choose or assume” which included three key sections: 1. Identity is Provisional 2. All Character is Archetypal, Thus Public 3. Copyright is Irrelevant in the Digital Age Roy Batty, a leading instigator in the revolution and the author of the manifesto, helped organize and publicize the Fakesters.”

Page 152 (154), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Fakesters created Fraudsters, who impersonated other people on the service. Fraudsters were meant to confuse both the Friend- ster service and serious users. A Fraudster impersonating the site’s creator, Jonathan Abrams, contacted many of his friends and other users on the service with fraudulent messages. Pretendsters combined random photos from the Web and random profile data. They were not fraudulent portrayals of any particular person, but automated Fakesters that mimicked real profiles.”

Page 153 (155), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The Fakesters played on or parodied aspects of traditional subcultures, from deviant behavior, to active resistance, to the rhetoric of oppression. The Fakesters’ tone was appreciated by users who identified with being marginalized; their attitude was more upsetting to those invested in maintaining the original hegemonic purposes of the system.”

Page 153 (155), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Although Fakesters had taken on a collective impression of resistance, their primary political stance concerned authenticity. In discussing Fakesters,Batty was quick to point out that there’s no such thing as an authentic per-formance on Friendster—“None of this is real.””

Page 153 (155), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 153 (155), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Through the act of articula-tion and writing oneself into being, all participants are engaged in perfor-mance intended to be interpreted and convey particular impressions. Whilesome people believed that “truth” could be perceived through photorealistic imagery and a list of tastes that reflected one’s collections, the Fakesters were invested in using more impressionistic strokes to paint their portraits”

Page 154 (156), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “conclusion”

Page 154 (156), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” As Lessig (2000) and others have made clear, software code is a form of social architecture. By cementing a model of social relations into the Friendsterarchitecture, the service was not simply representing everyday relations, but designing an entirely new social structure in which interactions could occur. ”

Page 154 (156), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In order to make social relations more visible, Friendster flattened complex social structures. The abolition of distance—the classic Internet virtue—rendered many social distinctions invisible; the impact of Friends’ performances on individual profiles undermined the individual’s control over social performances; and the binary social network structure—Friend/not-Friend—erased a broad field of relationship nuances. Absent these strong orienting features, participants negotiated new norms and reintroduced new forms of social complexity. They developed new strategies for signalingaffiliation while maintaining boundaries—producing or linking to Fakesters, rather than to potentially compromising Friends. This allowed for a certain recovery of control over identity performances, but at the cost of the larger consensus about the norms and purposes of the system. ”

Page 154 (156), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 154 (156), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Friendster required participants to really consider the implications of their associations. Because of this, visible connections were not simply”

Page 155 (157), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “an expression of an individual’s mental model of exterior relations, but anexplicit performance of a social network intended for consumption by oth-ers,”

Page 155 (157), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Friendster created a stage for digital flâneurs—a place to see andbe seen. Yet unlike the physical equivalent, people had no way of knowing when they were being seen and who was seeing them.6″

Page 155 (157), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Among other things, Friendster demonstrates the inverse relationship between the scale of social networks and the quality of the relations within them—a relationship rooted in the limits of human time and attention.”

Page 155 (157), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 155 (157), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “attention. It also demonstrates that digital networks will never merely map the social, but inevitably develop their own dynamics through which they become the social.”

Page 155 (157), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The interaction of people with information systems is recurrently marked by play and experimentation, as people test the limits of their settings and manage the consequences of unexpected interactions and altered contexts. ”

Page 156 (158), Underline (Red): Content: “Batty, R. (2003, July 30). The Fakester manifesto. Friendster bulletin board post. Available online at http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2003/08/17/the_fakester_manifesto.html

Page 156 (158), Underline (Red): Content: “boyd, d. (2002). Faceted id/entity: Managing representation in a digital world. Unpublished master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.”

Page 156 (158), Underline (Red): Content: “Duranti, A., & Goodwin, C. (Eds.). (1992). Rethinking context: Language as an interactive phenom-enon. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.”

Page 156 (158), Underline (Red): Content: “Goffman, E. (1956). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Doubleday.”

Page 156 (158), Underline (Red): Content: “Lessig, L. (2000). Code and other laws of cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.”

Page 157 (159), Underline (Red): Content: “McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg galaxy: The making of typographic man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Sundén, J. (2003). Material virtualities. New York: Lang.

Wellman, B. (Ed). (1999). Networks in the global village. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s