Facebook and Google: The nudges of social networking systems on how we relate to others
Social networking sites on the internet present implicit and sometime subtle frameworks that define social interaction. Given that ther are so many users of these social networking site these subtle “nudges” can steer an entire society.
Facebook provides one framework on how we relate to other people. With the introduction of the new Google social networking site as a challenger to Facebook we have an alternative framework for relating to others.
Facebook: Our friends are our friends – openly and transparently
Significantly, the social relationship framework (ideology) of Facebook is that “our friends are our friends”. No one friend is differentiated from any other friend. When we do something on Facebook the Facebook news feed tells all our friends. Is this a good thing or do we do things that we don’t want some of our “friends” to know about? At the time of this writing, there is no way to differentiate friends in Facebook.
So Facebook provides a “nudge” for a way of relating to others. We are “one person” (one identity) and our friends are our friends.
Facebook was born at Harvard University by kids. Is this way of relating to people, “our friends are our friends”, an accident of the way college kids relate to each other? Or, is it a prescriptive model of how people should relate to each other in society in general?
Accident or prescriptive social architecture?
If you’ve read The Facebook Effect about the founding of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg you know that Mark has a vision of what a society should be like. Central to this vision is the idea openness and transparency. So, “our friends are our friends”, is that vision of openness and transparency exemplified. All our friends see all that we do – openly and transparently via the Facebook news feed.
Google+: Differentiated friends – cliques and secrecy
Now we have an alternative model of how to relate to other people. Google+ social networking allows one to define circles of friends. Google+ is still in beta and it’s not clear at this time as to all what you can do with circles and other metaphors that allow one to include and exclude people.
The “nudge” of Google+ is toward differentiating friends. The “nudge” of Facebook is that all our friends are equal. The nudge of Google+ is toward hiding things from people (secrecy) and excluding people. The nudge of Facebook is transparency, openness and equality. Interesting.
The effect & affect of the Nudge
Which nudge is the best for society (prescriptive)? Which nudge is how social networks really work now and perpetuates the status quo? What is the power of the subtle nudges of these massive social networking systems?
As stated, Google+ is still in beta. What other features will it have that will nudge us (and society) as we relate to others? Right now, it is likely that both Facebook and Google+ will maintain the idea of a single identify. That is, in both systems the preference will be to appear as “one person or persona” to others.
Google+ social networking has made one important step away from Facebook. And that step is to differentiate friends.
So what’s next?
If Google+ social networking site evolves to the way that people really relate to others in the world (step one taken: circles of friends) then when will they allow the construction of multiple identities? It may be the case that, for the psychological health of many people, the idea of constructing and maintaining multiple identities may be very appealing.
Will Google+ be “market driven” – give then what they want. Or, will it be bigger than that – be a prescriptive model of a better way that we can relate to other people and then provide a framework to exemplify it.
Are we one persona or many? And for some people, are multiple identities in multiple communities (“highly imaginative forms of self-presentation, including fabrication and invention”) necessary for mental health? Or does it only feed an existing psychosis? Or even, does it create psychosis?
Virtual reality is an ideal sphere for personal identities. The quest for uniqueness on online social networks, as we have seen, can sometimes inspire highly imaginative forms of self-presentation, including fabrication and invention. Virtual identities are multifaceted and chameleon-like. For some, it must feel liberating and rebellious in a way that reconnects with the hippie culture of the 1960s when John Perry Barlow was writing lyrics for the Grateful Dead. No longer dependent on socially defined values of established institutions, young people on MySpace and Bebo are free to cultivate, albeit narcissistically, highly personalized notions of self.
In virtual reality, the coexistence of real and false identities has been instinctively integrated into online social interaction. People actively want to construct and manipulate multiple identities in the virtual world. Any attempt to ban it, or meddle with it, will alienate and trigger mass defections…
In the real world, we have less control over our own identities because, as noted, they are socially constructed. Social norms tell us who we are supposed to be. The personal fabrication of identities in cyberspace, on the other hand, affords more control on who we wish to be and how we present ourselves. Cyber-sociologists describe the fabrication of self on social networking sites as “writing yourself into being” . As the authors of our own personal identities, we have control over the construction of the cyber-personality we fabricate and display in the virtual world. On MySpace or Facebook, people make up who they are, possibly in multiple personas, with a keen eye on what kind of impression they wish to create. In the real world the self is presented ; in the virtual world it is invented.
In sum, online social networking is a virtual catwalk. Impression management involves constantly changing identities, much like fashion models switch outfits. Except that, in the virtual world, the curtain never comes down on the ritual of identity fabrication and self-exhibition. The popularity contest is a moveable feast where all “friends” are invited. And when it’s time to vote for your “TopFriend”, the I’s definitely have it.