Feature Article: Is Social Network Social Reality?
I consider myself a prolific social networker, I have both a Facebook and a Twitter account, which I will generally check every couple of hours. One day while perusing Twitter I came across a very interesting quote. One of the people I follow re-tweeted this: “Facebook is where you lie to the people you know; Twitter is where you tell the truth to strangers.” While I may not actually remember who said this or who re-tweeted it, the phrase itself stuck with me.
So I got to thinking about my own goings-on on Twitter and on Facebook. And funnily enough I found what this person said to be really true. I noticed a distinct pattern of my own use of Facebook in opposition to Twitter. On Twitter I tended to swear more, or say more inappropriate things. On Facebook I would edit the same sayings from Twitter into a more ‘crowd-pleasing’ status update. I used less severe swear words or omitted certain things.
With my interesting discoveries of my own usage, I decided to venture forth into the world and ask the first few friends I bumped into about their social network usage. Luckily the people I interviewed all had both Facebook and Twitter accounts. All sources used these accounts in varying levels that ranged from several times an hour to once a month.
ranged from connecting with friends, to cyber-stalking, to organizing events. Twitter was used primarily by my sources for celebrity cyber-stalking, or for entertainment value.
When I asked how they thought Facebook and Twitter differed for them personally I got a varied response. Lara found Facebook to be “more personal in a way” than Twitter and is more about “communication”. Alex thought “Twitter’s more fun” and Facebook “is more whiny”. Sarah likened Twitter to a Rebecca Black song, stating, “Twitter is really a blow by blow of [someone’s] day”. And Caitlin found there’s more pressure to uphold a reputation on Facebook.
One of the things I found when interviewing was that most of my sources agreed that a major difference of Facebook and Twitter is the level of interaction. Both Lara and Sarah use their Facebook accounts to “[keep] in touch with friends” and believed Facebook to be more about friendship.
Twitter was generally viewed as entertaining, Alex proudly proclaimed that “Twitter’s more fun”. Sarah admitted to barely using her Twitter though; when she did use it is was “some people are just funny and that’s it”.
Most surprising was that Lara vehemently disagreed with the quote. Not with the fact that people lie on Facebook, but that “people are more fake on Twitter”. She stated that, “I think on both [Twitter and Facebook] people make their own persona that’s not true to reality”.
Facebook and Twitter are clearly very different, yet incredibly similar. One of my more outspoken interviewees, Alex, illustrated this best for me. She admitted that her primary focus on both Facebook and Twitter is “stalking”. On Facebook – “…mostly people I’m attracted to and have maybe met once…I go look at their profile, look at their pictures, and discover how attractive or unattractive they are.”. And on Twitter – “More for laughs, so comedians mostly, or people who say stupid things”.
You can just as easily say that biting or funny comment in a Facebook status as you can in a Twitter update. Or can you? At this point it seemed to me that the tweet I had read was pretty much true. Both Facebook and Twitter offer their users the opportunity to say what they want. Yet it seemed to me that my sources were confirming that Twitter is more honest.
Caitlin “totally [agreed]” with the quote, “I can’t be myself at all” she said regarding Facebook. Sarah agreed to a certain extent, “I’ve seen people be harsh on Twitter. They’ve said things that are just ridiculously honest, so I think there’s some truth in [the quote]”.
Alex agreed that there is more freedom in Twitter because “Facebook has my boss on it”, she further elaborated with, “Facebook is sort of more like being at a dinner party and sitting through stories that you don’t really want to hear…Twitter’s sort of like letting your proverbial balls hang out.”
And just when I thought I was done with my deep thinking on the subject of social media I was forced to do some more thinking. Is the persona I present on Facebook or Twitter who I really am? Can anyone actually be who he or she really is on a social network site? The answer I suppose is no; but does that mean that my Facebook or Twitter persona is not true to real-life interaction.
There are people or social contexts that require you to play-up or tune down aspects of your personality, just like on Facebook or on Twitter.
I could go on forever with a deep philosophical discussion of identity, but that’s not the point of this article. Instead I will simply suggest you think for a moment the next time you log into your favourite social network site about how you present yourself.