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The Nature of Facebook Friendships and Voyeurism

Once a Facebooker has constructed his profile, carefully presenting himself to the world, he is set free in a cyberworld of friends, groups, games, and light-hearted discussions. It’s no wonder, then, that Facebook is the favored online hangout of teens and college kids, what could be called the greatest time-waster since 2004 (the year of its birth). The question becomes: what is the nature of human interaction on social-networking sites? There are preferred ways to communicate on Facebook, almost a series of unspoken rules that govern online interaction. If there are different procedures on Facebook—“friending” and “unfriending,” lurking and Facebook stalking—then I have to wonder if there’s a marked difference between Facebook friendships and their real-life counterparts.

the-nature-of-facebook-friendships

"I don't want to feel alone"

The 20th century brought revolutionary advancements in almost every aspect of human life—transportation, technology, medicine, and health. With these changes came new concerns about the way people socialize. In the olden days, families generally stayed together; neighbors knew one another; and small towns were hubs of intimate relationships. But when people became more mobile, free to spread to the corners of the globe, some feared that society would become impersonal, people isolated from one another.

In The New York Times, Clive Thompson described the emerging popularity of social-networking sites as a “reaction to social isolation, the modern American disconnectedness.” People either have to travel extensively for work, or they work from home. With TVs, computers, and websites that let people order groceries to be delivered right to their door, it has become frighteningly feasible never to have to leave the house. Ironically, the same people can turn to Internet tools like Facebook and Twitter to “feel less alone.”

the-nature-of-facebook-friendships
the-nature-of-facebook-friendships
the-nature-of-facebook-friendships

Facebook stalking, loitering, and voyeurism

Kevin Smith’s film Mallrats, about disaffected youth loitering in the mall all day, has the tagline: “They’re not there to shop. They’re not there to work. They’re just there.” The tagline could apply to most Facebookers. Duncan Watts, a sociologist at Columbia University, likens using social networking sites to hanging out at the mall: “there’s a certain lack of purpose to just hanging out in public, and it’s hard to justify if you don’t have a lot of free time” (qtd. in Cassidy). In a sense, Facebook has become the “de facto public commons” of the 21st century.

If you thought living in a tight-knit community meant no privacy, with everyone knowing every bit of juicy gossip about everyone else, then imagine what it’s like on Facebook. With the News Feed feature, users can instantly see every new nugget of information about their friends. News Feed is, as Thompson put it, “a single page that—like a social gazette from the 18th century—delivered a long list of up-to-the-minute gossip about their friends, around the clock, all in one place.” It’s as if people took the fears of social isolation and ran in the opposite direction, embracing an intense, albeit different, mode of social interaction.

One girl said about observing her peers on Facebook: “‘Facebook is extremely voyeuristic—there’s something great, and at the same time, creepy, about knowing when someone you haven’t talked to in 5 years broke up with a boyfriend who you never even met’” (qtd. in Pempek et al. 235). Watts explained that people today are so used to the idea that everyone is connected online that it’s no longer surprising. “If I had to guess why sites like Facebook are so popular, I would say it doesn’t have anything to do with networking at all,” he said. “It’s voyeurism and exhibitionism. People like to express themselves, and they are curious about other people” (qtd. in Cassidy).

Users even came up with a term for lurking on people's profiles: Facebook stalking. Presumably, if one’s privacy controls are set accordingly, then only one’s friends will be lurking on the profile, so it seems ridiculous to worry about it. At the same time, though, it is unsettling wondering who, at any moment, may be checking up on your relationship status or clicking through pictures of someone in her home, or at a party where she had had a few drinks. Facebook is incredibly voyeuristic, but users actively invite people to peek into their private lives. And if the fascination with celebrities and important figures is any indication, people are naturally curious about the hidden lives of others. Observing is a natural human response.

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Relationships made effortless

Facebook’s members invariably cite its usefulness for keeping up with friends, but just how close and intimate are these Facebook friendships? One undeniable benefit of the website is that it “enables users to forgo the exertion that real relationships entail” (Cassidy). Friendships for lazy people, in other words? One Harvard graduate pointed out: “It’s a way of maintaining a friendship without having to make any effort whatsoever. And the interface provides all the information you need to do that: birthdays, pictures, message boards, contact info, etc.” (qtd. in Cassidy).

“Signing a Facebook wall is a lot easier and less time consuming than picking up the phone to call a friend. Not many in college have the time for that,” said a college student in a study of Facebook use (Pempek et al. 231). Indeed, for all the time that young people spend on Facebook (on average about 30 minutes a day), the direct interactions between friends are brief and fast-paced. Posting a message on a wall takes all of a few seconds—just enough time to share a joke or catch up—and then it’s on to another page. It is fast and convenient and requires less emotional investment. Posting a quip on someone’s wall is certainly less of a hassle than calling that person and having to engage in a prolonged conversation. The person may only be a Facebook friend, an acquaintance who, in real life, one wouldn’t spend much time talking to.

Facebook friendships can be as close and involved as the user desires. Calling a friend that I haven’t seen since high school might be awkward. How can I carry on a full conversation with someone I haven’t seen for years without some degree of discomfort and uncertaincy? A quick, casual comment on a friend’s wall (“Hey, what’s up, chica?” or “Happy birthday!”) is much easier. Catching up is made faster and virtually pain-free. Some Facebook friendships are from so long ago that they strain my memory—a member from my Girl Scout troop or my third-grade Australian pen pal. (Which raises the question: how far back can Facebook friendships go? I do have friends that I’ve known since preschool.)

Other friends I added after one encounter. I worked with a fellow lifeguard for one day; we talked about our classes, and our favorite books, and we kept our fingers crossed for thunder so we could blow the whistle. Another time I met a friend of a friend at lunch at an outdoor table on campus; I recognized her years later when my friend invited her to a party. Even after these brief encounters I wanted to friend these people so I wouldn’t forget them. They’re tenuous relationships, to be sure, but adding them to my list of friends is like adding strands to a spiderweb. The web grows larger and stronger the more people I accept into my circle.

the-nature-of-facebook-friendships

New eBook

If you enjoyed this article, you can now read the full version of my study as an eBook for the Kindle. It's called Facebook Friending, Facebook Stalking: How Facebook Shapes Our Online Identities and Relationships. I hope you enjoy. And as always, I welcome feedback and questions.

Read more about Facebook

  • How Intimate are Facebook Relationships?
    Picture from pbs.org Spend some time on Facebook or Twitter and read your friends throwaway commentsone says shes having a rough day, another is psyched that he passed his Spanish testand you get...
  • Facebook Religion: What do users say about their beliefs?
    A 2008 survey of college students' Facebook use by Shanyang Zhao, Sherri Grasmuck, and Jason Martin, found that only 13% of the college students they surveyed made explicit religious claims on their profiles...

Sources

Cassidy, John. “Me Media.” The New Yorker 15 May 2006. NewYorker.com. Web. 11 Jan. 2010.

Pempek, Tiffany A., Yevdokiya A. Yermolayeva, and Sandra L. Calvert. “College students’ social networking experiences on Facebook.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 30 (2009): 227–238. ScienceDirect. Web. 11 Jan. 2010.

Thompson, Clive. “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy.” The New York Times 7 Sept. 2008. Nytimes.com. Web. 11 Jan. 2010.

Comments

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on December 30, 2011:

Thanks, appreciate it. Glad you found it useful.

student on December 28, 2011:

a very informative and well-organized article

it would definietly helps a lot for my project research

thanks a lot

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on August 21, 2011:

Thanks again, jmartin1344. I know all about facebook creeping! It seems that's what FB was built for. It's still amazing how much FB has changed how we interact with each other.

jmartin1344 from Royal Oak, Michigan on August 17, 2011:

Excellent article!

One of the words people use around here for facebook stalking is "creeping" by the way, ha.

It really is crazy how much of a way of life facebook has become though!

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 18, 2011:

Thanks for the nice words, Ben! I like Mallrats, too.

Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on April 18, 2011:

Well done PS, I especially enjoyed the Mallrats reference. These are great observations about Facebook and all ring true to me.

Ben

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on February 13, 2011:

Thanks for your feedback, John, and for the recommendation! I watched The Social Network last night, incidentally. It's a fascinating study of Zuckerberg and the other FB founders.

You're welcome, Entourage. Thanks for reading!

Stuart from Santa Barbara, CA on May 18, 2010:

Great article thank you for the information

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 17, 2010:

Thanks, Jamie. Everything in moderation is a good principle to follow!

Jamiehousehusband from Derbyshire, UK on April 17, 2010:

Excellent hub! I hope my children don't fall into too much time on FB, I'd rather they had real relationships, especially after the recent bad press for FB.

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 16, 2010:

Good points, vhwang. FB has certainly expanded from a business angle as well as a networking one.

Thanks for the kind words, Linda.

Linda Mi Suk Enos from Beautiful Manoa Valley on April 16, 2010:

You have the lovely art of putting it all ogether so people can comprehend it.

vhwang7 on April 16, 2010:

Coming from a business background, I guess Facebook is best for the capitalists out there who want to advertise. Plus, it was originally intended to be strictly a networking tool, not a "creating personal connections and friendships" search engine.

Nice hub :)

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 16, 2010:

Thanks for the congrats, billyaustindillon and shazwellyn!

Thanks for the sound advice, Gifted Grandma!

And premierkj, I haven't seen that episode, but I can imagine what South Park would say about Facebook! Thanks for the comment!

premierkj from Republic of Ireland on April 16, 2010:

I am quite cynical of facebook to be honest but I still needed South Park to show me how ridiculous it is. Have you seen the episode of South Park dedicated to facebook? Brilliant!

GiftedGrandma from USA on April 16, 2010:

There are major pros and cons to all social networks. Just be very careful what you say and do or it may come back to haunt you some day :O) I use it to keep updates on extended family I would otherwise never hear about.

shazwellyn from Great Britain on April 16, 2010:

Well done for a very informative hub, worthy of hubnuggets:)

billyaustindillon on April 15, 2010:

Congrats on your hub nugget - you are so right on the voyeurism aspect of FB!

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 15, 2010:

I do that also! Any chance I get to promote my hubs...

Lee A Barton from New Mexico on April 15, 2010:

So true! And I do link to my hubs on FB, so I guess it's serving a purpose.

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 15, 2010:

Thanks, Lee!

I'm kind of the same way when I friend someone. I'll usually look over their profile, but unless something catches my eye on the News Feed, I probably won't visit it again.

I won't delete my account though. It's good just to have friends' contact information at hand, and I know that FB is the fastest and most sure way to reach some of them since they're on it all the time!

Lee A Barton from New Mexico on April 15, 2010:

Fascinating! I'm new to Facebook but have noticed many of the same phenomena you discuss here. Not so sure it has improved existing friendships. Once I "friend" someone, I rarely contact them again but move on. I'm really thinking about deleting my page.

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 15, 2010:

Thanks for the congrats, Kimberly!

I wish I knew more about deactivating/reactivating Facebook accounts. I don't think I understand--do you want to keep your account(s) deactivated? Maybe someone else will have a better idea, or you could ask it in the questions area.

kimberlyslyrics on April 15, 2010:

first congrats on the nugget award, well deserved and nice to see in the newsletter.

Second, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. However am struggling-closed 3 / all my accounts of facebook, then you are deactivated but remain in limbo for 14 days. Should you enter facebook in this timeframe, your account is automatically reinstated.

Now I have not entered facebook day 7 now, and am receiving notifications that friends are confirming etc.

Have you heard of this-I will not respond to peoples notifications then I'm reactivating my account. oh my.

sorry to ramble, any thoughts?

cheers

Kimberly

Thank you

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 13, 2010:

Thanks, Debbie!

Debbie on April 13, 2010:

Great article...I just can not bring myself to facebook...I am not much of a voyeur or exhibitionist.

Deb

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 13, 2010:

You bring up some good points, Money Glitch. Thanks!

Money Glitch from Texas on April 12, 2010:

There are as many pros as there are cons about Facebook, and social media in general. I think it is important to find a good balance between online interaction with people and real life. However, you have a good and informative hub here and Congrats on being nominated to the HubNuggets Wannabe Contest for this week.

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 12, 2010:

Interesting points, Debarshi. Thanks to everyone for their comments.

Cool Blue Billing on April 12, 2010:

nicea article

Debarshi Dutta from Calcutta on April 11, 2010:

These sites like Facebook, Myspace twitter and the users are unintentionally killing the charm, thrill and naïve innocence of making a new friend or acquaintance.

It has always been a warm thrill to make a new friend. That thrill and charm has been lost..as people no longer have privacy.

Soon Facebook will become as regular and unavoidable even if one likes it or not.

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 11, 2010:

Thanks, Jen! I agree, FB is a fun way to kill some time, but I don't expect any truly meaningful interactions with friends on it.

Jen's Solitude from Delaware on April 11, 2010:

Great observations, no wonder your hub was nominated! I have been curious about so called facebook relationships myself. I noticed the communications seem to be very quick and impersonal which I guess is good if you don't want to invest much time into a relationship. I can see why it is called "micro-blogging".

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 11, 2010:

Thanks everyone. Miss Belgravia, thanks for sharing your thoughts--I know where you're coming from!

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on April 11, 2010:

Makes you kinda think where you are huh? Congratulations to your Hubnugget Nomination! Do vote over here: https://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/2010-A-HubNu...

Kathleen from Fort Worth, Texas on April 10, 2010:

I've noticed since so many of my friends are on Facebook, we no longer send emails to each other like we used to. It has actually made us less connected, rather than bringing us closer together. And being "friended" by people I barely knew in high school (which was a long, LONG time ago) is just kind of annoying. Plus, now that my boss and my mother have friended me, it kind of puts a damper on how much of my life I can share. Not that I'm doing anything bad :-) -- but you have to think about your entire audience when you post something on your profile. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves, and what's next.

Rismayanti from Tropical Island on April 10, 2010:

So expert.. good luck

Anthony Goodley from Sheridan, WY on April 10, 2010:

You seem to know Facebook very well. Great hub and congrats on your HubNuggets nomination. Good luck.

Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on April 09, 2010:

Thanks to both of you!

William Benner from Savannah GA. on April 09, 2010:

Yes..a very informative hub and you have my vote!

Beth Morey from Montana on April 09, 2010:

Great hub. Congrats on the HubNugget nomination!