From social networking to social drama

I have a slight addition, like many people, to Facebook. Especially mob wars, but I am terminally addicted to making the short pithy comments on Twitter, post hundeds of photos every month to Flickr, use livejournal as a tool to study as well as links, and also add to del.i.cio.us and Google Reader, amongst others. Plus zoomr and don't forget pownce. And of course, bebo. Though with all of this going on I mostly spend my time on the first 3.

I like blogging too, as you may have gathered and as a user of one major online dating site I am painfully aware of how seemingly intimate conversation can lead to the illusion of friendship or a relationship and how tenuous this really is. Likewise in the socially unstable world of the scene: the drinking friend appears to be a great friend, but the reality is, count the number of times they didn't show up, let you down, or moved in on somebody you were interested in/involved with/had been involved with. The reality is that many fair weather acquaintanceships are built up, especially on the womens scene, with the dominance of particular social groups as I will point out in a piece I'm current working on.

The reeality of all this is that the very simple contact list build ups that occur in spaces such as Bebo and Facebook not only expose your information to networks outside of your normal boundaries, but also expose your friends and their networks to those inside your boundaries. So if you have one batch of friends who are part of your local social group who are a bit iffy and indiscreet, this can quite easily be revealed to colleagues from work, family, ex classmates, basically anybody else who you are linked to.

Sure, people talk about the security that is built into these sites, but I can assure you from experience that it is highly complex and difficult to ensure that information is made available to particular groups or individuals but hidden from others. Now that is fine for me, but I increasingly find myself open to the indiscretion of others on these boards. And that exposes not only me to that, but also others to whom I am linked.

To give you a good idea, I recently heard a friend tell me that somebody whom she had linked to had gone trawling through her friend list and invited them all to be their friends also, despite not knowing a single one of them. Promiscuous friendship isn't friendship at all, its fake relationships, and it isn't just 16 year olds - the most notorious collector of other people's friends I know is in their 60s. I increasingly find also that you need to completely avoid joining any groups at all except for definitive interest groups in order to avoid this. I'm quite sure I don't want my supervisor or my underlings to know about some things about my friends, and some other friends have things that could be revealed to others should they link to me, because of obvious links to some of my friends. The danger here is that links drawn by idiot acquaintances on such sites endanger not only your privacy but the privacy of those linked to you.

The problem here is really down to who you genuinely consider to be worthwhile linking to on these sites. The quiet little person you thought you knew from the bar, work or from a social group can turn out to be a freak of epic proportions, spamming your acquaintances, publishing highly embarassing links to your "wall" and just being downright indiscreet and insensitive to other people's needs.

The big problem I find is that people can quite easily be offended at the idea of not being your online friend, despite the fact that they may come across to the more quiet folks you work with as probably clinically insane. Somebody elses lack of judgement exposes you to similar lack of judgement, even though you thought you'd only shown private photos, videos or music to friends, they can quite easily display these to anybody in a cybercafe (as I recently discovered, to my horror, was the case of a batch of photos I'd posted online in what should have been a secure site, or at least it would have been, had it not been for the total lack of discretion of one of my contacts).

The next difficulty comes in dissociating yourself from such folks. Sometimes you just have to call it a day, especially when discretion just isn't there and their cluelessness is exposing you and your contacts to the world. But its not easy. Most of the sites don't inform people that contact 300 of 700 plus has just broken the link, but somehow they instinctively sniff you out. Blocking them means having to remove mutual friends, group memberships, etc. Next thing you know, you're weeding out loads of stuff and wondering would it just be easier to deactivate your account.

All because of one person. Next thing you know, its four or five, on 3 or more different sites. MSN messenger. You don't want them to come back (usually after you've discovered that one or two think you've made a "mistake" and try to relink to you) so you end up blocking the lot.

At the end of the day, you realise how Stalin must have felt after a hard days purging. Its exhausting, draining and slightly painful. Especially if they are people you've known a while.


Ultimately, you have to treat sites like those above just like you do people in the real world. As Geoffrey Vickers, the great social thinker considered, life isn't just about goals but about maintaining good relationships and letting poor ones go. And nowhere is it more critical, or sometimes more difficult, than removing that Facebook stalker who is making a show of you online.

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