Below is a first draft of a paper I have written for my Writing the Self Online.
Facebook is my blog: writing the self-online through duel-function status updates and posts
The following paper combines personal information regarding the life of the author. Names of those involved have been removed for security and privacy reasons. The author is a somewhat well-known nightclub DJ, radio host and record label owner, and as a result uses his page as both as personal communications with close friends and as a marketing tool to likeminded individuals. His page has been operational since 2007.
As life-writing has moved from paper to an on-line format, blogs and other methods have grown in use providing public access into the personal lives of the average person. Today, over 800 million active users use Facebook, one of the premier social media websites of the time (Facebook 2011). Social Media and Web 2.0 networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Live Journal, etc. are classified by Boyd and Ellison as web-based options that a) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, b) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and c) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (1). Trimm & Leonardi’s alternative viewpoint defines social media as a technology allowing individuals to do that was difficult or not possible with previous technologies, with focus on four affordances: Visibility, Persistence, Editability and Associations (7).
The objective of this paper is to examine the relatedness of life-writing on Facebook as a platform for individual presentation of current events, both as intended and unintended disclosure of information. Disclosure is ‘‘the telling of the previously unknown so that it becomes shared knowledge’’ (Joinson & Payne 237). This includes personal, as well as professional information.
“Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life” (Facebook.com 2009).
The link between blogging and Facebook use is strong. Lee et al. identified seven motivational factors behind voluntary disclosure in blogs: ‘‘self-presentation, relationship management, keeping up with trends, storing information, sharing information, entertainment, and showing off’’ (697). Similar goals match research to the use of Facebook, which include growing ones friends circle, being ‘liked’, increasing number of views, keeping in touch, generating fame, self-realization, power, skill development, entertainment and social change. (Weisbuch, M et al. 573; Labrecque, et al. 38; Waters & Akerman 110) Users also use Facebook and blogs as a means of creating positive first impressions online as well as in the ‘real world’ (Weisbuch, M. et al. 576) Lee et al. confirms the similarity of Facebook to blog posting as similar enough to equate ones research to the other. (Waters & Akerman 106).
Ledbetter states that online self-disclosure and attitude toward online social connection are the two fundamental orientations influencing media-use patterns in interpersonal relationships (466), as has been demonstrated with college students using the site to keep in touch with current college friends and past high school acquaintances (Ellison et al.). These orientations very with each individual account and are critical to the adoption of online social networking use.
The way an individual uses Facebook and is aware of its communication implications is based on the user’s personal characteristics under the Five-Factor Model (McCrae 180). Neuroticism, reflects a person’s tendency to experience psychological distress and high levels of the trait are associated with a sensitivity to threat. Extraversion, reflects a person’s tendency to be sociable and able to experience positive emotions. The third factor, Openness to Experience, is the individual’s willingness to consider alternative approaches, be intellectually curious and enjoy artistic pursuits. Agreeableness, reflects a tendency to be trusting, sympathetic and cooperative. The final dimension, Conscientiousness, reflects the degree to which an individual is organized, diligent and scrupulous (ibid).
However, Facebook as a platform for writing about once-self maybe a bit distinct from a blog, as the design allows for much more interaction and information to be presented about one’s personal or professional life. Facebook posts can be viewed as both intentional and unintentional life-writing. Intentional personal writing includes status updates, posts, re-posts (re-tweets on twitter), links, etc. that the individual has consciously thought about the implications of posting, the reasons why the post was made or the platform of the post. For example, someone finds a link and thinks that by posting it they will create discussion amongst their friends, improve the light in what one is presented in online or share ones passions in some manner. Unintentional life-writing posts come when no conscious though about the implications of the post or platform are made, as well as when third party applications re-post on one’s Facebook wall after the application was accessed for personal reasons.
Finally, we argue that trait-like attitudes toward online communication influence the valence of relational outcomes from Facebook use. Indeed, ten percent of Americans have jobs whose employers require them to market themselves online (Madden et al.). As a result, multiple ‘identities’ may be necessary to maintain one a single platform. The combination of these identities creates one’s personal life-writing and online presence. When users try to create a personal brand online, they often lack the formal training and support needed to be successful. Further confusion can be created as the ever changing platform and industry norms misguide the individual’s intentions, creating a gap between personal and professional posting and upkeep of the account.
Managing a persona online becomes challenging, especially when dealing with personal conflict or multiple accounts or goals (Labrecque, et al. 37). What one writes on a post or page could be viewed in many different lights, both by the poster and the reader. However, personal self-reported interests posted on Facebook profiles typically do match those one typically writes about (Hagger-Johnson et al 75), even though some may not disclose information due to privacy concerns (Hagger-Johnson et al. 76; Austin 27). Users do not seek to transcend the most fundamental aspects of their offline selves. Rather, users bring into being bodies, personas, and personalities framed according to the same categories that exist in the offline world, in order to meet the goals of the platform use (Robinson 94).
Projects like Facebook Bytes (Kothari et al.) Demonstrate the ability to analyze Facebook profiles as life-writing; however such automated systems are not available publicly. With the use of Archive Book (www.archivebook.com), I have collected data dating back to the first wall posts made on my personal Facebook page from August 6th of 2007, status updates dating back to of June 15th 2009 and all posts made on my wall after Facebook began to archive wall posts and status updates together from January 25 2011. The data gathered from January 25th 2011 on to September 30th 2011 is used in this study as it best represents the current ‘friends’ characteristics on my page. Earlier data would not be sufficient to use as the overall size, organization and affiliations of connections would be too dated and miss-matched to analyze against the current ethos of friends.
Data collection on Facebook is typically easy to complete as information is often readily available to individuals within a network. Survey candidates and other data can be collected without the permission based on security settings and voluntary participation at little cost (Ferguson 592). However, this type of data mining is often criticized for the use of convenience samples (Riffe & Freitag 873; Sheehan 56) or student samples (Abelman 442). The nature of social network analysis requires that individual responses be kept anonymous to provide privacy and security to those unknowingly being involved in the study due to their network affiliations (Ackland 6). Any formal release of this paper will remove all references to the author and treat the case as a targeted yet anonymous individual.
There are several types of time stamped data representing certain actions one can create in Facebook. Statuses are short blurbs that users write to describe what they are doing at that time. Posts are messages users write on their friend’s profile page (also known as a ‘wall’) and vice versa, or, are items that are posted on one’s own wall that pertain to media such as events, photos, links and applications, etc. if the individual who generated the comment wishes to share or highlight the new media uploaded to Facebook. Photos or updates can be ‘tagged’ if he/she appears in it, drawing attention to the individual by posting the link simultaneously on their wall (Kothari et al. 2). Comments allow for individuals (as well as one’s self) to post a reply to a status or update. ‘Likes’ allow an individual to show they approve of a posting or media without having to leave a comment. Facebook is ever evolving, with new forms of media and communications including open source third party applications and new profile updates.
4.1. Facebook Wall Posts
Data was first extrapolated from the Facebook servers using Archive Books’ automated system, then loaded into an HTML editor. The information was then copied to a text file, removing all links and images. The final text data was transferred to a spreadsheet file and coded based on nine categories: Local Music posts (dealing with any posts that events within driving distance of my current residence), Promotional Music posts (including posts based on my record labels, radio show and other non-personal music preferences), Personal posts (included updates on feelings, friends, sports/entertainment), Live Radio posts (focusing on posts made during and for a live FM radio show hosted weekly from 7-8pm EST on CFRU 93.3 FM in Guelph, Ontario, Canada), Facebook posts (which included talking specifically about the Facebook platform), Forwards (reposts or postings that were funny and designed as a way to share something humourous or interesting with other Facebook ‘friends’), Work posts, School Related posts and Photos (and/or Albums). Also note that number of ‘Likes’ and ‘Comments’ (not including the content of the comments) were recorded, as well as the number of postings made with a mobile device. Any post while made while in Australia on vacation between June 25th and August 1st was noted, but remains in one of the original nine categories.
Using the Netvizz third party application on Facebook (http://blog.sociomantic.com/2010/05/using-netvizz-gephi-to-analyze-a-facebook-network/), data such as name, sex, number of posts, input language as well as hidden statistical data that links networks together such as location, affiliations, interests, mutual friends etc., is generated and stored in a Gephi file. This data is then opened in Gephi (gephi.org), a powerful statistical analysis program that generates linked networks with ease. Steps were followed as outlined in Appendix 1, and a visual network was generated (See figure 1). Raw-data was also extrapolated into a spreadsheet file to allow for additional analysis.
5.1. Facebook Wall and Posts
Chart 1. outlines the total Facebook wall posting and status updates from January 25th 2011 to September 30th 2011, revealing a total of 466 posts made, with 935 comments and 553 likes on the personal front page of the Author. Of the total posts, 132 were made in the Local Music category, with 191 comments and the most likes in any category at 166. There were also 107 posts of Personal content, resulting in an average of 5.4 comments per post, well above the average of 3.4 comments to all posts. Comments ranged from 0 to 39 per post over the trial period, with a maximum of 7 likes for a single post. Personal Posts, followed by Photo’s, then postings about a trip to Australia, followed by Music Promotion were the top four categories in order of posts. Personal Posts, then Local Music Posts, followed by Music Promotion Posts and Australia Posts lead the way for number of Likes with 349, 191, 163 and 121 respectively. Posts noted in the ‘Australia’ category are marked as being made on holiday, however all have another category they are tallied in, and as a result no duplication of posts or comments is found in the totals.
Gephi analysis of the author’s Facebook friends list indicates a total of 2251 friends as of September 30th 2011. Of these, 1581 were male, 582 were female and 51 were unidentified (Chart 2). 1884 were identified as using English as their main language of communication (Chart 3). Gephi’s social network analysis revealed two major categories or networks within the friends list (Chart 4.), International Music friends which consisted of approximately 22.7% of the Facebook friends, and Local and Regional Music friends at 21.3%. Mixed Music friends was also identified as 7.8 % of total friends. Other networks identified and highlighted in Figure 1. include High School friends, Masters (University) friends, Soccer friends and Radio Station Staff/Members friends.
Gephi analysis was unable to associate approximately 44% of individuals into any category; however self-visualization and manual network analysis could place these individuals into one of the above categories or networks with only minor change to the total ratios of each network. Additional smaller networks would also be discovered at this time, which would include categories such as specific Nightclub Affiliations, Record Label Artists and Work. This lack of association is based on internal ratio analysis within Gephi, and without access to code within the program, is unable to be adjusted at this time. Also to note that Netvizz identified approximately 150 individuals who were connected to the author but had less than 25 posts on their own wall, and as a result appear to either be abandon, unused, duplicate, spam or brand new accounts.
Facebook also allows for internal groups or networks to be created for internal use. These internal groups match the posting categories. Groups such as Local Nightclub friends (numbering approximately 350 for one region and 200 for another), as well as specific music genres (such as Trance at approximately 1000 and House at approximately 300) allow for easier distribution of posts based on preferences of privacy settings. For example, many posts that are in the ‘Local Music’ posts are made available only for those who are in the internal local night club friends’ category. This reduces the amount of postings made to those who would not be interested in receiving ‘spam’ about events when geographical restrictions apply. The author would self-identify approximately 500 of the 2251 friends to be considered personal friends (known outside of Facebook), and around 150-200 to be close friends (communicate with on a monthly to bi-monthly basis). Internal groups may not include all individuals who would best suit that category, as time constraints restrict the author from completely updating the lists with friends who are not added before the feature was available on Facebook.
The connection between Facebook friends and posts appears to correlate strongly in our case, with intentional postings and updates clearly linked to the content released. Geographic areas, as well as frequency of posts link directly to type of post, intention of the post and related comments and likes.
In this case, postings on the Facebook wall indicate that approximately 2/3rds of posts are geared towards music fans (half locally, half internationally), with the remaining 1/3rd of posts focusing on personal information and networking with close friends. This ratio is similar to the identified groups of friends completed through Gephi network analysis.
6.1. International Music and Marketing
The goal to use Facebook as a marketing tool, to reach like-minded individuals (and keep up to date with the industry), is of high importance to this account. ‘Friends’ are added to the account and connected with based on mutual self-reported interests, and common friends. The high density of noted and relatedness in Figure 1. Music friends demonstrate multiple connections to each other. New requests are then added to internal groups to effectively promote too and reduce spam/alienation when local events do not reflect the individual’s personal interests and perceived classification of friend. Most direct posts however are not filtered to this group, as the majority of friends in this account are associated with music in one form or another, and therefore it is not specifically necessary to require security settings to allow posts to this group and not other friends. Individuals who wish to remain connected to the account who are not interested in the posts can and do hide or unsubscribe from the authors updates, but typically still remain friends (i.e. do not unfriend a connection).
Postings to this group receive slightly higher than average comments and likes, reflecting upon the sheer volume of individuals in the group as a whole, but do not outstretch personal comments as the network is not necessarily linked by friendship. Comments or likes are rarely made from individuals who have not had recent or multiple interactions with the poster in the past. Only when an individual has a direct link or specific interest about the post’s topic do non-personal or close friends respond. February 24th post commenting about a specific well known DJ and radio show solicited responses from five individuals, two of which were identified as big fans of the radio show, encoring the author to pay more attention to the DJ. Two of the remaining posts were personal friends (within the International Music category) who agreed with the comments made by the author and not the other two posters. Other posts, such as August 21st state who is playing a recent song that the author has released on his record label, with two of the three comments being made by International Music friends confirming how good the song was and they would be playing it themselves. The third post was one of the artists whose song was released thanking everyone else, thus connecting the loose network.
6.2. Local Music Events
Local Music posts typically focus on creating attention to events within a short drive of the location. Events are posted here two to three times in a week or two advance of the event (including an event page link posted on the wall of the author), to encourage individuals to attend. Content typically highlights the attractions for the night (i.e. who is the DJ, what type of music is playing, a theme or special guests arriving), and receive similar responses to the amount of likes and comments as the average post would receive. Comments typically clarify either content, or show intent to attend/not attend the events. Often comments or likes are made by those who are directly involved in the event. Based on offline interactions, local individuals who receive the posts via their stories feed are aware of the event, but tend not to be swayed to attend the event. Direct communication through private messaging, e-mail and offline communications appears to create a stronger correlation between event awareness and attendance.
Event pages are often created and posted on the wall, inviting local participants to attend, though only a small fraction of those who say they are attending actually do show up. The March 23rd post offered free tickets to responses to a major event which had been commented on leading up to the 24th date a few times only had three responses to it, none of which were asking for the free tickets. The event itself had approximately thirty Local Music friends state there attendance, with about fifteen showing up at the event itself.
In our case, the author hosted a local live FM radio show, weekly for one hour with a focus on local events and requests. Each week posts specific solicit response for content to go on the air. This is typically completed once in the day leading up to the show, and as the show starts. Postings typically received similar response rates to Local Music posts, and contained almost exclusively song requests. These responses are due to the specific solicitation of information, as well as the immediacy of the response, requiring little time and effort for the responder to tune in from the comfort of their current location. Responders were generally either personal or close friends of the author, fans of the show or producers/artists looking to have their music showcased.
6.3. Personal Facebook and life-writing
Controversial posting, such as on February 22nd 2011: “Needs to get laid, anyone else? (Not offering, just stating lol)” tend to generate intense discussion and personal response from those who are considered personal or close friends. This post returned eighteen responses, offering more insight into the author’s frame of mine, emotional feeling and social interactions. However, typical posts in this category tend to reflect the author’s specific interests, such as sports or social/political responses and rarely reflect the actual deep or in-depth ideas that a blog or personal diary would encapsulate. We can agree with Carpenter et al. in this case that openness to experience does have a large role in the types of information that is expressed by the poster, as well as the curiosity and willingness to interact with others outside of a close circle of friends (540; Ross et al. 582). Higher levels of extraversion are typically associated with the total number of friends one interacts with as individuals may use Facebook as a social tool, but do not necessarily use Facebook a substitution between close friends and offline communications (Ross et al. 582). As a result, this author’s use of Facebook specifically relates back the desire and openness to disclose information to distant friends rather than to close friends (Waters & Akerman 101).
Responses to personal postings generate more comments and likes from individuals who are in personal or close relationships with the poster. Posts of this nature are of deeper meaning to those who care and support the individual. Communication and context may be foreign to those outside of the circle, and as a result are very unlikely to respond to the posts. However, individuals who feel as though they are close enough to the author may respond based on their beliefs of friendship. This can result in expansion of one’s friendship circle as the sharing of information builds trusts amongst loosely-connected friends. Part of marketing to a mass audience requires the communicator to be friendly and share insight into one’s life to create a sense of community and trust.
6.4. Personal page vs. Fan page
The author’s personal page is intertwined with multiple messages for groups and individuals of varying degrees of friendship. However, the author also hosts a ‘Fan’ page, a page dedicated strictly to the persona of the author as a DJ. This page differs from the personal page as it is very much one way communication from the author to individuals who identify themselves as fans of the DJ, not the person. The author and fans may make posts on this page, and have very little personal interaction. This page is used as a platform for information pertaining directly to the music the persona plays, offering fans free downloads, sneak peeks and updates from a very general standpoint about the artist. Although there is some overlap between networks (Approximately 400 friends are also fans), the content on both pages is very different.
Walther et Al. concludes that a personal page with large amount of friends calls into account the desirability to be personally connected to someone who has a vastly different number of friends. Individuals with similar number of friends tend to gravitate towards each other, and as a result can be a significant cue by which individuals make social judgments about others in an online social network (531, 534 & 537). The author makes a conscious note of this, only accepting new friends who are closely connected to his personal page, and hoping/driving traffic to his fan page by using the subscription options available since October 6th of 2011.
Analysis of this duel-function Facebook account supports the theory of networked publics, as a page of significantly weaker connections and a concurrent private related network of personal and close friends (Boyd 2006; Boyd 2008). To generalize at this stage of analysis of one case would be inappropriate, as each individual page should be thought of based on the primary meaning and perspective of the individual rather than a group or genre (Thelwel & Wilkinson 394). However, specifically relating to our case, we can conclude that the page is used mostly as a tool for marketing and social interaction based around music ideas, as well as a somewhat more unintentional shallow and surface based online-life writing platform.
As time progresses, an author’s motivations for using Facebook as a social interaction may change, especially when networks evolve and grow based on conscious marketing decisions. Initial uses, such as keeping in touch with high school and college friends may still remain, but no longer become the primary reason to use the platform (DiMicco & Millen 385). As a result, the posting and life cycle of a Facebook profile change and evolve as time passes. This could be a primary reason why multiple accounts are opened when an account becomes too difficult to manage serving as a single function, but future research is required.
The Facebook platform is linked closely enough to that of a blog or online diary to give a small personal insight into the every-day life of an individual. Postings, as well as interactions and self-reported interests help individuals using Facebook to Individuals using Facebook to better manage relationships and improve their own psychological well-being (Water & Akerman 111).
Further research into the use of Facebook as a life-writing tool is necessary, which includes looking into specific areas based on work and work related postings, length and content analysis of comments and influence based on friend’s circles to write about one’s life experiences on the platform.
The author would like to thanks to Axel Burns and Jean Burgess of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia for the introduction and support with Gephi.
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Figures & Charts
Figure 1. Facebook Friend Analysis.