OPINION: New media, new neuroses Pt. II

Oh, what have I done to offend The Following?

A few weeks back, I was tweeting away merrily during the TV show 24. (That’s largely what I use Twitter for; that and talking about how much nitrous oxide my dentist gives me.) I was new to Twitter, and had very few followers. One episode of 24 later, the number had almost doubled. Fairly obvious connection.

Among the accounts that began following me was, well, The Following. But today, taking a roll call of my followers, I noticed The Following was no longer following.

To be fair, I never did return the favour by following The Following. I don’t think I even checked the profile. I also did skip a couple weeks of 24. I guess it’s my bad.

I’ve written about Faceblock and Tweetfright – the paralyzing fear that Paula Poundstone will think I’m an idiot when she reads my tweets – before. But new social media neuroses aren’t just affecting individual psychology. They’re also a phenomenon that colour our web of online relationships.

Shortly after being dragged kicking and screaming onto Facebook by my best friend, I decided to change my profile. I felt I’d shared personal information that it wasn’t strictly necessary to share. Nothing dangerous or terribly intrusive, but still. So I removed some details.

My Facebook friends thus got a news feed item saying that I am no longer single and no longer interested in women. Got some funny looks from the guys at the Last Thursday club over that one.

(If you’d like to avoid broadcasting the fact that you have dumped/been dumped by your significant other through your relationship status, here are a few tips from Lifehacker Australia.)

Facebook in general has the power to be far more relationship-lethal than Twitter. This isn’t to say 140 characters can’t get you into a whole lotta trouble. If you’ve been pounding back the Skittles-infused vodka martinis all night, just stay away from the keyboard. But Facebook’s status information is, well, status information – not just regarding your current state, but your social rank relative to others in your community. It’s as tempting to use that as a social weapon as it is to preserve or enhance it under stress.

Thus, we get the very public Facebook breakups. There was the Sandra Soroka affair in December 2007, wherein a status line – “Sandra E. Soroka is letting Will know it’s officially over via Facebook status” – provoked outrage entirely disproportionate to the slight, and led to a campaign of online vilification and faked MySpace and Flickr accounts. (I think. When I stopped following the story, there was some speculation that it might all have been an elaborate hoax, but you know what the title character of the TV show House says: Speculation makes a “spec” out of “u” and some guy named “Lation.” It’s got nothing to do with me.)

More famously, South African heiress Chelsy Davy dumped Britain’s Prince Harry through a relationship status change in January.

What about de-friending? There is more than one school of thought on the matter. Some feel it’s sometimes necessary to prune your friends list. Yet, how is it interpreted – how much grist for the digital rumour mill?

And the whole process of befriending someone on Facebook would be remarkably odd if played out in person. Could you imagine offering someone you hardly know your friendship and being ignored? The humiliation …

As far as I know, there isn’t a Miss Manners for the social Web yet. Maybe it’s time for a Wiki project. Like that won’t open up a whole ’nother can of worms.

In the mean time, I have to deal with being un-followed by The Following. Sure, I made mistakes, 140 characters at a time. In the end, I guess it was just time to move on.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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