A few years ago Fono and I wrote a paper that was basically about LJ drama, even though we gussied it up with a fancy academic title and invoked Baudrillard. The main thing we found was that people had all these different ideas about what being Friends on LiveJournal meant. The main reasons people Friended each other were:
- to add journals to their reading list.
- to facilitate relationships (both offline and exclusively online).
- to indicate trust.
- as a courtesy.
- as a declaration of some sort of relationship.
- for entertainment, friend collecting, as a game etc.
As a result of all these differing meanings for different people, the act of Friending or defriending could mean a lot to someone, while another person wouldn’t even give it a second thought. One person could defriend a friend because they were bored of reading their journal, while their now defriended friend might take the action as a commentary about their relationship. Throw in the fact that LJ Friending is essentially a way of controlling privacy (so it’s functional AND meaningful) and you have a recipe for DRAMA!
Now think about Facebook. This all sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well in analysing my fieldwork last year I’m realising that even though the meanings of Friending on Facebook and LJ are both ambiguous, the way people react to that ambiguity is different.Now think about Facebook. This all sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well in analysing my fieldwork last year I’m realising that even though the meanings of Friending on Facebook and LJ are both ambiguous, the way people react to that ambiguity is different. On LiveJournal, people acted on the angst caused by the Friending feature by writing angry posts or comments about when they were defriended, for example, to which the defriender would usually angrily reply, and then all the friends of both parties would reply and everyone else could watch and be amused. This dynamic gave birth to the very hilarious ljdrama.org, which sarcastically chronicled the latest disputes over who defriended who and why. (There’s still an awesome archive of everyone’s favourite LJ drama moments here.)
Yet there isn’t an fbdrama.org. How often do you actually see serious flamewar style drama playing out on someone’s wall? Hardly ever, right? So even though Friending on Facebook and Livejournal both cause angst because of the differing meanings it has for different people – we’ve all wondered why a certain person has added or removed us, or if we should accept a Friend request from someone we don’t really like – on Facebook, no one really seems to act on that angst so it never evolves into drama. Most of the angsty situations I’ve seen involve people telling their close friends that they’re unsure about adding someone, but I’ve never seen anyone actually confront a sketchy Friend requester or someone who has defriended them.
So, I wanna throw this out to everyone, especially people who are participating in my ethnography (you know who you are;) ). Do you think my observations are correct? If so, why do you think it’s the case? Your answers will influence what I write in my thesis, but do let me know if you don’t want me to quote you.
My initial hypothesis is that engaging in drama on Facebook would have social repercussions that wouldn’t happen to the same degree on LiveJournal. The stakes are higher on Facebook because you use your real name and personal info, and usually have most of the people you know from all aspects of your life as Friends. Messing with the people you only know online on Livejournal is a much lower risk than messing with someone who you work with or shares mutual friends. What do you think?