Reflection 1: Status, homogeneity, and misbehaviour online

Rosen’s article examines how individuals create status on social networking sites. He discusses how individuals internalize norms, use vulgarity to grab attention, and aggressively recruit online friends. I would like to focus on the relationship between two important concepts Rosen discusses, public exhibitionism and the proliferation of uniqueness, and how they relate to status building.

Rosen raises the idea that on social networking sites “private misbehaviour becomes public exhibitionism” (Rosen,2007, p.26).  However, what need does posting private, often potentially embarrassing, information online fulfill? Although often associated with pictures of drunken folly, the disclosure personal information can include writing rants, posting passive aggressive threats, or bragging of misbehaviour through status updates and comments. Individuals continue with such misbehaviour, despite the potentially harmful consequences. Do individuals not worry about how other’s will view them, including prospective employers? My belief is that online shamelessness actually relates to individuals views of online privacy. A recent study showed that the primary reason people post private information online (such as address, birthday, and contact information) that could lead to harms such as identity theft or stalking, is the belief that it won’t happen to them. Individuals may feel protected by social guidelines and the (somewhat mistaken) idea that “what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook.” Given the consequence, the motivation to publicise “private misbehaviour” must be quite strong. Attention grabbing photos and text will likely receive a sizable reaction from their audience, resulting in comments, likes, and online gasps of disbelief. Social networking sites then become a medium for bragging. In the same way that a young boy might boast in the schoolyard about how he swiped another’s toy, some people use sites like Facebook to build their status and identity in a similar way. They also feel protected from consequences because they are only bragging to their “friends” and make use of privacy settings to ensure only the right people learn of their misbehaviour.

Rosen also describes the “overwhelmingly dull sea of monotonous uniqueness, of conventional individuality, of distinctive sameness” that appears on social networking sites (Rosen, 2007, p.24). This stems from the strong pressure for users not to be viewed as “followers”, despite the immense pressure to conform. This sentiment is echoed in the advertising slogan of today, where individuals are encouraged to “express their style” or “be their own person.”  However, this is not real individuality. Social networking, like their marketing companions, sells the illusion of individuality, constrained to pre-determined parameters or genres. True individuality cannot be expressed on a social network because the very act of being on a social network is an act of conforming. The apparent irony of the proliferation of uniqueness comes to like when you look at the homogenous displays of public exhibition. Even the seemingly shy or reserved individual will occasionally submit to the desire of online limelight, though it might be a subtler form. Public exhibition can be found in a number of genres, from “mirror pics” to the ubiquitous “I’m having fun at a party and I’m a little bit drunkkkk” picture. As such, the posting of “misbehaviour pictures” is a way of reaffirming that their misbehaviour is actually acceptable behaviour, and they are simply conforming to social expectations.

Works Cited

Rosen, C. (2007,Summer). Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism. The New Atlantis (17), 15-31.

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Posted on October 21, 2011, in Reflection Paper. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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