Essay Girl #2

I present to you in a form suitable to the relationship I wish to achieve with you.
~Luigi Pirandello

Within the Public Eye
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It is safe to assume that millions of electronic transactions take place on a daily basis. The banking system thrives on debit cards that allow the consumer easier access to their funds without withdrawing the physical bills and coins from their account. When looking at the receipts the merchant is taking it at face value that the money will be transferred to them. No longer is society dependant on a tangible thing such as paper currency. Checks work along the same principle that the value written on it is the value to be paid. There is no longer any need for physical contact in order for a transaction to take place.
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The same principle can now be applied in social media. How? Online a person can present themselves however they deem fitting and it is up to the individual viewing the words to form a picture and determine if it is true or false. This is where persona becomes open to interpretation. Not only does the information presented become part of the deciding factor in believing someone, the prejudices and personality of the reader come into play.
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In the article “Written in Blood”, Adi Kuntsman describes a scene that played out over a bulletin board, the members of which were Russian-speaking gays, lesbian, bisexuals, and transgendered who live in Israel. This particular thread is of note because so much is wrapped in it. Real World politics come into play when a new member joined the discussion. The user name of the new individual was “Daughter of Palestine” and her place of residence was listed at “occupied Palestine”. Most of the members of the site were Israeli or Russian in origin and began to question the new user’s validity. Due to the fighting in the area most were against her and suddenly a good majority of time was spent trying to decipher the origin of “Daughter of Palestine”. It became overly important to label her as a fraud and discredit her because of her heritage. After all, to most users of the site anyone claiming Palestinian descent was naturally a liar because of the racial bias of the area. The board users were accustomed to like points of view coming from others on the board and Daughter of Palastine challenged those views not only with her presence, but by presenting arguments to the contrary. (Kuntsman, 2008)
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This is an extreme case of not believing what is presented, even when the user asserted her position, Daughter of Palastine had to prove herself over and over again. Doing so in a very tactful and educated way, until another user ‘borrowed’ her identity and started writing things that countered what the original said. Whether there really was a clone or if it was the first user playing around was never determined, and in the end the entire board was left more confused than when the thread started. (Kuntsman, 2008)
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The example of “Written in Blood” shows what happens when a user is looked upon in suspicion. Due to the region and the politics it is understandable that such a thing could happen. However, one can be too trusting of information presented online.
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A close friend of mine was using Internet dating sites. He met a woman that he grew very close to. She lived in a neighboring state so much of their conversations were done via telephone or e-mail. The two of them were becoming closer with each exchange. He went so far as to cancel a career opportunity because it would move him too far away from her; then, he asked to meet with her.
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At this point the woman became very hesitant and uncooperative with information. She started telling my friend she was diagnosed with cancer and was not up for visitors or that the dates coincided with treatments. The stories became more and more grandiose as he tried to get closer to her. She kept him at arm’s length. Eventually, her stories collided and he found out the truth.
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This woman was married, twice the age she claimed to be, and used her daughter’s photograph as a profile picture. She had drug my friend’s heart through a lot and left him unsure of where he stood in anything. He had opened himself up for this person only to have her make a fool of him. (interview, 2010)
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It should not be overly surprising to see that in a 2007 survey done by Advertising Age that 61% of participants believed that online profiles are exaggerated. (Wheaton, 2007) As in the case of my friend there are people out there who lie and use the Internet deceptively toward their own ends.
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This is not to be interpreted that everything presented in a profile is false. It just shows that some online profiles are exaggerated, or as one survey participant put it:
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"As an avid Facebook user, I can fully attest that Facebook does not honestly reflect who we (college students) are; in fact, I would argue that it is the main reason we continue to use Facebook. We may start out using it as a social medium for connecting to friends, but the truth is, by the time we're that far in, we're hooked on the fact that it's about ourselves more than anything. … it’s entertainment that allows us to be as important and cool as we always thought we should be." (Wheaton, 2007)
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This is a major point to be made: the Internet allows the individual to market themselves in ways the previously were unavailable. Unlike before, a writer can reach a mass audience through a web log or podcast. What had started as a few technophiles posting user-generated content, jumped to almost 48 million people or 35% of users in 2005. There is now a tool that allows people to express their thoughts, and thanks to small groups of followers, a blogger can feel the success that eludes them in real life. It is important to remember that this does not mean fame and fortune outside cyberspace. (Bulk, 2006)
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As the amount of information expands a paradox begins to form in regards to privacy. The more information an individual places online, the more that individual becomes known. In regard to social networking sites, this becomes a concerning issue. When initializing a profile the sites ask for details ranging from name to birth date to hometown and contact information. It is important to remember how much this information opens an individual to the public realm. In addition, anonymity is removed with a picture. (Taraszow, et al., 2010) It is more concerning when viewed from the standpoint that younger users are disclosing this information without concern of consequences.
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The case of the Sanders family in Washington state is just one example. The family had posted an ad on Craigslist to sell a diamond ring. They then arranged a meeting with a buyer in their home to view the ring. After everything was agreed upon three associates of the buyer came into the house and proceeded to ransack the house looking for other valuables. They then started to beat the wife and oldest child, at which point the husband tried to defend his family and was fatally shot. Thankfully, three of the four assailants have been arrested.(King 5, 2010)
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Sadly, this is not the only story like this and serves as a warning. In no way are such acts new, but now it is easier to release personal data and open oneself up to become a possible target.
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Online someone is always watching and when that is kept in mind there is a shift in the personality of the one posting. Just as a person shifts their demeanor when in public, a person changes their methods of conduct online. In their study, Gonzales and Hancock, (2008) studied the writings and a view of people’s personality when they thought they were writing on a public blog versus a text document. A shift in personality was clearly noted in this process. When the participant thought others were going to see the material, they were more extroverted in their statements. They were much more optimistic and open with details.
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With the appearance of optimism and the details provided from users, we learn that Cyberspace is not going away and more information will be viewable as time goes along. Therefore, as a society those using it are becoming more aware of being watched and presenting themselves in a more public way. Could a shift back to etiquette be a possibility? This is not probable; however, when made aware that others are watching it is more likely that a person will think twice before posting something and reconsider the validity of the information they view.
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Even though friendships can be formed online that would not develop without the Internet; the personality and human factor remain. Not everyone using the Internet is friendly. As in the case of my friend, he met with a liar who toyed with him for her own amusement; but, there are those who use message boards and network sites to find victims. ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ is what most parents tell children in the real world and then proceed to break that rule online. The Internet is not a safeguard from bad things happening to an individual; it is a tool that can be used positively or negatively depending on the personality and desire of the user. The same concept applies to every user out there which needs to be kept in mind each time a post is created or read. The individual needs to be aware of dangers that come with posting, while looking at how they present themselves to others. In this way it is no different than in the world outside of Cyberspace.
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Works Cited
Gonzales, Amy L., and Jeffrey T. Hancock. "Identity Shift in Computer-Mediated Environments." Media Psychology 11.2 (2008): 167-85. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 1 May 2010. .
King 5 News, comp. "Craigslist Murder Victim Widow: 'This Was an Evil, Evil Act'" King5.com [Edgewood, Washington] 5 May 2010. Print.
Kuntsman, Adi. "Written In Blood." Feminist Media Studies 8.3 (2008): 267-83. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 1 May 2010. .
"Past Experience With Online Dating." Personal interview. 5 May 2010.
Snyder Bulik, Beth. "Web Celebs Leverage Their Online Identities." Advertising Age 6 June 2006: 6. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 1 May 2010. .
Taraszow, Tatjana, Elena Aristodemou, Georgina Shitta, and Yiannis Laouris. "Disclosure of Personal and Contact Information by Young People in Social Networking Sites: An Analysis Using Facebook Profiles as an Example." International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 6.1 (2010): 81-101. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 1 May 2010. .
Wheaton, Ken. "What You Say." Advertising Age 5 Nov. 2007: 4. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 6 May 2010. .

2 comments:

Gwei Mui May 26, 2010 at 1:15 AM  

What an interesting and thought provoking article. I personally don't show profile information or only basic items of info and I normally use a handle. But definitely food for thought.

Andrea Leigh May 26, 2010 at 6:44 PM  

Researching this definitely made me rethink my security settings on Facebook. Usually I also use a pen name.

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