Facebook as research as part of digital identities

This posts spells out the key themes of enquiry I pursued for the digital identities section of this module (i.e. Assignment 4 & 5).

How and for what do I use FB?

Over the almost two years that I have been using FB frequently, and the past 10 months during which it became an explicit research tool for the lines of connection and disconnection between private and public, between biography, confession and fiction, and between various forms of material, media, registers, my use has changed. In part, this was clearly also due to FB’s own changes, notably the integration and disintegration between FB and messenger.

Over that period also messenger, which until then as a DM interface that I generally wouldn’t pay attention to moved decisively to be my DM tool of choice: notably due to its easy integration of GIFs and sticker packs it allows for a form of communication that is quick and media-rich, SMS or Whatsapp moved to much less important roles than they had played in previous years. It also mirrored a change in who would be frequent contacts and the preferred platform between us. So, for all intents and purposes, when I talk about FB here, I will also include the messenger app.

In terms of my own posts, around 50% consists of photos or videos (the latter only perhaps 5% of these posts); 30% are posts that provide links/ repost materials or comment on these, 20% are original writing pieces of myself. The latter almost exclusively only address Close Friends; perhaps half of the image posts goes to all friends, the other to minus acquaintances (also called good friends, which reduces the cohort by c40%); I reckon the reposts have a similar distribution between all friends or minus acquaintances. The boundaries between these last two groups are changeable, only recently I moved a fair number of good friends to acquaintances; while prior to that most art contacts would become good friends, most older, more infrequent or academic contacts would remain acquaintances. In general, good friends are those that I have a form of fairly frequent contact with (either offline or through online interactions).

The remainder of this post consists of four sections:

a. a summary of FB posts
b. FB timeline as sketchbook
c. the role of boundaries and differentiated publics in facebook (the ways of transgressing)
d. anxiety of absence / fear of missing out





a. summary of posts

The first foray into the relevance of FB for this module, I set up a collection of posts from my timeline to give a sense of themes and formats of discussion, and how the materials that form the basis for A4 and A5 circulated through FB

Facebook posts relating to this assignment which can sit in this blog’s public (amending as I go along).
A first outline as to some themes relating to online/offline; public/private for this project are in this previous post.

These are collected in this blog post here

currently: 19 Feb – 8 March (possibly some before, some after?); perhaps a total of 7-10 posts.

b. as sketchbook

the section of this post that i am writing last, and yet the most frequently employed use of a FB post for me: i take it to test out thoughts, ideas in a form that push them a couple of steps further from noting in my journal: i do not only type them up but submit them to a limited public. in this sense, my FB timeline, certainly the section in which i limit publicness to  minus acquaintances or even more so, to close friends friends, applies a form of discipline to test what holds up of my thoughts. so, in many ways, one of the most frequent FB uses of mine is actually revisiting my on timeline and re-reading, retracing earlier posts. i don’t tend to alter them, i also don’t tend to hide from the timeline these written posts (while i frequently remove older photos, which after that will only live in their respective albums). what i however often do is that i amend, add, qualify or take further thoughts in earlier posts by adding comments. so, quite a few posts have acquired comments only by myself.

as a sketchbook, the publicness often does not work so much in others commenting online but the post providing a reference point in a face-to-face conversation. about half the people in my close friends list are people i meet often, so, for them (and us) the posting means that there is a topic, a particular perspective to consider, to refer to, to discuss, to amend or alter.

FB is however severely limited in this purpose: it is difficult to export (exporting means losing all comments and all media links embedded in a post), its search function is rather limited (i need to remember a word within the post, even hashtags are not found consistently but only reference a selection of the set that has the hashtag applied).

besides text posts, i use the posting photos (and less videos) functions a lot: even more so, once i had decided that instagram wasn’t working too well for me. so, there are some days in which i rather extensively will map, trace, narrate what i will do and see. i remain ambiguous for whose purposes that is: to assure my own presence, movement to myself? or what in there is also to show off, to affirm, to confirm, and at points confuse as to what it is that i am up to?

c. the role of boundaries and differentiated publics in facebook (the ways of transgressing)

as posted to Close Friends on 9 December 2016:
[altered as to a further name change; alteration of the list of off-topic subjects]

FB circles, in/out groups, confidentiality and off-limit items:

I have in two contexts now discussed in more detail the boundaries of my using my FB timeline as an online sketchbook or notebook.
One discussion involved two who have seen and often engaged with the posts of the past few months (both online and offline); the other one was with two where one of these is not on FB, the other has not been part of the group to which #pondpiecenotes and after posted to.

There are various issues that these two discussions raised for me. The first concern is about in/group out/group through these selective postings (notably: the selective enclosure of the particular audience. I had thought about this as to inclusion as being fairly easily undone on part of the reader: to overlook, to hide or to unfollow; the exclusion is more complex, notably when mutual friends are inside the audience, like posts or comments, which pushes notifications to their own friends’s feeds… which at once pierces my own attempts to bound who gets to see what I write; but also alerts mutual friends that possibly other conversations are going that they are not party too). There is more to this and I will likely return to it.
The second concern, which I considered in more detail yesterday, was raised as question if there are themes that are off-topic. My response was in several stages, and in hindsight I realise just how much I veil my responses. I responded as to how I proceed to judge if a post holds or not, so I generally move ahead in a series of steps and then assess my relationship to it and adjust, it’s rather practical and involved. It is also in some way true to my attitude towards a priori lists, which I do not find easy to take serious nor follow. I then also provided a positive inclusion list rather than one of exclusion.
However, yesterday I then arrived at my off-topic items, of which there are numerous. By refusing to acknowledge that they exist in the first place, I drew another layer of curtain over them to protect them once further. But, with the recent piercing of this list through the post about R., it may be worthwhile spelling some of these out:
Items that I have not written about nor intend to write about in posts:
– anything concerning current desires and involvements with people around the matters that I discuss;
– all posted accounts about my own experiences of (sexualised) violence were fairly contained in the transition between childhood/adolescence. I have not posted about any of my later encounters and relationships in which consent or violence were issues;
– …
– most of the items I write about I write about at a time that they are resolved: hence, even if I use present tense for several notes, they are not contemporary but usually an ex-post reflection.
Where these boundaries lie and how they manifest is at points and as I move along somewhat fluid. As for the fourth item about resolution, this became apparent in post #2 from a couple of days ago (R. in my flat and expectations of violence): I posted it initially at a point when I was really caught out by it, it was incredibly present and I didn’t know at the point of posting on how to move with it. I removed the post as it was too unresolved, and moved it into a discussion with a close friend. This had once before occurred in relation to a post after the US election: again, the post was raw in its upset and I felt too exposed with it on my timeline, I removed it and raised it once in a conversation, which was a much better place for it to be held.
That I exposed my relationship with R. unsettled me and made me revisit this list of ‘protected relationships, items, concerns’; I can trace the need for exposure around the sense that suddenly the violence seemed to be deposited in my flat and left with me as a secret (or rather: amidst the context of various secrets). It also sits in the line where I respond with my own violence in situations where I perceive myself to be under threat (as in an earlier post between aunt, mother and myself). As such, it sits in the effects of how my experiences of patriarchal violence are more often between women rather than men>woman. There were a couple of occasions where my intent to protect also similarly pierced or transgressed; and this isn’t helped with the setting of a networked form of notebook where transgression and blurring boundaries is pretty much design of the medium and intent.
I also realise that the form in which I discuss concerns reflects my intent to conceal and veil existing relationships and concerns: it follows some of the arrangements over anonymity that were in place in the coaching training: ‘you can talk about anything here as far as it affects you, your experience; as soon as you would need to use someone else’s name, you are outside your own experience and should refrain from raising it.’ It was a rule that people applied in different forms and often topic of conversation as to how to proceed. It also means that in consequence I started to talk rather a lot about myself, my own feelings, actions, sensations, signals, perceptions; and I have kept that format. It makes for a self-centred account, one seemingly (actually?) intent on defining, aligning, negotiating, one’s self. And yet, I don’t think I am all that much interested in my self but in the relationships it constructs with the world, how its constitution tells me something about the world, lets me experience the world and others. So, the auto-ethnographic accounting in some ways is a reflection on the need for secrecy and veiling. And I will carry that thought a little longer with me.

d. anxiety of absence and fear of missing out

one of the most intriguing and vexing aspects of the FB related activity is a realisation of just how quickly the platform has become affectively effective: it draws me in, it wants me to spend time, to look at my things, at those of my friends. it even is successful in me seeking likes, affective approval, engagement and in my retrospective questioning if i misstepped, misjudged, transgressed unduly.

below is a post that i drafted but never posted after i one tried to exit the platform (rather unsuccessfully) in mid-March:

[undated, possibly first week of April]

[I was reading a post about grief on E.’s timeline: it was about shipwrecks, the love that preceeded each shipwreck and the scars they will leave. it had something also about the 100ft waves that engulf you, that turn 80ft waves, that become more infrequent, that you may discern at a distance about to engulf you.
so, that Friday i saw such a wave coming ahead. it gave me about 12 hours notice. i told A. how i felt tender and triggered again. about the usual stuff. about stuff that i wanted to write about and yet wasn’t sure what the form of writing about was going to be and what site was there to be for writing about.
… a series of observations of the theme of sexual violence that I omit here … These three threads mingled with three incidences in my own life, when I was 17, 27 and 36. They seek attention, if not resolution. And I wasn’t trusting myself in how I was using my timeline or FB more generally at that moment in time.

So I departed, alongside no caffeine, no cigarettes and no food. I had the sense that no FB and no nicotine would be the hardest, but strangely, the cigarettes didn’t concern me, the absence of caffeine gave me a headache a couple of times over the week that I was fasting, a little breakfast tea took care of it. What however didn’t work at all was the FB absence, by Monday morning I was missing the sticker packs, I was missing the photos going back and forth in one conversation. By Tuesday I was beginning to realise that so much of my current work meshes with my FB timeline and my saved links, that I went to look things up. Furthermore, I had on the way to a different office encountered the homeless person who was just found dead outside one of the shop windows; it was one of the few deaths I have come into contact with unexpectedly and it threw the overwhelm that the FB feed sometimes presents me with right next to my body walking through town, so the FB absence seemed to not serve that purpose of distance and detachment.

So, rather than a week or two, I managed to stay away for 36 hours only; FB was still sending me emails over stuff that it was wanting me to look at, notably messages. It was continously stoking my anxiety over missing out, being out of reach. It was curious to see how effectively it would feed that, and I realise that while addiction isn’t too often an issue for me, this was quite hard, harder than I thought. And nonetheless, those 36 hours were long enough for me not too feel those waves crushing down on me quite so hard; by the time I was starting to look at FB again, without posting, the need to expose and proclaim had passed somewhat too. I hadn’t sat down to write about the 3×3 of above in a different format yet.]
<< not posted.

at some point in June FB introduces a new feature in its gamification of posting (as it has done for some time about checking in, reviewing page content etc.), it now congratulated me that i had posted 88 continuous days, and: that my friends were responding. I got mortified: what? had I posted every single day since that 36 hrs departure? it took me about another week for reaching a day of not posting.


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