Birthdays in the age of Facebook

Yesterday was my birthday. {Pause} Thank you. It was a nice day. All my Facebook friends knew about it.ecard-2

Ever since Facebook came into my life, or, rather, I came into Facebook, birthdays have become a cyber event of obligatory well wishes and thank yous to people you probably would not even know if not for the largest social networking site in history of humankind.

Almost every day at least one of my Facebook friends celebrates a birthday. An alert pops up on the side of my Facebook screen, and I can easily type a few words into a box, press enter, and wish a far-flung acquaintance a happy birthday. If I know something about that person that goes beyond our passive sharing of random information and photos on Facebook, I might add a personal flair to my post, like: “I hope you have a great day with the family” or “Make sure you get enough rest after your debaucherous extravaganza birthday celebration so you can function properly at work tomorrow” or “I wish we could celebrate together, I miss you!”

As I get older, I have grown more fond of strong connections than loose bonds with people. I can count the number of people I talk to on the phone regularly on one hand. Even with the continuously growing forms in which we can connect with others and our ever-expanding social networks, I am finding that those close friends and family members are the most valuable relationships. They are even more precious now that I’m reminded how man loose ties I have out there with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube…you know, social media. I am proud that I can remember a good friend’s birthday without being reminded by Facebook. {Aleza, yours is March 3.}

Don’t get me wrong. It feels good to get dozens of people wishing me a happy birthday, and I enjoy sending a good wish their way when it’s their turn. But what feels even better is a phone call or a text from a good friend, a card in the mail or even a great night out with those who matter most.

So, happy birthday to me, and to you, and don’t forget to like my post.

Politics and Facebook: How to survive an election and keep your friends

It’s been two weeks since the Nov. 6 election, and I have nearly overcome my feelings of defriending the people who disagreed with me politically.

My husband, bold and stalwart, removed those with vastly opposing viewpoints weeks ago with little hesitation. I struggled with it throughout the last three months of the election season. Why? I kept asking myself. Is it more important to hold on to a diverse set of people with varying points of view than to check my Facebook feed and not want to throw up or punch something (or someone)?

Early in the election cycle one of my Facebook friends announced that she would defriend anyone who posted a political post. I thought that was a bit extreme, but it entered my consciousness that I should be careful not to post anything that would deeply offend others who didn’t hold my views. Granted, the vast majority of my social circle off and online are similar in their political leanings to me, so it would only be a handful of friends (one of them an uncle) who would likely disagree with anything I had to say regarding the presidential race, Senate and Congressional races, ballot measures and the like, but I found myself holding back all the same.

During the first presidential debate, I left Facebook and turned to Twitter, where my network is less personal and more political. I felt free to rant and rave as much as I needed to in 140 characters or less. I did less screaming at the television and more poking at my smart phone. I felt part of a community as I read others’ tweets that made me laugh and shared my horror. And I was having so much fun on Twitter, that I posted to Facebook for those of my friends with Twitter accounts to join me on that site to discuss the debate.

Soon after, a Facebook friend whom I personally do not know very well, posted in acerbic language that people should keep their political opinions to themselves since not everyone agreed with them. I was taken aback by this post, not just because of the vitriol this friend exuded, but because she wanted to shut down people’s expression. I was much more offended by this post than my other friend’s post about defriending those with political ramblings, though the sentiments of the two posts were the same they were stated much differently. It started to scar my idea of her, and I wondered if I should defriend her.

We have grown quite polarized as a country. We can be divided into red and blue so easily, but what we sometimes forget is that red and blue make purple and that purple is our shared humanity. Facebook and other social networks bring us together in ways not imagined even 10 years ago. Yet, it seems we are more hesitant to share our views with each other and to find common ground. We are happier in our bubbles of like-minded people and the media that cater to our philosophies.

There’s a Facebook page called “No One Wants to Hear About Your Politics, Especially on Facebook.” It has more than 3,000 likes, which is not significant when compared to the millions who have liked political pages belonging to candidates or lobby groups. Yet, Mashable reported that 47 percent of those who took its poll defriended someone because of the recent election. That poll received nearly 3,000 responses.

CNN reported a study that showed one in five people on social media admit to blocking, defriending or hiding someone because of a political post. An author of that study was quoted saying that the findings were not surprising, as social mores dictate not discussing sensitive topics, such as politics, with certain people in the real world.

“We know not to bring up politics around certain friends or family members. We try to avoid people who are constantly looking for an argument or trying to sell us on their pet ideas,” said Aaron Smith, a Pew research associate.

“Since blocking, unfriending, hiding people is the closest social analogue to those real-world examples, it’s not necessarily surprising to see people taking these steps in the virtual space.”

I refrained from political posts until the final days of the election. Before that, I made a point to comment and “like” others’ posts that I found interesting or agreed with. But I was not interested in placing my views on others. That’s what Twitter was for. Facebook was for making nice, for sharing photos of the kids and congratulating a high school friend on the birth of a baby. Yet, my true self felt stunted, and I finally posted a few articles to Facebook that lined up with my political philosophies, and on Election Night, I showed my hand and changed my profile picture to a campaign sign.

It was met with a little hostility from the vitriolic friend, but otherwise I received a couple of positive comments and about a dozen likes. Even so, the next morning, happy and relieved the election was finally over, I changed my profile picture to an innocuous photo of me and my family. I got a lot more comments and three times as many likes on that one.

And I feel ready to go back to the simple, carefree world of baby and wedding photos. Looks like I won’t be defriending anyone after all. At least not until next the election.

War and Peace and Social Media

This is a topic near and dear to our hearts: war and peace and Israel.

I just read a blog post positing that social media could have the power to interrupt aggressions between Iran and Israel. Read it here.

As has been in the news lately, the leaders of those two countries are ramping up their rhetoric as they point figurative warheads at each other. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, added some perhaps unintentional comic relief by drawing a rough sketch of a bomb during his talk at the United Nations last week. This, after Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, delivered a fiery speech against the “Zionists.”

While leaders have political clout, we the people have social media clout.Israel Loves Iran

The Israel Loves Iran campaign, started by a group called the Peace Factory, is a Facebook page that has more than 87,000 likes as of this posting. Its message has appeared on buses, on flyers, on videos. It brands itself as “A bridge in the Middle East between the people.We are not enemies. We love each other.”

If the power is with the people and not with power-hungry, nuclear-warhead-toting heads of state, then all will be right with the world. People who have seen war do not want war. Iranians and Israelis have lived through their fair share of bloodshed, heartache and international criticism. Their collective voice rings loud and clear through this campaign. Now, the only catch will be if their plight can be loud enough for their leaders to heed.

The power of social media is tested again.

Sounding Facebook’s death knell

Speculation has been circulating for weeks now, ever since Facebook’s IPO fell short of amazing in May, that the largest and most popular social networking site has begun its decline into irrelevance á la MySpace and Friendster before it.

It’s only a matter of time, right?

What is the likelihood that in this rapidly changing world of social networking that a company like Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or Pinterest can outlast the constant march forward—ever reinventing and revamping itself to grow its appeal and broaden its user base and ultimately its profit margin.

So, we watch and wait to see what Facebook’s next move will be to quell these speculators that are watching its stock ticker like a heart-rate monitor. Critics point to Facebook’s tardiness at jumping into the mobile arena. Its Facebook apps have been slow and clunky. They point to its ongoing charade with privacy issues, saying people want to keep their information private and find Facebook’s past sly changes to privacy protection confusing and untrustworthy. Analysts also point to users wanting to keep their social circles more intimate, and Facebook’s philosophy promotes expanding one’s network, meeting as many new Facebookers as possible and maintaining an ever-expanding Friend’s list.

Other critics say Facebook’s consistent roll out of new features in its most basic of layouts and functions, such as the Timeline and the News Feed, make the site less desirable to use. And as the social web shifts into a money-making model, will Facebook be able to keep up?

Even while Facebook closes in on 1 billion active users worldwide, there’s a lot of history pointing to its eventual demise. Does anyone still have a MySpace account?

The Facebook problem

Last week, my family and I traveled to a Caribbean island for a spring break vacation. There, for the first time since I’ve had a Facebook account (2009), I went without access to the site. I spent an entire week off Facebook.

It felt good. Actually, I didn’t even miss it enough to think about how good it felt. It was only after I came home, opened my laptop and checked my account that I realized how much I didn‘t miss Facebook.

I have a habit of checking the site intermittently a few times a day. If something a friend posts strikes me, I’ll leave a comment of give a “like.” But mostly, I scroll through the last 10 or so status updates, wonder why it is I have a compulsion to check Facebook, then close the site. Facebook does little for my own social good. I don’t feel deeper connections to my Facebook friends. I don’t feel compelled to post updates about my every move. I didn’t even post photos from our spring break trip, much less announce that we had gone away. I figured, those who cared already knew. Why bother anyone else with these details?

So the question has since arisen, do I need to keep my Facebook account? And if so, why?

I read a personal account of a social media writer who defriended 90 percent of his Facebook friends. He did this because he was having trouble filtering through his myriad of friends’ status updates to find the ones he really wanted to keep in touch with on the site. He cut down his list of 650 friends to just 65 friends. He described it as a tedious process, especially when he got close to the 90 percent goal. But, in the end, he said the purging was worth it.

Hey says:

Because as I look at my news feed this morning, I’m finding updates from people I like, miss and am actually interested in. They’re not lost in the clutter of a hundred different status updates by half-forgotten strangers from high school or ex-bosses that I never socialized with in any real sense of the word.

Since reading his account, I have had that little fly buzzing in my ear, every so often bumping into my cheek and asking me why I have not done the same. Who would I let go? Who would I keep? Would I care if I missed an acquaintance’s announcement of her new baby? Would I have reduced my social capital by condensing my network?

This is a topic we have discussed on this blog a few times. We have even talked about clearing out Twitter followers to streamline that feed. That exercise proved to be well worth the energy.

The question remains, however: Streamline or cast a wide net and wade through the chaos? Is social media about being social, interacting with those you care about and who care about you, or is social media about meeting new people, gathering information and connecting with as many people, brands and ideas as possible?

For me, the verdict is still out.

Social media-related reads

Every morning I go through the list of Mashable and Read Write Web articles that appear in my inbox. I read about one-fourth of the links, and here are a few of my favorite over the last few weeks:

Source: Catchfire Media

  • 10 Historical Events Affected by Social Media (Mashable): This is a slideshow showing photos and tweets from events, such as the Japanese earthquake in March and the Haiti earthquake in January. It poses the question, what would other major events have looked like, such as Katrina and Sept. 11, 2001, if social media had existed as it does today.
  • Facebook Timeline Designs (Mashable): Also a slideshow, this article is all about inspiration. While we experimented and discussed early on the implementation of Facebook’s Timeline on users’ profiles, these 10 images really take the timeline to the next level.
  • Here’s How People Look at Your Facebook Profile (Mashable): Do you ever wonder what people take away when they glance at your Facebook profile? Is it your cute profile picture, the number of friends you have, your latest status update? This article discusses a study that captured where participants’ eyes lingered and the order in which the page was scanned. Sounds like an old study done for advertising firms on what catches people’s eyes, but it is interesting and worth a look.
  • Drug Cartel Murders Another Blogger (Read Write Web): It’s a scary time to be a blogger or a journalist in Mexico and in areas of the Middle East. Following attacks on free speech is an important part in protecting democracy and our ideals. I’m glad these stories are being followed and written about by sites with large audiences.
  • High School Student Punished for Joking Tweet about Gov. Brownback (Forbes.com): Speaking of free speech, this 18-year-old high school senior was disciplined by her school after sending out a tweet critical of the governor during a visit to the Kansas state Capitol. What ensued was Twitter stardom for the teen and some really bad press for the governor and his staff.

Enjoy reading and please share any of your favorite social media stories!

Pondering the Top Twitter Moments of 2011

I love Twitter. The more I use it, the more I love it. It’s the first thing I turn to in the morning, like perhaps how my parents turned to the newspaper over their breakfast.

Mashable just released the top 10 remarkable Twitter stories of 2011, and I have to say, some of them truly are remarkable in how they show the power of social media. I mean, really, try to imagine how much longer it would have taken the world to find out about Osama bin Laden’s assassination?

Some of the stories are truly amazing, like the trio of Londoners who used Twitter to recruit volunteers to help clean up after the summer riots in that city. And there’s a photo that went viral taken by a passenger on an airplane who saw the space shuttle’s return to earth from her window seat on her way to Palm Beach, Fla.

While this top 10 list is certainly worth a look, and about 10 minutes of your time, it also provides an opportunity to reflect on your own social media moments of the year.

Here’s my top 10 social media moments in order of impact on my life:

  1. Landing in the Detroit airport on 9/11/11, I tweeted about police coming aboard to take me and my row mates into detention
  2. Following the beginnings of the Occupy Wall Street movement on Twitter in September and October.
  3. Saying goodbye to Iowa through Facebook uploads as I drove from Des Moines to our new house and life  in Ohio.
  4. Finally getting a smartphone and connecting to my social media sites from anywhere at any time.
  5. My husband, after much caterwauling, joined Facebook in the summer. He still has no idea what Twitter is.
  6. In April I had my first opportunity to live Tweet from an event for work and even created our own hashtag! It was as exciting as waking up on my birthday to cake and ice cream.
  7. To ward off the winter blues in January and February, I created Ridiculous Outfit Monday with blog posts and Facebook posts.
  8. As part of my late winter boredom, I posed a diversity survey to my Facebook friends, trying to see if my FB social circle was as diverse as I thought it would be.
  9. As news of Steve Jobs death spread over the Twitterverse, it affected me more deeply than I thought it would.
  10. The introduction of Google+ sparked interest in late spring, and the new network continues to confound me.

What are your top social media events of the year?