Kai Soh – Thursdays 12-3pm
Connectedness, belonging, inclusion. Three feelings that are sought after in reality, and are perhaps some of the strongest factors alluring individuals to the utilisation of Social Networking Sites. Attractive, these three words may seem; certainly enticing and possibly three central desires wanted by most, if not all human beings. Do individuals mediate the intimacy of their relationships online in the same way they do offline?
As discussed in works by Hinton and Hjorth (2013), a public can be defined as a bounded collective of individuals who have come together under a common set of principles, affinities or beliefs that bind and define the public, also described as a relation among strangers. Intimacy can be described as close familiarity or friendship (Berlant 2008), it is the structure to confirm or affirm a promise of belongingness and inclusion (Wilmik, 2015). When speaking of intimacy in this context, it is important to note that intimacy does not only refer to common intimacies exemplified in relationships, families or couples. In contrast to Hinton and Hjorth’s (2013) definition of a public, what distinguishes a public and a public sphere which is intimate is the expectation that all involved already share a similar worldview, and have gained emotional intelligence and knowledge from common experiences and history (Berlant, 2008).
Although the purpose of many social networking sites is the ability to bring people together regardless of distance, proximity, race, gender, location, etc. to be able to share, collaborate and engage, social media remains harshly criticised for, in fact, doing the opposite. However, it can be argued that this is because different social media platforms offer the user different levels of intimacy. Take the aspect of following other users on Instagram. This function, if user profiles are set on public can be unilateral, following when using public profiles does not require agreement from both parties. It is evident here that this is establishing a network as networks are publics and spaces that are constructed through networked technologies (Boyd 2010). In contrast to this, is the function of adding of friends on Facebook, this takes agreement from both parties, and users commonly reflect on their level of offline intimacy with the user before responding to the request.
Intimacies can also exist at a social and cultural level. As observed by Michael Herzfeld (Herzfeld, 1997), it is something that exists between complete strangers, due to a commonality they share by belonging to a certain cultural group, this can be in terms of a city, sport, music or political group (Herzfeld 1997, cited in Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). For example, in the initial class for MECO6936, I sat next to two strangers I had never met. However, after discussing where we all lived, we immediately shared a common sociality, and this allowed us to bond over the nuisance of travelling on the train to university and having to wake up earlier than most in the morning to allow for travel time. We share high levels of cultural intimacy by virtue of residing in the Southern Highlands/South Coast areas of New South Whales.
Intimacy on different Social Networking Sites can also be characterised by the way in which individuals choose to share or not share parts of their life, and details with users online. This notion can also be exemplified by the way in which people share different details, for example; LinkedIn, which acts as an online CV and depicts one’s personal brand in the most advantageous way possible, where connections are professionals, in contrast to Facebook, where the public sphere is more intimate, and connections are friends and family, etc.
Similarly to life outside the realm of social media, users on LinkedIn would not share personal photos or details like they would on Facebook, as their work colleagues, and other networked professionals do not share the same depth of intimacy as friends on Facebook, E.g. Individuals are unlikely to upload photos of themselves out drinking with their friends on LinkedIn, but are likely to do so on Facebook. LinkedIn, itself centralises its main functions, operations and marketing messages on Barry Wellman’s (as cited in Hinton and Hjorth, 2013) notion of the networked individual, as this characterises a person who can more advantageously control their social environment as a result of their networked connections
Is Snapchat the most intimate platform?
Through comprehensively analysing Snapchat as a case study, it is evident how intimacy online can be measured, and how different individuals can mediate their intimacy with other users very much similar to offline, real-life situations. The very nature of the app is much different to other apps, as content cannot be recirculated (Velez, 2014). Snapchat distinguishes itself as being who you are today, right now, rather than the sum of your published experience, such as uploading photos after an event but only choosing the good ones (Spiegal, 2014). It promotes intimacy with small numbers, in comparison to Instagram and Facebook (av. friends 270 (Sensis, 2016)) where some individuals view the quantity of followers/friends over quality.
Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel says
“ Snapchat sets expectations around conversation that mirror the expectations we have when we’re talking in person, Snapchat is all about talking through content, not around it. With friends, not strangers. Identify tied to now, today. Room for growth, emotional risk, expression, mistakes, room for YOU” – Evan Spiegel 2014
The very nature of Snapchat means that users are required to project a more detailed and profound version of themselves. Snapchat offers users the experience to mediate their intimacy with other users.The rise of Snapchat and other mobile media has made messages, contexts and content increasingly more intimate (Goggin, 2011 cited in Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). It is without a doubt that our lives are richer from friendships and bonds with other humans (Beasley and Haney, 2015), as these satisfy the desires of connectedness, inclusion and belonging. In a sense, as humans, we order the intimacy of our very closest friends by the way we judge how much we are willing to share (Beasley and Haney, 2015). This can also be seen be seen through Snapchat through the use of private groups. These groups allow individual users to send specific snaps that they feel would not be appropriate to send to their entire friend network based on their intimacy levels.
Intimate Publics in #Bethefilter
Intimate Publics played a major, defining role in The Southerners #Bethefilter campaign. The idea of cultural intimacy was utilised to enable The Southerners to justify which platforms would be used throughout the campaign and the reasoning behind doing so. In referral to the campaign, there were two selected target audiences from Australia, the first being 19 -25-year-olds, living in metropolitan and semi-rural areas with a high level of accessibility to the internet, undertaking tertiary study, low incomes with most holding casual or part-time jobs. The secondary audience includes 16-18-year-olds, also living in both rural and semi-rural areas with high level of accessibility to the internet, this audience is studying at school, with zero to little incomes.
The target audience for the campaign was formulated based on demographic, psychographic, geographic and behavioural variables. From this, for the #Bethefilter campaign, chose not to use Twitter is not an app that has been picked up substantially by Australians, and this cultural group are not big users of the SNS. Obviously this also applies to culturally distinct apps such as Wechat, not being relevant to this audience. This in contrast to Facebook where 99% of users between the age of 18-29 in Australia indicate they are heavy users (Sensis, 2016), as well as Instagram where Australia currently has 5 million users in Australia (Statistics compiled by SocialMediaNews.com.au January 2016). Youtube was also chosen for the campaign as Millennial’s (which is our target audience) watch more content online than they do on TV (Acumen Report, Constant Content, 2015).
This theory may have the potential to change, as the lines between networked public and publics become increasingly more blurred (Boyd as cited in Hinton & Hjorth 2013). As a result of this, the potential for the gap between social media and everyday real life bridges. In turn, this would result in adaptations to the Intimate Publics theory.
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