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Reexamining positive and negative relationships on online social networks:

How does one define a positive or negative connection in the increasingly interconnected online world we have? Everyone likes positive connections. A positive connection can be a self esteem boost, a source of positive feedback, or a good friend to spend time with. But at what point does embedding ourselves in a purely positive network become self defeating? In an online world, where anything posted can and will be seen by anyone, a new social dynamic is taking shape. Online social network etiquette is redefining the roles of positive and negative connections; in the current trend, your connections are most likely positive, or nonexistent. How often do you post a status update and hear negative feedback? Most likely never, and most of us are thankful for that. But this begs a deeper question: when was the last time you posted a status update and herd constructive feedback?
As can be seen across all social networks, there is a  reluctance to post anything remotely constructive and this habit has turned facebook friends into cheerleaders. Sincere positive feedback gets drowned out amongst the constant positive din that has become the norm of online social interaction. An even worse consequence of this phenomena is that truly bad thoughts get support they don’t deserve. Enlightening criticisms of the ideas one shares are simply too taboo to share online. Are these online relationships we maintain worth of being called positive relationships if they fail to produce anything of value or substance?
Relating these ideas back to the ideas we discussed in class, it seems as if the problem could be more well defined if the extra dimension of “strong” or “weak” was considered in addition to simply positive or negative. Combining these traits in a matrix produces four possible relationship characterizations: strong and positive, strong and negative, weak and positive, weak and negative. Most of the online interaction that happens will be within positive relationships; there is little need to maintain a negative online relationship. So narrowing our analysis down to only strong and weak positive relationships, we can postulate on the source of the overwhelming positive din on facebook. Online social networks serve as a simple way to maintain weak ties. In current etiquette, it would be taboo for someones “weak tie” to offer constructive criticism. Likewise, facebook comments and status updates are not an appropriate way to communicate constructive feedback. In modern western culture, constructive criticism is usually something offered personally and in private. Online social media is the opposite of a personal and private method of communication. If one is to offer criticism, etiquette demands they use a method that is both more personal and more private than standard social media communications can offer. While facebook gives the appearance that one has unlimited positive interactions with the world, these interactions will be often punctuated by constructive criticism channeled through more formal means of communication.


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October 2012