#this: The fickle friendship of friending: When social media sites bicker

In #this, Columns, Columns, Opinion

It happens to the best of us; people meet new friends who—though a selfish idea to say aloud—offer them more than their old ones can ever hope to offer. They grow apart from old friends and, before long, the pettiness which separated the two leads to more pettiness that ensures that the wedge driven between them is immovable.

Social media has only exacerbated this concept and, wouldn’t you know it, social media sites themselves are not immune to it.

You may remember in April social media juggernaut Facebook acquired Instagram. The “take pictures of food using retro filters” app was becoming a social media phenomenon at the time and was worth an estimated $1 billion, according to a Reuters report. Naturally, the other big kid on the social media scene, Twitter, was also courting Instagram at the time and were narrowly edged out of the bidding.

Facebook and Twitter have always been fair weather friends at best. The two sites don’t necessarily fill the same niches in social media and both feature integration with one another, but they are both competing for an abstract commodity; people’s attention.

And in 2012, that commodity continues to diminish.

Of course, the feud could only escalate once one side owned Instagram and by July, Twitter had blocked the app’s feature that would allow users to find friends via the social network. Instagram, in perhaps a display of tit for tat, has confirmed this month that it no longer supports viewing pictures directly from one’s Twitter timeline.

Though the rationale behind this according to Reuters, is solid—that Facebook will soon start advertising on Instagram and, thus, require people to click through to the Instagram site for them to make money—it’s fun to imagine the sites being as fickle as some of the adolescents who frequent them.

The fact is that this schism works in disservice to three sites. If it hasn’t been made abundantly clear, I truly believe the strength of social media comes from making connections; connections among individuals and, for that to work effectively, social media sites must work in tandem with one another. That might seem to be contrary to what the sites themselves want (i.e., to be the one and only social media site you turn to), but there is some credence to the idea.

Remember Google+? Of course not, and chances are you haven’t visited the site in some time. This is because, aside from the Google ‘hangout,’ the social media site doesn’t offer something that another site doesn’t already offer.

It’s back to that “what have you done for me lately” mentality, but so is the nature of what we’re dealing with.

My point is that disputes among the social media sites themselves are no good for users. While they remain independent entities, they support each other in a symbiotic relationship which helps the lines of communication and information sharing run freely amongst them. The minute there becomes ‘competition,’ those lines become muddled as one site removes support for another and users are forced to choose sides in a veritable social media divorce.

In a way it’s a metaphor for social connections themselves, and almost evinces what I’ve been trying to get across all semester long. Social media sites allow us to keep in touch; as our interactions are exploded out to the nth degree, so are our disputes.

The power to connect us has been multiplied and therefore so has the power to divide.

Because if there is to be any wisdom to impart on any readers of this column, it’d be simply to keep those intangible lines of communication open. Even if today we find ourselves gravitating away from old acquaintances we gain nothing, material or otherwise, from shutting ourselves out.

Don’t take that to mean that you should only keep those close which you can pry something out of, simply that you never know what level deep-seated connection you’ll find from a familiar source. Depriving oneself from a connection, either former or future, is to deprive oneself of a world of potential; hold onto people as best you can.

After all, if social media sites are fighting, it might not be that long before those connections are wrenched from us involuntarily.

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