You are who you know


I recently tried to map my social network on Facebook using a Facebook crawler (Netvizz) and Gephi to visualise.  I actually found the map to be rather precise, though a few individuals are left out on this map (I filtered people who had fewer than two connections). But when I say precise it is only because this map were more or less in line with my preconceived understanding of who I am. I wonder, how much social network sites like Facebook are starting to affect or might already have changed, how we see ourselves in a network society (Castells, 1996). I am not suggesting that it is new to judge and be judged by your social networks. But a concrete access to a list of our social relations, and thus networked identity, have newer been explicitly available to everyone before.

Because of social network sites we now have access to a part of our networked self (Papacharissi, 2011) in a new and much more direct manner. Instead of our individual and reflexive self-identity (Giddens, 1999), the networked identity is predefined by who you know well enough to be connected in a mutual network.

According to Giddens, the late modern individual form a self-identity based on former actions in a personal narrative in an orderly and continuous fashion to appear authentic. We do this to maintain a sense of ontological security or existential comfort. The SELF in self-identity is important because we construct these stories as much, if not more, for our own comfort than for anybody else. In contrast the NETWORKED self is an identity defined not by our own stories or conception of who we are, but defined pragmatically by who we know and interact with.

Facebook may not give a complete picture of our entire social network offline, but as the platform has grown over the years it has become more difficult to keep a small and homogeneous network. Networked impression management is possible by unfriending but this action also sends a strong signal outside of the platform, as do not accepting a Facebook request from a family member or an old acquaintance. Colleagues or even your boss might be difficult to turn down as your network grows. Your Facebook friend list might end up becoming an address book (Steinfield, Ellison & Lampe, 2008) of people you know, though the list is bidirectional meaning both ends have to accept the relation. This is different to other platforms like Twitter where connections (following) is unidirectional.

How well these individualised social networks actually align with our offline networks or whether they may tell a useful story that reflects each person’s larger and more complex personal network is still something we need to explore.


  • Castells, M. (1996). The Rise of the Network Society. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Giddens, A. (1999). Modernity and self-identity : self and society and the late modern age (Repr.). Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Papacharissi, Z. (2011). A networked self : identity, community and culture on social network sites. New York: Routledge.
  • Steinfield, C., Ellison, N. B., & Lampe, C. (2008). Social capital, self-esteem, and use of online social network sites: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29(6), 434–445. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2008.07.002
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