June 17, 2008

Relationship Status Changes Cause Drama Online

By Josh Harrell, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.

Jun. 17--Alexis Howard and her boyfriend had just broken up. They went through the usual routine. They talked about it, mutually agreeing they shouldn't be together. Naturally, they had to change their relationship status on Facebook from "In a relationship" to "Single."

But it was this last act that got Howard some attention. The line "Alexis Howard is no longer listed as in a relationship" appeared when her friends logged in and saw their News Feeds, Facebook's startup page that shows the most recent activity on friends' Facebook profiles.

Then the calls came.

"When did you guys break up?" they asked Howard.

"It must be official. It was on Facebook," they said.

It was an unintended consequence for Howard, who is 20 years old and a rising junior at Methodist University.

But more people are publicizing their lives -- including their love lives -- on Facebook, the social networking site that hit it big with college students before expanding to the rest of the population.

"It was a little irritating, because right after you break up with someone, you don't want it to be brought back up again and again," Howard said. "But that's Facebook."

It's not just your friends' relationship status that pops up with every login. It's the uploaded pictures from their most recent vacations, who they have become "friends" with on Facebook, a new group they have joined, even what they're doing at that very moment. Users can choose to share as little or as much of themselves online and can control who sees the information through privacy settings.

For many, it's become the primary method of communicating with their friends.

"I probably keep in touch with people more through Facebook than through my phone," said Shannon Alford, a 22-year-old rising senior at Methodist. She says she logs onto Facebook at least three times a day.

Alford hasn't had a relationship publicized on Facebook. She says she would be afraid to air her issues for all of her friends to see.

"But it can be entertaining when other people are doing it," Alford said. "It's like a mini soap opera."

Sometimes notifying others of a relationship status is taken even further online.

For Dustin Autry's friend, Facebook became more than a typical communication tool. The friend actually found out on Facebook that his girlfriend had broken up with him.

"He saw they were no longer listed as 'In a Relationship,' so he Facebook- messaged her back the next day, asking what was going on," Autry said.

And that's when it got ugly. The two posted on each other's "walls," a place on a profile page to leave messages that are visible to the public. They aired out their dirty laundry for all of their friends to see.

At first, Autry said, he thought it was kind of funny. But he says matters like that should be kept private.

"The business should stay between the two people," Autry said. "I don't want to be bothered with the drama."

Friends of Ciera Barnes, a May graduate of Fayetteville State University, are constantly switching up their Facebook relationship allegiances, she says. One day they're "In a Relationship," the next they're "Single."

"The whole school can see their drama," Barnes said.

That drama annoys Ellis James, a sophomore at FSU. He has seen how people become addicted to using Facebook and its many updates and tidbits.

"Some people are crazy about what they put up there and how much they check it," Ellis said.

Controversy surrounded the News Feed when Facebook first introduced it. Users said the site was bordering on an invasion of privacy. But the News Feed has remained a part of the site with users able to control what activity is revealed.

People like Autry don't mind it.

"People are always fussing about invasion of privacy, but it's their choice on what to put out there for people to see," Autry said.

The benefits of Facebook outweigh many of the shortfalls, the students say. It allows them to network with people near them, to meet new people and to find people who share common interests.

"It can be really helpful for people wanting to get to know people from different areas," Alford said. "It's also great for networking and job searches."

As for Howard, she has learned her lesson.

"The whole Facebook relationship thing is overrated," she says. "The cool aspect of Facebook is seeing people's interests and getting to know someone you otherwise might not have been able to."

Staff writer Josh Harrell can be reached at [email protected] or 323-4848 ext 651.


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