Asymmetry in Online Social Networks


Varying degrees of symmetry can exist in a social network's connections. Some early online social networks (OSNs) were predicated on symmetrical connections, such as Facebook 'friendships' where both actors in a 'friendship' have an equal and reciprocal connection. Newer platforms -- Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook's 'Pages' inclusive -- are counterexamples of this, where 'following' another actor (friend, celebrity, business) does not guarantee a reciprocal exchange from the other. This paper argues that the basic asymmetric connections in an OSN leads to emergent asymmetrical behaviour in the OSN's overall influence and connectivity, amongst others. This paper will then draw on empirical examples from popular sites (and prior network research) to illustrate how asymmetric connections can render individuals 'voiceless'. The crux of this paper is an argument from the existentialist viewpoint on how the above asymmetric network properties lead to Sartrean bad faith (Sartre, 1943). Instead of genuine interpersonal connection, one finds varying degrees of pressure to assume the Sartrean 'in-itself' (the en soi) mode-of-being, irregardless of the magnitude of 'followers' one has. Finally, this paper poses an open question: what other philosophical issues does this inherent asymmetry in modern social networking give rise to?



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Marc Cheong
University of Melbourne

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