[Air-L] Reputation and friending (was Reid Cornwell)

Poletti, Anna apoletti at csu.edu.au
Mon Jan 4 14:59:43 PST 2010

This seems as good a time as any to de-lurk on this list; hello

I wanted to take up Alexander's first question with an observation from
the perspective of literary studies. In regards to facebook, I
increasingly see parallels with the social world depicted by Jane Austen
in a conversation like the one that has unfolded on the list; being the
friend of a reputable / desirable person (such as Henry Jenkins) confers
respectability on another, the 'critical mass' of social connections
makes a subject like Cornwell the topic of conversation (dare I say
gossip?) within a particular world. (I do take Alexander's point that
the blurring of the professional and the social in the discussion of
Cornwell raises interesting ethical questions. Austen shows, however,
that the temptation of such discussion is great, because the power such
connections and associations wield is significant (or appear to wield?).
This is not to dismiss the ethical questions raised by Alexander and
others, but merely to suggest how the discussion of a person's character
can be read as symptomatic of the seriousness and meaning that gets
attached to the issue.) Austen's comic talents come to the fore in
extrapolating the problems and dilemmas that can arise from being led by
the social network and its methods of constructing and conferring
respectability, and identity. And so I want to answer Alexander's
question by suggesting that not much has changed. 

Drawing a parallel with Austen is useful as she can offer some
finely-grained ways of thinking about the function of social networking
and its impact on how we develop identities in tightly networked
environments (and yes, I guess I am suggesting that the version of the
internet many of us experience has things in common with an English
village and the middle class social world).

Social and professional mores suggest I should avoid a gratuitous plug
for the book I'm co-editing on online identity, but a case study on
trolling would be a welcome addition.


Dr Anna Poletti
Lecturer in English
School of Humanities & Social Sciences
Charles Sturt University 
Locked Bag 678 
Wagga Wagga NSW 2678

e: apoletti at csu.edu.au
ph: + 61 2 6933 2478
fax: +61 2 6933 2792

Message: 9
Date: Mon, 4 Jan 2010 14:37:48 -0500
From: Alexander Halavais <halavais at gmail.com>
To: air-l at aoir.org
Subject: [Air-L] Reputation and friending (was Reid Cornwell)
	<e0fe0c741001041137k35373dbfqfc69e86af1f7f417 at mail.gmail.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1

This may seem at odds with a URL posted earlier, but with the greatest
respect (and sympathy) for those who have already entered into this
thread, I humbly suggest that discussing any person's character on
AIR-L is:

1. Inappropriate. AIR-L is intended to further research and while it
frequently becomes a more friendly community, none of us would want
our personal character adjudicated in such a public setting. So, to
second Peter's comment, I think we should quit it.

2. Ineffective. Really, the question of whether to befriend someone or
"friend" someone is more effectively handled by talking to people you
trust and, for people who write in public, reading what they have
said. Why would you trust 2,000 relative strangers' opinions on
another stranger? If we want to talk about something a person has
written, an argument they have made, or even a project they have
undertaken, that's another kettle of fish, and this would be a great

3. Boring. I don't really care, particularly, about the reputation of
a single person. I know some do--that's why TMZ rakes in the bucks. I
encourage someone to start a Reid Cornwell fan page on Facebook, or an
"anti-fan" page if they prefer. I just don't think it is why people
come to AIR-L.

So, since the above is very much "do as I say, not as I do," I
recommend the following tangents, which actually take those issues on
without ever having to talk about any single person:

1. Has the nature of reputation changed? Do we now make friends in a
different way? Most of the people I consider friends IRL I met either
because I was introduced to them by people I trusted, or because we
were forced to work together on something (school, work, sporting
team, chain gang, same diff.). But now, I feel Helen's pain: If you
are a friend of Henry's shouldn't you also be my friend?

2. Is whuffie a reasonable construct? Do we all, like public
officials, now have "approval ratings"? Did we always, and now it is
more explicit?

3. How, when anyone online can be a dog, do we determine if someone is
a "mensch"? I know that many of you on this list have "alts," and nom
de plumes (d'ordinateurs?). If you are like me, you are concerned that
they keep their "good name," even if they happen to be fake. How do we
determine if a person or an organization is "legitimate"? If it
"matters"? When does the social construct of a public persona or
organization become "real"? Where is the border between astroturf and
grass roots--or is there any? (Obviously, this is a question Wikipedia
struggles with.)



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