Saturday, January 30, 2016

Beware The Silent Facebook Friend

Ponder reality for a moment. Consider your friendships, relationships, and acquaintanceships. Within each unique bond lies a multitude of personality differences. Some people are crass, others provide intentional comic relief. Some are accidentally flirtatious, and others are perpetually cynical. Though a handful may be grouped together, no two friends are exactly alike.

Now ponder your enemies, frenemies, and those who fall somewhere in between. Your enemies are quite aware of their relationship status with you and as a result of the mutual animosity, you have no contact with one another. Your frenemies are either in denial or have readily accepted your relationship for what it is. They have thusly reciprocated contributions to the fa├žade that is your "friendship". Those who are in between are swiftly swinging to either end of the spectrum.

There is one category missing from distinction, the Silent Ones. They lack classification because the nature of your relationship remains undefined. In the real world, a friend has made clear to you at least, that they are in fact a friend. The same can be said of an enemy. Even those who lie in between are inevitably headed toward classification as friend or foe. But in the real world, no one calls the Silent Ones "friend", for their intentions are unknown.

Now let's examine cyber space. Social media is our collective alternate reality. In the realm of Facebook, we are but SIMS exercising free will. We say, do, and become what we want with often the most minor of consequences. There are most certainly exceptions. But by far, most of our actions on Facebook are free of consequences. It is this free range environment that enables our unbridled behavior. We even have the freedom to hand pick our very own audience by way of making, accepting, and denying "friend requests". We can perform for that audience at will and ad nauseam every minute of every hour if we so choose. We often crave their feedback through "likes" and "shares" and outbursts in the "comments" section of our posts. Some people are lonely and desperate for even the most fleeting of interactions with the other SIMS in the Facebook realm, while others are merely actors seeking to entertain or to be entertained.

So then, what parts do the Silent Ones play in the realm of an alternate reality? Why be there in the first place? If the purpose is not to perform, be entertained, or to be socially sustained, why exist in the on Facebook at all? The simplest answer is observation.

Much like the mythical beings commonly known as The Watchers, The Silent Ones exist only to observe. Their responsibility is to document all that they see or hear us do and say. They do so by scrolling through our posts and clicking on each and every photo in our photo albums. They even sift through our friends list to familiarize themselves with the type of people with whom we choose to associate. All the while, they never type a single word. They never click "like" or "share" for to do so would expose their presence. Better to remain silent and therefore forgotten. It is the only way to continue to go about rummaging through our lives whether they be factual or fictional portrayals.

In the real world, we would never allow such a thing to go on. We would distance ourselves from the Silent Ones for they cannot be trusted. No one trusts the unknown. We do however attempt on some level to explore the unknown. Should a Silent One expose their reasoning for being the way they are, shy perhaps, afraid to say anything because they know it will get back to someone they cannot afford to disappoint, we would be willing to trust them. Understanding breeds trust. But one cannot understand a mystery. The Silent Ones must offer information to receive it in return from us. But this is not true in the realm of Facebook. There, all that is required is the acceptance of a friend request. With one click of a computer key or one tap on a smartphone screen, we have granted the Silent Ones unrestricted access, backstage passes to our lives on social media.

Whether or not we aim to, at some point we all share more of ourselves than we should. And though we've forgotten about the Silent Ones lurking in our friends lists they haven't forgotten us at all. They now wield the power to use a photo, comment, post, screenshot, or video that we posted at their discretion. Perhaps the most unsettling part about that is, we still don't know why they're there in our friends list in the first place.

The next time you come across that friend who overshares, or that other friend who posts every five minutes, or the other friend that only posts once a month but always clicks "like" or "share" just to let you know she cares, be grateful. Be grateful that they are showing you who they are be they, crazy, crass, conspiracy theorist, or political analyst. But should you ever find yourself in a position where you cannot figure out how private information about you was revealed to people who aren't on your friends list, look no further than the Silent Ones.

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