facebook’s wave of imitation: or, if your friends’ profile pics decided to jump off a bridge …

At first it presented an interesting sociocommunication trend. Then it proved mildly amusing. Now it’s just really annoying. Oh, and if you agree, post this as your Facebook status!

I’m not sure when exactly Facebook turned into the world’s biggest flock of electric sheep. It’s nice that people want to connect and feel part of a community, but is imitation of status updates really the sincerest form of flattery?

It started with the best of intentions, I’m sure. Around the time of the heated health care debate, you’d see someone posting (to sum it up briefly) that no one should have to suffer because of lacking health insurance — and, if you agree, copy and paste this as your Facebook status. Nice bit of solidarity, until it just proved monotonous. Communication theory states that the repetition of a particular message, without deviation, just gets tuned out like white noise. So 10,000 people posting individualized comments on the health care issue, or sharing anecdotes, can make a bigger impression than 100,000 people just copying and pasting the same message.

The next wave sparked when users objected to a Facebook group claimin soldiers are not heroes. Soon status messages appeared everywhere about supporting the troops, imploring others to copy and paste the message. The same behavior brought us well-meaning statements against kinds of diseases, urging others to copy and paste, followed by statements about loving their mothers, and on and on. Some bore a dubious stat that 93 percent of Facebook users won’t copy and paste which, while adding a baseless statistic and urban legend component, almost seemed to demean the shocking idea of not blindly imitating others.

Most recently, we’ve had Wayback Week, where folks posted an old picture as their profile, followed by Doppleganger Week, where you’re supposed to change to a picture of your celebrity lookalike. I’ve seen people post about trying for hours to figure out their celeb lookalike, and I wonder: Where do these people find the time? And if your friends’ profile pictures decided to jump off a bridge, would yours?

Online communities can best serve as creative and connecting forces if you challenge or inspire people to think for themselves — to engage in imaginative, not imitative, behaviors. In the large vibrant community that came together during ZeFrank‘s year of daily videos, Ze spurred creativity in his viewers by asking them to dress up their vacuum cleaners and post photos, make short films, do crafty remixes. On a more modest scale, our monthly #pancaketweetups — virtual breakfasts shared via social media — applaud culinary creativity. I’ve learned that Matteo Williams and Todd Sanders are virtuoso flapjack artists. I’ve learned about food regionalisms, and the ardent pride some regions have in their maple syrup. And I’ve learned a lot about participants from not only their choice of food, but from pictures of their kitchen decor and loved ones helping to make or eat the meal.

So, Facebook Nation, I beg you: For future waves, please do something that encourages creativity and celebrates individuality — more definite and deep individuality than which vacuous celebrity you resemble. Let the next trend be something that enables more than surface interaction and sparks real discussions. Let’s learn more about each other than what urbandictionary.com posts as synonyms of our first name.

15 Comments

Filed under Web

15 responses to “facebook’s wave of imitation: or, if your friends’ profile pics decided to jump off a bridge …

  1. You were reading my mind, Tim. I’ve been thinking for the past couple of weeks about writing something similar, but never took the time to start. My analogy was going to be a game of “follow the leader”, but your sheep is even better.

    Instead of chain e-mails prodding us to forward to all or face dire circumstances, we now have copied and pasted FB statuses trying to shame us into re-posting.

    It got old fast!

  2. Well – I’m going to have to respectfully disagree and agree at the same time. LOL

    I do take part in certain fun Facebook trends such as doppelganger week and way back week. Its a way to interact with my audience and to be creative without ‘spamming’ or overusing a message. I do not agree with the blanket ‘repost this as your status if you agree/99% of people wont have the guts to repost this’ trend. Its one thing to post something as a link but, in my opinion, this is a misuse of the ‘status’ function. But, I feel this way because I’m a social media crazy person – I live and breathe it to a point of constant mockery.

    I think these trends have to do again with your audience and how you use Facebook personally. For instance, my primary use of Facebook is to connect with friends from high school and family. Many of them are not very social media savvy. I call them ‘migrated MySpacers’ – if you remember your MySpace days, should you have them, Facebook antics such as these basically mimic what I remember MySpace to be.

    So, changing my profile pic – not a biggie. Misusing my status – huge social media faux pas.

    @jesskry

  3. Brenden Sparks

    And here I was thinking I was being anti-social for not going along with the group.

    Very well said Tim.

  4. I think I’m with Jess on this one. I missed Wayback Week and I admit I kinda felt left out when I realized it. So I jumped on board with Doppleganger Week, and have had a good time looking at and commenting on my friend’s choices of celebrity lookalike. And I’d argue that at least in this case there is some creativity and individuality (not to mention fun) involved.

    Copy-and-pasting cause-centric Facebook statuses? I’m with you on this one. Post this as your Facebook status if you agree.

  5. Well, Brenden, you are being a tad anti-facesocialbookish. Me too.🙂 I think this is quite possibly my new favorite blog, just because it runs parallel to my own thoughts, but Tim makes great arguments to support his reasoning, while I just say things like, “Blarg” and “No, YOU are!” And while I like to think I too live and breathe social media like Jess, I also acknowledge that we all have our preferred outlets and methods of expressing ourselves. I prefer Twitter and blogging waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over Facebook. Probably because I grow weary of all the highschoolish stuff. Also, I hated highschool (hmmm, how very interesting and insightful, Dr. Freud. It was my MOTHER all along!). So I see a lot of Facebook culture as being very much outside my comfort zone. I’d rather blog about it, post retardedly long comments about it on someone else’s blog, or just stick my 2 cents worth into 140 characters. I like “similar, but different” far more than “identically stupid.” Note my contributions to the Twitter avatar weekly meme. As always, YMMV.

  6. Well said Tim – the other fad currently driving me nuts on facebook is the barrage of messages telling me to post cryptic statuses to make people wonder what you’re talking about. Here’s hoping that one will be short lived.

    Now excuse me while I continue my quest to find my celebrity look-alike….

  7. Come on Tim, it’s all in good fun🙂 To me, these waves show the extreme virality of Facebook.

    They’re even more fun when you can make fun of yourself and everyone else at the same time. For instance take my doppleganger photo: http://i123.photobucket.com/albums/o318/Jagdengel/homeless.jpg

    I’d say it’s pretty dead on. Gotta love some people’s narcissism though.

  8. Ron

    Hehe…I never participate in any of these things, really. But it’s often because I miss the trends completely. Perhaps because of careful filtering or just plain because I don’t spend more than a few minutes a day on Facebook, this stuff happens and I don’t even notice it’s a widespread meme.

    I heard about the photo thing from my roommate, but I thought it was just her friends doing it, not some widespread thing until I saw a bunch of my friends pictures slowly changing.

    I do think the lemmings effect of Facebook has decreased it’s value, but even as this comment thread has revealed, there are others that find it a worthwhile way to interact with friends/family/etc., so…if it’s working for them great, but aside from keeping the network in tow for when you have big news or want to get ahold of someone distant without calling, it doesn’t really have much use to me anymore.

  9. insidetimshead

    JEN: Absotively! Happy I was able to channel your frustration appropriately.

    JESS: While I included Wayback Week and Doppleganger Week, they were the least annoying of the above. Wayback Week was cute in its own way, with kid pics and such (mine are all destroyed, some intentionally), tho my main beef with Doppleganging is that it reinforces society’s shallow celebrity worship. Though I’m not complaining about seeing Shirley Manson, for sure.

    BRENDAN: Which reminds me, I’m still having a difficult time inventing anti-social media. Any help appreciated.

    ROBIN: Amusing response appreciated, as ever. And thrilled that Rachel and I inspired you to post an interesting blog entry!

    tarbyM: I didn’t mind the cryptic bra color one, because anything that brings attention to breast cancer awareness is OK. And, in its own way, did incorporate individuality. So that got a pass.

    DEVIN: I appreciated those who bucked the Doppleganger to prank it out. Like the friend at our local NPR who looks nothing like Al Roker but posted our most famous alum as his lookalike.

    RON: And you bring us kind of circular with the observation that Facebook is what one makes of it. I had to clarify for some folks my point wasn’t against building of community per se, but more an urging that we do it with something resembling intelligence.

  10. Let the record show that when I posted a baby picture of myself as my profile pic I had no idea that there was a Wayback meme going around!

  11. I resist the Facebook madness.

  12. Hi webmaster – This is by far the best looking site I’ve seen. It was completely easy to navigate and it was easy to look for the information I needed. Fantastic layout and great content! Every site should have that. Awesome job

  13. *;: I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives up to date information `:’

  14. msn

    Heya! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new apple iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the fantastic work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s