Almost all social media platforms offer users the option to encrypt their accounts—a way for people to control who accesses their content, often to avoid judgment, schadenfreude, bullying, and snark are commonplace online. Most of these options aren’t very helpful, though. Facebook seems to be constantly tweaking its privacy settings, and it’s hard to tell what information your friends will have access to. On TikTok, if you want a private account, you have to specify who will see each video before you post it. By Twitter protected-Tweets it doesn’t look good if you have a lot of followers; the “Retweet” button may be disabled, but your followers can still like and share what you post.
Instagram can eliminate the competition with its Close Friends feature, which allows people to share information with a list of saved followers with their users. Although the app, and its recent attempts to imitate TikTok, has caused disappointment and seems to be growing disillusioned among Gen Z, Close Friends is a corner of the site that is still visible to many. it is useful. The advantage of the feature is that it reduces the effects of what social scientists call “collapse of context—the idea that based on society, there are many audiences in the same place,” Elia said. Powers, an associate professor in the mass communications department at Towson University. , told me. “It’s like being at a wedding and talking to your friends, parents, in-laws and people you don’t even know.” Goofing off about your college career, for example, won’t sit well with your Boomer cousins like it will with your best friends.
In addition to privacy, sometimes the feature is more valuable: You can listen and validate in a safe and open space of your own creation. “Even on a group of so-called close friends, it’s a bit more public … like expressing an opinion on the world and standing in a different way than talking to a private friend,” Adam Kleinbaum, an associate professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business who studies the relationship between social networks and ballrooms, told me. “Many of us are very influenced by what we see on the news and what we see in the world, and the ability to speak in public, but it’s also safe and probably a good thing.”
Devra Thomas, a 44-year-old art director in Wake Forest, North Carolina, told me that social media is often like a drama to her. “We’ve become a world that if we don’t share, it’s not going to happen,” he said. This desire to go public is not for nothing, though. People want to believe that their voices will be heard, especially when it comes to sensitive issues involving politics, cultural change, or personal struggles. “How can we, as a culture, talk about things if we don’t want to share them?”
In recent years, Thomas has gone through some dark episodes, and has been willing to talk about it on social media. But when he previously spoke on Facebook about his mental-health struggles, he ran right into the context. Some fans were supportive but left comments like “Do you really want to talk about this?” and “Any employer can see this.” To avoid pushback, Thomas turns to Close Friends. About 20 people from his follower list, of more than 700, receive monthly notifications about his progress—and it has had the desired effect. Not only will he be empowered and reassured, but he will also be empowered. “I have someone on the Close Friends list so I know they’re starting their own healing journey because I’m so open about mine.”
Everyone’s reason for using Close Friends is not very strong. Some fans use the section as a paid VIP room and they offer special events for a monthly fee through sites like Patreon. Others use it as a social strategy. I’ve talked to parents at some high schools who say that for their kids, getting on the Close Friends list is tied to status. Removal from the list may indicate a change in hierarchy.
For the most part, though, people said trust was the reason they used neighbors. “Neighbors seem to be not about close friends but about undecideds,” Tatiana Dumitru, a 38-year-old geneticist in Orange County, California, told me. He’s not very close with the moms at his kids’ school, though some of them follow him on Instagram. “They only see me or know me through what I post,” he said. If they see his stories about mortgages and nights on the town, he fears they will jump to conclusions about his parenting priorities. “Maybe they’ll sue me and not let their kids play with my kids.” In the past, he said, people have left negative comments like “Dude, you go out too much.” And when she posted news from a weekend trip to New York without her kids, one responded, “I can’t leave my kids and go somewhere with my husband.” Dumitru knows that people who don’t have the means to take care of children are reacting with sadness or jealousy. Even so, the news hurts. As a result, he is careful about what he posts on his public feed, lest he hurt people’s feelings or elicit their schadenfreude. “Life is easier and less difficult” among his 12 neighbors, he said.
Zongchao Cathy Li, a public relations professor at San Jose State University, said her research has shown that people on social media are less vulnerable when exposed to things that three: control, self-efficacy, and intelligence. “If you’re sure you’re not going to touch what you’re posting, or if you’re going to be able to justify it… you can be really honest,” he said. This situation is very attractive for people who use the situation to express political opinion. Vanessa Mae Rameer, a 25-year-old researcher, has always been open about her left-wing politics. But when he reached his mid-20s, he began to move towards the center. At one point, after he gave a speech questioning how critical race theory should be taught in schools, one of his friends unfollowed him. They have since stepped things up, but when Rameer struggles to investigate, he uses close friends.
One criticism of Close Friends is that picking bonds in your audience can reinforce the echo chamber, or what Kleinbaum calls “homophily,” the desire to connect with like-minded people. But for Rameer and others, it was more difficult. Everyone I talked to said that choosing their audience is not a person’s opinion but how they thought. For Trisha Christophel, a 41-year-old industrial engineer from Dunlap, Illinois, Neighbors is a place for people who are willing to dig into the complexity of an idea, rather than simply accepting or dismissing it. or “On close friends, they say, ‘Have you thought about so-and-so?'” he told me. “If I put that out in public, people would say ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’d say that.'” Kleinbaum has seen people make their lists on a whim. of students to discuss specific topics. , “it’s not just about choosing like-minded people,” he told me. “We have many characteristics and homophily works on all” of them, cutting across race, ethnicity, gender, and politics. The “real” connection we share with friends in our networks, he says, is unclear.
For most people, the ability to be alone is the most beautiful thing about having close friends. “I just joke around and then talk quietly Roe v. Wade and what is important,” Christophe told me. Neighbors “have a way of showing them who I am,” but there is no problem. The last thing he wants to do, he said, is go to a friend and say, “Hey, it’s Thursday, what do you want to talk about? Roe v. Wade?” However, many of the stories shared between Christophel and his close friends provide fodder for discussion. This happens, he said, because knowing you’re on someone’s list — and their inner circle — creates a foundation of trust. “It’s a deeper connection,” Christofel told me. “I don’t just serve my breakfast for the public to see.” It’s more like, ‘Hey, I’m talking to you.’