The Anthropology of 'Follow Friday'

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"Follow Friday" is a Twitter phenomenon wherein users of the social media service list, in a tweet or two every Friday, the handful of users he or she most suggests following. It sounds simple enough, but just like any human social behavior there are incredibly complex undercurrents that practitioners may not even be consciously aware of.

That's why anthropologist , whose blog "Anthropology in Practice" is dedicated to exploring and explaining her field for the general public, decided to write a post offering an anthropological perspective on Follow Friday. Her post, "Follow Friday and The No Free Lunch Theory," begins with the understanding that "gifts come riddled with obligations." Put simply, listing someone in a Follow Friday is a means of expending social currency in the form of a gift. Like any gift, it incurs both costs and rewards on the giver as well as the recipient. But it can be ripe for abuse by those seeking to artificially manufacture social capital.

There was—and still can be—genuine meaning in these recommendations, but increasingly Follow Friday appears to be a social capital grab—a means of building oneself up by handing out mass Follow Friday recommendations and riding the wave of reciprocal Follow Friday acknowledgements which invariably follow.
... a growing number of Twitter users are handing out Follow Fridays en masse with the expectation that they will get some sort of response that they can then broadcast as a means of their connectivity. Often, they have little social standing online—they haven’t built up their own digital reputation, but have spent time retweeting the shares of others. Come Friday, they include all their followers in their Follow Friday recommendation, and then retweet the thanks they receive as a means of bolstering their reputation.

D'Costa concludes that this abuse is becoming increasingly widespread, eroding the meaning and impact of Follow Friday behavior.

Online social recommendations are becoming more frequent, and they’ve worked thus far because there is a sense of honesty to them. The mass Follow Friday loses a sense of this honesty and importance
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.