“I can’t bear it anymore. I’m so done.” “When someone is fake you always find out in the end…” “I knew it was all too good to last.”
If that made you roll your eyes and sigh then chances are you have already been subjected to a vaguebooker. This is the colloquial term for those people who post vague Facebook statuses in order to achieve… well, I’m not entirely sure.
In a previous post I talked about the nature of mediated suffering, and the ways that the media cashes in on it. I concluded that in most cases this is a form of exploitation of someone or something that does not possess the power to be autonomous over their own tragedy, and the ways in which, or even whether they want to portray it. I found this topic extremely interesting and decided to explore it further for my major assignment, thinking I would research something along the lines of how people feel when they observe suffering. During my research into this however, I came across a blogpost discussing how posting on Facebook about tragedy brings people together. This led me to start thinking about the nature of mediated suffering when the medium is the sufferer’s own social network.
Does mediated suffering change when the sufferer chooses to broadcast it? Does it become more or less relevant when there’s a name and a face to the tragedy? What are the reactions of the people who look at the suffering? What does the sufferer want to achieve by broadcasting it? Is it the same as the regular media who exploit suffering to make a quick buck (in this case a like)? Or is it just a new way of confiding about what we’re going through?
At first I wanted to look at these questions through the straightforward portrayal of suffering, like when people post about a loved one who’s passed away. But during my usual routine of doing minimal study and maximum procrastination, a friend of mine, we’ll call them A, posted a status update: “When some people aren’t even worth your time”. That was it. No explanation about who or what or why. They could’ve been talking about me for all I knew. They could’ve just as easily been talking about a barista who had gotten their coffee order wrong. My instant reaction was to roll my eyes, but that didn’t stop me scrolling through the comments out of pure curiosity, to see if A had explained what they meant. To my complete non-surprise the explanation didn’t exist. Instead there was just a stream of “are you ok?”s and “message me :(”s.
This was not the first time A had written an ambiguous status. In fact they’re a repeat offender. And every time this style of status appears in my timeline I just ask myself “what are they trying to achieve?” So that’s the question I decided to try to answer. Why do people post statuses that indicate enough emotional distress to make others worry about them, but not enough information to convey what’s wrong? And how do most people react to these statuses? Do they worry about the poster, or roll their eyes and contemplate blocking them like I do?
My initial research led me to discover that this all-too-common practice is known as vaguebooking. According to Urban Dictionary (because let’s be real, this word isn’t going to be in any real dictionaries) vaguebooking is the act of posting “an intentionally vague or one-worded status update…to seek sympathy and/or attention”. So there’s my answer right? People vaguebook for attention. Honestly this is a way of thinking that I subscribe to. Whenever I see a vaguebook status I just assume that whoever is posting it just wants attention. That it’s some juvenile way to get noticed and have others reassure them that “I care”. Further research indicated that no official investigations have been done into this at all. There have been no official studies conducted into things like how prevalent a phenomenon this is, why people do it, or how people react to it. Instead I came across blog posts and forum posts about how annoyed people get by their Facebook friends vaguebooking. This meant that I would have to do all my own research.
I decided to conduct a survey in order to answer these questions. I thought that a survey with both multiple-choice questions as well as extended answer responses would give me the best balance between quantitative and qualitative data (yep, I was listening in my second year communications class). This is because quantitative data shows patterns of behaviour and allows the gathering of statistics, which for some reason everyone just believes. It is about numbers and presenting data which can be measured. Qualitative data is more about that data which can’t be measured or reduced to a number. It deals with description and opinion, which is what makes it such an important aspect of my research. I want to know WHY people vaguebook, and HOW onlookers react to it. Not just how many people do it and how many onlookers roll their eyes.
My initial draft of the survey was admittedly quite callous and blunt. The first question was “Do you vaguebook?” The second was “If yes, why do you vaguebook? (e.g. attention, sympathy).” I decided to show it to a friend before posting it and asking people to respond. Her response was to laugh and tell me how brutal I was being, which made me reconsider the tone of my questions. I didn’t want people to get offended and refuse to respond at all. So I started reframing and rewording the questions to sound more sympathetic, even though I honestly didn’t feel any more sympathetic. In my mind, vaguebookers were still just attention seekers needing reassurance that people liked them enough to ask what was wrong. However I couldn’t show any bias when conducting my research project, because that would reflect in the questions and skew the data. The final product read like this:
Have you ever posted an intentionally vague Facebook status? Yes/No
Do you have Facebook friends who post intentionally vague Facebook statuses? Yes/No
If you answered yes to question 1, why do you post vague Facebook statuses?
If you answered yes to question 2, why do you think people post vague Facebook statuses?
If you answered yes to question 1, what response are you hoping for when posting a vague Facebook status?
If you answered yes to question 2, what response do you have to vague Facebook posts?
Eventually I posted the survey link on Facebook, because regular Facebook users were my target audience after all. I asked all my friends (including the regular vaguebook offender) to complete the survey to “help me out guys!” I decided that I would like 35 responses, because that would give me a sense of the patterns in the data, and allow for the few responders who answered “no” to everything (however unlikely I thought this to be). It would also not be such an overwhelming amount of data that I would find it hard to reconcile the results.
When I got my first response I was really excited. Despite my fierce belief that I already knew what the intentions of vagubookers were, I had still become very invested in finding out if I was right. The first response didn’t give much insight into this unfortunately, because they answered no to question 1. However the answer to question 2 was yes so I was excited to read their answers to questions 4 and 6:
Why do you think people post vague Facebook statuses?
“They are looking for attention.”
Ok, brief but backs up my own opinion.
What response do you have to vague Facebook posts?
“I ignore them.”
So I was a little let down by my first response. I started considering whether my survey was not worded in a way that would elicit a well thought out response, but decided that I would wait for a few more before I revisited the questions. When I had 35 responses (which admittedly took a while and much Facebook nagging) I closed the survey and started collating the results. Of the 35 responders only 5 answered yes to question 1. This didn’t surprise me because I had figured that some people wouldn’t want to admit to being vaguebookers, even if it was done anonymously. On the other hand all 35 answered yes to question 2. What this indicated to me was that either vaguebooking is a lot more common than my survey results were indicating, and I would need to take that into account, or that people would vaguebook without realising it. I also realised I hadn’t really given any guidelines about what counted as a vaguebook, and so my responders may have different opinions on what was and wasn’t a vague Facebook status. There was also the possibility that because all of these responders would’ve been my Facebook friends, they could’ve all been referring to the same vaguebooker. Nevertheless I started reading through my responses and came across some very interesting answers.
Most of the responses to questions 4 and 6 equated to essentially what my first responder and I believed- vaguebooking was an attention-seeking venture and it was easier to just ignore the person doing it. One response even said that you “shouldn’t give them the attention they want because then they’ll just keep doing it. Treat them like a dog- if they do something bad don’t reward the behaviour”. The most interesting responses actually ended up coming from those people who admitted to having posted a vague Facebook status. One responder did confess to sometimes posting a vague status for attention, but clarified this by saying that they have social insecurities and anxiety and vaguebooking is a way to get reassurance that people like and care about them. I know personally how debilitating anxiety can be so reading this response made me start to reassess my opinions about vaguebookers.
Easily the most well-written and thought-out response also came from a responder who answered yes to question 1:
“[The reason I write vague Facebook statuses is because] I tend to use Facebook more like a personal journal or sounding board than a purely social medium. I write about what is on my mind without explanation because I am not writing for an audience, I am writing for myself, and working out my own thoughts or feelings. I think this is a perfectly legitimate use of the medium, as part of the usefulness of Facebook is the ability to look back and see change in oneself over time, notice recurring thoughts or recall forgotten ideas. What’s the difference between posting my thoughts on Facebook to people who write blogs, or have Tumblr, or post on Twitter? If people find it annoying and think that I’m attention-seeking that’s their problem. I’m not going to apologise for finding a way to express myself.” (anonymous responder, 2016)
This response really resonated with me. The reason I maintain a blog, even if I don’t update it that often, is because it’s somewhere that I can post my thoughts and feelings without feeling judged, and is actually really helpful when I’m feeling overwhelmed and anxious by my own life. Considering that this might be the reason that people post vague Facebook statuses made me reassess my original feelings towards it. Anything that helped someone cope with the difficulties they were facing in their lives without causing harm to themselves or others couldn’t be a bad thing right?
The conclusions I’ve drawn from this project have been that most people find vaguebookers annoying, and consider them attention seekers. While this may be true of some or most of them, I have found out that it is not true of all of them. Some people do it because it is a way of coping with internalised insecurities and anxieties, and as a way to express themselves privately in a public forum. In hindsight I wish I would have extended my survey to include questions about age and gender, to assess whether there was any correlation in regards to these factors, and this is something I would like to endeavour to learn more about. For now, I still find vaguebook posts annoying, but this project has shown me the importance of stepping back and considering what someone else may be going through.
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