Robards, B. & Lincoln, S. (2016) ‘Making it ‘Facebook Official’: Reflecting on romantic relationships through sustained Facebook use‘, Social Media + Society, 2(4), special issue on ‘Making Digital Cultures of Gender and Sexuality with Social Media’, edited by J Burgess, E Cassidy, S Duguay, and B Light.
For the past 12 years, Facebook has played a significant role in mediating the lives of its users. Disclosures on the site go on to serve as intimate, co-constructed life records, albeit with unique and always-evolving affordances. The ways in which romantic relationships are mediated on the site are complex and contested: “What is the significance of articulating a romantic relationship on Facebook?” “Why do some choose to make socially and culturally critical moments like the beginning and ends of relationships visible on Facebook, whereas others (perhaps within the same relationship) do not?” “How do these practices change over time?” and “When is it time to go “Facebook official”?” In this article, we draw on qualitative research with Facebook users in their 20s in Australia and the United Kingdom who have been using the site for 5 years or more. Interviews with participants revealed that romantic relationships were central to many of their growing up narratives, and in this article, we draw out examples to discuss four kinds of (non-exclusive) practices: (1) overt relationship status disclosures, mediated through the “relationship status” affordance of the site, (2) implied relationship disclosures, mediated through an increase in images and tags featuring romantic partners, (3) the intended absence of relationship visibility, and (4) later-erased or revised relationship disclosures. We also critique the ways in which Facebook might work to produce normative “relationship traces,” privileging neat linearity, monogamy, and obfuscating (perhaps usefully, perhaps not) the messy complexity of romantic relationships.