A couple weeks ago I joined 人人 (renren/everyone), the Chinese version of facebook. I have, so far in my Chinese life, abstained from all Chinese online social networks, particularly QQ. This is basically AIM, but it’s updated with twitter and facebook qualities. From conversations with students, it seems that approximately 1/3 of their lives are spent on QQ. They flirt, get angry with each other, make new friends, all on QQ. This could be said about my life at 15 years old, not 21, as my students are. I often hear stories about students getting on QQ to meet foreigners so they can practice their English. Sometimes I react by lecturing on the dangers of this activity, but usually I just smile and nod. When I meet someone new at school, the end of our conversation usually goes like this:“Do you have QQ?” the student asks, giggling, hands over mouth (if it’s a girl). “No.” “What?!” the student asks with a look of utter incredulity. Clutching at straws he asks, “Do you have MSN??” almost as if he’s asking, “Do you eat?” “No, sorry. I can give you my email address.” I might as well have said, “No, but I do wear diapers.” So, I’ve decided to meet them in the middle; I signed up for 人人. So far it’s been fun to find my students and friends on there and see what their mysterious internet social lives are like. It’s also pretty difficult; the enter site is in 中文 (zhong wen/Chinese), which is actually good for Chinese practice. The most jarring part of the whole experience was entirely one-sided. My second friend on 人人 was a girl I know from Beijing. Strangely, after becoming friends with me, she added me to her top friends bracket on the right side of her profile. I didn’t think we were that close, I thought, but it’s a nice gesture anyway. A few friends later, I noticed that everbody had done the same thing. Hm. I know people like me here, but come on. So I copied the characters above the “Top Friends” bracket, and pasted them into my trusty Google Translator. “Recent Visitors” Ahh!! I quickly exited the profile I was currently looking at. My cover was blown! It was like a searchlight finding a thief in the dark, or like someone yanking the bush out of the ground that I was hiding behind. I feld exposed. Mind you, I wasn’t doing anything suspicious. I was just doing what people do on facebook, looking at pictures of people and watching their online activity without them knowing… which in all other facets of life would be known as “stalking.” This has totally shaken my view of online social networks. Now, on 人人, if I check out someone’s profile I need to be okay with them knowing about it, or I need to leave a comment so that I had a reason to be there. I don’t think facebook would ever adopt “Recent Visitors” because it would scare everyone, but should they?