When you're in college, news can spread quickly on campus. But when two of Dave DeDionisio's classmates at Peabody Conservatory broke up, news of their nasty tiff spread like wildfire. On Facebook.
It started out innocuously enough - one person changed their relationship status from dating to single. Another took down the profile picture of the two of them. Then snarky comments surfaced in each other's status, a spot on Facebook that is usually reserved for more sedate updates like, "I am feeling tired today." It descended from there.
"The status became a way of telling the ex-girlfriend off," DeDionisio says.
The back-and-forth went on for two weeks for all of their friends to see, thanks to the Facebook's news feed, which lists the recent happenings of your friends, classmates and acquaintances.
"They broke up, and it became a part of the news feed," he said. "It's outrageous."
Social networking Web sites like Facebook and MySpace have opened up possibilities for finding old friends and making new ones, and have made it easy to keep everyone updated on your life without your crafting individual missives to each and every one. But with that convenience comes a price. It's possible for an entire relationship to be documented online - and for everyone, including your mom, to know about it. This is why many have stepped away.
Amy Johnson, 21, of Charles Village is "married" to her friend on Facebook.
"It is more of one of those preventive things," she says. She changed the status after her friend broke up with her boyfriend of two years; Johnson just didn't want people asking her about her relationship when she broke up with her next boyfriend.
"Then you don't have to go through, 'Oh, you broke up with him,'" she says.
Sam Fischbeck, 21, of Parkville is listed as married, too, to avoid complications. DeDionisio says he keeps his profile "sparse." Robin Foreman of Washington says she doesn't even update hers; she leaves it to a friend to mess with the details.
But even though these people are cautious, they know plenty of people who aren't.
Val Fomenko of Washington says he knows friends that have announced their breakup on Facebook before they even call their friends.
"As soon as they have a fight, they have to log in and change," he says.
But the sites are not all bad. Michelle Ingrodi, 32, met one of her best friends online. They met on MySpace - he was a fan of her friend's band - then in person. A romance blossomed, and three months later, she moved from Frostburg to Canton.
"A lot of that came from him," she says. "He really gave me the courage and support to do it."
They didn't work out as a couple, but she still thinks sites like MySpace can be a good spot for romance (and friendship) to bloom. But she also knows drama, too.
Like people who obsess over you and send creepily explicit lyrics. And messages from amateur adult-film directors. And the "pit bull" girlfriends who plaster comments all over their boyfriends' pages and shout down any other woman who posts one.
"I'd say they're definitely staking their claim," Ingrodi says. "I think it may be insecurities on their part. ... At the same time, I don't think they know how crazy they look."
Kristina Grish, author of The Joy of Text: Dating, Mating and Techno Relating, says these sites don't create drama that isn't there otherwise; at very most, it just amplifies the problems and personality traits that people have. If you're jealous in real life, that jealousy will only be amplified when you see a girl chatting up your boyfriend on his Myspace page.
"I think really what these sites do, they extend your personality a bit," she says. If you're usually flirtatious, you'll be even more so online. "It's easy to unleash that other part of yourself because you're behind the computer screen."
Ingrodi agrees. "For some, it's easier to be braver when they're typing," she says. "When you read text, you can't read tone or emotion. You can watch it over everyone's pages. It's funny to see fights break out over other people's pages."
Either way, the drama makes for good watching for the rest of us. Forman believes that that's what most of the people who are in the center of these online soap operas want.
"It's like everyone wants it to be drama on display," she says. "I don't know why people want to be celebrities."