The popularity of new social media site LikeALittle has skyrocketed in the last few months at the University of Calgary after popping onto the scene last October. The site, which encourages users to "flirt anonymously with students on your campus," has gained critics who question what is becoming of the social media world.
The site embodies the offspring of Twitter's short messages and Craigslist's anonymous "Missed Connections." It is also campus-specific and allows anyone to instantly and anonymously reach out to that cute girl or guy in anthropology they haven't had the nerve to talk to all year.
"I had a friend who hooked up with someone they met on the site," said fourth-year U of C international development studies student Katelyn Yaremko. "They met in his dorm room-- the rest is history, I guess."
LikeALittle's first Canadian intern and part-time Gauntlet contributor Andrea Rojas said promiscuity is an unfortunate by-product of a site aimed to be light-hearted and fun. She hopes more people will get involved to monitor comments in order to prevent derogatory remarks.
"I really like the site and I wanted to be a part of something like that," she said. "It's so much more than just flirting, it's about making a community-- finding new friends, borrowing items, learning about new profs."
Although some students use the site to find casual sex partners, this wasn't the founder's original intent. Evan Reas, who created LikeALittle in one day with friends, said he wanted to come up with an interesting way to connect with others.
The site boasts help for anyone with a "lack of game with women" and was made to allow people to "compliment and chat about potential crushes you see around you."
"My two friends noticed that it was difficult to communicate with people around them, whether it be a cute person in a cafe, a neighbour in the same apartment complex or a student around campus," said Reas. "It is difficult and awkward to make that first move and we knew that first-hand from seeing girls and neighbours around us and just being too shy to say, 'Hello.' "
Rojas said she thinks the site's focus on specific campuses is its strong point.
"U of C in particular is a commuter-based university, so we don't have the community that rez students do," Rojas said. "People need to understand the intent of the site is to facilitate relationships that wouldn't be manifested in person."
U of C psychology associate professor Susan Boon said anonymity would likely be the biggest appeal of sites like this.
"The target of the flirt would have an esteem boost, but I don't think there would be any value," Boon explained.
Reas, however, thinks the site allows people to be more open to connecting with others.
"In college you see a lot of the same people," he said. "They are often wanting to date or get to know their classmates, but it is a tough situation because it can be very awkward. You know everybody and see them often to people often don't make any moves. Being anonymous helps them do that easily with no big downside. Rejection is anonymous and there's no reason not to post how you feel about somebody because there is a chance they will see it and talk to you."
Boon said there has not been much research that looks into the subject.
"I only have my personal opinions," she said. "I don't think we know enough about how social media affects relationships."
Psychology PhD student Eddie Sheppard said social media create an entire world of open communication.
"A lot of people think Facebook or LikeALittle is a weaker form of communication," he said. "But people are more willing to express themselves with less of a fear of rejection. They don't feel as if they are judged, or see the other person's reaction and are therefore more open."
Research published last September in the Communications Research academic journal looked at relationship closeness in the Facebook community. A team of American researchers found that the number of media used to communicate should be considered when looking at personal closeness. People who are less socially apt are more likely to use social media because there is less of a risk factor than communicating in person.
A 2002 study entitled Relationship Formation on the Internet: What's the Big Attraction? claimed high Internet use correlates directly with a lack of social competence.
"Logically, those individuals . . . who have the social skills needed to communicate themselves well and effectively have little need to express their true selves or "Real Me" over the Internet," said the study.
Sheppard noted that when you talk to someone in person, there are a lot of societal norms that must be followed that don't exist through other social media.
"When you interact with people in person there are rules, but this isn't the case for things like LikeALittle," Sheppard said. "If you just meet someone face-to-face you tend to judge someone based on only looks. But with Facebook you can get a good judge of someone's character by their photos, what they like, what groups they join and there is a lot less social pressure of behaving a certain way."
Many relationships are based on similarities and Sheppard said social media help make these available. A whole section on LikeALittle is devoted to testimonials-- many individuals share how they met their loved ones through the site.
Reas said he has big plans for the future of LikeALittle.
"We just want to keep improving the product and add more features that we hope people will enjoy," he said. "We have started to roll out a chat feature which allows people to anonymously chat with people around them."
Although many individuals, including Boon, are skeptical of sites such as this one, their popularity is growing throughout the student body.