Wednesday, 16 June 2010

the facebook effect, David Kirkpatrick

I had heard some references being made recently (on the blogs of Michael Zimmer and danah boyd, especially) about David Kirkpatrick's new book, 'The Facebook Effect'. Specifically, some of the statements made by Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder and CEO) along the lines of 'you have one identity' were somewhat alarming, especially for those of us working in the terrain of identity studies, interested in how users of social network sites are performing a sense of self online. I'm currently revisiting how Goffman's dramaturgical framework might be (re)applied to identity performance on social network sites (building, perhaps on this wonderful essay by Trevor Pinch), so an insight into Zuckerberg's philosophy on identity was pretty interesting. Thus, I rushed (read: clicked) to to order my copy of the book yesterday, and it arrived today. I've spent large chunks of the day enthralled. The history of the site is one thing, but the insights into the people that built it are another. Very interesting stuff.

Here is the paragraph Zimmer and boyd were referring to, and the section which (for my current piece of writing) is the most resonant:
"You have one identity," [Zuckerberg] says emphatically three times in a single minute during a 2009 interview. He recalls that in Facebook's early days, some argued the service ought to offer adult users both a work profile and a "fun social profile". Zuckerberg was always opposed to that. "The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly," he says.
He makes several arguments. "Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity," Zuckerberg says moralistically. But he also makes a case he sees as pragmatic - that "the level of transparency the world has now won't support having two identities for a person." In other words, even if you want to segregate your personal from your professional information you won't be able to, as information about you proliferates on the Internet and elsewhere. He would say the same about any images one individual seeks to project - for example, a teenager who acts docile at home but is a drug-using reprobate with his friends. (Kirkpatrick 2010: 198)
IMHO, there are lots of problems with this line of thinking. This philosophy resists a whole movement in identity theory (and postmodernism) that frames identity as dynamic, fluid and multi-faceted. Identity cannot truly be successfully pinned down, even though we're always trying to do just that. Goffman explains that we perform different versions of self depending on the context we find ourselves in and the audience we find ourselves performing to. Granted, online social spaces problematise these dimensions of context and audience, but you only need to be confronted a Friend request from parents or co-workers or clients or students on Facebook to know that audience, context and (yes) multiplicity in identities is still such an important consideration.

Stay tuned for more. No time for fun speech bubbles today. I'm in srs bsns mode.

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