Once upon a time, my Facebook account was a peaceful place where I could converse with my grad school friends about grad school things. Then my sister showed up. Her statements, visible to all of my grad school friends, that I was “a dork” did not fit with the grad student identity that I had constructed. Although I accept the fact that a large percentage of grad students are dorks, we prefer to think of ourselves as idiosyncratic intellectuals. As George Costanza might say, worlds were colliding. Since that time, of course, the rest of the world has appeared on Facebook, changing the dynamics entirely, as a recent episode of South Park highlights.
A few days ago, the LA Times reported (via Contexts) that, “Just because popular social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, encourage members to use their actual identities doesn’t mean people are presenting themselves online the way they do in real life.” Of course, for sociologists the idea that there is one representation of a person’s real personality is somewhat ridiculous. This was highlighted by recent posts at Crooked Timber in response to Facebook Overlord Mark Zuckerberg’s statement that
“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “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 adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
Personally, I find the idea that presenting yourself in different ways to different people can be seen as a lack of integrity by anybody outside of politics hilarious, and Healy links the idea to a potentially disastrous breaching experiment:
“Hey, I want to present the same public face to everyone, and see what happens! My hypothesis is that people will freak out and maybe some bad things will happen!”
Maybe Zuckerberg’s real goal with the increasingly complex Facebook privacy settings is not world domination through advertising but the elimination of a major element of social psychology! For what it’s worth, Zuckerberg is currently failing because, despite the fact that family members can see my comments to family members and vice versa, I have not started making comments to my family members about the intricacies of life as an assistant professor, nor have I started making comments to my friends about how big of a dork I am.