Facebook and multiple identites

Here’s an alarming Mark Zuckerberg quote from The Facebook Effect by David Kirpatrick:

You have one identity… 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… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.

How nice for Mark Zuckerberg that he doesn’t feel the need to keep any part of himself private. Zuckerberg doesn’t have an identity outside of his work, which is common enough in Silicon Valley startup culture but is neither possible nor desirable for most of us. When family members have illnesses, or friends are feeling down, or I’m thinking or feeling something that doesn’t reflect well on me in that moment, how is that any of my coworkers’ business? Zuckerberg understands human psychology very well within the context of college and startup culture, but Facebook is an increasingly poor fit for the complexities of my social life.

Nexus white

Steve Cheney writes:

Facebook is no longer a social network. They stopped being one long before the movie. Facebook is really a huge broadcast platform. Everything that happens between its walls is one degree away from being public, one massive auditorium filled with everyone you’ve ever met, most of whom you haven’t seen or spoken to in years.

In her essay “Facebook and Radical Transparency,” danah boyd articulates the disconnect between Zuckerberg’s values and everyone else’s.

Silicon Valley is filled with people engaged in self-branding, making a name for themselves by being exhibitionists.

In internet startup culture, typically you’re extremely proud of the work that you do, and you commit to it completely, immersing yourself in it. By the same token, you work so hard that you don’t have time left over to have other aspects to your personality. If your whole identity is wrapped up in a product that you’re proud and eager to get the word out about, what could be the harm in total personal transparency?

The problem is that most of us don’t completely identify with our jobs. We have aspects of our lives that we aren’t eager to share with everyone we encounter.

A while back, I was talking with a teenage girl about her privacy settings and noticed that she had made lots of content available to friends-of-friends. I asked her if she made her content available to her mother. She responded with, “of course not!” I had noticed that she had listed her aunt as a friend of hers and so I surfed with her to her aunt’s page and pointed out that her mother was a friend of her aunt, thus a friend-of-a-friend. She was horrified. It had never dawned on her that her mother might be included in that grouping.

If Facebook wanted radical transparency, they could communicate to users every single person and entity who can see their content. They could notify then when the content is accessed by a partner. They could show them who all is included in “friends-of-friends” (or at least a number of people). They hide behind lists because people’s abstractions allow them to share more. When people think “friends-of-friends” they don’t think about all of the types of people that their friends might link to; they think of the people that their friends would bring to a dinner party if they were to host it. When they think of everyone, they think of individual people who might have an interest in them, not 3rd party services who want to monetize or redistribute their data. Users have no sense of how their data is being used and Facebook is not radically transparent about what that data is used for. Quite the opposite. Convolution works. It keeps the press out.

This sounds exactly like the privacy policy for the social networking tool I’m dreaming up in my head. And I’d rather just charge users money up front so there’s no financial incentive to share data.

Nexus radial

In his essay “Confusing *a* public with *the* public,” Jeff Jarvis takes Facebook to task for not understanding that there are many different degrees of “public” and “private.”

Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg seem to assume that once something is public, it’s public. They confused sharing with publishing. They conflate the public sphere with the making of a public. That is, when I blog something, I am publishing it to the world for anyone and everyone to see: the more the better, is the assumption. But when I put something on Facebook my assumption had been that I was sharing it just with the public I created and control there. That public is private. Therein lies the confusion. Making that public public is what disturbs people. It robs them of their sense of control—and their actual control—of what they were sharing and with whom (no matter how many preferences we can set). On top of that, collecting our actions elsewhere on the net—our browsing and our likes—and making that public, too, through Facebook, disturbed people even more. Where does it end?

My warped Facebook friends

I disagree with Jeff Jarvis about Twitter.

In Facebook, we get to create our publics. In Twitter, we decide which publics to join. But neither is the public sphere; neither entails publishing to everyone.

Twitter does entail publishing to everyone unless you set your tweets to private. Each tweet is a page on the open web, indexed by Google. It’s a short-form blogging tool. That’s what I like about it. I’m intending my statements there to be read by any stranger who cares to tune in. I love Twitter, I enjoy it and derive tremendous practical benefit from it. But I also want something private, something for home truths and expressions of heartbreak and anxiety and frank discussion of medical issues. Twitter certainly isn’t that. Facebook could be tediously configured into that using lists, but even if it’s technically possible to use it that way, it feels wrong. It retains the values of the dorm room, and that’s not a setting that I feel comfortable using for serious emotional issues.

I want to build something better, maybe on top of Diaspora. Who wants to join me?

The images in this post are visualizations of my Facebook friends by Ivan Kozik’s Nexus app.

4 thoughts on “Facebook and multiple identites

  1. I totally agree that it’s possible to set up FB to keep your circles as separate as you want. If you know that’s what you’re trying to do, FB makes it pretty easy. But FB doesn’t make it sufficiently clear that it’s a thing you should be doing. The default setting is always to make things as public as possible, and less sophisticated users than you and me use the defaults for everything. We’re used to going through all the menus in a piece of software, looking for the options that suit our particular needs. But older people don’t do this. If an option isn’t in their face, they won’t think to poke around the drop-down menus until they find it. When we got my mom her first Mac, she knew it was possible to create folders in the Finder, but she had no idea how to do it. It seems so obvious to you and me that you go to the File menu, or the little gear icon or whatever, but if I hadn’t shown her how to do those things, she would never have figured them out in a million years. I want the default that your content is visible to no one except the people you explicitly tag. For power users there can be automated ways to batch tag big groups.

  2. Except, it’s not actually hard to have multiple identities on Facebook. Just create lists, and customize your privacy settings for each of those lists. Whenever you add a new friend FB gives you the chance to add him/her to a list. Not that your idea isn’t cool (I love the genealogy aspect) just that I have no problem at all keeping my work and personal identities separate (of course they overlap, as they do in life) on Facebook.

  3. I agree with you… I think charging for the service is a good idea, it also would reduce trolling and whatnot, since most people don’t want to spend money to troll. But I think people expect free, but maybe it’s time that changed.

    Are those pictures based on your Facebook data, or just fractals?

    • The social networking tool I’m imagining would be pitched to families, and would combine genealogy and family history with more traditional social networking functionality. Network effects would be less important because you’d have a natural incentive to want to get your relatives signed up, and the service would spread naturally out among the in-laws and cousins. My target customer is older, more used to spending money for valuable services, and has more disposable income than free time. Also, older users find advertising distracting and confusing and would be more likely to pay for a less cluttered, more user-friendly experience. My brand narrative is going to hammer home the point that on free services, advertisers are the customer and user data is the product.

      The images do show my actual Facebook friends. The first two pictures are screencaps of the awesome (and sadly now defunct) Nexus app. The third one is a screencap that I manipulated in Photoshop.

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