“Identifying Identity” offers a series of responses from members of Culture on the Edge to the following claim made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:
Zimmer’s critique of Zuckerberg’s disingenuous claim that somehow having more than one identity equates to a lack of integrity is spot on. In fact, Zuckerberg’s claim is laughable, for we analysts know all too well that identities are never singular nor static – rather – always fluid over time and space and most importantly perhaps, they are co-constitutive and contingent, never of their own complete making. This thinking, about identity and identities is well marked by the work we do here at The Edge insofar as we take seriously Bayart’s assertion that “there is no such thing as identity, only operational acts of identification.” With that in mind, and pushing further the constructed nature of and the tactics and strategies that make identities possible, the social actor does not have complete control over how their identities are made – and more so – how such identities are read and represented, especially as they are mediated technologically in and through online formats like social media.
Representation is key, for even with the campaign and call by social actors to have “more agency” and “control” over “privacy” settings on Facebook, for example, this illusion of protection from those who might “misconstrue” ones’ identity is fallacious and misguided. The desire motivating Zuckerberg’s efforts to flatten identities and attach moral sensibilities to the desire for control over ones’ “profile” and the yearning among Facebookees to “control” their identities through a fallacy of protection and self-policing in a “public” forum both speak to the manner in which something more is at stake in the wanting it “both ways.” Furthermore, these issues are not only products (and problems) of a (over-dramatized) technological age that come with a certain public and private moral panic – but also speak to how easily we exaggerate the “dangers” and “perils” of our identities in the social media world.
Outside of social media – are our identities ever really protected and read in the exact manner in which we hope? Are not the complexities associated with misrecognition, interpellation and misfiring always occurring whether we’re aware of it or not? Do not the police, for instance, often “misrecognize” a “citizen” for a “criminal,” a “student” for a “professor,” and vice-versa? And when do social actors really ever present just one identity always and at once? A while back, we here at The Edge spent a great deal of time discussing the manner in which “code-switching” is not as unique and special as we’d like to make it (see here and here ) – for in the end, we all switch, even when we don’t realize it. Zimmer, in his critique of Zuckerberg, makes a similar point when he reminds us that:
“I present myself differently when I’m lecturing in the classroom compared to when I’m have a beer with friends. I might present a slightly different identity when I’m at a church meeting compared to when I’m at a football game.”
And speaking of having it “both ways” and something more at stake for both the producer and the user, “After spending weeks on banning users and battling back criticism against their misguided “real name” policy,” Facebook has apologized for what some have called a “discriminatory” agenda of pushing for a “real name” policy. We now learn that the social network has announced the release of a new app, an “experimental take” on Facebook that’ll – catch this – be anonymous in nature and will allow users to engage and interact without having to use those other names, you know, the “real ones” – as if they really exist.
In both cases – money, marketing and the illusion of protection and singularity are at stake for all involved – both the social media producers (who bank from the illusory bifurcation of real/virtual identities) and the users, who too, want it both ways – the luxury of a virtual identity and space that is somehow without (and outside of) the dangers of representation and misrecognition and “real time” identities (coz we got jobs and “professional identities” to protect).
To read the other posts in this series, search the Real Name tag.