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Response: Facebook, Privacy, and the “Death of Independent George”

In The Facebook Effect, David Kirkpatrick explains Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s moralistic position that “you have one identity” and that splitting one’s identity into different roles is an “example of a lack of integrity” (199). Based on this premise, Facebook believes that “by openly acknowledging who we are and behaving consistently among all our friends, we will help create a healthier society” (Kirkpatrick 200). However, while the utopian ideal of a completely open and accepting society does sound nice, in practice and in privilege it isn’t realistic.

The “lack of integrity” that Zuckerberg fears is really just different aspects of a unified whole behaving in accordance with social norms and rhetorical rules of audience. In fact, more information might not really even equate to a healthier society. It is highly possible, and we see this currently, that the fear of persecution stifles personal expression—often promoting only the most reserved and agreeable self to be expressed. As Daniel J. Solove notes, “more information may not necessarily lead to more accurate judgments about others. In many cases, the disclosure of private information can lead to misjudgment based on only partial knowledge of someone’s situation” (66). The collapse of social context and “radical transparency” that Facebook promotes can be summed up by “The Death of Independent George,” where contexts of varying social expectations collide and one must ultimately win out. When we are forced to put up the most polite and agreeable front, the death of a great part of the whole self is assured.

Facebook attempts to mitigate privacy concerns by priding themselves on the level of control they give users (Kirkpatrick 208). However, the controls they have implemented are very complicated and seem to encourage and almost force less tech savvy individuals to unwittingly share more information than they may be comfortable with. Furthermore, users have no control over what other people post, only that it won’t appear on their profile. As more information becomes easily accessible, it becomes increasingly more important to protect representations of the self, because “[p]eople often condemn others on partial information” (Solove 67). Facebook’s forceful push for radical transparency seems blind to the concept that in a world where everyone is watching, “Relationship George” is king.

Works Cited

Kirkpatrick, David. The Facebook Effect. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Print. (link to abstract).

Solove, Daniel J. The Future of Reputation. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2007. Print. (link to abstract).

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