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Response #3 (a Revision of Response #1): Authenticating the Facebook Self: Privacy, Participation, and Radical Transparency

David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect asks us: “How much of ourselves should we show the world?” (199). In the construction of online identities, how does one decide what boundaries to set regarding what content to choose to display to an online community such as Facebook? Facebook has already chosen specific information that a user must provide in order to create a profile. As new media scholar Laurie McNeill suggests, “in what it asks–and doesn’t ask–the Profile privileges certain aspects of experience and identity. Should members choose to comply with these particular requests for information, the templates offer little room to negotiate or complicate identity” (69). As a consequence of choosing to participate in Facebook’s online community, one must accept that the foundations of their online identity are present prior to their participation.

Mark Zuckerberg says that “[h]aving two identities for yourself is an example of lack of integrity” (199). Facebook specifies what type of content can be uploaded to profile pages; it also dictates what users’ online names can be (their ‘real’ one). These types of policies are meant to create a type of transparency. Paradoxically, transparency is legitamised vis-à-vis an intricate system of user privacy settings. Yet, Facebook’s privacy policy clarifies that “any of your personal data ‘may become publicly available’” (204). This is an important conversation that Kirkpatrick fails to explore in greater depth.

What is also amiss in Kirkpatrick’s discussion is a clear definition of what Facebook is or should be. If Facebook is attempting to solidify an “authentic” identity for each of its users, how does it differ from other social networking sites? If the News Feed telescopes each user’s various identities into the same stream of information (211), what does that say about how we choose to construct said identities? In “Approaching Genre,” John Frow makes an important point about identity, albeit indirectly. Using Jacques Derrida’s “The Law of Genre,” he signals that “every text participates in one or several genres, there is no genreless text, there is always a genre and genres, yet such participation never amounts to belonging” (25). Facebook users are participating in the writing of the self within different contexts, but does that participation amount to a singular “authentic identity”? Can something such as the News Feed-as-metagenre transform unstable contextual participation into identifiable belonging?

Works Cited

Frow, John. “Approaching Genre.” Genre. The New Critical Idiom, series ed. John Drakakis. London: Routledge, 2006: 7-28. Print.

Kirkpatrick, David. “Privacy ‘You have one identity.’” The Facebook Effect. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. 199-214. Print.

McNeill, Laurie. “There is no ‘I’ in Network: Social Networking Sites and Posthuman Auto/Biography.” Biography 35.1 (2012): 65-82. Project Muse. Web. 2 March. 2013.

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