Is Facebook really the one with the identity crisis?

Simon Mainwaring / Community / 5 years ago

Image: ceo.biz

Today Mark Zuckerberg travels to D.C. for a Congressional Briefing on privacy. While this will probably bring the privacy debate to a boil, I wanted to return to a Zuckerberg statement revealed last week that was largely overlooked in the emotion of privacy pushback. The statement was extracted  from David Kirkpatrick’s upcoming book, The Facebook Effect by Michael Zimmer and reads:

“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.”

To some, this statement appeared simplistic, naive and eminently dismissable. Stowe Boyd argues that its limiting to define ourselves by any single identity or platform, stating instead that:

“…our identity is increasingly becoming a network of partial identities, linked together by the overlap (if any) between different communities’ constituencies and the princieples that they stand for.”

He even went so far as to postulate that Facebook may be doomed because user expectations were overturned. While I agree with Boyd that we each possess a multi-faceted, ever-evolving identity, I believe that what Zuckerberg is alluding to is the dissolution of long-standing walls between our private and public identities. So while our individual identities inevitably morph, migrate and grow, it’s the seamlessness of this process between the on and offline world that he is responding to. This is no small issue and one of that Zuckerberg is keenly aware of. Kim-Mai Culter wrote a very thoughtful SocialBeat piece to this effect, outlining Zuckerberg’s very considered statements about the role Facebook, the web and how information sharing will impact the future of business, personal lives and our world.

So while commentators like Human Rights First dismiss Zuckerberg claiming that Facebook simply “doesn’t get it”, I believe the management at Facebook has a deep understanding of the issues surrounding user rights and privacy. They have to as each day, like any company, Facebook performs a delicate balancing act between serving its own interests and those of its customers or users. As CT Moore suggests, it’s naive to imagine Facebook would not seek a monopoly in its marketplace. And I, perhaps like Zuckerberg, accept the fact that the invasion of our privacy was complete a long time ago (even if we are only beginning to realize it). Is this a good thing? Probably not. Is it a reality? For sure, and one which we (and Zuckerberg) must come to terms with if we are to engage on the web.

Zuckerberg himself is clear open to the scrutiny. The pressure on Facebook and him personally has been intense for several weeks and rightly so. He has apologized (albeit through a ghost writer) and Facebook announced today “simpler, easier to use” privacy settings. Yet, as I argued earlier, ultimately the responsibility for privacy rests with the user. For once we choose to participate in the open web by sharing information on social networks, the same transparency that exposes issues related to government or corporate behavior shines equally brightly on us.

This issue will not be solved today or this year as we continue to live out our private lives in public by sharing photos, posts, tweets, emails, video and SMS messages. Perhaps Zuckerberg was overly simplistic in his communication, or perhaps that statement needs to be read in the context of a much broader explanation outlined in Fitzpatrick’s book. Either way, I believe the issue Zuckerberg addresses, and the privacy debate at large, is much larger than any one person or social network. It is a symptom of this stage in the socialization of the web and, once resolved, will more than likely be replaced by another, equally challenging, issue.

Do you believe Facebook is to blame for a bait and switch? What about Zuckerberg personally? Will you be staying with Facebook or going?

33 Comments

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  1. Tony Long says:

    Facebook is not responsible for our privacy, we are. Facebook – and others – will try to monetize our information. Google does it. So does Apple. That is the trade-off for using their service.

    What Facebook does not get credit for – and I’m being truly genuine about this – is helping teach everyone a little something about online vs. offline personas. The “next big” social networking / social media magnet will have Facebook to thank for adopting an informed, experienced, “online-savvier” audience. Facebook will have taken arrows in the back for dealing with these issues, and all services in their wake will benefit.

    Mr. Zuckerberg may personally find it duplicitous to have more than one identity, and that’s his opinion. But Facebook has forced its users – more than 400 million of us according to them – to confront the issue of the “private” me and the “public” me. Facebook friends can result in jobs for some. For others, it’s strictly for documenting sophomoric behavior. Occasionally there is crossover, with devastating / amusing results. Some FB users have no walls. Some maintain stricter definitions between their Facebook selves and their non-Facebook selves.

    I do, and it suits me just fine.

    Thanks again for another great post, Simon!

  2. Rick says:

    Couldn’t disagree more. People have always had public and private personas. We share more with those we trust. We present our most professional face to our colleagues, while allowing ourselves to relax with friends and family.

    Facebook promised us the ability to do just that, and broke the promise. The first time, with Beacon. We accepted the “oops” apology that time. This time, we know that Zuckerberg is really a very wily little swine who thinks he, at his what, 24 years of age?, understands human nature and can make those decisions for us, without our permission or explicit consent. No.

    What arrogance, what naiveté. You do yourself no favors siding with him, because his type of bait-and-switch trickery is indefensible. You need specifics?

    1. Facebook always maintained in the first era that it was a private network for friends to connect, that people only saw what YOU wanted them to see. I remember seeing this on the homepage because I otherwise never would have signed up.

    2. Beacon broke that promise. Suddenly I bought something on Overstock, and it was published, without my consent, to my Wall? WHAT A JOKE.

    3. Endless rounds of privacy changes that would reset previously private information to open, by DEFAULT. Information that perhaps I would have shared if asked, but perhaps not. I was not given the choice until after it was done.

    4. And to make matters worse, changing your settings back has been an endless maze of confusion. Intentionally (Opting out of Instant Personalization was such a clusterfuck it couldn’t have been anything BUT intentional).

    This is not a company that respects users. This is a company seeking to exploit and sell out those who trusted it. I know you are in advertising (I’m in marketing), and I’m all for companies like Facebook being able to monetize their technologies. But this isn’t the way to do it.

  3. contentgrrl says:

    While I like the simpler interface, the “Recommended” privacy settings are still too broad for my taste. And the earlier default setting of sharing everything is ridiculous.

    Seems anyone who wants to participate online needs a crash course in public relations, and in defending your family against the evils of stalkers, identity thieves, and hate crime.

  4. AlexSchleber says:

    Simon, you’re obviously doing a lot of thinking on this, and this is a great round-up of many of the issues. Like you I am still fascinated with the entire unfolding.

    However I still think Zuckerberg’s basic tenet that all identities should merge into one or else it’s a lack of intergrity is naive, and simply not functional from a societal stand-point:

    We all have/play many different roles in a variety of different contexts, anything else is ignoring basic realities. And for each of these, we may be showing different sides of ourselves, with varying degrees of “privacy settings”. Yes, at the edges things can bleed into each other, and that has created difficulties long before Facebook.

    But overall I would argue that society’s functioning DEPENDS on sub-segmenting a vast amount of information ALL OF THE TIME. The examples are endless. Often we don’t WANT to know what is truly going on in someone else’s sphere of specialization.

    And unless someone has strong voyeuristic tendencies (which Facebook is often counting upon BTW), they would in most business settings prefer to NOT know too much about the other party’s private life, as it would only intrude on the transaction, etc.

    Specialization creates a “need to know” culture, and that is mostly a good thing. Else complete information overload would hit us even worse than what we are dealing with now. Zuck’s supposed minimalist dream just doesn’t seem realistic for these settings, I say this myself being somewhat of a minimalist.

    For now it appears that he just doesn’t want to (or can?) model the greater complexity (which comes with current reality) in his software. And yet, it would have paradoxically been the easiest thing to have 3 simple account choices for Facebook: 1) Private – only friends. 2) All public all the time (what FB Pages have been for a while), and 3) Custom, “I take full responsibility for my detail settings”. In all three cases, the SIMPLE thing for FB to do would be to never alter the wishes the user has set.

    Simple. Zen. Case closed.

  5. clintonfein says:

    At the end of the day, you seem to accept the premise that privacy was lost a long time ago, and thus Zuckerman and Facebook (along with others) are simply reacting to those iherent realities. As we continue to live out components of our private lives in public (not all of it), the notion of merging our personal, professional and other identitites becomes less appealing, not more. Having two identites does not reflect a lack of integrity if you’re gay and serving in the US military, for example. It means saving your career, and not being deprived of the benefits afforded by participation in a social media sphere. Zuckerman’s claim that the days of separating identities is coming to an end is perhaps the most misguided of everything he’s said. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would think he was laying it on that thick to mislead his competitors. But regardless, I sure as hell don’t buy into it. You shouldn’t either.

  6. In my more pessismistic moments I wonder …. In the future, will privacy be a CRIME?!

  7. Ryan says:

    testcomment #ryan

  8. BD says:

    I still believe that Facebook and the Social Web will create a new culture of understanding where people can simply respect differing views/lifestyles. Does it bother me when my friends are posting pro-Obama tweets, anti-Exxon wall posts, and Farmville updates (well Farmville irks me big time)? Of course not. They are their views. Eventually I feel this will carry over to the workplace and society in general. Unless someone is so far out there, ie Nazi sympathizer, everyone will develop a general shoulder shrug at differing views.

  9. Dave Doolin says:

    In the worst case, perhaps we're all confronted with the poor choices we made. Maybe we all become unemployable due to past peccadilloes. What then I wonder.

  10. They call me hater says:

    Oh really!! What a load of CRAP. Folks with two identities have no integrity. Really though.
    People have more than one identities because haters will DESTROY your government name. And if you lose that what do you have left? I suppose all artists lack integrity? Are all actors devoid of integrity? What about writers that produce works of art using a ghost name?

    The fact is, I can count dozens of people whom have closed their Facebook account because users spread malicious lies about them. I am one of them. I would NEVER in a million years use my real name or identity on that environment. Keep it up Mr Zuckerberg. Myspace fell from the mountain top. Yahoo fell from the Mountain top. Hotmail fell from the mountain top. Facebook is next. It is only a matter of time.

  11. They Call Me Hater says:

    With a culture that disables accounts arbitrarily and forces users to create “ghost identities” to protect themselves, there is no way that Facebook has 450 million users. In fact, I dont know a single person that has less than 2 Facebook accounts. One for just their friends (they trust) and a second for marketing their business or projects. And what about their limits on 5,000 friends? Come on now are we serious? 5,000 friends is nothing. You will achieve that in no time on Facebook (with all of their aggressive invite friends tools, suggest a friend tool, etc). Now logically, after you reach 5,000 friends what will you do next? Create another account silly to feed your ego. That's right, I said it. Facebook has millions of egomanics who are addicted to the attention they get (and crave more attention). The only way to get that attention is to set-up another Facebook account or a Fanpage (which is really just a tool to generate more advertising dollars because you cannot communicate with your own fans unless you purchase ad space).

    But before I get ahead of myself let's get back to the subject at hand.

    Where was I? Oh yes, if the average Facebook user owns two accounts their numbers would be 50% less immediately. If each user boasts more than 2 accounts on average the numbers could be lower than 150million. People you are hyping up Facebook way too much. They are definitively not as big as they advertise themselves to be. Wake-up: the 10million new users they claim are signing up…monthly or weekly (whatever) are probably existing users with fake accounts, that are afraid that their private information will be shared with the rest of the world. Or worse, they are users that have reached the 5,000 friend limit because of this crazy hype Facebook is getting and then create another account.

    That to me is commonsense. Facebook reminds me of a nightclub (that has 50 people inside; however, the club owner locks the door and forces the line to build). People see the crowd, get excited, and line up just like lemmings. This is the strategy behind Facebook.

    If I had $1billion I would bet it all that they are pulling a fast one on you all. Oh btw, call me hater, with no integrity, because if I give you my real name(s) Facebook will shut down my 20 accounts. And I cant afford to do that (and be forced to set-up 20 more). lol. Hmm…maybe I shouldnt be a hater and just become “a twit” and join Twitter. NOT!!

  12. Thanks, Hater. There are certainly many who share your opinion. It will be interesting to see whether this is the beginning of the end for Facebook and whether Zuckerberg's motives were as evil as many suggest. I don't believe so, but then you are not alone in your concerns. Thanks, Simon

  13. Thanks, Jonathan. I don't now if it will be viewed as a crime but hiding something may yet be viewed with suspicion. Interesting thought, for sure. Thanks, Simon

  14. Thanks, BD. I agree. I think there's enormous potential to what cultural bridges the social web can build especially since they allow these views to be seen from a safe arm's length. I really hope that the open, social web will realize its potential in this way. Thanks, Simon

  15. Thanks, Clinton, and I agree this new reality of public/private identity merger is not so much ideal as it is inevitable and I see Zuckerberg as a pragmatist. I think we would all be shocked if we knew what was already known about us and FB is another extension of what is shared. As for identity, the merger speaks to the on and offline worlds rather than contrasts like gay/military (which to me is no conflict). In truth, I simply believer that MZ is responding to the fact that our real world lives and online lives are merger and that's the singularity he refers top. We are no less complex or changeable, it's just that information is freely shared. Personally I don't think he is misleading his competitors. I think he sees potential in the open social web and is stumbling his way to some version of a solution. I am as cynical as the next person and guard my privacy fiercely, but my gut check tells me that this isn't as sinister as some suggest. I may be wrong though. Let's keep talking. Thanks, Simon

  16. Thanks, Rick. I totally respect your opinion and that you disagree. I side with Zuckerberg in that I believe his actions are not solely guided by mercenary, selfish or duplicitous motives. I believe he does see enormous positive potential to a web that necessitates transparency between our public and private identities. I also give him the benefit of the doubt for three reasons. Having never met him, i'm reluctant to judge too quickly or harshly. He always maintained that FB was a development platform. And because when promises are made by businesses – even on the web around social networks, they are always subject to change, especially when that young company is going to have to monetize their business model. So for me it's not so black and white. His methods of monetizing the company are a work in progress but I don't think its beyond dispute that his motives are evil. I just don't see enough evidence nor do I have the relationship with him to judge. I also see a lot of potential for a social web so his comments in that area resonate with me. Thanks for the honest and forthright feedback, Simon

  17. I know, and thanks. This is one Pandora's box we have opened when we started sharing our lives online. There's no way FB can please everyone and ultimately we have to be in control. But I agree, they have to make it easy for us to be in control. Thanks, Simon

  18. Thanks, Tony, and I agree, Facebook is taking hits as the frontrunner and educator on this issue. And yes, the web – as represented by the Facebook experience – is forcing us to manage not just what we share but how we engage with the web and constitute who we are to others. We are truly living in a new age of arguably forced transparency. I just think the web started this process. Facebook is just its latest champion. Thanks Tony, Simon

  19. Thanks, Alex. And I totally understand your concerns. I think the shift to the social web will ultimately be positive but with a lot of bumps in the road. I also think its inevitable only in a business sense as the rivalry between FB, Twitter, Google and Apple is so hot. There could be a better balance between growth and privacy, I agree, we just have to get through these bumps first. Thanks for the great feedback, simon

  20. Thanks, Hater. You raise some interesting points but if you think they are so duplicitous and over-hyped, I'm confused as to why you have 20 accounts? A better strategy might be to not use them at all. Each to their own, for sure. Simon

  21. Thanks, Dave. I tend to agree. We we perhaps a little naive if we thought the open web would not evolve in its own way. Now we're faced with a tough choice for sure. Participate and see our content shared, or go cold turkey. Thanks, Simon

  22. Thanks, Tony, and I agree, Facebook is taking hits as the frontrunner and educator on this issue. And yes, the web – as represented by the Facebook experience – is forcing us to manage not just what we share but how we engage with the web and constitute who we are to others. We are truly living in a new age of arguably forced transparency. I just think the web started this process. Facebook is just its latest champion. Thanks Tony, Simon

  23. I know, and thanks. This is one Pandora's box we have opened when we started sharing our lives online. There's no way FB can please everyone and ultimately we have to be in control. But I agree, they have to make it easy for us to be in control. Thanks, Simon

  24. Thanks, Rick. I totally respect your opinion and that you disagree. I side with Zuckerberg in that I believe his actions are not solely guided by mercenary, selfish or duplicitous motives. I believe he does see enormous positive potential to a web that necessitates transparency between our public and private identities. I also give him the benefit of the doubt for three reasons. Having never met him, i'm reluctant to judge too quickly or harshly. He always maintained that FB was a development platform. And because when promises are made by businesses – even on the web around social networks, they are always subject to change, especially when that young company is going to have to monetize their business model. So for me it's not so black and white. His methods of monetizing the company are a work in progress but I don't think its beyond dispute that his motives are evil. I just don't see enough evidence nor do I have the relationship with him to judge. I also see a lot of potential for a social web so his comments in that area resonate with me. Thanks for the honest and forthright feedback, Simon

  25. Thanks, Clinton, and I agree this new reality of public/private identity merger is not so much ideal as it is inevitable and I see Zuckerberg as a pragmatist. I think we would all be shocked if we knew what was already known about us and FB is another extension of what is shared. As for identity, the merger speaks to the on and offline worlds rather than contrasts like gay/military (which to me is no conflict). In truth, I simply believer that MZ is responding to the fact that our real world lives and online lives are merger and that's the singularity he refers top. We are no less complex or changeable, it's just that information is freely shared. Personally I don't think he is misleading his competitors. I think he sees potential in the open social web and is stumbling his way to some version of a solution. I am as cynical as the next person and guard my privacy fiercely, but my gut check tells me that this isn't as sinister as some suggest. I may be wrong though. Let's keep talking. Thanks, Simon

  26. Thanks, BD. I agree. I think there's enormous potential to what cultural bridges the social web can build especially since they allow these views to be seen from a safe arm's length. I really hope that the open, social web will realize its potential in this way. Thanks, Simon

  27. Thanks, Jonathan. I don't now if it will be viewed as a crime but hiding something may yet be viewed with suspicion. Interesting thought, for sure. Thanks, Simon

  28. Thanks, Hater. There are certainly many who share your opinion. It will be interesting to see whether this is the beginning of the end for Facebook and whether Zuckerberg's motives were as evil as many suggest. I don't believe so, but then you are not alone in your concerns. Thanks, Simon

  29. Thanks, Dave. I tend to agree. We we perhaps a little naive if we thought the open web would not evolve in its own way. Now we're faced with a tough choice for sure. Participate and see our content shared, or go cold turkey. Thanks, Simon

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