Be who you want to be: The philosophy of Facebook and ?· Be who you want to be: The philosophy of Facebook…

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<ul><li><p>Be who you want to be:The philosophy of Facebookand the construction of identity</p><p>Katie Ellis</p><p>/</p><p>'Who are you?'Jostein Gaarder'</p><p>Be careful what you post</p><p>on Facebook/</p><p>-BarackObama^</p></li><li><p>IDENTITY, or the answer to thequestion 'Who are you?', issomething that has occupied theattention of philosophers forhundreds of years. When thisquestion was posed to the fictional</p><p>Sophie Amundsen in the novel Sophie'sWorld, her immediate reaction was thatshe was 'Sophie Amundsen'. But surelywe are more than a name given to us byour parents? Would we be a differentperson if we had been given a differentname? The idea that each person isunique is a tenet of personal identity,while 'social identity' refers to our rolesand responsibilities.'' Twentieth-centuryphilosopher George Herbert Mead arguesthat the self appears through socialbehaviour, or that sociai identity affectsthe formation of personal identity.*</p><p>These philosophical concepts ofpersonal identity and social identity andtheir influence on each other, and inparticular on our sense of selves, areplayed out on the social networking siteFacebook right before our eyes - on ourfriends' pages and on our own. Through-out this article I will consider Facebookas an example of communicativeidentity, as a performance of the selfbased on already established socialroles. We are who we are on Facebookbased on what we already know aboutidentity and perception.</p><p>Facebook is a particularly interestingcase study in relation to personalidentity on the Internet because, unlike</p><p>other social networking sites such asLiveJournal and to a lesser degreeMySpace, people use their real nameson Facebook and attempt to representwho they really are. As Lev Grossmanwrites:</p><p>[Facebook users] declare their sex, age,</p><p>whereabouts, romantic status and institu-</p><p>tional affiliations. Identity is not a perform-</p><p>ance or a toy on Facebook; it is a fixed and</p><p>orderly fact. Nobody does anything</p><p>secretly: a news feed constantly updates</p><p>your friends on your activities. On Face-</p><p>book, everybody knows you 're a dog. </p><p>When Grossman jokes that on Facebookeverybody knows you're a dog, he isreferring to the iconic cartoon printed inThe New Yorker in 1993 where, inreference to the anonymity of cyber-space, two dogs sit in front of a compu-ter screen with the caption 'On theInternet, nobody knows you're a dog'. In2007 Kimberly Christopherson examinedthis idea in relation to social identity andfound that the Internet is a unique socialcontext in which the expression of socialbehaviours can be analysed. A decreas-ing level of anonymity brought aboutthrough social networking has led to theadoption of different strategies depend-ing on the individual's goal for socialinteraction. Communication via Face-book is changing the face of socialcommunication on an interpersonal level.</p><p>Kim Moldofsky of the Hormone-ColoredDays blog writes that she has tried to 3</p></li><li><p>DIGITAL LITERACIES</p><p>3 8</p><p>When Fabookusers communicate'what's on [their]mind', or updatetheir status, theyare offering arepresentation ofthe self... basedon socialisationthey have alreadyexperienced.</p><p>keep her online and offline identitiesseparate yet struggles with this neatdivision on Facebook because she isrepresenting her 'real' self on Facebook. 'Moldofsky's 'Facebook philosophy'centres on maintaining control of a fluidonline identity. On Facebook we take ourown name and seem to be more willingto part with our personal information thanwere previous net generations. We selectour social identity from the series ofgroup memberships available.</p><p>Social identity [is the part of] personalidentity our sense of who we are thatcomes from our group memberships andthe social categories to which we belong:our age, sex, race, religion, profession,ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation,region, social class, ideological persua-sion, politicai affiliation, mental healthstatus, eto.^</p><p>Our answers to these questions, severalof which can form a Facebook profile,betray the fact that we know that in orderto be recognised as part of these groupswe must possess certain commoncharacteristics, and further that we canonly be defined in these ways throughsocial interaction. Maybe Sophie wasright - was I a different me when I wentby the name Tieka (an anagram of myown name Katie) on IRC and ICO in the1990s^ and all I had to answer was ASL(age, sex. location)? In the absence ofclearly demarcated networks this was anentirely different projection of identity.</p><p>I have been on Facebook for about threeyears and I currently have 243 friends. Ifriend, I unfriend and I've been friendedand unfriended. I'll admit I have no ideawho many of my friends are - some Iconsider strangers, others 'Facebook</p></li><li><p>friends' I have come to know throughtheir profiles, status updates, taggedphotos and choice of quizzes. Although 1really enjoy my Facebook friends and feela strong connection and sense ofcommunity with many of them, most ofthe time these people are little more thanobjects of entertainment to me. Many areinvolved in the performance of genderand social identity, a performance I alsoparticipate in as I carve out an onlineidentity based on how, and as whom, Iwant to be perceived in both the onlineand offline world,</p><p>George Herbert Mead argued that theself is established through communica-tion. He saw the individual as a productof society, of social interaction. ForMead, we are only able to conceive ofourselves in relation to other people. Inthe first instance we are an object toothers, and then when we take theperspective of other people throughlanguage we become an object toourselves. Although Mead was theorisingabout these issues during the 1920s, hisperspectives have taken on new curren-cy in the Facebook era, according toMark Van Hollebeke.^</p><p>On Facebook our profiles are objects toour friends, and then through thelanguage of Facebook - profile pictures,status updates, quizzes, relationshipstatuses and photos - we take theperspective of others to communicateourselves to the network. Drawing on thework of Mead, Van Hollebeke argues that'the individual projects traits based onwhat others in society think they are'" ontheir Facebook page. Mead was particu-larly interested in selfhood as an exten-sion of being an object to others, and, byextension, the self,</p><p>'Me' and ' I ' are crucial in Mead's under-standing of social interaction andcommunicative identity. For Mead 'me'referred to the social self while ' I ' is theresponse to 'me'. The self is intertwinedwith social existence. When Facebookusers communicate 'what's on [their]mind', or update their status, they areoffering a representation of the self or a'me' based on socialisation they havealready experienced. For example, whenone friend posts about cricket on BoxingDay or another laments the stares of</p><p>older mothers when she drops herchildren off at school wearing shortshorts, they have selected an identitythat they want to project. On Facebook,identity is a choice, an object we chooseto project. When T maintain my Face-book page I select a 'me' to project tothe world, and myself. My personalidentity is selected from a choice ofsocial identities.</p><p>Social existence and communicativeidentity for Mead is a three-step processthat I wish to outline using the exampleof profile pictures on Facebook.</p><p>Firstly, others become aware of anindividual's intentions through theiractions or a gesture. A profile picture isone of the first steps in the selection ofan identity on Facebook, particularly asbefore Facebook people generallyadopted avatars or an image thatrepresented a person's online identityrather than an actual picture of theperson.'^ For example, on my LiveJour-nal I use an animation of a stick figuredancing. As Facebook has crossed over</p><p>When users select a profilepicture of themselves ontheir wedding day or withtheir partner, or with agroup of people at a partyor in a nightclub, they arecommunicating somethingsignificant.</p><p>into the educational arena, with manyuniversities using Facebook to communi-cate with students, tertiary institutionsare informing students about how tomanage their online identities:</p><p>Use your proper name and try to occa-sionally use a profile picture of your face!(photos of your pet, baby or favouritesunset frustrate people who are trying totrack you</p><p>In the second step, communication takesplace because the user selecting theirprofile picture has knowledge of howothers in the network will respond, evenif this Is only on an unconscious level.When users select a profile picture ofthemselves on their wedding day or withtheir partner, or with a group of people ata party or in a nightclub, they arecommunicating something significant.This act of choosing a profile picturedemonstrates the way 'I ' chooses a 'me'.The woman choosing a picture of herselfon her wedding day takes the perspec-tives of other people, knowing they willinterpret her as a wife or perhaps a'beautiful bride', which then invites allsorts of other social meanings.</p><p>Finally, this picture means something tothe individual who is negotiating theirpersonal identity among the availablesocial identities. Identity as it emerges inthe mind of an individual cannot beseparated from social processes andinteractions. Discussing Mead's work,George Cronk concluded:</p><p>Mind, then, is a form of participation in aninterpersonal (that is, social) process; it isthe result of taking the attitudes of otherstoward one's own gestures (or conduct ingeneral). Mind, in brief, is the use ofsignificant symbols.^''</p><p>The self emerges through perception,meaning and language. The wedding-dayphoto is a symbolic act of communica-tion. While as a gesture this choice mayappear non-significant, symbolically itmight communicate something about thewoman's identity, and her perceivedsuccess in life, since women experienceongoing social pressure to be married.</p><p>My Facebook friends often seem like car-icatures of stereotypes of typical types of</p></li><li><p>DIGITAL LITERACIES</p><p>'The drip-drip-drip of micronewsabout "friends" onFacebook is corrodingour capacity to determinethe important, relevantand significant.'- Tara Brabazon</p><p>A : " MARK ZUCKERBERG, FOUNDER AND CEO OF</p><p>FACEBOOK</p><p>people we see on television and in the</p><p>media. I have my married-with-kids</p><p>friends, single males on the prow), single</p><p>females asserting their sexual freedom,</p><p>and academic colleagues pimping their</p><p>latest publication. Sometimes it all feels a</p><p>bit Melrose Place, but with seven</p><p>seasons condensed into a daily news</p><p>feed. Tara Brabazon argues that this</p><p>saturation of personal information as it is</p><p>conflated with social identity is leading</p><p>us down a superficial path:</p><p>The drip'drip-drip of micronews about'friends ' on Facebook is corroding ourcapacity to determine the important,relevant and significant. I do not need toknow that Fiona is going out to getplastered on Friday night. I do not needto know that Peter snogged a woman inKomedia on Saturday. This endlesswashing in the banal corrodes ourcapacity to differentiate between the waron terrorism and the selection of haircare products, or the military build up inthe Middle East and shoe shopping. ^^</p><p>The idea that Facebook users can nolonger differentiate between representa-</p><p>tion and reality has led to calls for peopleto go offline. Communication overloadhas inspired a teen movement of'switching off':</p><p>You're getting a feed of everythingeveryone is doing and saying. You'reliterally watching the social landscape onthe screen, and if you're obsessed withyour position in that landscape, it's veryhard to look away '</p><p>While my first reaction to these calls toswitch off Facebook to discover whoyour real friends are is that they arereactionary and display a fear of newtechnology, they do resonate. Thanks toFacebook I now know how everyoneturned out ~ those ex-boyfriends I neverwanted to see again but kind of won-dered about in an 'I'm so much better offwithout you way' and those girls Ithought would be my best friendsforever. But I don't really know: I onlyknow how they want the world to thinkthey turned out and how that in turn hasimpacted on their formation of a personalidentity, Facebook is an extension oflanguage, and as we participate in it, it</p></li><li><p>f Connect with Facebook</p><p>Connect Citysearch with Facebook to interaa with your friends on thissite and to share stories on Facebook through your Wall and friends'News Feeds. This site will also be able to automatically post one-linestories back to Facebook.</p><p>si&gt;Citysearch Bring your friends and info</p><p>Post stones to your Wall</p><p>facebook</p><p>By proceeding, you are aQreeing to the Facetraok Hatfonn User Terms of Service. Bvuijng Cltysearch. you alse agree to the Cilvsearch Terms of Service.</p><p>Logged in as Johnny Thompson (Not you'')</p><p>participates in the 'dynamic, ongoingsocial process'" of personal and socialidentity as a communicative creation.</p><p>Katie Ellis is a lecturer in the Schoolof Media Communication &amp; Cultureat Murdoch University. </p><p>Endnotes' Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World,</p><p>Phoenix House, London. 1995, p.4.^ Julie Pace, 'Obama: Be Careful What</p><p>You Put on Facebook', TheWashington Times, 8 September 2009,,accessed 26 December 2009.</p><p> Martin Hollis, The Philosophy of SocialScience: An Introduction, CambridgeUniversity Press, Cambridge, 1994.p.17.</p><p>* George Herbert Mead, The Genesis ofthe Self and Social Control', Interna-tional Journal of Ethics, vol. 35, no. 3,1925, pp.251-277.</p><p>^ Lev Grossman 'Why Facebook is theFuture', Time, 23 August 2007, ,accessed 26 December 2009.</p><p>^ Kimberly Christopherson, 'The Positiveand Negative Implications of Anonymi-ty in Internet Social Interactions: "Onthe Internet, Nobody Knovws You're aDog'", Computers in Human Behav-iour, vol. 23. no. 6, 2007, pp,3038-3056.</p><p> Kim Moldofsky, 'Facebook</p><p>MI|F CnUum i&gt; itnmling Cwduch Oun nirty.</p><p>Ala WU tHUrm 1 lin st Sj|Xr tnvl ind</p><p>Ata! Wu ttcibook bItlHdiv buh</p><p>Maradlth chin YwMsrtdllhiToiIar &gt;&gt; ' liMdy f f u i y v UyOlf that'other ttuT undhmrh ongmil'</p><p> 11 n iiiK 4 can</p><p>Philosophy', Hormone-Colored Days.14 January 2009, , accessed23 December 2009.See , accessed 13 January2010.</p><p>IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and the ICQmessaging service were popular in the1990s and early 2000s.'Philosophical Theorist Takes onFacebook', Campus Voice. PacificLutheran University, 27 October 2006,,accessed 26 December 2009.ibid.</p><p>Katie Ellis &amp; Mike Kent, Disability andNew Media. Routledge (forthcoming).Lisa Cluett, 'How to Survive ...Networking in Facebook', StudySmarter. October 2009, , accessed 26</p><p>December 2009.George Cronk. 'George Herbert Mead(1863-1931)', Internet Encyclopedia ofPhilosophy, , accessed 26 December 2009.Tara Brabazon, 'Come Back Karl.All is Forgiven.', ArtsHub, 29 August2007, , accessed 26 December2009.</p><p>Barb Dybwad, 'Teens BandingTogether to Out Down on Facebook',Mashable: The Social Media Guide, 21December 2009, , accessed 26December 2009.Cronk. op. cit.</p><p>4</p></li><li><p>Copyright of Screen Education is the property of ATOM Publishing and its content may not be copied or</p><p>emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission.</p><p>However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.</p></li></ul>