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Facebook Understands You More Than You Know

Illustration for article titled Facebook Understands You More Than You Know

Maybe the problem isn't that Facebook distorts life, but that reflects it all too well.


Writing in the Huffington Post, Claire Gordon discusses the "stark class and racial divisions" visible on Facebook and Myspace. She concludes,

The real dangerous reshaping work of Facebook, and other sites that reproduce race, class and ideological divides, is that it reinforces the real world's inequality and distrust. Peeling back the myth of the Internet as Ultimate Equalizer, we see discrete digital worlds where people from different backgrounds are separated by brick walls of code. The problem isn't that Facebook makes us white-washed, disingenuous, self-promoting nodes. It's that white-washed, disingenuous self-promotion translates, in our society, to success.


What's a "good" Facebook profile? What are the standards we're seeking to meet when we untag pictures, select bands and films and quotes? Some version of our "best selves," sure — but according to whom? For whom? As Gordon points out, the network of "friendship" is not generally strangers — it's the same loose circle of people whom you might meet fleetingly in the real world; now there's just a record of it, and the number of friends becomes not a measure of popularity so much as organization, ambition, and faith in the still-obscure powers of "social networking."

If you're involved in social networking at all, however nominally, you're participating in this experiment. Really, when you think about it, there are two approaches to the medium: defensive — those who seek to limit information for that worst-case scenario future-employer — and the others, who deliberately craft an image to impress or intimidate exes or future friends. Which is glass-half-full and which the more negative is an interesting question; both are cynical in their own ways. And at the end of the day, whatever we choose becomes quick short-hand not just for our tastes or opinions about a candidate or what we think is funny, but who we think decides these things. Writers sometimes talk about "who" they're writing for — even in the context of private journals. When the medium's public, the question seems simpler, but in other ways maybe it's even more fraught.

Am I Better Than Facebook? [Huffington Post]
Generation Why? [Zadie Smith]

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Uhh.. (1) don't we kind of do that all the time? I mean, when I'm at a party, and I go on and on about how much I love the California Raisins movie and Teen Witch and MST3K, well yes, I do love all of those movies. I do not think they are the greatest cinema works I have ever seen. But I bring them up at parties because they are part of an image of myself that I have in my head, part of an identity I have created for myself, where I enjoy those things for whatever reasons. When I go to make a Facebook profile, and it asks about favorite movies, I put those down.

(2) Not everybody chooses one or the other in terms of how they use facebook. I do not untag photos of myself. I do not censor anything unless it is something that I think would upset my mother and is not worth changing privacy setting over. I post status updates when the mood strikes - sometimes they're witty, if I'm feeling witty, sometimes they're emotional, if I'm feeling emotional, sometimes they're boring, if I just feel like sharing the fact that I am tired. I almost treat it like a mini-journal. "This is my most recent experience of life." And, you know, staying in touch with people. Having instant access to everybody you went to high school or college with, or your entire family, or all of your current friends - that's pretty useful sometimes.