A couple weeks ago I completed my writer bio for She-Bomb. I had a hard time determining what to include (and exclude) about myself; I had to choose the degree of anonymity that would characterize the internet identity of Pandamonium. It got me thinking about how I appear elsewhere on the Internet.
As in life, one plays many roles across the infinity of the world wide web. These many different identities include your Facebook or Twitter persona, your music tastes as they appear on your Last.fm profile, the performer you become when logging onto chatroulette… Sometimes these identities align into a picture of someone that resembles us and our actual interactions, but sometimes it paints someone quite different. Rarely, if we choose privacy over sharing, it doesn’t paint much of a picture at all.
So what is appropriate to share? How entitled to privacy are we?
The other day I was discussing the difference of being out online and out in “real life.” Do I have a duty, as an openly gay guy, to list myself as such on my facebook profile? I don’t say that I’m “interested in…” men, the same way I don’t list myself as interested in women. It’s blank on my profile. My thoughts were: I’m also an athlete, but I don’t have my sport listed – though I easily could – and that someone who is entitled to either of these facts would otherwise know me well enough to be aware that a) I’m gay and b) I’m a swimmer.
But does that mean that I’m still “in the closet” in some respects, since I’m not explicitly out on facebook? I didn’t think so, but others disagree. If I should have my sexual orientation listed, then what else is public domain? Just so that it’s clear to any random user checking out my profile, should I list my race? Or other sexual preferences? No, if I wanted to do that, I’d make a Grindr account, adding another online identity to the growing list.
Apparently, the masterminds behind Facebook’s advertising algorithms don’t even need me to list that I’m gay. It knows. But, unfortunately, it “knows” that several closeted and even straight people are gay. By tracking your behavior online, whether whose pictures you look at or which website you browse off of Facebook (which is a HUGE issue of privacy itself), it deduces a sexuality-label which it in turn sells to advertisers. Invasion of privacy? You decide.
I like that Facebook doesn’t have me completely figured me out, based on the advertisements I see next to profiles. In any case it’s nice to know that the social media giant thinks I’m a moderately ambitious, Christian, uneducated 40-year old man.
The worst part about Facebook is that it tracks whose profile you click to the most. Which all too often is precisely the person you DON’T want to be reading about on your newsfeed. (And by this I mean your exes). It also tracks what posts other people click on most frequently. Like these disgusting porn images that are shared/liked/commented on by thousands of people, that somehow make their way onto my newsfeed. Please.
The most recent development in “sharing” on Facebook is the Washington Post Reader. (Other media outlets have their own, too.) The app publishes each story you read, and then shows a neat little bar graph of the number of friends who read each story too. And the ones that top the lists are all too often “Ohio Mother Slays 7” or “Bieber and Gomez: Trouble in Paradise?” Also: people are increasingly sharing every song they listen to on Spotify. Is the music you listen to, or the news media you consume necessary information that everyone who logs on needs to know about you?
The easy answer to all of my complaints is to simply log off. Deactivate. But it’s difficult, especially during a first year in a completely new place, meeting many new faces every weekend that I’d not remember without the subsequent friend-request. In an angsty display of hipsterdom, I once deleted my facebook for three weeks. The only reason I reactivated the account was that I needed to use it to communicate with a group I was organizing for school. And it was the best three weeks ever!
Not really, but it was nice not having the addictive temptation of typing that first “F” into the url box. It saved a LOT of time I hadn’t realized before that I was losing. And, contrary to what I feared, I didn’t miss out on ANYTHING ELSE socially. But I came back. Like everyone else. And that’s because Facebook doesn’t really let you delete it; it just hides your profile. Friends can still tag you in pictures. ALL of your information is still there, just buried in their cached data, forever. Which means you can (and will) always come back. Without a doubt, Facebook is an indelible part of our Information Age society. The way Facebook operates largely defines the way that we interact online. And it’s sad, really, that this interaction is the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg, a clearly socially incompetent individual.
The easy moral of the story would be not to give too much away online. “It will come back to haunt you,” so the story goes. So it went for Kwame Kilpatrick, Mark Foley, and any celebrity who has ever thought it’d be fun to film themselves having sex.
But Facebook is now used nearly universally, right? So all of the big names of 2050 (including the more ambitious of us currently attending Amherst) are currently in college, and all currently plugged-in. Most email servers have saved every email you’ve ever written. Google remembers every single search query you’ve entered on your computer, despite how many times you guiltily clear your history. Facebook now knows what YOUR FACE looks like, and can preempt your tagging when you upload pictures. And no one is perfect. So by that time, no one will care if a public figure had an secret account on some BDSM website, or photos of themselves drinking at 15. Because we’re all part of it, and we all have some dark fact buried in our online closets. At that point, it won’t matter anymore. That’s the world I imagine, at least.