It is the purpose of this paper to discuss some of the ways that social network’s mediate identity performance and engineer those performances towards their own goals. In encouraging and directing users towards ‘authentic’ and unified representations of self, social networking sites fulfill their own needs of acquiring accurate and therefore sellable data rather than situate their users respectively into post-modern ideas of identity. This paper examines how SNSs are used to collect personal data, how the networks themselves position a user towards authenticity, how the identity performances contributed become lasting artefacts of self and lastly the intentions of SNSs to use those performances for profit.
Keywords: Social networks, identity performance, personal data, communication, authenticity
Social Networking Sites (SNS), commonly referred to as social media, have grown to articulate how we connect and communicate in the online world. They have changed communication for the better in that they have broken down old barriers to communication between disparate and spatially separated peers and family, allowed old friends to reconnect and share in their lives together and facilitated a space for public debates, among others. Though, while they have evolved along with our desires to share ourselves online, they also have played their part in shaping those desires to further fulfill their own needs. By their definition, SNSs disseminate their user’s identity performance. Converse to the freedoms of other web based social forums, SNSs position their users into their platform beliefs of authenticity. The aspects of identity that a user contributes with their communications on an SNS platform are accounted to a user’s offline identity; they become fixed in time, lasting artefacts of past identity portrayals. With this consistent information in hand SNSs are effectively situated to market and define online behaviour towards their own profit. This paper will examine how social networking sites innocuously urge their users to share and express themselves inline with the affordances of their platforms, and how these identity performances can have a lasting effect on everyday life.
Social networking sites are online platforms enabling communication amongst their users, with a strong emphasis on the sharing of personal data, which when created through a social platform’s frameworks, is representative into aspects of a user’s identity. Dutton, Ellison, and boyd (2013, p. 8) in their reframed definition of social networks describe these sites as affording a user to: create a personal profile, to publicly find other users to connect their profile with and to allow the sharing and interaction of user generated content. The most common use case of an SNS is that a user provides the platform enough personal data to identify them and create their own profile linked to that identification (Dutton et al., 2013, p. 4). They can then begin adding other users as friends, often with people they have connection with in offline life (p.6), further solidifying their profiles authenticity with their offline self, and then begin contributing data about their lives, interacting with their friend connections and the content that they contribute. Hampton (2016, p. 103) refers to this style of one–to–many connection as pervasive awareness, that by sharing aspects of a person’s everyday life, anything from a major life event to what they are eating, that this kind of connection takes on the subtle quality of allowing an audience into the minutia and detail of their lives. In doing so, users are navigating and sharing identity performances. Erving Goffman (1990) (as cited in Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p. 101) uses the analogy of a theatre stage to illustrate how a person’s identity is performed, delineating between their performances of self–to–others as being on stage and their private inner-world unmediated self as being off stage. The personal profile page, which in terms of an SNS like Facebook can constitute a timeline of events a user has broadcast to their friend connections (Brusseau, 2019, p. 3), can be likened to Goffman’s stage, showcasing a user’s identity performance. When a user signs up for an account on a SNS, they are given access to multimedia tools that allow for the distribution of mediated and potentially creative expression of a their identity (Papacharissi, 2010, p. 307). And so, by participating in a chosen form of SNS, a user creates meaningful representations of themselves online. To Hampton (2016, p. 109) SNS’s have placed an emphasis on transforming people into networked individuals, facilitating user to user communication and creating the digital space to do so; they are equally about connecting with others as they are about portraying yourself to those others.
Social networking sites direct identity performances through their platform’s media specialisations and in so doing engineer those portrayals towards their own uses. Zizi Papacharissi (2010, p. 304) describes performance of identity as an ongoing process, where a person mediates and presents certain aspects of themselves to fit amongst the various social and cultural considerations of their audience. This natural, human tendency to provide some arbitration between inner and outer worlds, or as Goffman (Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p. 102) described it, to wear a mask, can be amplified in the physically freeing digital space of online communication. Without physical considerations, users can represent themselves in any way they wish (Dutton et al., 2013, p. 3), an affirmation of post-modern theories of identity as performance. Conversely though, the largest social network, Facebook (“Global social media research summary 2021,” 2021), and it’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have a strong inclination towards what they see is user authenticity. Zuckerberg has said that mediating and performing different aspects of your identity in consideration to the expectations of your audience is an example of a lack of integrity (Brusseau, 2019, p. 2). This highlights the platforms pursuit to direct the SNS’s users into presenting a ‘unified person’ (p.3). Though this ideal unification almost ironically works against itself. As SNS’s afford and encourage online connections to a user’s physical world social circles as a way to authenticate and solidify them into their online identity (Papacharissi, 2010, p. 304), the worlds of a user where they are perhaps expected to act differently, between family, professionals, romantic partners, peers or even strangers, all begin to amalgamate into a unified audience. A user is positioned into their natural tendency to mediate themselves with relation to their audience, or what Fawkes (2015, p. 677) calls impression management, on a much grander, persistent and harder to maintain scale. With the ultimate potential to gentrify and stilt a user’s portrayal of self into forms that are comfortably digested by their personal and newly integrated publics, representations that are perhaps far from authentic. Fawkes references this conflict with the work of Carl Jung (as cited in 2015, p. 4), in this context, representing the intricacies of the relationship between persona—the mediating mask representing what a user will deem publicly acceptable—and the shadow—all the aspects they wish to conceal with their mask. A dissonance between persona and the shadow can lead to conflict between the two, when the public facing forms of identity have become inauthentically aligned with a user’s sense of self. SNS’s quantify and showcase these authentically regarded, though generated through constraint, representations of self.
Social networking sites, having positioned their users into a place of ‘authenticity’ create lasting and navigable artefacts of identity that are resistant to change. As is typical amongst most SNSs, when someone posts to their social site, the post becomes logged into the chronology of the user’s profile. Though, to return to Hampton’s (2016, p. 114) concept of pervasive awareness, which has emerged with SNSs to describe the proximity of communication they afford, it also explains that on an individual level, proportionally, users of SNSs see the posts of others more than they contribute their own posts. This feed of communication creates on one hand, aspects of identity performance of the poster and on the other, a type of surveillance from the connected audience to that post—termed sousveillance, where in the case of a SNS, friend connections watch the posts of their friend connections, who in turn also watch the posts of their own friend connections (Hampton, 2016, p. 114). In the sousveillance framework of an SNS, where posts are archived into a lasting position and associated with a user’s profile, these identity performances are stored and presented in a way that they can be called to attention at a time well after their original posting (p.114). As James (Brusseau, 2019, p. 3) points out, as these posts are digital, they do not lose anything with time, and become in affect locked representations of identity. Unless action is undertaken by a user to circumvent a social platform representing them in this past light—such as deleting old posts, maintaining an ever stricter routine of impression management or practicing the kind of cryptology that Crystal Abidin (2021) highlights takes place amongst her theories of refracted publics existing below the radar— then posts and interactions that are left on an SNS, can become a lasting artefact of a user’s identity, to be seen and perhaps have their accuracy taken for granted well after the post itself has lost its relevance to the poster. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche accounts the chaotic underlying nature of reality as fundamental to understanding why our identities change with time (Brusseau, 2019, p. 6), as sure as we get older, we change. When we perform identity for a given section of our peers, the fact that the representation that we leave behind could become irrelevant to who we are later, is self-evident. But, while the users of a particular SNS practice a mutually agreed upon form of sousveillance with each other, the platform itself surveils its users.
A focus on featuring accurate and authentic identity serves another purpose for a Social Networking Site, that of being reliable data about a person’s thoughts and desires. This paper has effectively focused on what Hampton (2016, p. 111) calls person to network communication, but an SNS operates with the opposite intention as well, network to person (p.117). It is here that SNSs locate themselves within the world of profitability and markets. Papacharissi (2010, p. 311) acknowledges how collecting the data of its user’s identity performance, and connection with others, not only is the force that gives their networks life but is also a resource for the company to make money, especially as this data becomes richer with personal subtleties as technology converges with everyday life. In the overseer facilitation of a Social network, large scale surveillance of its users provides information that among some of its uses can be used to direct market advertising to them, provide location statistics to other companies or even to shape political campaigns. As (Thatcher, 2017, p. 2703) shows the data is used not only to provide insight into what users want but also to shape their desire to what the network wants of them. This underlying use can be seen in how the algorithmic approach to delivering content to a user, prioritises or limits data according to its programmed whims, allowing users to fall within mediated bubbles of activity where they only see what the network wants them to see (Hampton, 2016, p. 117). To Papacharissi (2010, p. 314) this shows that SNSs can place their users inside specialised spheres of affirmation where their beliefs and values on any number of topics or leaning can be influenced by making sure algorithmically that like minds only see the posts of like minds. SNSs, effectively situating themselves as collectors and dealers of their user’s identity performances, place themselves in a position of power over the individuals they know and portray.
In positioning their users towards ‘authentic’ portrayals of self on their platforms, social networking sites fail to understand the intricacies of identity performance. They move full steam towards this ideal data collection because it suits profitability to have accurate representations to monetise. In the wake, users are left to manage themselves towards a unified portrayal of their identity, leaving static representations–of–self archived behind them, in contrast to the nature of identity as explored in postmodern thought. Inside us all is an ineffable core beat of life and identity, when we communicate, we convey representations of that identity to others which are mediated through our consciousness, language, social and cultural expectations, and physical and digital frameworks. But emphasis should be on its ineffability. We change by the moment, but we are always ourselves. SNSs are businesses situated inside capitalism, they must make money to survive—and users do enter willingly to contribute to their networks, forming their offline worlds into their digital counterparts—but SNSs make money off a human desire to connect to others and can subtly shape user behaviour to the network’s own wants. It should be an emphasis for further discussion that users of SNSs should engage critically with the platforms they are representing themselves on, and how then they can encounter more transparency about how these platforms are in turn shaping them. Social networking sites, through striving to elicit authentic representations of identity from their users have a moral responsibility to affect everyday life only for the better and not just for the market.
Abidin, C. (2021). From “Networked Publics” to “Refracted Publics”: A Companion Framework for Researching “Below the Radar” Studies. Social Media + Society, 7(1), 2056305120984458. doi:10.1177/2056305120984458
Brusseau, J. (2019). Ethics of identity in the time of big data. First Monday, 24(5). doi:10.5210/fm.v24i5.9624
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Dutton, W. H., Ellison, N. B., & boyd, d. M. (2013). Sociality Through Social Network Sites. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199589074.013.0008
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Thatcher, J. (2017). You are where you go, the commodification of daily life through ‘location’. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 49(12), 2702-2717. doi:10.1177/0308518×17730580
14 thoughts on “Social Networking Sites: How and why they mediate identity performance”
I completely agree with you argument. Even though SNS provide free access, they are still base for profit making. The data collected in social media are used for them to create algorithm and provide to businesses to improve their advertising strategy in social media. The question is if there’s a social media platform that need to be paid in monthly subscription, which the cost are use to protect private data, would people go for this alternate? Overall is a well written and inform paper. Keep up the great job.
I’m really impressed by the depth and comprehensiveness of your research! You’ve made a very precise argument to support how social media platforms can profit from people’s construction of virtual identities.
I quite agree with your use of the theatrical stage analogy to explain the specific actions of online individuals in managing their online identity performance and the difference between their online identity representations and their real selves. The identity expression conducted by people often lacks loyalty to the real selves, which is very similar to how social media stars or online influencers modify their appearance and features to meet the audience’s taste. I also agree with your statement that identity changes over time, and virtual identity on the Internet will be subject to each other’s surveillance. In my paper, I mainly discussed the identity performance of social media stars with the help of capital and enterprises according to the taste of audiences, which led to the deformity of the entertainment industry and the suppression of different opinions on the Internet.
The trend of virtual identity expression is unlikely to change in today’s environment. Some people believe a policy of identity authentication online would improve people’s moral restraint in online activities. But the opposition thinks that the Internet should preserve the freedom and equality of having a chance to experience another identity online. I would like to know your attitude towards these two views.
I really enjoyed reading your paper as it was very insightful and well structured and moreover, I could also relate to it as I have myself, written a paper on the same topic. Coming to your paper, I really appreciated how you managed to portray SNS as a pivotal key to unlock a user’s identity and how through platform capitalism, an individual could go to any extent to re-shape and re-negotiate his/her identity for personal benefits. This could also lead to a rise in fake profiles as well since identities are being manipulated by everyone, everywhere. What do you think social media owners should do to implement their application so as to eradicate fake profiles from SNS? I thin you will agree with me how these profiles are harmful for other users. I would love to get your take on that.
Also, do not forget to check out my paper when you are free. I wrote to a similar topic of yours and I would really appreciate it if you could leave a feedback.
Thanks for the comment. I think that the issue with fake profiles, like everything with SNSs, is a complex one. From my thinking there’s three layers to this onion, and I’m speaking off the top of my head, so I’ll be keen to hear your thoughts too 🙂
One, is fake spam profiles, perhaps used to advertise or as a phishing trap to later hack unsuspecting and non tech savvy people.
Two, there’s the possibility of trolling profiles, by people for their own enjoyment at the expense of others but more worryingly by larger groups to cause unrest and potentially spread misinformation. Here’s one example I quickly found: https://www.theverge.com/2019/11/18/20970888/bot-campaign-twitter-facebook-bolivia-uprising-coup-confusion
Three, least dangerous, a person acting under a fake name to conserve some anonymity, this one, depending on how it’s being used, I think is fine. (I’m sure there’s more examples of fake profiles I’ve missed)
So should a SNS act the same way in each of these cases? Not all seem like they should be removed, and people innocent of troubling activity get caught up in the adjudicating algorithms all the time, having their profiles deleted. Purely algorithm moderation is probably not effective enough or the only answer to weed out the dangerously fake profiles, so some form of human intervention is probably required, but that needs social networks willing to pay the individuals and to then deal with the possible psychological trauma involved with moderating that content (I’m sure I read an article about this in the past, that I’ll try to find a link to).
Thanks again, and I’ll head over to your paper and have a read,
What an insightful and well-written paper. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. The perspective you’ve taken in this essay is very interesting and relevant as social media engagement has increased significantly.
With more users attempting to portray their ‘authentic self’ online, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether they are being genuine or whether they are in fact portraying their ‘online self’. I think nowadays, people tend to merge the two as they spend the majority of their time on social media, it becomes difficult to steer away from that. This makes me question how important the offline self is compared to the online self and are people getting the two mixed up due to SNS influences.
Your discussion on platform capitalism was very fascinating, and it got me thinking about how influencer’s online have used their platforms to influence and shape not only their own identity performance but their following’s identity performance for personal gain as well as monetary gains. I’ve come across a lot of influencers on Instagram who have represented themselves in a way that benefits their followings by portraying an ‘ideal self’ which is not the case, as it is evident that they’re doing what they are for monetary gains. This makes me question their genuineness. What are your opinions on influencers who have used their identity performance for monetization?
Thanks for commenting and the kind words.
I agree that influencers pull themselves under deserved criticism when they are in effect advertising a product. I saw that there was backlash a few years ago about people not disclosing that their post was a paid promotion, now I see a lot more people disclosing this upfront. When someone becomes an influencer, they are I guess beginning to play a role that is to portray an entertaining look at a product while at least appearing to be genuine enough that their viewers or followers will in affect be influenced by their post. Depending on how free and unbiased an influencer is with their discussions of a product or lifestyle, can determine whether they end up being another form of one-sided advertising or provide some sort of review. Really it is a new medium for advertisings message that’s being more and more embraced.
On one hand I applaud that people have been able to find a way to monetize their identity, it’s truly representative of the marketing structure of society. On the other, advertising and marketing is something I personally see as negative. It subtly shapes far too much content that we engage with.
When the average citizen influencer begins to peddle things and views that are dangerous to others, well that’s a problem. But I also see that people are aware of influencers status and are hopefully critical of their message. It wasn’t that long ago that cigarettes were still being advertised, and those are somewhat dangerous 🙂
Oh well, I hope there’s some good thoughts in there. Thanks again for reading and the comment.
Thanks for the response. I’ve just noticed the ‘paid promotion’ ads under YouTube videos as you’ve mentioned as well.
I agree that the genuineness of these influencers depends on how free and unbiased an influencer is with their discussions of a product or lifestyle. However, I think promoting products and advertisements online can cause more harm than good. We tend to factor out a lot of editing that these influencers do before putting out a marketing ad online. This leads us to disappointment when the product does not work for us as it did for the influencers, which could lead to low self-esteem and confidence. With that being said, social media has allowed for such advertisements to happen and this helps influencers with their monetary gains, but at what cost?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
The overall convergence of social media is so interesting; do SNSs change for us or do we change for them? Your paper makes me consider if our online identity has become more important than our personal identity. I would argue that in the tech-based world we are in now that they are just as important as each other. Mixing a professional and personal identity online can cause an inconsistency with ones online identity (DeCamp, M., et al, 2013). Does this mean that we are supposed to change to keep up with SNSs or should they be trying to keep us with us? These sorts of questions seem to show that SNSs have transformed people into networked individuals. Do you see this as a bad thing?
Regarding “We change by the moment but we are always ourselves”, I see the individual as vulnerable and impressionable to change online. How do you think we are able to step back from this so we can maintain our personal and authentic selves? I don’t necessarily see these changes as bad do feel as though it is important to seperate our personal and online selves. I feel as though by doing this, we able able to maintain our authentic selves.
I would love to know your thoughts.
Thanks for commenting! You have asked some great questions of me here that I have sat with for a while today as I have been slowly writing this. So, I want to frame the following with the caveat of this is just me reflecting, and that I would be keen to hear what you think of all this. Firstly, I agree it is very interesting, especially diving into some of the thinking about how this very new level of connection and communication is changing the way we live. I think that we are in a time of mediation with these social technologies, where we are deciding what role they should play in our lives and societies.
So, do I think that SNSs change for us or do we change for them? I reckon a little bit of both. But the concept of us changing for them is quite a powerful one, that places popular SNS platforms in the realms of social engineering and therefore users need to be hyper-critical of them. Are they out for good, or as I tried to show in my paper, out for turning users into better consumers while they themselves make piles of cash? Or even keeping users within contained spheres of ideas that they agree with.
Either way though, I don’t think that networked individualism is a bad thing, it seems to me just an extension of how we live in the offline world too.
I am not so sure that people need to try too hard to maintain their authentic self, I would go as far to say that ‘authentic’ is an unfair concept that doesn’t need to exist to the degree that SNSs want to portray it. I tried to show this in my paper, by examining how SNS’s desire for authenticity is a flawed concept amongst post-modern theories of identity performance, at least to how I understand them. Perhaps then the issue goes further and that SNSs through this desire perpetuate the idea of authentic portrayals themselves.
I see identity as a construct that is created through feedback within a core existence of self. The idea of authenticity is useful for distinguishing between fakes, liars, bots etc, but I think that designating representations of others identity as authentic fails to take into account the nature of reality and our position in it.
I can see how the conflict that is encountered with user’s professional persona getting mixed up amongst personal persona, leads to a sort of dilution of identity conveyed on a social platform, towards a place where it feels inauthentic. But then I reckon that is up to the individual to mediate or maintain their online presence or mediate it for certain audiences. In the real world a sales worker may not be feeling very genuine when they give a customer a sales pitch, and the customer hearing it probably doesn’t think that their being genuine either, but in the interaction, I think there are still aspects of self being conveyed and performed for the time and setting. Understanding the changing nature of identity, understands our strange and non-solid position in time. Not to say that we have no authenticity, but that on some level we’re always being authentic if we acknowledge that there is some underlying part of us that is informing the representations of self that we portray to the world around us, online and offline. What I find fascinating is that in this otherwise constantly changing world that the representations that we leave behind on an SNS are fixed in time. Does this place people using Facebook into the realm of the artist? Where an artist’s work and representations come under critique, now artefacts of identity are left behind to be critiqued as well.
Hope I’ve responded in here somewhat 🙂 Thanks again for the comment, amazing how they make you reflect on your work.
I’d be keen to hear what you think,
It was very interesting to hear your perspective on this, so thank you for that.
I do agree when you say that ‘authentic’ in an unfair concept. Not only is it hard to define what authentic really is but how can we know if people are being themselves online? At the end of the day, if they’re not hurting others then why does it matter?
We are all different depending on the situation we are in. For example, if I am at work, I will present myself as bubbly and friendly so my presence makes others comfortable. When with friends I am more relaxed and even with family, I can be vulnerable. Many tend to shy away from being vulnerable online which is very understandable as why should we make people share things that they are not comfortable sharing? But could that be the gateway to authenticity?
That’s a very interesting thought. Everything we leave can be traced back and people can still find photos/videos or even art from our existence online. Should we be considering what we post now when it may be rediscovered in the future?
I enjoyed reading your paper as I found it very thought provoking. Your analysis of identity performance on SNS is compelling because you’ve raised relevant and well-researched arguments. Your paper reveals how SNS position themselves as gatekeepers of online identity performance though collecting personal data. I’m interested to know how you think SNS could change to accommodate more transparency and greater freedom for authentic identity performances?
Your discussion about platform capitalism has also got me thinking about how users’ influence and shape their identity performances for personal gain, where having a locked representation of identity actually benefits an individual by establishing an ‘authentic’ brand identity. To extend this idea, what is your opinion on influencers who have created and monetised their persona based off the foundations set by SNS?
Thanks for commenting. How SNSs could change? —great question that has made me reflect on my paper and its position, so sorry if I potentially waffle through this as I think about it 🙂
I guess, getting down to its fundamentals, is a SNS like Facebook doing something wrong in directing the use of their platform towards profitable and, for their uses, ‘authentic’ data collection? I would say no… and yes. No, because while they do seem like public services, they are businesses that wish to turn a profit, and users enter these platforms by accepting their terms and conditions of use. Yes, because the many issues that surround their mediation of identity performance become more pronounced the bigger and more widely used the platform gets.
I do wonder then, should the existing platforms be the ones to change to a more conscientious portrayal of user’s identity, or should users change how they view Social platforms and how they engage with them? I lean towards the latter, because while it recognises that current day SNSs are powerful and a big part of many of our online existences, it also recognises that this is only because of user activity. That the power to change them lies in users and the direction of their attention and participation. Say, if a new SNS appeared that offered new and better affordances that attracted users away from current SNSs, with relevancy, and therefore profitability at risk, current SNSs may change to keep up.
What those changes would be, to answer your question, I could only guess as to what some of those characteristics could be. In some ways the nature of SNSs to provide a showcase of identity performance will inherently create some issues with portrayal of identity, perhaps something that is inescapable even in the real world. So, the main hypothetical change I could see move them towards transparency would be to either remove the algorithmic approach to define and selectively deliver content on those sites, or to change the way the algorithm does this so that while its able to mediate it has a much lighter touch in doing so. But this is just me, I really am not sure if SNSs themselves are problematic with their affordances of identity portrayal, or if it is just the way we conceptualise identity on them. They are credited for a position of power in society, their influence can be seen in many examples like the Cambridge Analytica Scandal https://time.com/5205314/facebook-cambridge-analytica-breach/, but perhaps it’s not as much power as we perceive. Instead, maybe my paper might have been driving eventually to this point—That SNSs, can be seen as reflections of the real world and its various societies, and therefore an SNSs mediations towards capitalism, are to be expected. Ah well, hope if not all of it that at least some of that made sense 🙂 What do you think?
I guess the rise of influencers can be seen as a success of utilising what SNSs afford. I see what you mean with “users’ influence and shape their identity performances for personal gain” SNSs provide the showcase for identity and if a person can masterfully perform identity within those contexts, they can be rewarded with a following. An almost gaming of a social sites systems. Thinking now I can see influencers as a parallel for the tenets of some social networks. Authentically portrayed identity (not to say that in reality it is authentic instead of manufactured) as a means to further market products and lifestyle. Perhaps an overly critical take on my part, and I do think that the ability to attract an audience to potentially start a new business is one of the better aspects for users of social media. Is this what your paper was about? Either way I will be keen to hunt it down and have a read 🙂
Thanks again Karla, hope this wasn’t too rambley.
I tend to agree with your sentiments surrounding the removal or revision of the algorithmic approach that SNS take to mediate and deliver content, specifically regarding identity performances. I believe that the current implementation of social media algorithms is controversial as there has been well documented cases of biases and suppression when it comes to ‘authentic’ identity portrayals e.g., facial recognition (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/technology/facial-recognition-race-artificial-intelligence.html), employment (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/01/how-algorithms-rule-our-working-lives) and misinformation (https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/03/11/1020600/facebook-responsible-ai-misinformation/). The rise of an “algorithmic identity” is extremely challenging as individuals have no control over the impact or can separate data and self in everyday life. I’d highly recommend reading “We Are Data : Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves” by John Cheney-Lippold and Szulc’s paper on ‘Profiles, identities, data: making abundant and anchored selves in a platform society’ – both are a great read.
Regarding your comments on Facebook ‘doing something wrong’, I lean towards saying yes and I believe it is unfair to push the responsibility onto users who generally don’t have the literacy to comprehend SNS terms and policies (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/12/opinion/facebook-google-privacy-policies.html). For Facebook in particular, their mediation of identity performance impacts billions of users’ who, yes in ways has the power to drive change, although, I wonder if users did mass leave for a more ethical and transparent alternative, would existing platforms care or change to keep up? I highly doubt that change would occur even if the company did see a decline in users – for example, in 2021 Facebook’s daily active users increased 8% year-over-year which equates to a growth of roughly 1.5 million users yearly. So how many users would need to exit the platform for the move to affect Facebook’s bottom line? For profitability to be ‘at risk’, millions of users worldwide would need to unite and turn their attention to a competitor that could threaten Facebook as a market leader, which seems unlikely to me. Facebook controls the social network space and sets the affordances for identity portrayal through unified and standardised representations of self. Personally, the way I conceptualise identity is completely different to how Facebook allows me to portray myself on their site. My paper touches on similar topics but mainly discusses how online platforms limit representations of self and compromise the privacy and safety of individuals through their authentic identity philosophy. Here’s the link to my paper if you’re interested -> https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/26/whats-in-a-name/
Sorry I’ve taken a while to respond here. You’ve made some great points and provided interesting links towards the issues related to artificial intelligence algorithms, there’s certainly a lot of things to be ironed out before their use is unproblematic on any level. I find it helpful to remind myself that discussions like the ones happening in this conference are important towards us making sure we don’t end up trapped into one of the many and hard to get out of pitfalls of social technologies of the future. Somewhere Orwell is cringing right now at all the possibilities 🙂
It seems we are both in agreeance that the algorithmic mediations, and the design of them, is one of the key concepts that is wrong about SNS’s activity. Amongst this mediation and power, I still believe that all the power that an SNS has for social engineering and mediation of identity is totally reliant upon its users showing up to its platform. Facebook is a privatised system that has perhaps outgrown itself, it is out for profit, so I don’t think they will say ‘ok we’re going to change this incredibly lucrative platform towards something less lucrative but more moral in terms of how it situates users and itself within larger society’. They won’t stop putting their users into curated spheres of knowledge, designed to keep them active and therefore marketable, just for the morality. So, while I do understand that it is unfair for users to be expected to understand all the T&C’s and be across all the problematic activities of a SNS like Facebook, some part of me does feel that people should be more critical about their online activity and what it means not just for them but for our evolving societies. That said, as you point out, it is certainly a long shot that a large enough number of users decide to delete Facebook and move towards a platform that embodies more of the original ideas of the internet, if one even existed.
So, does this mean SNS’s need government regulation? If so, which government will do that? Will they then unleash a whole new regime of algorithmic mediation onto a now perfectly receptive population? Would it need to be regulated by individual international governments? All very problematic and incredibly complex.
In my paper I’ve pointed towards how identity isn’t that easily conveyed; in its conceptualisation, and translation, much is either mediated or unable to be communicated at all (as with regular offline human interaction). Will we then always end up with Social platforms that through their affordances provide the tools for identity performance, but always in a directed and guided manner that suits the platform itself? Is it possible to have a platform that is so free that none of these issues exist?
Once again thanks for spurring thoughts on a very complex topic, and I’ll be heading over to your paper for a read right now.