Facebook is on a mission to tie people to one (Facebook) identity across the Internet. The latest addition to the off-network spread of their social graph is the new Facebook commenting system, which was adopted by Techcrunch and many others last week.
By forming a reciprocal feedback loop with websites, Facebook can collect more data and drive more targeted ads (comments as sponsored stories). While websites can tap into Facebook’s 600 million user base and potentially boost traffic and page views.
So the reasons why Facebook is championing one “real” identity and the off-network spread of their social graph are obvious, but there is still something very worryingly with statements like this one from Zuckerberg:
“You have one identity. 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 … Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
Obviously, this is a very privileged position to take. Just think of dissidents and protestors around the world, speaking up against injustice and oppressive regimes without revealing their real names, they don’t lack integrity do they? And while it for us, as part of the privileged class, is less to fear in terms of exposure of our “real identity”, a one-dimensional and uniform identity is just not something we would want.Online, just as in “real life”, we want to play out different identities in different social groups and contexts, and connect emotional on different levels with different people.
In my opinion, the question “who am I?” is not answered by looking within, but rather by taking into account the social context of relationships, routines and actions. We no longer have one stable identity. Identity is fluid because it changes according to the social context of the individual.
A stable and uniform online identity, and log-on, will threaten this fluidity and can impose conscious and unconscious limits on how we express ourselves. Which in turn can make the Internet a less creative and interesting place to be.
The good news might be that this opens up a lot of space for new social networks and services, with a better grasp of modern identity and the fluidity of it as we navigate between different social groups and contexts both online and offline. Maybe we won’t have to live inside Zuckerberg’s walled garten for eternity after all.