I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened. –Obi Wan Star Wars
For those that are talking, the buzz is certainly about Facebook’s commenting system and the death of anonymity on the net.
TechCrunch recently implemented this commenting system, requiring a facebook login and showing your photo and name with it. They say the trolling died immediately, and a new strange “lovefest” has taken its place. While the system isn’t perfect some are hailing it as saving the internet, taming it to becoming more professional.
And then the buzz words start flying. A common principle of marketing is Branding, the awareness of a consistent identity. Some proponents claim that Facebook Comments would help reinforce your own Brand. That people shouldn’t have a “work persona” and then a different one when hanging out with friends.
But that is exactly how we are. We act and speak and wear different clothes depending on the social groups we are with at the time. I don’t talk to my boss about “getting wasted cause I was too afraid to sing Karaoke by myself” and I don’t talk to my friends in my customer service voice (aka the voice and language you use when talking to say, my grandmother) when I explain something they don’t understand.
For instance, in Japanese society the language itself is based on situational awareness. The word isn’t just “Mother”. If I’m talking about my mother it is “Haha”, if I’m talking about your mother it is “Okasan”. There are different honorifics added to names depending on their social standing with you, and how well you know each other. For example Armstrong-San is a more general term while Armstrong-Chan would be said by friends who find me endearing.
The nuances of the language go even deeper than just names. I remember in college spending a few weeks on the simple verbs of giving and receiving in Japanese Class. Due to the complexities of interpersonal relationships, the verbs change depending on where you fit in the hierarchy. Not to mention there is an entire subset, almost its own dialect, when speaking to people who you must show honor to. And of course Japanese have slang, as I found it was sometimes hard to comprehend when I was in Japan.
But this is not about being two faced or inconsistent, it’s just how society works. We modify ourselves out of necessity.
Should we be forced to choose one single identity to show the world, we essentially cut off ourselves from changing, from discovering the new, from even expressing ourselves. Without dissent we become a homogeneous society. (And we’ve all seen those types of movies, it never ends well.)
And this “one identity” crazy is a relatively new thing. I remember as a teen being told NOT to use my real identity on the internet for protection and privacy. My mom didn’t want some creepy perv to be able to track me down and kidnap me. I thought it was silly and a bit of promoting hysteria but I crafted my “Jade” identity to pacify her and to allow myself a degree of freedom.
And I had a hell of a lot of fun as Jade. Starting in Yahoo! Clubs I bounced around various fandom realms before my obsession of Harry Potter took hold. I then created numerous clubs with brand names such as “Hogwarts” (that was until a Yahoo mishap robbed me of my top level club names but that is another story.) I put together great websites and brought together a community of thousands and not just teens, but also including adults. I was spotlighted by Yahoo for being the best club and site in the Harry Potter fan category.
And with this popularity came the trolls and the hackers. I cannot pin point when it started but other Harry Potter RPG groups started getting hacked and deleted. And then it was obvious I was next. As a middle schooler my website was everything for me, and my faceless comrades communicated via posting and email, only heard in the rare voice chat, were my best friends. This little corner of the internet was, our life, and we would fight for it!
Now the hackers were originally the trolls of the community, who elevated themselves to the so called “Dark Arts” hacking group. Every day I would rush home, flip on the computer’s power, and wait as the dial up connected. We only knew our enemy by their screen names but two stuck out GTownGuy and Robbie the Jackal. And they tried their damnedest to end us. I fondly remember getting an email from “YahooStaffmember85” or some other such nonsense pretending they needed my password to investigate the hackings. (And I took quite delight in saying my password was various forms of “HarryRonHermoine” and they saying they noticed I changed my password and asked for it again. Round and round it went.) Then the cloak and dagger started. The enemy created fake accounts pretending to be allies to get into our “closed door meetings.” While we created other identities as well to get into their “top secret planning meetings.” I remember pretending to be my own bored “twin sister” who wanted to help the Dark Arts so that way “my bossy sister would get off the internet and I could actually use it.”
All in all, during this time of my life I had more than 30 identities, each tailored for different situations. This died out a bit when Yahoo stopped offering free email forwarding, mainly because I just forgot most of the log ins and passwords.
While this part of my life could have been easily preventing by not feeding the trolls, I must say, that was probably the best time of my grade school life. As high school started and life became more complicated, none of us, not even the enemy, had time for our games and it stopped suddenly.
But growing up did have its advantages, although I was still known as Jade, my Harry Potter friends started revealing more about themselves and I revealing more about me. When college started I remember one of these anonymous friends told me about this great new site, Facebook, had just been released to my school. I joined, a little bit of fear mixed with regret of having to use my own name. And then found facebook in the early days was a desolate place. There were only 8 other people signed up for my college, none of whom I knew. I thought the site was pointless, who wanted to use their own name? Those that know me are either “In Real Life” and thus accessible, while those on the net worth talking to only know me as Jade. But my reasons for hiding were gone. I knew these people, even if I didn’t know their real names, I still knew I could trust them and that I didn’t need to hide, they had already accepted me. So we started seeking each other out. Most of the others of the group were on the east coast and their schools had already been hit by the facebook craze, so it wasn’t hard to request to be “Friends.”
This foray into public identity was, thankfully, limited to only others of my age, of those who were in college. So facebook became another haven like the old Harry Potter forms did of like minded individuals, this time with faces and real names thrown into the mix. But still, this was only with people I knew, I wasn’t ready to give up Jade, as now Jade was a part of me.
But then came the turning point. I was interested in photography and had started sharing my work under the name Jade through Deviant Art. And this community started giving feedback and encouraged me to do more. While Banksy may do well being anonymous, for me I realized I would need to work under my own name. I started doing concert photography for local bands. It was strange being called “Lili” my name is so unique it is a beacon strait to me, no hiding. And then slowly in more professional circles it became “Lili Armstrong”.
This transformation took a long time. I had to prefect my internet social skills and my writing. I had to grow up and discover myself. I had to go through phases and fads. But I was able to do this all as Jade. I fear for the future generation that is so focused on being identity centric.
I recently read an article about expectant parents picking names that were currently “available” and purchasing these as domains, setting up email addresses, and reserving twitter usernames for their future offspring. While the article was in jest, you can’t help but think there are parents actually doing this (just like there are those sad pet lovers who have their dog twittering.) What is a generation going to be look like when everything about themselves is freely shared? With technology able to save and preserve nearly anything that means any mistakes could be readily pulled years later.
And with facebook eroding privacy on a nearly constant basis, we’ve already been flooded with inadvertent advertising of what friends like, where they are, what they are doing. And now we are going to add every thought, every comment they post? Do we want a single “for profit” company to compile this much about us?
Now I’ve been a forum moderator, I’ve dealt with trolls and spam posts and can appreciate how hard it is to sift through all that crap to have a dialogue with real actual people, but I’m not convinced this is the way to do it.
Some proponents talk about creating a solid Brand for yourself and how facebook comments are going to be a way to do this. While it’s nice to throw around this buzzword and in professional circles Brand is a good thing to establish they are ignoring other key features of marketing such as market segmentation. All the big Brands do it, they target a certain segment and change their message just a little bit. Many times the other segments won’t know of the different messages sent to different segments. So this allows the Brand to adapt to the segment they are trying to reach. If you on a daily basis had to be hit with every different adaptation, message, and marketing of say Coke and what they do around the world, you’d go mad! People don’t want to see all of it. They have a basic idea of what the brand is, and then use the situational clues to learn more.
I am Lili, I am Jade, I am Geek, and I am going to be a hundred other identities before I die. I am not a single identity or a Brand, I am rich, diverse, sometimes contradictory, and ever-changing. I will not limit myself, my ideas, my speech to remain “consistent” nor do I feel everything I say must carry the weight of my name. I reserve the right to anonymity, and those that do not grant me that right will not silence me, instead another fractured identity will be born.
More Reading on the subject:
Facebook Comments have Silenced the Trolls… -TechCrunch
…the right to be anonymous – Engadget
Death of online anonymity – PCWorld