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More on Facebook and Privacy May 17, 2010

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Technology.
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Nina’s post about privacy on Facebook thoroughly covered the issue.

But Facebook’s habit of thumbing their nose at privacy concerns provoked a couple of interesting posts on Crooked Timber as well.

Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and owner of Facebook, is quoted in a forthcoming book making some dismissive remarks about privacy concerns:

“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “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.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

As Henry at Crooked Timber points out:

Facebook appears to be deliberately and systematically making it harder and harder for people to vary their self-presentations according to audience. I think that this broad tendency (if it continues and spreads) impoverishes public life.

Kirkpatrick explains what is wrong with this:

Individuals are constantly managing and restricting flows of information based on the context they are in, switching between identities and persona. I present myself differently when I’m lecturing in the classroom compared to when I’m have a beer with friends. I might present a slightly different identity when I’m at a church meeting compared to when I’m at a football game. This is how we navigate the multiple and increasingly complex spheres of our lives.

And Kieren Healy argues that having integrity is not about having a consistent self-presentation:

Having an identity and having a secret are in fact quite closely related, and not just for superheroes. Here’s a piece from the Times from the pre-FB era that makes the point:

“In a very deep sense, you don’t have a self unless you have a secret, and we all have moments throughout our lives when we feel we’re losing ourselves in our social group, or work or marriage, and it feels good to grab for a secret, or some subterfuge, to reassert our identity as somebody apart,” said Dr. Daniel M. Wegner, a professor of psychology at Harvard. … Psychologists have long considered the ability to keep secrets as central to healthy development. Children as young as 6 or 7 learn to stay quiet about their mother’s birthday present. In adolescence and adulthood, a fluency with small social lies is associated with good mental health. … The urge to act out an entirely different persona is widely shared across cultures as well, social scientists say, and may be motivated by curiosity, mischief or earnest soul-searching. Certainly, it is a familiar tug in the breast of almost anyone who has stepped out of his or her daily life for a time, whether for vacation, for business or to live in another country. “It used to be you’d go away for the summer and be someone else, go away to camp and be someone else, or maybe to Europe and be someone else” in a spirit of healthy experimentation, said Dr. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now, she said, people regularly assume several aliases on the Internet, without ever leaving their armchair …”

This idea that it is dishonest or insincere to withhold information about oneself is fundamentally mistaken. Social life isn’t enhanced by brutal honesty and integrity is not about having a single self-presentation.

Integrity is a matter of consistently acting on the basis of one’s system of values and sustaining the value of the variety of things we care about. Not only is that consistent with having different self-presentations in different contexts—integrity requires a variety of self-presentations.

If I value my students and their education some facets of my private life will be irrelevant or inimical to their development. And if I value my family relationships, my self-presentation as a teacher must at times be suppressed.

But Zuckerberg does provide us with an example of the lack of integrity. As one commentator on Crooked Timber puts it:

Hey, you know what really is a lack of integrity is trying to conceal very obvious monetary motives behind a veneer of moralizing. How much more honest would it be if Zuckerberg just came out and said, yeah, we don’t give a damn about your privacy, this is how we’re going to make money. Then we could all know where we stand. The worst aspect of all of this is the pretense that anyone on Facebook’s corporate end cares about this and their projection of their own moral deficiencies onto people with legitimate privacy concerns. Not that I’m, like, surprised or anything.

It is easy for a straight, privileged man like Zuckerbeg to extol the virtues of a single identity while hiding behind his body guards and wealth. Women and anyone from marginalized social groups cannot afford to be so sanguine about privacy. But of course straight, privileged men tend to think they are the only people who matter.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

  

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Comments»

1. Asur - May 18, 2010

Dwight, the idea that it is dishonest or insincere to withhold information about oneself is not fundamentally mistaken, as you claim, because fundamental to the very notions of dishonesty and insincerity is just such a withholding of information — it can’t be true both ways unless dishonesty and insincerity themselves are empty concepts, which just seems ridiculous.

2. Nina Rosenstand - May 18, 2010

A recognized, well-established part of narrative ethics is the fact that we are capable of telling different stories about ourselves, all authentic, tailored to our audiences. That doesn’t mean we’re lying, or dishonestly holding things back—it means that there is a need-to-know specificity in our different relationships. That used to be a given—we don’t, and shouldn’t, tell the same story of ourselves in a job interview, on a date, or to our children. We are multifacetted beings, and only a nefarious agenda of enforced transparency for reasons of profit and/or control would attempt to change that, or claim that it has become outdated.

Asur - May 19, 2010

Whether or not we tell the same story of ourselves in a job interview, on a date, or to our children, each of these entities — the employer, the lover, the child — necessarily interacts with us as a whole person.

There’s no way around this; selective representation may change the label on the box, but when you put it in the laundry it’s either detergent or it’s not. You might feel differently, but I’m going to feel misled or outright manipulated when my box of borax turns out to be confectioners sugar.

So will the employer, so will the lover, and, ultimately, so will the child. In the end, all of us may forgive, but the fact that we had to is what makes it wrong.


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