I was on a search for articles related to my target learner audience, having to do with social media, online identity and weight loss support, when I happened onto van Dijck’s (2013) article about our online identity and “self expression, communication and self-promotion”. The main points of the article relate to how changes in the architecture of social media platforms, in this case Facebook and LinkedIn, have been designed to ensure a uniformity in the presentation and expression of our online selves and also to ensure a uniform and continuous collection of data related to that expression. The idea is that the platforms changed from being space to connect with other people, to spaces where you could be connected with products, ideas and things based on the narrative of the “story” that you present on your timeline. This generates the question, to whom are are we telling this story? Are we expected to curate our timeline in such a way to create a personal brand based on the audience that we cater to?
As time has gone on, users of these platforms have adjusted how they present themselves, in conscious and unconscious ways, giving information to marketers through complex algorithms that distill our “likes”, “shares” and friends, and in essence our emotions, into data sets to drive “personalized” ads to our online spaces. In some cases, whether subtle or obvious, users have begun to form a personal brand, which goes beyond creating an online identity separate from their offline identity, but is an intentional curated version of themselves.
The idea that the interfaces of these platforms have been designed in a way to ensure that we present the appropriate information (according to the corporate owners of the platforms) is fascinating to me, and goes beyond the definitions of identity I was searching for initially. Really, to what extent are we even in control of our online identities, or as the article suggest, our “personal branding,” when the interface of the social platform is designed in such a way to elicit certain information out of us? Far from being an altruistic effort on the part of the platform, it has become a means to an end for accumulating data to create more effective marketing campaigns, all within the platform from which the data is created. As I mentioned in our last discussion post, I am not sure that we are really ultimately in control of whether or not we participate in social networking, since we can be connected through those that are choosing to participate. But the next level of that question is, if we do actively choose to participate, are we really even creating our own identity, or are we being directed by an unseen entity to share what “they” want us to share? How can we participate without being part of an algorithm that we ultimately know very little about how it is working behind the scenes?
Clearly, this article has raised many questions for me as it relates to our online presence. The idea that I may not fully be in control of my online identity is unsettling and somehow fascinating at the same time. I will be using this article in our proposal about teaching about online identity as this has been eye-opening for me in some ways and I hope to make time to explore the topic further. After reading the article, I sought out videos related to the topic and found this lecture by the author.
Edited 1/24/16: When I checked my Facebook this morning, I was shown a "memory" from five years ago that I could re-share on my timeline. It was a happy post and I thought about sharing publicly, since everything I share is made public. My next thought was wondering what information that Facebook was gathering related to my sharing of this picture from five years ago, so mundane to me, but adding to the data associated with my profile. It is interesting to realize what some of my cohort have said in discussion posts, that if something is free, then you (or your information) is the product that someone is selling. The idea of this data being the commodity is something that I will research more.
van Dijck, J. (2013). “You have one identity”: performing the self on Facebook and LinkedIn. Media, Culture & Society, 35(2), 199–215. doi:10.1177/0163443712468605
Datafication, datasim and dataveillance
Jose van Dijck