Facebook knows only a highly edited version of me. Facebook knows only a highly edited version of you too. It doesn’t even begin to know the real us in all of our intricate nuance. It knows what we want it to know and nothing else.
No matter how “transparent” someone says they are, they are still curating a version of their life. What we choose to post on Facebook represents a shadow of who we really are, the “self” we want to be projected to the people we’re connected to on that network. And that self can and does look different on different social networks. It’s a game that begins the moment we start filling out our Facebook profile and deciding which songs and books to show as our favorites.
Sherry Turkle talks about this in great detail in her book, Alone Together. “Whenever one has time to write, edit, and delete,” Turkle writes, “there is room for performance. The ‘real me’ turns out to be elusive.” She tells the story of a high school freshman whose parents made her wait until her 14th birthday to join Facebook.
Mona tells me that as soon as she got on the site, “I immediately felt power.” I ask her what she means. She say, “The first thing I thought was, ‘I am going to be the real me.’ But when Mona sat down to write her profile, things were not straightforward. Mona wrote and rewrote her profile. She put it away for two days and tweaked it again. Which pictures to add? Which facts to include? How much of her personal life to reveal? Should she give an sign that things at home were trobled? Or was this a place to look good?
To varying degrees, we are all Mona. We are all presenting a sculpted, photoshopped version of our real self and it is perhaps a clue to why Facebook is struggling to be the “perfect marketing” vehicle it hopes to be and why it is trying so hard to learn more about us as we surf around the web.
What Is Perfect Marketing?
I mention “perfect marketing” because this post was inspired by listening to the Trialogues podcast on my way to Huntington Beach this morning. The most recent episode, “What Is Perfect Marketing,” was a discussion around the notion that perfect marketing wouldn’t feel like marketing at all. Perfect marketing would present the right message to the right person at the right time, and go even further by anticipating a need or desire based on where we were at what time of day, fueled by past behaviors.
I agreed with many of the points made in the discussion, but I especially agreed with this point – we are not very well defined by our online behaviors. A very small a percentage of our self is represented by what we do or don’t do online. This is true not just of Facebook, but anywhere on the Internet. So much of the behavior marketers are trying to target goes unmonitored. So much is impossible to monitor today.
Facebook Doesn’t Know Me, But It’s Trying
But that’s not to say marketers are not trying, especially Facebook. “Facebook really is watching your every move,” Samantha Felix writes in This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity. “Just by logging in, I could see that Facebook had 228 trackers watching my web activity.” Facebook needs this information.
Perhaps Facebook is self-aware. Perhaps they understand the behavior they influence. “Social media ask us to represent ourselves in simplified ways,” Turkle writes. “And then, faced with an audience, we feel pressure to conform to these simplifications.” In one way, this works to Facebook’s benefit. This simplification allows them to “control” our behavior to an extent. Their edge rank formula rewards the simplifications and reinforces them. And we bite, consistently.
In another way, the simplification presents a hurdle. It forces Facebook to attempt to track our every move as we navigate through the various places we visit and the smaller spaces where we present other views of our “real” self. Their data alone is simply not enough to enable the perfect marketing space that advertisers long for. And while the business side of me understands the value of mashing all of this data up, the personal side of me laments the intrusion of things I once held as private.
I have opted out of Foursqure for example, partly because I just don’t see the point for me personally. But the decision was also made in large part because I don’t really want to continue to deliver that level of information about where I am and when I’m there. I’ve cut back on giving information about where I am on every social platform in which I participate. Everywhere except Instagram. Why? Because place is often an important context for a photo. Especially a photo that is only a piece of a place. In this way, Instagram was able to capture another piece of who I am in a way that Foursquare and Facebook were unable to achieve. It is part of what helps make sense of Facebook’s purchase of Instagram.
I don’t want Facebook to really know me. So my use of place on Instagram may subside. Facebook’s purchase will certainly have an impact on my behavior. Because ultimately, I’m pretty sure I do not want to live in a world that allows the opportunity for the “perfect marketing” to exist.
. . . . .featured image via Flickr Creative Commons: amateurartguy  relevant to this post: Time To Fight Anti-Tracking Forces . . . . .