Last night I changed my Facebook identity from that of a gay cowboy who lives in Wyoming to a plus size model who lives in Japan. The new me is a fan of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton because if you were a plus size model in Japan, you’d probably be suicidal.
This frequent morphing of my identity is an act of rebellion I started a few weeks back when Facebook changed its format to reflect the data it had collected on me in a strip across the top of my Facebook page. (earlier blog post: Who Am I On The Internet?) Tuesday night while on Facebook, I joined a small knot of renegades who are angry in the same way I am about how the Facebook overlords are making billions from little pieces of us that they do not own and that we didn’t initially realize we’d given them permission to manipulate.
One of the members of this modest revolt, the author Walter Kirn, said it best on a post on his website yesterday.
“. . . it occurred to a few of us at once in that spooky quantum new way that there was something cowering and servile, something just plain slavish and depressing, about chatting and mingling with our ‘friends’ inside an environment and in a manner that had both been specifically engineered to yield up salable, packageable marketing data for the super-rich masters of the site. It felt to us, suddenly, belatedly, like we were in the position of young children whose supposedly spontaneous play is also, thanks to tiny dynamos attached to their little legs and arms, a profitable energy-generating scheme. The more we shared our ‘likes’ and made new friends and linked and updated and built communities and did all that other cool connective stuff that purportedly adds up to a Great Leap Forward, the faster we made those data windmills spin and the more juice we fed back into the grid for the grid’s owners to broker and redistribute.”
Our late night comment thread produced only one collective action: that we would post the acronym O.I.N.K. at the end of our status updates on Facebook and encourage others to do the same. It’s such an early stage in this that we haven’t even figured out what the initials of O.I.N.K represent. Since then, I’ve done so, but irregularly and only one of my Facebook friends took up this cause.
My personal pint-size rebellion continues, however. I’m not going to be myself at all on Facebook, so it has no way to market to me.
It started a year ago when I realized that they were advertising to me based on my martial status as divorced. I’m over the age of 50, so the ads on the side of my page were for senior dating sites. (Even if AARP thinks I’m a senior, I don’t consider myself one.) And I occasionally look for solutions to my weight issue on the web, which for some reason Facebook also knows. (I guess they’re in cahoots with Google.) Then I started getting ads proclaiming fat senior singles wanted to date me. Looking every day at a page that said fat old guys were after me really brought me down. All of this abruptly ended when I changed my martial status to widowed. I guess no one knows how to market to widows, or thinks that they’re too depressed to spend money. Or that fat old guys aren’t interested in fat old widows.
That was the first identity manipulation. How Facebook gets you to sell yourself out, however, is via your own greed and ambition. We’re all supposed to want to build or brand, right? I’m well connected enough as a writer that Facebook often offers up nationally known authors, journalists and media figures for me to “friend” saying that we have fifteen or more “friends” in common. These are people like Susan Orlean, Kathryn Harrison, Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Greenwald and Michael Wolfe.
Now that I am a plus size model in Japan, will these people accept my friendship? Once they take a look at my Facebook picture.
Will they want to know me?