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This paper offers a theoretical reading of the phenomenon and experience of the social networking
site, Facebook, through an exploration of how loyally a Facebook profile can represent the essence of
an individual, and whether such Platonic notions of essence and loyalty of copy are disturbed by the
nature of a social networking site profile, in ways described by Deleuze’s notions of the reversal of
Platonism. In bringing a post-structuralist critique to a hugely successful and popular information
system, the paper attempts to open up the black box of the ‘user’ and explore how notions of the Self
might be reflected through engagement with IS.

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  1. 1. MY FACEBOOK PROFILE : COPY, RESEMBLANCE, OR SIMULACRUM? <ul><li>Dr David Kreps ISOS - University of Salford </li></ul><ul><li>Presented at ECIS, Galway , June 2008 </li></ul>
  3. 3. Intellectual History <ul><li>“Artists, writers, and scientists do not hesitate in their creative efforts and researches to borrow ideas outside their own special fields” - Wiener, P. ‘Dictionary of the History of Ideas’. </li></ul>
  4. 4. ‘Black boxing’ the user <ul><li>Deconstruction of the ‘computer user’ </li></ul><ul><li>Social/sociological context of users </li></ul><ul><li>Post-structuralist understandings of the Self </li></ul><ul><li>Intellectual history of the simulacrum. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Simulacrum <ul><li>Plato </li></ul><ul><li>Nietzsche </li></ul><ul><li>Deleuze. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Plato’s Cave <ul><li>Simulacrum: an image; a representation; an insubstantial, superficial, or vague likeness or semblance </li></ul><ul><li>Plato, ‘Sophist’ and ‘Republic’ </li></ul><ul><li>The Cave - Theory of Forms - Ideas. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Illustration © Scott Mayhew.
  8. 8. Inversion of Platonism <ul><li>Nietzsche : The Twilight of the Idols </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Accused the decadent Christian philosophers of the previous two millennia of ignoring the reliable input of their senses and resorting to mere constructs of language and reason - a distorted copy of reality. </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Gilles Deleuze <ul><li>Inverting Platonism means overturning “both the world of essence and the world of appearance” </li></ul><ul><li>Plato’s Theory of Forms satisfies a more primary motivation to sort out – to faire la difference – between true & false images. </li></ul>
  10. 10. The Agora <ul><li>Deleuze locates Plato in the agora </li></ul><ul><li>Empire vs Athenian democracy </li></ul><ul><li>Transcendence re-introduced </li></ul><ul><li>A claimant is well-founded only insofar as he/it resembles or imitates the foundational Idea. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Redefining Simulacrum <ul><li>Different not in degree but in nature </li></ul><ul><li>An image without resemblance </li></ul><ul><li>Internal difference / identity that exists in and of itself </li></ul><ul><li>Warhol’s Campbell Soup cans: which is the originary model? </li></ul>
  12. 12. The Mask <ul><li>- Hierarchy of Idea, copy, false copy, broken: only Masks are left </li></ul><ul><li>- The Platonic illusion is that a face exists behind the mask </li></ul><ul><li>- Simulacrum no longer a ‘false’ copy in relation to a supposedly ‘true’ original </li></ul><ul><li>The Mask is all. </li></ul>Ron Mueck (Australian, b. 1958). Mask II, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  13. 13. Difference <ul><li>The old, imperial element of transcendence – the inclusion of which was Plato’s error – is thus jettisoned </li></ul><ul><li>The purely immanent theory of Ideas is free to begin with the simulacrum itself </li></ul><ul><li>Difference becomes the great Idea. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Social Networking Sites <ul><li>Range of different technological features fairly consistent </li></ul><ul><li>Ecademy/LinkedIn: professionals </li></ul><ul><li>MySpace centred around music </li></ul><ul><li>Bebo/Habbo/ClubPenguin: children </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook: many disperate social groups together in one space. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Friendship <ul><li>Tendency to collect ‘friends’ in a competitive manner </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;It's not a real social network, it mimics the playground insecurities of primary school kids piling up best friends to find their social niche.&quot; (Pahl, Independent 2007) </li></ul>
  16. 16. dana boyd <ul><li>Friendster (before MySpace) </li></ul><ul><li>Profile “a static representation of self....a digital body... public displays of identity where people can explore impression management” </li></ul><ul><li>Refers to Goffman but omits ‘giving off’ </li></ul>
  17. 17. Mask and Identity <ul><li>Wiszniewski & Coyne </li></ul><ul><li>Critique of Platonist romance of identity in recent IT literature </li></ul><ul><li>Self/soul identified with immutable world of Ideas above and beyond the more tiresome world of the physical e.g. Gibson </li></ul>
  18. 18. Mask and Identity... <ul><li>Romantic - celebrates the mask </li></ul><ul><li>Different roles, dressing up, or living out a fantasy </li></ul><ul><li>Empiricist - reality bytes </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ our experience is also fraught with exposure to superficialities” </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Mask and Identity... <ul><li>Romantic & Empiricist </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Face behind the mask remains the true object </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Phenomenology </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mask and what lie behind it are both subject to the same context </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Mask and Identity... <ul><li>Critical Theory </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mask is constituted by all the ruses of the capitalist system to conceal the hegemony of oppression </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mask conceals the fact that there is a mask. </li></ul></ul>
  21. 21. Mask and Identity... <ul><li>Radical Deleuzean </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The ‘essential’ behind the mask is shown to also be a mask </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Series of masks, each referring back to another influence, to a further context, beyond which there is no final fixed referent, no authentic face. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Identity/Question <ul><li>Identity too slippery and constantly unfolding to pin down or define </li></ul><ul><li>Identity always a question never an answer. </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>February 2004 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Harvard college students </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Stanford, Columbia & Yale during 04 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>May 2005 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>More than 800 college & high-school networks </li></ul></ul><ul><li>October 05 - International </li></ul>
  24. 24. Facebook... <ul><li>May 2006 - 6million users </li></ul><ul><ul><li>‘grew up’ adding adult networks based around the workplace </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>at first college staff, then businesses, corporations, institutions, and cities </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Dec 2006 : 12 million users. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Facebook: Summer 07 <ul><li>April ‘07 - 20 million users </li></ul><ul><li>May ‘07 - Launch of API for 3rd party apps </li></ul><ul><li>November ‘07 - 50 million users </li></ul><ul><li>May ‘08 - 70 million active (users who have returned to the site in the last 30 days) </li></ul>
  26. 26. Facebook experience <ul><li>New ‘virtual’ groupings by the minute </li></ul><ul><li>Commonality of studenthood in the US </li></ul><ul><li>International community </li></ul><ul><ul><li>find everyone you know who might ever join an SNS. </li></ul></ul>
  27. 27. Facebook profile <ul><li>Plato: Facebook profile a poor, virtual, second copy of the first copy of one’s essential, Ideal Self </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Trustworthy copy that truly resembles its creator? Or </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>False copy, a simulacrum that reveals nothing of the true individual </li></ul></ul>
  28. 28. Facebook culture... <ul><li>Present oneself, full real name, to those whom one already knows in real life </li></ul><ul><li>Add ‘friends’ through recommendation via pre-existing networks or through chosen channels </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Befriending applications </li></ul></ul>
  29. 29. Burden <ul><li>Profile </li></ul><ul><ul><li>must achieve several things at once </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>to several different potential audiences, both known and unknown </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Representative burden extremely complex. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Deleuzian reading <ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Profile as simulacral mask </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Hides no essential, Ideal self more authentic than the mask </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>But one of its creator’s many masks </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Representative burden lifts, becomes more playful, and perhaps even more revealing </li></ul>
  31. 31. Digital body <ul><li>Profile as Digital Body with life of its own </li></ul><ul><li>Profile as public identity/question </li></ul><ul><li>Continually co-created with the medium </li></ul><ul><li>Explore new modes of being. </li></ul>
  32. 32. Phenomenology <ul><li>Phenomenological constraints </li></ul><ul><li>Features and applications narrow what mask can display, prescribe the range of what one can be </li></ul><ul><li>Figure of constraints our identities are placed under within sociopolitical context of the networked society. </li></ul>
  33. 33. Romance? <ul><li>Romantic notions of the virtual profile gaining us freedom in the cyberspatial world from the perils and tribulations of the mundane? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>As illusory as the shadows of the allegorical Cave. </li></ul></ul>
  34. 34. Soup of masks <ul><li>Profile brings together masks of professionalism, family, social group, school friends, college acquaintances and net-friends </li></ul><ul><li>A ‘soup’ of masks that interrelate and occasionally clash – ‘giving off’ more than we would sometimes wish </li></ul>
  35. 35. SNS Identity <ul><li>‘Soup’ exposes our careful ploys – the identities we try to present in different contexts and at different times </li></ul><ul><li>Foregrounds the chain of reference, the endless cycle of masks with no fixed final referent </li></ul><ul><li>Brings us face-to-face with multiplicity of our own natures – who are we? </li></ul>
  36. 36. A Facebook profile is: <ul><li>Neither copy, nor resemblance of any essential self ‘I’ might identify as ‘me’ </li></ul><ul><li>A simulacrum, a mask in its own right combining many others </li></ul><ul><li>Defined by its internal difference from the multiplicitous person it is supposed to represent </li></ul>
  37. 37. Implications <ul><li>“Communities are affected by the individual identities of their population but likewise those communities also provide information to allow the formation of personal identities.” (Anderson 2007) </li></ul>
  38. 38. Identity formation <ul><li>Small rural or village communities, or formative phases of life </li></ul><ul><li>Identity as Platonically essentialist or straddling Deleuzean multiplicities </li></ul><ul><li>Individuals affect the formation of each others’ personal identities . </li></ul>
  39. 39. Identity formation... <ul><li>In our Information Age “a direct pathway to individuals has been established which bypasses geographic community networks and traditional forms of identity formation.” </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook in particular transcends temporal as well as physical networks </li></ul>
  40. 40. SNS identity formation <ul><li>Mediated influence upon identity formation </li></ul><ul><li>Foregrounds and emphasises the Deleuzean multiplicity of our Selves </li></ul><ul><li>Contributes to users understanding that each of us wears any number of masks according to context. </li></ul>
  41. 41. Research questions <ul><li>Implications for nature of our identities </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Straying from some essential Ideal form or merely coming out in all their multiplicitous glory? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Qualitative research on the nature of virtual identity, and the impact of social networking upon the Self </li></ul>
  42. 42. IS research <ul><li>SNS - possibility not so much of representing ourselves on the WWW, but of exploring multiplicities of who we are </li></ul><ul><li>Explosion of popularity owes more to this looseness than to the degree of authenticity SNS profilebuilder tools offer us in ‘representing’ our ‘selves’. </li></ul>
  43. 43. Conclusion <ul><li>Plato Theory of Forms: transcendence back in Athens Democratic revolution </li></ul><ul><li>Deleuze’s simulacrum values difference and uniqueness, albeit notions of the individual self become thereby more fluid, more contingent, more contextual – less ‘centred’. </li></ul>
  44. 44. Contact <ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Information Systems, Organisations and Society Research Centre University of Salford M5 4WT UK </li></ul>