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Demonstrating Advocacy Through Standardized Profile Images

The choice to log in to Facebook is made daily all over the world. Facebook allows users to convey a version of themselves online for public viewing. Users are able to represent who they are including their likes and dislikes, but also their group associations to their friend community. Earlier this year, Facebook unveiled a tool that allowed users to take their profile image, overlay it with a Facebook rainbow graphic, and post it as a show of solidarity for the same sex marriage ruling in the United States. To users, this seemed like an outward display of solidarity on the part of Facebook for this human rights advancement, and while this may be the case, this is an example of actor-network theory, where Facebook as a platform is acting as a mediator to “… [shape] the performance of social acts instead of merely facilitating them” (Van Dijck 29). Facebook is having users display their support for same sex marriage by changing the appearance of their profile image in a standardized way, and in doing so, Facebook is changing the ways users can demonstrate advocacy online, while maintaining social connectedness.

When Facebook allows users to demonstrate their support for same sex marriage by changing their profile image, the platform is creating a way to measure online activism and the function of online mobilization for a cause. In the same way that LinkedIn is coding the ways employers and job seekers connect (Ibid), I would speculate that Facebook, under the guise of supporting human rights advancement, is coding to measure associations that are more challenging to determine online, including the support of same sex marriage. Facebook’s measurement may also extend to examine which demographics, identifiable by gender, race and geographical region are most clearly showing their support, as well as analytics about the image itself, as indicated by the length of time the display image remains posted.

To the public, Facebook appears to be a platform that is showing support for a large human rights advancement, but it is important to remember that the status updates pertaining to Facebook, including changing profile images “…makes use of designated affordances and constraints, as well as emerging cultural convention, in order to coax life narratives from its users” (Morrison 119). Facebook is attempting to have users display their activism through a standardized profile image template in order to collect personal data about the user’s preferences and affiliations.

 

Works Cited

Morrison, Aimée. “Facebook and Coaxed Affordances.” Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online. Eds. Poletti, Anna and Julie Rak. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

Van Dijck, José, “Chapter 2: Disassembling Platforms, Reassembling Sociality.” The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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The Fragility of Authenticity in Online Life Writing

The concept of authenticity in online life writing is complex and ever changing. Authenticity provides an effective way of creating a forum to revel and support in “… the intimacy of a shared confession and self-revelation, the intimacy of a unique voice…” (Smith and Watson 75). “Virtually Me” does not seem to address the consequence of authenticity, which is that it can be limiting and isolating. The example of Natasha Chenier, a woman that submitted an essay sharing her candid story of having sexual relations with her father to “Jezebel” entitled “On Falling in and Out of Love with my Dad,” illustrates the barriers that genuineness can impose. Chenier attempted to use her story as a way of engaging with like-minded people. As the article “The First-Person Industrial Complex” mentions, rather than concluding her essay with a sentiment of empowerment to women and appealing to a pool of what the post classified indirectly as “victimized women,” (Bennett 1) Chenier opted for a more specific ending that inadvertently appealed to less people, by instead taking ownership of her actions, rather than chastising herself for them. By ending her essay that way, Chenier sequestered herself because she wrote her essay to only reach a finite group of individuals that had similar experiences. That, coupled with the shock value of her essay, which appealed to the masses because of its sensationalism, meant that she had inadvertently written herself into a virtual corner.

Consequently, when Chenier wanted to write an unrelated article about the representation of women in “Mad Max,” “Jezebel” was not interested because the authenticity that made her story and herself as a writer noteworthy rebounded and made her inaccessible, since the individuals that identified with her story, respected her for the niche she represented. By being so deeply associated with that, she rendered herself inescapable from it.

If Chenier were to write about “Mad Max,” there would not be a strong sense of authenticity because she would be straying from her niche to a topic the public would construe her as being ill equipped to discuss, and thus the credibility she possessed for the essay she previously wrote about dealing with her father would also be compromised. Authenticity is a fragile tool to use in the context of life writing because with honesty and realness comes the threat of being inaccessible and unappealing to the more broad, global readership.

 

Works Cited

Bennett, Laura. “The First-Person Industrial Complex.” Slate Magazine. 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Sept 2015.<http://www.slate.com/articles/life/technology/2015/09/the_first_person_industrial_complex_how_the_harrowing_personal_essay_took.2.html&gt;

Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. “Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Representation.”

Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online. Eds. Poletti, Anna and Julie Rak. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.