Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sweet Comic Dossier

"The idea behind the pseudonym is that you can eliminate the dossier effect, where everything you're doing is being collected, archived, and linked to you."
                                                                                    - Austin Hill

Salman Rushdie, the novelist, recently had his Facebook account restored to him with the social network's consent that he may continue to use his original Facebook identity, "Salman Rushdie."  Facebook was insisting that he is really "Ahmed Rushdie," the name on his passport though one he has never otherwise used. After a Twitter-storm when his account was frozen, Facebook restored his original identity and reactivated his account - "Ohhh, you're that Salman Rushdie!" (Whereupon Rushdie aptly posted on his Facebook page Popeye's immortal, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.”)

He has a point - if you're already famous as, say, Yogi Berra or Pee Wee Herman, and can't use that name, then why would anyone have a Facebook page (ignoring for now the obvious question why anyone would have a Facebook page).

 "Haaah - I wish you could 'marry' me on Facebook!"

Mr. Rushdie wasn't even trying to be pseudonymous. But Facebook claims discretion over how its users will identify themselves and enforces that right by shutting down accounts discovered as (or merely suspected of being) pseudonymous. (This has spawned a Twitter thread about the "nym wars" - Twitter freely allows the use of pseudonyms.) Admittedly, since one can now purchase more and more things on Facebook - things like airline or concert tickets - a pseudonymous Facebook persona may prove inconvenient, particularly if the TSA should become involved when someone tries to "leverage" his pseudonymously purchased airfare.

Its insistence on the use of real identities is good for Facebook's business. On the other hand, granting its putative role as a mobilization and information resource in recent democratic dissent around the globe, one can anticipate that Facebook might lose some of its market if it insists on actual identity as a term of use. But apparently it's doing just that, perhaps calculating that people who are mobilizing to toss bricks aren't the same people who are going to be buying airline tickets or cubic zirconium watchbands. It's about "monetizing" the Internet - that's what "social benefit" really means.

"I 'friended' it on Facebook."

I confess I reside on Facebook as Miguel de Montaigne. That is, of course, my real name although I have no easy way of proving it, my birth certificate having been lost during a heavy storming of the family chateau by the Anabaptists in the Thirty Years War. People do, of course, use online pseudonyms to protect themselves, such as victims of abuse; others do it merely to harass people with impunity. I suppose were I to use a fake name, I might properly be included among the latter since I use Facebook only to link to these blog posts. I was constrained to open an account in the first place because it's the only way I can see any photographs of my grandson and heir of my estate.

 My grandson

I'm assured by friends who regularly use Facebook (not "friends" who use Facebook) that it's both useful and lots of fun to have one's own page - useful because it can be a business tool for professional networking and corporate outreach; fun because you can learn immediately and regularly the details of your friends' mood swings, town and highway gas mileage, effects of their medication, lab results, states of their childrens' (or pets') bowels, investment portfolios, alcohol or chocolate consumption, household credit, domestic strife, existential confusion, self-delusion - all of the things that render the use of a pseudonym entirely without point.

Social networking archives will one day be mined as a complex anthropological midden, a trove of psychic and cultural rags, bones and oyster shells. Facebook, like King George III's crapularium, will be intently peered into and swirled about by a bevy of anxious social scientists seeking reassurance of an abiding sanity. Small comfort, if "that’s all that I yam.”

My best "friend"

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