Facebook and the "Power of Sharing"

In the Economist's The World in 2012 edition there is an interesting piece by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, entitled "Sharing to the power of 2012" (p. 50). She opens by talking about Mark Zuckerberg's "law of sharing." This "law" is Zuckerberg's assertion that every year the amount of information shared digitally will double. She says, "Around the globe, people will share more and more of their lives online, transforming relationships on every level--personal, commercial and institutional."

In the article she talks about the positives of sharing and how organ donors have been found through sharing information on social media and how money has been raised for charity. (However, there wasn't any mention of the people who have had their homes broken into when they share the dates of their holiday.) So there are some positive aspects of social media. The Arab Spring is an excellent example.

One of Sandberg's early paragraphs was striking. She states, "Expressing our authentic identity will become even more pervasive in the coming year. Profiles will no longer be outlines, but detailed self-portraits of who we really are, including the books we read, the music we listen to, the distances we run, the places we travel, the causes we support, the videos of cats we laugh at, our likes and our links. And, yes, this shift to authenticity will take getting used to and will elicit cries about lost privacy. But people will increasingly recognise the benefits of such expression. Because the strength of social media is that it empowers individuals to amplify and broadcast their voices. The truer that voice, the louder it will sound and the farther it will reach."

Now, maybe I am just being a cynical Facebook holdout, but I find it difficult to believe that posting a list of books I am reading, how far I run and how often, and cat videos gives my "friends" (i.e., a lot of acquaintances I had once) a "detailed self-portrait" of myself. I don't believe those things say anything about my "authentic identity." Maybe I am old-fashioned, but a cup of coffee or tea across a table from a real friend is authentic sharing. Social media can become just another mask or false facade we use to present ourselves to the world. Obviously, we can do this apart from technology, but it is much easier to do hundreds and thousands of miles away into a computer screen or tablet.

This may just be more cynicism, but Sandberg's comment, "But people will increasingly recognise the benefits of such of expression", seems to be a thinly veiled reference to the fact the Facebook recognises and benefits from the more each individual shares. Targeted marketing becomes much easier the more everyone "likes" and shares.

I realise I am sharing my thoughts digitally. Maybe this is media raising the volume of my voice, which will carry if it finds an ear. Whatever the case, my interest is primarily in the comments about authentic identity. They deserve more reflection. Social media continue to challenge what identity is or at least our perceptions of what it is and what it can and should be.

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