This summer I am taking a Popular Culture studies class, and as of now we are on our final week which means it is time for finals. Every semester during midterms and finals, I always decide to temporarily deactivate my Facebook account because it becomes too distracting and time consuming. Ironically, Facebook became a topic of discussion which ended in a debate of whether Facebook is healthy or unhealthy for our social being. Many discussions came about but the one that stood out to me the most was the relationship of Facebook and identity as well as Facebook and democracy. Facebook, social networks, and for that matter internet, are double edged because they have both advantaged and disadvantages.
On the individual level, social networks can be used to portray a desired identity if not real. Fake or unrealistic identities can be utilized by sexual predators to lure in their victims. Identities that are represented through social networks are “free of social constraints” (Barker 360). This means that one could freely represent a desired identity which is a popular fad since it eludes one from their true “class, gender, or race.” These varying identities are referred to as “Multi User Dimensions (MUDs)” (Barker 362).
MUDs allow internet users to “play” with their identities. That is to say, my identity on Facebook, may not coincide directly with my true identity. Thus, my identity on Facebook is a desired identity and not truly who am as a person. So, metaphorically speaking, the face I portray on Facebook, is not my true face. However, that is not necessarily a great threat to others as per se someone who is using a false identity and has the desire to hurt another. MUDs can be especially dangerous to women since most of “internet users are men” (365) who are probably “computer engineers and programmers.” Though the idea of MUD’s is more specific to cyber gamers, the concept can be expanded to social networks on the count that similar situations occur all around the internet.
If social networks are used effectively, they can set a route for democracy. This was the case in Egypt. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc became a democratic space for people to talk about what was going on in Egypt and what needs to be done to fix. Thus, it became a cyber sphere (public sphere) for the public to voice their opinions about what President Hosni Mubarak was doing (or was not doing) for his people and how they should overthrow him. The demonstration reveals the association of “cyberspace and democracy” in which the internet is perceived as “democratic technology.”
Yes, Facebook is a powerful a tool that serves our societies for the better. Portraying a different identity on a social network can be “fun” yet dangerous. It can be used to simply change the perception that people may have of someone for the better or for the worse. By worse, I mean that employers or people of importance to one’s life may not agree with the identity posed on the social network compared to that of one’s real identity. This could be problematic in the sense that the identity could repel certain relationships that are needed (i.e employer). Facebook as a democratic sphere is beneficial because many times our voices are limited. Blogs, social websites, etc are tools that allow our voices to be heard with fewer restrictions than in the real world.
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies Third Edition London: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2008. Print.