Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has a history of speaking his mind on privacy, and what he speaks is often fraught with problems, ignorance, and arrogance. For example:

  • He’s spoken wistfully about the desire to get people over the “hurdle” of wanting to preserve some semblance of privacy online.
  • He’s proclaimed that social norms on privacy have changed, and that Facebook is merely reacting to these shifting norms.
  • His remarks also often reveal his failure to recognize the complexity of the issues of privacy — and trust — between users and Facebook.

But, today, I found a new statement that brings Zuckerberg’s hubris to a new level.

SocialBeat has a very thoughtful piece urging Zuckerberg to be forthright and explain what he truly and genuinely believes about privacy. While searching for evidence of Zuckerberg’s broader philosophy of information, a passage from David Kirkpatrick’s forthcoming book, The Facebook Effect, is quoted:

“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Let’s repeat that last part:

“Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Wow. And I thought Elliot Schrage’s statement that “Everything is opt-in on Facebook” was going to be the craziest thing I read this week.

According to Zuckerberg, the person responsible for the world’s most popular website for sharing information about oneself, wanting to manage your flows of information in such a way that might present a different version of your “complete” self to your friends, family, co-workers, and more distant friends shows a lack of integrity.


Zuckerberg must have skipped that class where Jung and Goffman were discussed. Individuals are constantly managing and restricting flows of information based on the context they are in, switching between identities and persona. I present myself differently when I’m lecturing in the classroom compared to when I’m have a beer with friends. I might present a slightly different identity when I’m at a church meeting compared to when I’m at a football game. This is how we navigate the multiple and increasingly complex spheres of our lives. It is not that you pretend to be someone that you are not; rather, you turn the volume up on some aspects of your identity, and tone down others, all based on the particular context you find yourself.

Some social networks recognize this. Moli, for example, built its entire business model on the idea that users should be able to manage their identity based on the audience. (See my comments on Moli here and here.)

Even Facebook allows this common and normal practice through the use of Limited Profiles (which used to have greater functionality and use value).

But, it seems Zuckerberg does not want people to be able to manage who gets to see what about them. He subscribes to the repeated corporate philosophy that if you don’t want something viewable by everyone, then just don’t share it. All or nothing. One identity is all you have, all you deserve. (And all that you’re contractually bound to, given line 4.2 in the new terms of service, which I commented on here.)

Mark: I can deal with the fact that we have completely different philosophies of information, privacy, and now, identity. But once you start questioning people’s integrity for simply wanting to manage their identities online, that’s crossing a line. You’re better than this.

At least I hope you are.

UPDATE: Please be sure to read Henry Farrell‘s thoughtful comments (and the subsequent discussion) on this matter over at Crooked Timber, including his mention of Richard Sennett’s The Fall of Public Man, which is “all about the collapse of people’s ability to create public personae for themselves that differ radically from their private selves.”

UPDATE 2: And please read danah boyd’s post: Facebook and “radical transparency” (a rant).

UPDATE 3: Kieran Healy has a nice reflection here, which includes this engaging passage:

There are many different definitions of identity, not all of which make sense. I prefer the view that an identity is a set of assertions about yourself that you may lay claim to. So in a sense everyone only has one identity and has only ever had one ‘identity’. But in practice we expose different sets of claims depending on the circumstances. Nobody puts their membership in Alcoholics Anonymous on their CV.

A quick note (Sept 19, 2014):

Wow. In the last 24 hours, this 4-year-old post has suddenly had over 60,000 page views and over 10,000 shares on Facebook. Unfortunately, this new attention to Zuckerberg’s 2010 statement on identity & integrity is a result of continued frustration over Facebook’s policy prohibiting the creation of profiles with anything other than one’s legal name, punctuated by a recent crackdown by Facebook on people using stage names, adopted nicknames, or drag names as their primary profile names. I’m glad we’re drawing attention to this extremely problematic and unfair policy, but I am saddened that we still must endure these kinds of technological injustices in 2014.

For those interested in further scrutinizing the rhetoric of Mark Zuckerberg, you’ll be interested in my project The Zuckerberg Files, a digital archive of all public utterances of Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

[image by Carlo Nicora]

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