Facebook's Zuckerberg: "Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity"

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.

[image by Carlo Nicora]


  1. Recommended reading for anyone planning on designing an architecture for a social network that will seem ‘intuitive’ is Sandra Petronio’s “Boundaries of privacy”. Maybe Diaspora will get it right.

  2. I think it is unlikely you’ll top this IM exchange from his Harvard days that’s posted on Business Insider’s site:

    Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
    Zuck: Just ask.
    Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
    [Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
    Zuck: People just submitted it.
    Zuck: I don’t know why.
    Zuck: They “trust me”
    Zuck: Dumb fucks.

    I’m guessing he wishes he had better privacy protection.


  3. It seems like there are two levels of opt-in/opt-out going on here.
    There’s the normally discussed one of opting in or out of particular privacy settings, the importance of defaults etc.

    The second one is the extent to which we opt in or out of Zuckerberg’s political philosophy of information. Even if his philosophy of privacy is anything other than an ideological cover for a business model based upon data aggregation and mining, then he’s imposing it on other people via the power he’s aggregated together on facebook, often through the back door.

    The changes to architecture and the terms of service, after people have joined and started using the service (which we know is difficult to leave)therefore indicate a willingess to enforce one’s philosophy of information, privacy and personal identity onto others.

    Viewed in those terms, it’s almost totalitarian. That might be going to far. Paternalistic? helping us little private children out in the world of full disclosure?

    I don’t think it is though. I doubt he’s really setting himself up as the moral abiter of integrity. I suspect its self-serving rhetoric rather than totalitarian ambition.

  4. @David – you’ve hit the nail right on the head. In Zuck’s words, we’re all “dumb fucks” for willingly succumbing to his philosophy of information. The worst part is that we should have seen it coming.

  5. Zuckerberg’s philosophy is sadly in keeping with American jurisprudence on privacy — and why I got fed up with it. The problem with privacy via expectation is that it is a recursive loop, or a race to the bottom. So for example, Zuckerberg is making statements that might be thought of as both descriptive and normative. Facebook is causing people to have fewer expectations about privacy and the management of different identities, which then further weakens privacy, and is then reflected at Facebook in a new iteration of features.

  6. @Joseph: I completely agree. And I think that’s why I might be leaving Facebook altogether today (Zuckerberg’s birthday).

  7. I know it’s fun to demonize public figures we disagree with, but it’ll take more than a redacted BusinessInsider attribution to convince me that IM exchange wasn’t made up.

  8. @Jason – agreed, but the greater concern, to me, is that even without verifiable proof, such reports of Zuckerberg’s attitude are believable, and that’s the problem all of FB is facing.

  9. Thanks for this, and for the links. I have my own rant here, but the short version is that Zuckerberg’s position really reflects a privileged majoritarian position in a *social* sense; in a society where “wealthy white male” is sort of the default, a wealthy white male like him has the privilege of assuming that no one needs to maintain much distance between their private and public lives because wealthy white males like him have the least social need to do so. But when Sennett talks “about the collapse of people’s ability to create public personae for themselves that differ radically from their private selves,” he’s describing a kind of differentiation that has particular value and salience to minority communities (of every sort), for whom that schism describes very important and basic kinds of double consciousness; when you’re a white male, etc, you have the privilege of assuming everyone else to be like you, but to the extent that you’re not, you have to be aware of the different communities you navigate between. In short, privacy means something very different depending on where you stand.

    By the way, one thing I think it’s useful to remember about Zuckerberg is that he’s a 25 year old billionaire. Such people are not normal.

  10. We are a social media marketing company, and are among a growing group of professionals screaming for allowing people two personal profiles: one for friends and family, and one to use as the “face of a business” which would then be linked to a business page.
    With so many security issues, and FB constantly changing things, having pictures of your kids on your profile that you also use to keep in touch with clients, and potential clients, just doesnt jive.
    The problem lies in the fact that you use your personal profile to invite people to your business page. So if I meet someone who I want to connect with, and be able to message with etc, they must be a friend. Them liking my business page closes out this opportunity of a personal connection beyond just the business page. BUT I dont want this potential client to see pics of my kids, or posts i make about a Harry Potter movie or something more controversial like a religious debate on my wall.

    So we would be allowed on personal profile to keep in touch with family and friends, and people we know who we are fine sharing pics of kids, vacations, and discuss controversial topics, then one personal page that would be the face of the business page which would connect to this 2nd personal profile. Seems simple enough.

    The only thing to do, is for all of you who want to be allowed 2 profiles, is to go to FB help page, and you will see “make a suggestion” buried in there. Well, suggest they allow 2 personal profiles. If they get this in motion, you wont ever have to worry about being shut down, your privacy, and what you post where.

    Go do it now, and spread the word!!!! Facebook DOES listen, but you need to speak.

  11. Social and privacy is an oxymoron. What’s the point of sharing information if you don’t want it to be seen by anybody else? Same rules apply just like in a physical environment: if you don’t want people to know where you live don’t tell them.

  12. if you fixed your URL’s, so that they were shorter, I’m sure you would do better in the SERPs!

  13. @David – you’ve hit the nail right on the head. In Zuck’s words, we’re all “dumb fucks” for willingly succumbing to his philosophy of information. The worst part is that we should have seen it coming.

    Excellent point, excellent blog


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