Integrity and Entitlement

Eventually I’ll post about something other than Facebook. But here’s one more.

It’s impossible to take what Mark Zuckerberg says about publicity and serving Facebook users’ needs at face value. His mea culpas have always seemed like disingenuous Nixonian exercises in posturing, damage control for various overreaches, transparent attempts to make what is good for Facebook seem like humble efforts to provide what the customers really want. In trying to decode what the company is really up to, my assumption has been that Facebook wants to trade trumped-up convenience in exchange for our data, which they then will sell to marketers in order to “enrich” our online experience of ourselves with appropriately targeted ads. The company has been pretty successful in selling friendship back to us as mediated online self-production, in part because we like the attention its service facilitates, and in part because it does engage us with a broader spectrum of people in a genuinely novel way.

But I hadn’t considered that Zuckerberg might be in earnest, which is actually worse. Dara Lind makes an interesting point in this post that Zuckerberg may not be merely masking his greed in his public pronouncements but is instead pushing a conservative moral idea he genuinely believes in: that surveillance is good for us as a society, basically because it keeps people in their place.

I suspect that while Zuckerberg spins publicity as a social good, he actually believes it’s a moral one. It’s a theme that’s become pretty common among execs of data-collecting, data-publicizing companies: making it so that anything anyone does can be seen by anyone they know is a way of keeping them honest.

Lind offers the example of his already notorious claim that having more than one online identity shows “a lack of integrity.”

This is a morality that few people actually seem to share, including the so-called digital natives — as this Pew study that both Lind and Danah Boyd point to shows. Lots of people want to keep various aspects of their lives separate, if not altogether private. That’s not a lack of integrity; that’s generally basic conscientiousness.

But the Zuckerberg ideology is highly favorable to business, combining maximum accountability with maximum mediation, yielding a data trail that can reveal bad-apple workers and be strip-mined for useful marketing data and potential branding innovations and whatnot. The new connections between goods and the meanings for things people create can be expropriated while the individuals themselves can be monitored in terms of their overall economic performance.

Lind argues that Zuckerberg’s ideas about integrity are, among other things, those of “someone who’s familiar with the world of white-collar ‘networking’ in which bosses are expected to have semi-social bonds with their employees rather than the world of enforced hierarchy in which bosses are on the lookout for off-the-job indiscretions to punish or exploit.” Which is another way of saying he is boss talking to other bosses, comfortable with the entitlements that have moved them beyond the mundane concerns of identity, which has become the gladiatorial field of combat for the rest of us consumers/supplicants.