Pretty much anybody I meet I try to friend on Facebook. I’m friends with my dad, I’m friends with some kids I used to teach, my colleagues, my uni friends, school friends, some people I’ve only ever met once, and I’m sure I’m friends with some people I don’t actually like.
Let me quickly say this is not a post about how you should use Facebook. There are legitimate conversations to be had about how we should interact with each other online. But you miss the point if you debate things like how many friends you ‘should’ have on Facebook (what portion of your social graph you should friend). The internet is almost defined by the fact that we are able to use the tools that emerge in – often unexpected – ways that most suit us.
My point about who I friend on Facebook is that whilst I can still manage my image (I’ve never changed that profile photo of me in Africa because I think it makes me look rugged and adventurous but caring) I do have to be less hypocritical.
This is maybe only notable because I have been known to be sensitive to context. This is another way of saying – no, not that I’m hypocritical, that is too strong – that I’ve acted with one group of people or in one situation in a way that I might be embarrassed for other people, in another situation, to have observed. I, like Tony Blair, sometimes drop my aitches when I talk to taxi drivers. I’ve pretended to know what I’m talking about when discussing football. I haven’t quite done this, but I’ve exaggerated stories. But on Facebook the updates I post, the photos I share, are available to everyone. I am less and less able, and less and less inclined, to pretend to be a different kind of person to different groups of friends.
What’s my point? Barriers between contexts are breaking down as a result of social media. This has implications for everybody but particularly for anybody in the public eye, like politicians.
My generation (just, but definitely the one following) have grown up with our youth documented on Facebook. It’s a little bit as if, in preparation for standing for parliament or congress or President, we have already begun publishing a pretty-much-tell-all Dreams from My Father.
And my reading of how my generation are using Facebook is not that we are desperately conscious of this and so desperately inhibited as a result.
If, because of the new ways we are using the internet, we are living a bit more in Bentham’s Panopticon prison, then for the moment this is ok. It is a good thing. Critically, we are in a better situation than at other times when technologies have been used to enforce self-discipline and self policing, because this technology is democratic and decentralized. We are as much able to hold to account as we are held to account.
I think we’re entering a period when we all (politicians, but also companies and organizations) are going to have to get used to greater transparency, necessarily greater authenticity and I’d like to hope, as Bernie Hogan in a great lecture for the Oxford Internet Institute on iTunesU says, as a result greater liberty and tolerance.