5thstate

Facebook’s Marketing Director Thinks “Online anonymity has to go”— Why I Think She’s Wrong and Quite Possibly Just Trying to Fatten FaceBook’s and Her Own Finances.

Posted in Uncategorized by 5thstate on July 28, 2011

In a panel discussion on social media hosted by Marie Claire magazine on Tuesday May 26th 2011, marketing director for Facebook Randi Zuckerberg opined that eliminating “online anonymity”  (according to the Huffington Post) would mitigate “cyber-bullying”:

“People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.”

Randi Zuckerberg’s arguments may actually be more considered that the ‘HuffPo’ reports but if the above quote represents her reasoning then I have to take issue because her reasoning appears to be based on pure supposition, and may actually be based on her own business interests rather than any dispassionate intellectual examination or real social concern.

1) RANDI ZUCKERBERG:  “People behave a lot better when they have their real names down…

That statement would appear to be contrary to evidence and to reason:
Facebook is now the largest and most trafficked social network according to Alexa, whilst formerly dominant MySpace subscribers and traffic has shrunk significantly.

According to the Pew Research Center39% of social network users have experienced” cyber-bullying (page 14 of the research slide show)

Logically and statistically then, the majority of cyber-bullying would occur on the largest and most trafficked social network which is Facebook.

Common evidence strongly suggests that the majority of cyber-bullying news stories appear to involve Facebook,

Therefore Randi Zuckerberg’s claim that “People behave a lot better when they have their real names down” is not supported by evidence, to which she, above-all. surely has the most immediate and uncompromised access.

2) RANDI ZUCKERBERG:“I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors”

Whilst it is true that private behavior in general is highly likely to be less inhibited than public behavior, online anonymity is NOT analogous to behavior “behind closed doors”; whilst the identity of the person behaving in a particular way may be private by virtue of a pseudonym, the actual behavior exhibited is more often very public. Bullies, by their nature, get more satisfaction out of their bullying when there is an audience for them to impress and witnesses to compound and amplify the humiliation of the victim.

As a social network Facebook provides a ‘playground’ of potential victims for the bully and the witnesses and even supporters the bully desires. Furthermore the LACK of anonymity on Facebook arena for it is in fact the LACK of anonymity on Facebook that makes cyberbullying so effective because it is so public and because the victim is so explicitly identified.
A bully actually typically doesn’t want to be anonymous but instead wants to be well-known, as a person of power and authority, as someone to be feared and submitted-to.

It may be noted that FOX News provides many examples of “cyber-bullies” who revel-in and actually depend-upon their explicit visibility, such as Bill O’Reilly who uses not only his television pulpit but also his website to bully his perceived political, social and moral enemies—his four years of lying scolding and violence-laced verbal and written attacks on the murdered Dr Tiller provides a classic and horrific example, for which, being the bully he is, he offers no apologies.

It is the potential and actual victim of bullying that is more likely to desire anonymity to mitigate the social embarrassment of being bullied and in fact anonymity, or rather pseudonymity that actually provides some protection against the effects of bullying because the victim thus only exists as an on-line persona and not as a real immutable person, and can always change his or her name and thus remove themselves as an easily identified target for bullying; therefore pseudonymity actually helps mitigate the effects of bullying rather than the onymity that Randi Zuckerberg is currently espousing.

Facebook is not some touchy–feely Kumbaya Aquarian-age attempt to “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”, it is a business that exploits communications technology and sociology that, by its insistence on subscriber onymity (that is,  real-name identification), can and does deliver precise marketing metrics for which it can charge product manufacturers and service providers more tangible and more efficiently targeted ‘deliverables’ than the more generic broadcast technology of earlier media forms.

The whole point of FaceBook is its business model which is entirely dependent on specific, explicit, real time, real-world identification of its users, for which other corporations and investors will and do, pay a lot of money to access and exploit for their own financial gain; thus online anonymity does not serve Facebook’s business model or that of its eager corporate customers—it is the product and service corporations that are FaceBook’s fundamental customers and not the subscribers who are in fact simply the market resource, and as such it is therefore fundamentally in Randi Zukerberg’s interest to promote online onymity instead of anonymity.

I’m confident that in this post I have provided a solid and superior counter argument based on reason and as much empirical evidence as I could muster on short notice.

Given the brevity of the reporting on Randi Zukerberg’s opinion it might be unfair to adamantly question her motives in the above manner solely on that basis, but as it is all I have to go on at the moment, at the very least regardless of motive she appears to know nothing about the nature of bullying and appears to me to be at best ignorant-of, or incapable-of comprehending, the prevalent data to which she has access above all others—in short I argue that Randi Zuckerberg is out of her depth on this subject, or she’s just thinking out loud and her ruminations are being reported as actual intellectual determinations, or else she’s being willfully ignorant of the empirical data and disingenuously serving her own interests as FaceBook’s Marketing Director and the interests of the Facebook business model upon which her undoubtedly now quite spectacular lifestyle depends.

Randi Zuckerberg’s analysis of cyber-bullying is actually directly opposed to the evidence that common experience, independent research and her own company’s data provides, and so on this basis she’s an idiot  regarding this subject or, given her professional position, she may well be  an agenda-driven self-serving liar pretending social concern.

In so-saying, do I now appear to be a cyber-bully “hiding behind anonymity”, and real Randi Zuckerberg therefore my public victim?  Hell no! She’s the one with the audience and the power of business success to command a supportive or complicit audience, whilst I am, in my online anonymity as an intermittent blogger with an online pseudonym and no great audience to influence or feed-from to bolster my public presence and potential or actual ‘authority’ just one of a crowd of millions, and I have no great interest in building-up my own online visibility and popularity by trying to tear down the visibility and popularity of others, else I would have identified myself plainly from the outset of my intermittent yet so far relatively persistent and definitively insignificant blogging ‘career’ and thus sought out a significant constituency to support my opinions—just as the bully demands and requires an audience for greater empowerment.

Randi Zuckerberg is, I argue, empirically wrong about bullying in general and about cyber-bullying in particular  and is either accidentally deluded or else is being willfully ignorant and deceitful about the pros and cons of identity and social dynamics, be they ‘cyber’ or real.

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8 Responses

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  1. Ebb said, on July 28, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    So very correct – bullies feed on ‘fame’; need an audience for ‘approval’ and thus, most, will not ‘hide behind’ anonymity.
    Cyber-bullying (FaceBook) by teens and pre-teens is not done under the cover of darkness for in order to gain the ‘admiration’ of their peers, bullying must be done under ones own name.

    Your posts are always thought-provoking; well-written and I do admire talent for putting ‘pen to paper’/fingers to keyboard!

    Thank you!

  2. LibertyLover said, on July 28, 2011 at 4:31 PM

    I would like to point out a minor point that most people have missed on this subject (besides all of the obvious needs for anonymity on the web.)

    The only thing different about most people’s online personalities is the nom de plume that they have chosen for themselves…. people have developed an extension of their real selves on the web, whether it be someone kind and thoughtful and insightful or someone who is naturally a bully. In effect, their online “voice” is also how others come to “know” that person online. An online persona usually has the same voice as the person behind the pseudonym…whether that voice tends to be rambling and wordy, or condescending or bossy, or intellectually elite or exhibits sloppy thinking or only spouts talking points. This is so if people use many words to get their point across or few words in a snarky manner or sets all of their posts in haiku form… people become known by their style of writing just as real people become known for these same characteristics in their real lives.

    Who hasn’t been on a blog where pseudonyms have be hijacked, but because the regular commenters to the blog have learned to recognize a certain online voice, the name jacker was easily identified as false?

    Cyber-bullies and trolls have an agenda and are attention seekers. They have the intent of disrupting honest discussions and that is the sole reason for their existence. Policing these people makes more sense than requiring everyone to submit to exposing their real identities online. It is sort of like making everyone take off their shoes at the airport for one person that tried to set his shoes on fire or making everyone submit to X-rays because one person tried to use his genitals as a wick for an underwear bomb.

    • 5thstate said, on July 28, 2011 at 5:27 PM

      Liberty Lover,

      You make a point about online identities (“nom de plume” ) that further undermines Randi Zuckerberg’s apparent grasp of online identities–which she claims provide shields of unaccountable anonymity.

      You write “people have developed an extension of their real selves on the web”
      In my experience that is common and I suspect overwhelmingly true. Some monikers are more subtle than others, some are the product of personal and private wit, and some are accidental (min as 5thstate is an accidental technologically imposed derivation of 5thEstate.which is a ‘play’ on 4th Estate). but I;d say that persistent commenters/bloggers usually identify themselves quite explicitly, or implicitly such as “treehugger” or “doctorstrange” or “guns_are_great” or “LiberalLies”.

      In addition, as I think you accurately suggest, however obtuse a pseudonym the comments of the pseudonyms author tend to provide in content and style an amount of corroborative or explanatory evidence that illuminates the source and/or real meaning behind the pseudonym, and thus creates a quite clear (if not wholly detailed and wholly understood) online identity–which occurs not really by accident but by design.
      It has also been my experience (over years of blogging and thousands of comments) that the most personally aggressive, reactionary and threatening commenters/bloggers tend to have the most explicit or least ambiguous ( and utterly humorless and wit-less) pseudonyms—in short they identify themselves as ‘cyber-bullies’ quite intentionally and not because the rest of the extant commenting community gradually reaches a consensus that a bully is in their midst,

      Randi Zuckerburg’s use of “online anonymity” either reflects a profound inexperience of online identity formation and use, or a willful ignorance of it–which would not only be a personal failing but a professional one; or else as a marketing director of the world’s biggest social networking site she actually knows a lot about the nature of online identities and she;s just lying her ass off to promote a business agenda that will profit from the elimination of pseudonymity.

      • LibertyLover said, on July 28, 2011 at 7:48 PM

        >Randi Zuckerburg’s use of “online anonymity” either reflects a profound inexperience of online identity formation and use, or a willful ignorance of it–which would not only be a personal failing but a professional one…<

        I think that you might have hit upon a truth there… either she is profoundly inexperienced in online chatrooms or she only sees what she wants to see… from her perspective, being associated with an online social network that is a haven for potential cyber-abuse, I can see that she probably sees it as a huge problem to police people's activities and that (to her at least) the only real solution is to insist upon real identities for everyone.

        But like everything else, by requiring people to expose their real identities, you are punishing people that for the most part behave and are respectful online (since the vast number of FB networkers are high school to college-aged people, perhaps their respectfulness online might leave a bit to be desired – after all, to be polite in the face of another cyberbully takes some restraint…even for those of us with even tempers).

        Perhaps she is just coming at the issue as a problem to be solved, perhaps not. I'd like to think that there isn't a profit motive behind her wanting pseudonymity to be eliminated, but I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in between….and maybe the person RZ is lying to the most is herself.

        As for me, I personally don't like FB and being marketed to in that way. I even hate visiting Amazon and having them "suggest" based on my recent purchases other things that I might like to purchase. I realized that it is computer generated, and not personal, but I resent the fact that an algorithm thinks that they know who I am based on what I buy…

        Nice chatting with you.

  3. 5thstate said, on July 28, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    thanks for the further comment—good work, LL.

    The stats are (from the Pew research I cited earlier) that cyber-bullying occurs between same -age people, i.e. peers, and most of it is between teens.
    Teens of course are crap when it comes to consistent and considerate social behavior because for most it is the unavoidable developmental curse of that mini-epoch in their lives. They are unconsciously trying to figure out what the rules of social behavior are, they are erratically swamped with mood changing hormones and they have the blind bravado of youth with little regard for consequence.

    Facebook actually helps projects the classic internecine jockeying for popularity of “Mean Girls” or “Heathers” .beyond the halls and classrooms of High School. SouthPark did a neat episode about FaceBook that was, as is so often the case with SP, quite hilarious and poignantly true.

    If Zuckerberg “sees it as a huge problem to police people’s activities and that (to her at least) the only real solution is to insist upon real identities for everyone”. as you say, I can certainly see that as reasonable.

    The trouble is though, is that its a problem inherent in the social networking system and how its been marketed or perhaps rather by whom it has been most enthusiastically adopted—by teens, who are inherently often socially inept/confused and can be cruel.
    Zuckerberg has a LOT of Industry power, and her recent opinion is being echoed by Google founder Schmitt ( ?) who also has a huge industry influence. Without any further thought the two of them might be able to impose this “solution” more broadly and who is going to tell them they are mistaken and wrong?

  4. LibertyLover said, on July 29, 2011 at 1:57 AM

    …and who is going to tell them they are mistaken and wrong?

    Based on the comments running against this point of view, I would say, you and me and just about eery other commenter over at Huffington post.

  5. Zooey said, on July 31, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    I guess FB hasn’t figured out that I’ve never used my real name there. Insist away, dorkmeisters!

    On topic, it’s been my experience that bullies of every stripe have an overabundance of undeserved self-esteem, and are quite proud of their actions. Using a pseudonym vs. their real name would have little effect in terms of bullying, other than possibly widening the horizons of bullying opportunities.

    Viewed in the best light, Randi Zuckerburg is blowing smoke up our skirts/kilts, and not putting in a good effort at it.


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