Where the power lies …: Facebook vs. Multiple Identities

Danah Boyd has an interesting post which distinguishes social networking sites, which people use to meet with strangers, and social network sites, meant to manage your existing social network.

Turns out that Facebook considers itself an example of the latter and that it actively boots out people with multiple account.

Interesting case study of a conflict between platform and its user base, which might have different ideas.

Excerpt from Danah Boyd:

So how does this apply to this situation? Facebook is undoubtedly first and foremost about pre-existing networks. As a company, Facebook has every right to stop whatever behaviors it does or does not like. Banning applications that promote collecting is fair game. That said, there are costs to placing restrictions on desired practice, particularly if it results in stopping a large number (or influential group) of people from using the system in ways that they think are best. In other words, if their “intention behind the site” and what others “expected as legitimate Facebook usage” are in great conflict, there’s a problem. What is particularly interesting is that they then move on to say that “accounts that are used solely for the purpose of applications are in violation of their TOS” as if this automatically implies non-authentic usage. This is quite fascinating because I’m sure that plenty of legitimate users created accounts for this. I know people who created accounts for Causes or to play Scrabulous (RIP). Upon clarification, they take a different tactic to say that users “cannot have more than one account.” It’s not clear if the person deleted indeed had multiple accounts or not, but there are plenty of people with only one account who for all intents and purposes engage in the practice of collecting.

Of course, I’ve always found the TOS restriction against multiple accounts quite dubious. Back in the day, when I was obsessed with structural holes, I did a lot of research on people who held multiple accounts. I was fascinated when I started meeting gay men in Europe who had different SIM cards so that they could decide whether to answer their phone as “gay” or “straight.” I know soooo many people who break this TOS for very legitimate reasons involving the potential cost of context collisions. Teachers who have a teacher-friendly profile and a personal one, local politicians and micro-celebrities who have a public profile (not page) and one for their close friends, professionals who have a profile for their college buddies and one for their more presentable side, etc. Still, it is a TOS item.

Yet, the idea that gameplay amongst collecting only occurs through a game is preposterous. I know many folks who collect… micro-celebrities who feel awkward saying no to fans, teenage boys who are hoping to get as many cute girls to notice them as possible, college students running for student government who want to get the attention of as many peers as possible, etc. Hell, as I talk about in Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8, there are all sorts of reasons why people engage in collecting, not the least of which has to do with status.

OK, so they don’t like collecting and multiple accounts and Apps that encourage them. That’s their right and they can boot folks. But I find it interesting that there’s no room for dialogue or recourse: “Unfortunately, I will not be able to reactivate your account… this decision is final.” That’s where things get very very nasty. People put time and effort into creating a profile in a walled garden and then with the click of a few keys, the company can disappear you in a matter of moments with no opportunity for recourse for failing to abide by its terms and, more significantly, the “intention behind the site.” That’s where Friendster got itself into MASSIVE trouble in their games of whack-a-mole during the “Fakester genocide.” Configuring users, pointing to the TOS to justify deletion, and going after anyone who sees the site differently is a recipe for uh-oh.

Of course, lots of folks have been disappeared from Facebook already. You can piss off a lot of people who lack connections and power, but when you piss off the wrong people, you’ve got a PR nightmare on your hands. And, like it or not, with a blog read by millions, Michael Arrington and his connections are the wrong folks to piss off. “

2 Comments Where the power lies …: Facebook vs. Multiple Identities

  1. Pingback: 21st Century Spirituality · Hyperstream of 2008-09-17

  2. AvatarCharles Grossman

    I can see that Facebook’s help section says that multiple identities aren’t permitted. But where does it say that in Facebook’s Terms of Use?

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