The Facebook Experiment

My Facebook profile is pretty standard. I have a nice and clear profile picture that depicts me in some very nice clothes, my cover photo is very artistic, my “Likes” are mainstream and show what I am actually like (with some dashes of sophisticated taste here and there,) and I have very detailed and updated personal information which include where do I go to school, my major, and where do I work. Overall I present what Liu would call a “Prestige statement” with drops of “Authenticity statements” sprinkled around.  So for this post I have decided that I would change my Facebook profile. And boy did I change it. I decided to go all out with a totally new look and details that would portray a “Theatrical statement.” I changed my profile picture, my cover photo, I added new “Likes” such as Tampax, Romney, and The Christian Youth Association, and changed my personal information to being a 34 year old women who is “in an open relationship” status. What I thought would change right away was the advertisements on the side, but to my surprise nothing too drastic appeared, maybe it takes more than a few days for Facebook to apply their algorithm and change my ads.

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What I also did was I posted status updates and Instegram pictures that I would not normally post. These included pictures of objects I would never take picture of in my life, and the captions and status updates that I posted were very unlike what I usually post, and involved elements of performance, or “restored behaviors” that were mentioned in Papacharissi‘s article Without You, I’m Nothing:  Performances of the Self on Twitter . The elements I used included “Play“— In my case I used lighthearted humor and Hashtags, and “Reordering” and “Exaggeration“— which in my case included playing around with the grammar and selecting a certain kind of punctuation to express overstatement.

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I was very intrigued to see how my friends would react to this sudden and drastic change. Especially due to the fact that I have two distinct groups of friends on Facebook, which include my American friends on the one hand, and my Israeli friends from back home on the other. Oh yes I almost forgot, I also have my mom and sister as Facebook friends, a joyous detail which I forgot, a perfect example of what Marwick & boyd refer to as my “nightmare audience,” and a classic example of “context collapse“. All of my friends reacted pretty much the same, and comments varied from person to person and from platform to platform. I got some pretty interesting and funny comments on Facebook, text messages from concerned friends, a call from my sister and an email from my mom. All of these had one thing in common— they all thought someone broke into my Facebook account and/or stole my phone/laptop. Back home In Israel me and my friends have a thing that we do, a little prank we pull on our friends whenever they leave the room and leave their laptops on open to their Facebook accounts, or if they leave their phone on the table. We call it a “Facebook terrorism attack,” an Israeli equivalent to the American “Frape” (Facebook rape.) We mostly mess around with status updates or put phallic pictures as profile pictures, the usual. The reaction is priceless, especially when the victim does not discover the changes until a few days later.

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Except for “Likes” that I got from my sister who is like Tom from Myspace, sharing her “Likes” with me on every occasion, I did get a lot of “Likes” to most of the changes I made which did make me feel like people care about me in a certain way and were very supportive of my Facebook sex change and future time travel.  But honestly, I felt a certain discomfort when changing my Facebook profile. The person I presented wasn’t myself, or even close to my true self. It felt very inorganic. The scariest thing was that all of my changes were now on the Facbebook servers, and will probably stay there until the end of time or the end of Facebook, whichever comes first (I think time.) This process of what Weber & Mitchell refer to as some sort of trail or “digital fingerprint” made me even more self-conscious about the process, as these changes are now a permanent part of my online identity. When finally changing my details back after this weekend social-experiment participant-observation, I actually sighed, smiled, and had a very good night sleep.

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