Honestly, when faced with the task of making changes to my Facebook, prompted by an assignment, it made me extremely uneasy. I’ve always been very conscious about what I put up or choose not to put up, as danah boyd and Alice Marwick mention in their article, “Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics.” Also, after reading about performance of identity in the readings this week and how they’ve related back to Goffman, I’ve been hyper-aware of my “peformance” on SNSs. I was actually rereading Goffman for another MCC class while I was reading most of the readings this week, and finding parallels between Goffman’s dramaturgy and these works has been eye opening. When one goes in any public setting, where there is an audience, “their social identity is partially defined by themselves and partially defined by others.” (19, boyd) Goffman’s theory was very clear about this fact.
Therefore, by changing my profile, I would be altering how I’m socially constructed as a person, because even though I have notions of what my identity is, reflected onto Facebook through what I have shared/not shared—there is the audience. They would be the ones to take the changes in and create who they think I am through these modifications to my profile.
Maybe I was a bit timid with this assignment, just because of the minor anxiety I faced when thinking of things to change. In the end, I changed both my cover photo and profile picture to black boxes, making private all previous profile pictures, but also, I exposed my “tagged” photos for the first time in around five years. I also changed my privacy settings to not allow people to post on my wall. In the end, I had all of these changes to my Facebook profile effective for a bit over a day, but had many varied responses to my actions.
In closing off my wall to people, and opening up my tagged pictures, I exhibited a major change in my personal construct of privacy. People could no longer publically message me, unless it was through a comment on an old picture. I was really relying on boyd and Marwick’s statement that social norms serve as a regulatory force. I was hoping that people wouldn’t go through my old pictures from early high school and comment how funny my outfit was, but of course—I had made these pictures public, and drew further attention to them with the disabling of my wall and blackout of my profile and cover pictures.
Well, I had a variety of responses to my actions. I got a few messages from close friends asking if I had changed my privacy settings to not let them post on my wall, and some people were confused as to why I would have done such a thing. Also, the fact that I rejected the use of a profile picture and cover picture angered some people, who thought I was trying to make a statement through that conscious rejection. I think this could be looked at as what Zizi Papacharissi would define as “play.” It’s a “restructuring of other behavior to impart a light-hearted or playful context.” (8) By changing what profile and cover pictures meant to me, I was playing with the concept, and challenging the structure of the site, which could have just made people uneasy.
Another observation I made was that people who wouldn’t normally post on my wall or send me a message on Facebook started liking and commenting on my tagged pictures, which had previously been out of view. I really didn’t know what to make of this. I’m not sure how they would have casually stumbled upon these pictures unless actively looking, so I was actually a bit taken aback by that as well. This feeling goes hand in hand with the boyd & Marwick article—I just thought that social norms would regulate the situation, the social norm being that people wouldn’t usually go through old pictures. I could be classified with many of the teens in the study—I didn’t realize that just because these things were made public, they would actually be viewed. I believed that since these are past photos that were previously, collectively not visible, people would treat them as if they weren’t there.
In a way, yes, I did set myself up for this. But at first I didn’t view the changes to my profile as interconnected. I didn’t think they would have such a great effect on each other. But analyzing the messages and photo comments I got, every action taken on the site is part of a collective performance of my individual identity; therefore everything is intertwined, including the public responses I get. What I’ve done was in a way provide a new mold for the way people contact me on the site through these changes. I refocused my profile not around my timeline or profile page itself, but my (previously “private”) tagged pictures.
Changing my profile back to its original state last night was in some ways quite relieving. While I don’t get that many wall posts a day, the fact that it was back up as with my previous profile and cover pictures was comforting. This was the representation of myself that I’d picked on some conscious level. I choose my profile pictures from my tagged pictures usually, but I don’t see those 1000+ pictures as an accurate, current representation of myself, so I believe that’s where much of the unease came from. It was an interesting experiment to conduct, it concerned me though—how much I was actually bothered by these changes to my Facebook profile. Am I really that invested in my own performance?