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Researching Personal Data
Tag Archives: commodification
I had a friend who became a marketing channel. Or rather, I had a friend whose personal online profile has now been turned into a social media marketing page for a new business venture. According to Facebook’s ‘See Friendship’ feature, I have been ‘friends’ with this person / entity since November 2008. I can’t be sure who he/she/it used to be before undergoing this incorporeal incorporation. Surgical editing of their profile timeline has removed most of its congenital human appendages, leaving an almost convincing post-op commercial presence.
Why did this happen? Twitter-savvy careers advisors and professional networking experts have long been encouraging recession-era graduates to leverage their personal networks for professional gain. In a time where social media interns get paid (or more often, don’t get paid) to generate ever more Likes and Followers, ‘cashing in’ one’s pre-existing social network may seem like a logical shortcut to building an ‘audience’ for your brand.
If I were feeling mean, I could report this friend of mine for violation of Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy, which insists that maintaining a profile for anything other than an individual person is a violation of their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. One might think one reason for such a rule is to prevent precisely this kind of practice. The possibility that your friends might at any time turn themselves into a brand, and you, by extension, into a potential customer, seems more like a bug than a feature.
But I suspect Facebook’s real names policy has more to do with their crusade against anonymity than moral repugnance regarding the commodification of friendship. In fact, they provide an official ‘Migration Tool‘ by which you can turn your personal profile into a bona-fide business page, converting your friends into Likes. (Quite why my former friend stopped short of this final stage, forgoing legal recognition of their transformation, I do not know.) Much like U.S. jurisprudence has granted corporations the status of people, so Facebook’s policy appears to grant people official status as marketing channels.
As it stands, I’m unsure how to react to the changes my friend has undergone. I feel queasy about marketing pages on Facebook even when they are ‘born’ that way; being encouraged to make public displays of affection towards brands and products, even when I feel some affinity towards them, irks me. Should I ‘un-friend’ this virtual presence? I have no interest in the product it is trying to sell. But I can’t help thinking that somewhere beneath the promotional photographs, product offers and job opportunities, there is a ghost in the machine; the remains of a ‘real’ personal profile, with hilarious status updates, holiday pictures, and friendships which might, one day, be brought back to life.