I read an excellent post by Danah Boyd on privacy and Facebook, and in it there’s a quote from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.
You have one identity… The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” – Zuckerberg, 2009
Hm. This played really well with the Jenka Gurfinkel article I just read about Iron Man being the first superhero for the Facebook generation.
The need for a secret identity is gone. The entire world knows — and not because some tabloid uncovered the mystery man behind the mask, but because he just straight up told everyone. In the comic books, it took Stark 40 years to make this move. For Superman or Spiderman or Batman or virtually any other superhero from the prior century (save some like the X-Men) their secret identities were their most sacred possessions, the keys to their undoings, and they fought as hard to protect them as to save humanity itself. But in the 21st century, Tony Stark’s approach to privacy reflects how Millennials now think of the concept.
And I bring this up here because last week our library created new Facebook Guidelines for Staff, to go with the library’s new presence on the Book. These policies say that we’re welcome to become a fan of the library page, but we must remember that even if we’re on our own time, people might be able to find out we work for the library, so we aren’t allowed to say anything about patrons or coworkers or our employers, nor talk about anything that isn’t “in the public domain.” (Our library is a public one, run by the city paid for by tax dollars so I believe that anyone has a right to know if they’re paying for incompetents and fuckups along with awesome people. But that’s my journalist talking.)
I was a little unhappy with how these policies erode staff private expression, but after my fiasco with the administration in December/January I’m glad there is a policy to argue with. In my disciplinary hearing I asked for them to point to a rule I had broken. They couldn’t. Now they could point to this. That’s a step up from being disappeared for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Hooray.
The other great thing about there being a policy is I can point to it and show my fellow staffmembers what the administration is trying to do, which is erode the distinction between our work time and our personal time. (I have maintained that if my library wants me to never say anything critical about it, they should not be paying me by the hour.) This erosion is kind of interesting, especially when dealing with people who haven’t tweaked their Facebook privacy settings. On Thursday, just to show my coworkers why I wouldn’t become a fan of the library, we went to the library page without signing into Facebook. On that page you can see some people who are fans of the library. Some of them, if you click on them, nothing comes up because they don’t want to be visible to any Joe Schmoe off the internet. But some people show up. As do their friends lists, and their taste in music, and other things they like (one library person we found is a fan of Jello Shots). My more Luddite coworker was appalled that people would put this information on the internet at all, but I pushed them both to considering another case.
Imagine I’m a fan of something entitled “Our mayor is a fucking douchebag.” If I don’t have my Facebook privacy settings locked down and I am a fan of our library’s page, anyone could read what I thought about my boss. And the administration could deem that disrespectful and I could be disciplined. I want to remain a fan of “Our mayor is a fucking douchebag,” so I decide not to become a fan of our library on Facebook. Problem solved. But wait! In our new Facebook guidelines it states “Please remember that you may be identified as a library staff member even if you are participating on your personal time.” If I don’t have my privacy settings locked down and a Facebook friend of mine is a fan of the library page, then I and my opinions of my douchebag mayor are two clicks away from being identified, and possibly disciplined for being disrespectful. This isn’t just an embarassing situation; it’s a situation that could lose some asshole his job (probably not the asshole who’s mayor, though).
That whole “may be identified as a staff member” gets me paranoid. When I got disciplined for my blog being disrespectful, my blog did not have my full name on it, though I mentioned branches where things happened. I never made any claims that I was speaking officially for the library, though on individual posts I mentioned where I worked. It didn’t take a lot to identify me, and it didn’t need to. My personal life isn’t a secret identity, it’s just the one I use when I’m not at work. It is just different. My administration told me that makes me a liar. They are right on board with Mark Zuckerberg’s radical devaluation of privacy so that they can maintain a nice clean professional image. They want things to be nice and clean and safe always. Which is completely appropriate for their official stuff. I don’t want anything to do with the official site. But these policies encroach on my ability to appear disrespectful on my own time, and I think that’s wrong. Tony Stark can get away with his bad behaviour being public because he’s obscenely rich and talented and has a fucking suit of power armour. These are advantages I do not have. Not being fictional and all.
Obviously, one solution to all of this would be for me to stop being such a jerk. If I didn’t have anything to hide, then keeping my personal and professional lives separate wouldn’t matter. But I am what I am, and I’ll write what I write. I can even change things, admit when I’ve made a mistake and everything. True fact! The Opinions page up at the top there talks a bit about the steps that I’ve taken on this blog. They still don’t put me in line with our official policies, but they’re what appear reasonable to me. That’s about as close as we get to integrity around here.