Transparent Lies



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Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, believes in radical transparency. It’s a term that he coined that basically suggests that “the idea of humanity would be better off if everybody were more transparent about who they are and what they do (MacKinnon, p. 150). This point is echoed more than once in Rebecca MacKinnon’s Consent of the Networked. While this is an admiral statement and one that I actually agree with, the chances of it happening are slim to none in regards to digital media as a whole. There are several people on my friends list who have alias names (or possibly nick names mixed with their real names) such as “The Main Event” or “Lisa QueenB Fields”. Would Zuckerberg deactivate all of the accounts that have pages with alias name in the Facebook data base today? Probably not. The truth is, in the grand scheme of things, alias names are really not that important, especially when they contribute to the masses of social media. Those masses help keep sites like Facebook thriving and in existence. “A user name search on Facebook for “Donald Duck” turns up many dozens of users by that name…..The abuse teams say they cannot go after everybody and must prioritize the accounts that have unusual patterns of activity or that other users actively report as having violated the terms of service (MacKinnon.p.156)”.

The forbidden fruit is always sweeter. Bradley Manning’s story (“We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” video) is a great example of this. The glitz and glammer surrounding his case of downloading hundreds of thousands of sensitive and top secret government files is not the simple fact of collecting them. The fact that he was able to obtain all of the information unbeknownst to so many people around him is the jaw dropping factor. Manning wanted to share all of the information he found with the world, in an effort to be completely transparent. However, had he been totally transparent from the beginning, his clever plan would have never even taken lift off. I’d be interested to see what Zuckerberg’s take is on the transparency (and ironically lack thereof) from Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

Although there are some people that may not intentionally forge transparency in the digital media realm (creating alias user names, posting false pictures of themselves or others, exaggerating their accolades, etc), we all do it in some form or fashion. Think about the last time you signed up for a user license agreement. Did you read all of the fine print? If you’re anything like me, then your answer is probably no. We skim over sections that speak about illegal copying of a body of work or art (a great example is music). No one announces that they may “borrow music” from a service or app. In actuality, they are not being totally transparent. This is primarily because the cost benefit analysis of being totally transparent before you do something does not outweigh the option of masking your intentions and asking for forgiveness later (if you even get caught).

Of course, navigating through the world of digital media (and life in general) would be much easier if everyone were completely transparent. We would know their motives, understand their thoughts and never be caught off guard. But where’s the fun in that? As long as people neglect to be transparent in their personal lives, we can’t expect them to turn on an honesty switch and be transparent when using digital media. Plus, isn’t that part of the thrill of digital and social media (finding out what’s authentic or not)?