My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Friendster’s fictional personas

As we all know, social software is finding unique ways of selling advertising (and this recent article discusses some of it). In the YASNS world, MySpace has let you listen to R.E.M.’s upcoming album and Friendster has created fake profiles for companies and Hollywood, including celebrity profiles that sell brands through the celebrity. [I have to wonder if there are real people getting advertising money for branding themselves on Friendster.]

My first instinct is to roll my eyes and groan at the absurdity of this. My second is to laugh hysterically. Think about it. In a culture of continuous branding, corporations and Hollywood are actively moving to blur any understanding of “real.” Everything is performed, articulated, mediated, constructed. Including and especially you. We want to brand people and use people to sell brands. We want to mesh the fictional with the personal so that you feel a deep connection with brands. Think about the psychology at play here. Sure, it’s effective… damn effective… and fucking manipulative as holy hell. It makes me shudder to think that this is the culture that we’ve created. I totally get that people really buy into their brands and today’s youth in particular are not only brand-savvy but they’ve personalized branding in the most effective way… for corporations.

It’s kinda complicated. On one hand, i don’t want to stop them from constructing their identity inside of brands because this lets them make meaning, but it’s also quite disturbing. I mean, i glorify fan fiction which is all about identity construction through literary and media branded icons, but i am bothered by the product-driven equivalent. In fan fiction, i am stoked when youth figure out how to identify with fictional characters and develop a meaningful relationship to them, yet i hate having the equivalent in Friendster. Why? I don’t honestly know. But it’s definitely something to think about.

In any case, i would like to point out that people thought that postmodern ideas had no value outside the academy. If this collapsing of the “real” is anything other than postmodernism coming to fruition, please let me know.

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