What Juliet Didn’t Ask

On: October 2, 2011
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About Kendall Grady
I grew up in suburban Chicago appreciating the colloquial differences between "soda" and "pop" in Midwestern American English. At DePauw University, I studied English Writing and German with a Honors Thesis titled "Same Old Cyborg Lying Down: Apertures of Love." I left coffee stains on manuscripts at BOMB magazine, Soft Skull Press, and The Poetry Project in Brooklyn/NYC; swam in glacial creeks near MASS MoCA; served as the Assistant Director of David Castillo Gallery, and, most recently, as a nebulous employee of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, FL, where I developed interests in New Media aesthetics, poetics, and materiality; picked avocados; ran a marathon; and watched Trina do hair at the flea market.


Deepening the Motivations and Consequences of Facebook Aliases

I was a freshman in college when Facebook was fresh off the server. The social network’s inaugural class has since grown up, and so has its Facebook identity. An established social networking presence is now taken for granted, and you’re free to be more playful and less encyclopedic in filling out your interests and activities. You”check in” at a real-time location using the Places application rather than take a quiz to determine whether your personality is more New York or L.A. You can claim an alias without compromising your sociability, although Facebook’s terms of use maintain otherwise: “Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way.”

Of course, no amount of help or hindrance for Facebook’s architecture will completely satiate the identity politics of its users. In February 2011, Facebook introduced long overdue relationship settings including civil union, domestic partnership and civil partnership. However, requests to facilitate a Facebook relationship with yourself remain unaddressed, despite offline precedents such as Jennifer Hoes marrying Jennifer Hoes, Kevin Nadal marrying Kevin Nadal and Roland Nigland marrying Roland Nigland. Might the concerns that provoke continuously immanent amendments to the Facebook relationship status also characterize aliases? Although much discussion has surrounded anonymity on Facebook in positive terms of social networking integrity and negative terms of privacy protection, deeper motivations and consequences of the persistent penchant for under-the-radar aliases have been scantily addressed.

What motivates the use of aliases on Facebook?

It would be simple to cloister the alias user as a Harvard applicant endeavoring to police evidence of her binge drinking until the acceptance letter arrives. The association between alias and guilt, particularly in reference to social networkers anticipating college, is a mongering conclusion. More demanding would be to situate the alias user as a Radical Faerie choosing to honor the name bestowed upon them during a spiritual gathering. An ethnographic study would be in order to determine motives for Facebook aliases beyond facade or phatic communication. An off-and-online friend of mine, N., uses a Facebook alias derived from the the Kantian philosophy of noumenon, a thing-in-itself, for reasons of personal significance. Although our friendship spans several years, I do not know the legal name on his birth certificate. N. gave his alias as his son’s last name– with the birth certificate to prove it. Although possessing no personal connection to the name herself, a mutual friend recently gave her daughter the same last name as well. This is the beginning of a clan unrelated by blood and separated by geography, but very likely united online as soon as their baby fingers develop the dexterity to type.

Vilem Flusser writes, “For people programmed by images, time flows through the world the way the eye wanders across the image: it diachronizes, it orders things into positions,” (38). Like a lawyer grooming his legacy with a name that connotes comparable career status, N. named his son in the spirit of digital culture, where neither time nor image are absolute. N. named his son like a father in an age when Roland Barthe’s writerly, or electronic, text has triumphed over readerly, or printed text. N. came of fatherly age when fighting, like Baudrillard, the bipolarity of language signs took a social networking turn. I appreciate the example of N.’s naming politics because his nod to Kant’s noumenon itself embodies the sentiments shared by postmodern philosophies, algorithmic culture and Facebook aliases.

Does Facebook’s policy against aliases reinforce negative stereotypes of online social networks?

Facebook presents itself as taking pains to resist devolving into a farsebook. It’s controls aim to avoid the fates of social network sites with rampant use of aliases: the advertising and self-promotion of Myspace or the fantastical elements of gaming networks such as Rapture, which published an interview that begins:

Hi. I’m Suppashed Siwanthakorn also known as “BenzkuB.” I’m in the COD Series Line-Up in UNited Rangers Gaming (uRas). I started this since COD4 was released. I met “Kenny” in the zombie server so he asked me to be a member of {[pYz]} clan and I accepted his offer (BenzkuB).

However, such self-conscious caution may perpetuate the stereotype that people who use aliases on the internet are somehow “deviant.” My own father, late to the Facebook party as he is, would have simply tossed out the invite with the Alaskan Airlines credit card solicitation and excessive amounts of Little Caesar’s coupons if he was under the impression that Facebook, now nearly synonymous with online social networks, was for “freaks.” My father would not have a Facebook account if he expected to connect with lady vampires, zoophiles, or caste slaves from a fantasy universe instead of his good old boys from the United States Air Force Academy. Facebook reassures my father— rightly or wrongly, accurately or inaccurately, for better or worse— that the world is full of  tried-and-true, red, white and RGB #3B5998 blue.

Does Facebook’s policy against aliases diminish the value of user content?

You cannot be “Silence Dogood” because your status comments are not as witty as Benjamin Franklin’s observations of colonial America. You cannot be “Pablo Neruda” because the messages to your lover are not Nobel laureate material. You cannot be “Lewis Carroll” because your photo captions are not as titillating as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You cannot, in fact, be the Cheshire Cat. You can only be Alice, who answers to the same name uttered both by the anarchic-tyrant Queen of Hearts and Alice’s unnamed older sister, who we can call Victoria Jane, after the plainness of the society she represents. We can, right?

According to Derrida’s logic of supplementation, Alice in Wonderland illustrates how nonsense supplements sense as writing supplements speech (Culler 9-13). While seemingly as superfluous as a string of “likes” on Facebook, Alice’s journey through Wonderland completes the aggregate of the presumably smooth road of IRL-life. Part of Facebook’s intrigue, after all, is comparing what we (think we) know about a person and what they (think they) present about themselves: to compare a person and their supplements.

Legitimizing aliases — or should we say, with kinder connotation, pseudonyms?— may help to legitimize the creative value of user content. The likes of Derrida ushers Alice from the realm of mere entertainment. Kitsch and canon are as co-dependent as sense and nonsense, speech and writing. The recognition of Facebook’s supplementary content is immanent: Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s remediation and Henry Jenkin’s convergence culture— archangels as forceful and viscus as the systems they persuade– make it so. It would be useful, therefore, to unpack precedent cases in which low-fi aesthetics are absorbed by mainstream art exhibition, criticism and history: Cory Archangel’s Data Diaries (2002), a month of the artist’s daily RAM content interpreted as video by Quick Time to the effect of a “… controlled programming-cum-thrift store aesthetics, evidencing a love for computer innards, old televisions and cosy, degraded visuals,” (Greene 200); Shelley Jackson’s autobiographical hypertext, My Body (1997); and even Frank O’Hara’s personal, banal language of the New York School that reads not unlike a wall feed:

Does Facebook’s policy against aliases contribute to a society of control?

Anonymity is not conducive to Deleuze’s society of control, nor to its new form of imperial administration, as set forth by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Such protocol wants hybrid subjectivity, deterritorialization and the individualization of network components in the interest of creating what Hardt and Negri term a smooth world (332) and Deleuz terms a “modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point,” (4). In this way, “… imperial administration acts rather as a disseminating and differentiating mechanism” (Hardt and Negri 340) even as, in Facebook’s words, it acts as “a social utility that connects you with the people around you.”

A society of control wants what Facebook (and Google, Amazon, Netflicks and other algorithmic platforms for that matter) wants: information about you— economic, political, religious, etc.— in order to improve your user experience, yes, but also for its own morphological survival. The more Facebook knows, the better it can navigate it’s self-perpetuating network and administer far and wide: the further and wider, the better. In a 2005 interview with Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg by Managing Partner of Accel, Jim Breyer, Zuckerberg reveals that bots are indeed at work trolling for aliases on Facebook (Raynes-Goldie). Perhaps Facebook’s policy against aliases could be used as a model to understand how anonymity works to resist a society of control:

In the above video, for example, the aptly-named hacktivist group Anonymous demands compensation for violence and misconduct toward Occupy Wall Street protesters. (A thank you to my colleague, Autumn Hand, for bringing this video to my attention.) Fittingly, perhaps, Anonymous has also issued a threat to kill Facebook.

Oh, Nora, but Facebook is real! It’s as real as my friend N. It’s as real as nonsense. It’s as real as Corey Archangel at the Whitney Biennial. It’s as real as anonymity. And perhaps it’s worth complaining about, or at least being critical of, why Facebook’s porous reality does not absorb aliases without offense.


Barthes, Roland. S/Z. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1974. Print.

BenzkuB. “United Rangers Gaming (uRas) – BenzkuB.” Interview by RGN. Rapture Game Network. Rapture Game Network, 28 June 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2011.

Culler, Jonathan. “Derrida, the Supplement, and Alice.” Literary Theory. p. 9-13. The University Department of Georgia. n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2011.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on Societies of Control.” October 59 (Winter 1992): 73-77. Print.

“Facebook Terms of Use.” facebook.com. Facebook, 4. Oct. 2010. Web. 1 Oct. 2011.

Flusser, Vilem. “The Codified Word.” Writings. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. Print.

Greene, Rachel. Internet Art. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 2004. Print.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. “Capitalist Sovereignty, Or Administering the Global Society of Control.” Empire. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2000. pp. 325-350. Print.

Raynes-Goldie, Kate. “Aliases, creeping, and wall cleaning: Understanding privacy in the age of Facebook.” First Monday 15.1 (2010) : Web. 30 Sept. 2011.

Zuckerberg, Mark. “Mark Zuckerberg discusses Facebook.” Interview by Jim Breyer. E-corner: Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner. E-corner, 26 Oct. 2005. Web.  30 Sept. 2011.

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