Feb. 4, 2011 at 12:34 PM ET
To make a point that putting trust in Facebook comes at a price, a media artist and media critic created a "dating" website where they placed 250,000 Facebook profiles — without asking for any permission.
The pair, Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico, who carry on ad nauseum on their Face to Facebook project website, used "special custom software" to collect data from more than 1 million Facebook users. (Check out the diagram of the whole grueling process or this expanded explanation.) They built a database from that info and began to analyze "the pictures that showed smiling faces. The vast majority of pictures were both amateurish and somehow almost involuntarily or unconsciously alluring. And they are almost always 'smiling.' "
Why they write about it as though it's some kind of revelation is beyond me, but they kept going. They created a face recognition algorithm and placed 250,000 faces in one of six categories: climber, easy going, funny, mild, sly, smug on another website they created, Lovely-Faces.com (which has since stopped working).
They might have gotten a lot of people who took them up on this legal disclaimer on their website: "If your identity has been hurt by this website, just write to us and we'll remove your data instantly. This website is a work of art and we're committed to avoiding any related annoyances."
And there you go, it's all in the name of art: scraping info from a million profiles, developing algorithms to trim that down to 250,000 for a "dating" website that is, in effect, a contrived and convoluted piece of performance art with a goal to stick it to Facebook. Think I'm being too harsh? Why don't you try to slog through some of this:
This step builds the virtual land that Facebook is always close to but never explicitly steps in, being just an enormous background to the active process of searching for potential sexual relationships. The profiles will be definitively "single" and available, in a fairly competitive environment, with real data and real faces that users have personally posted. Their smiles will finally reach what they unconsciously really want: more relationships with unknown people, attracted by their virtual presence. The price users pay is being categorized as what they really are, or better, how they choose to be represented in the most famous and crowded online environment. The project starts to dismantle the trust that 500 million people have put in Facebook.
The site just goes on and on like this, like some modern art curation that never ends, a circle of hell that begins and ends in an East Village boho hipster gallery begging for an SNL skit begging for a Believer essay.
This is a typical sentence: "After grouping them, we started to dive into these seas of faces, with all the perceptual consequences. And we started to think about why we felt so overwhelmed."
Yeah, I felt overwhelmed, too.
If you're really a glutton for punishment, you can read their "Theory" page, which serves as a kind of a meandering manifesto.
Facebook is an eternal, illusory party, under surveillance and recorded for all time. Its structure invites you to first replicate and then enhance your real social structures, replicating your experiences on your own personal "screen space".
In this unending party, you meet and join old and new friends, acquaintances and relatives. As with most parties everything is private, or restricted to the invited guests, but has the potential to become public, if accidently shared. Here the guests' activity and interests are also recorded through their posts in different formats and media (pictures, movies, trips, preferences, comments). It's an induced immaterial labour with instant gratification. Guests produce content by indirectly answering the question "who am I?" and they get new friends and feedback in the process.
In fact, Facebook’s subliminal mantra seems then to be "be personal, be popular, never stop."
Ok, I admit, with 1,000-plus Facebook friends, there's a certain truth to the instant gratification part. But am I defined by my Facebook profile? That would be a no. I control what goes on there, and so do a lot of people. Am I smiling? Yes. Duh. That's what normal people do, dudes, when taking snapshots.
Wading thorugh this morass of the obvious, they do make a point about identity theft, which is really the concern here. (Warning: they take you back to that party analogy first.)
The price the guests are unconsciously paying is that they are giving away their (constantly updating) virtual identity. Guests, in fact, organize their own space, and therefore their own "party", offering the party owner (Facebook) a connected, heterogeneous group of people who share interests...Facebook, an endlessly cool place for so many people, becomes at the same time a goldmine for identity theft and dating - unfortunately, without the user's control. But that's the very nature of Facebook and social media in general. If we start to play with the concepts of identity theft and dating, we should be able to unveil how fragile a virtual identity given to a proprietary platform can be. And how fragile enormous capitalization based on exploiting social systems can be.
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