Facebook Timeline: Your Brand Identity Used for Brand Endorsement

As you may or may not know, Facebook will be switching over its 800 million+ profiles to a new “Timeline” format that will, frankly, make it a hell of a lot more easier stalking so-and-so while giving you the ability to add a banner that will (9 times out of 10) become a free pass for you to advertise the shitty bands and movies you like. Also, as you further establish yourself as a “crazy” and “outgoing” “unique” “person” you will slowly be dissolving your personal identity, which will become nothing more than a series of associations with brands and products. Fantastic!

What most users don’t know is that the new features being introduced are all centered around increasing the value of Facebook to advertisers, to the point where Facebook representatives have been selling the idea that Timeline is actually about re-conceptualizing users around their consumer preferences, or as they put it, “brands are now an essential part of people’s identities.”

This should not come as much of as surprise, of course, since the 20-somethings have already thrown away the tag “Net Generation” and substituted it for the “iPod Generation.” Even so, that doesn’t make this soma pill any easier to swallow as the currents pull even the most skeptical of us with it. We’re cattle being driven further into the consumption factory and there’s not a whole lot we can even do about it since we’ll be the ones driving each other.

With Timeline, We’re the Endorsers!

When you’re watching television or those damn web ads, there’s the occasional moment when the celebrity steps into the screen, holding up the box of the latest must-have gizmo, encouraging the audience to purchase the must-have along with its must-needs and ought-to-compliments. For some this works (after all, Ronald Reagan wouldn’t steer me wrong, would he? Of course I’ll light up a Chesterfield). For others it does absolutely nothing – why should I trust people I don’t even know trying to force something I don’t even need down my throat? So we turn to those we do trust.

It should come as no secret that the best advertising comes from cooler talk with friends and family, those whom we identify with and respect and regard as a part of our immediate community. Through this one-on-one experience we’re able to chat, discuss the pros and cons of each product and come to a conclusion over which tends to be better (or at least narrow the list down). Before one knows it, the New Toy is friend-endorsed and family-approved and – how convenient! – you’ve established a temporary brand loyalty, which means that even though you will have a choice at the local Wal-Mart it’s a false one. As we should start saying, it’s “bros before Co-(rporation)s.”

But now, with the New and Improved Facebook you can skip the one-on-one conversations  and let the social network use your endorsement of a product to bring in serious advertising revenue. Now the next time you decide to “like” a page your mug and all of the social capital you have (with your friends at least) will be put toward being a spokesperson for it and its products.

As the post from Facebook yesterday morning explained, sponsored stories are different from ads in that a user’s name or profile might appear alongside the ad,  ”If you’ve liked that business’s page, the story about you liking the page (including your name or profile photo) may be paired with the ad your friends see.” While sponsored stories don’t include additional messaging from the sponsor, businesses pay Facebook to feature posts and activity that mention their brands. In both cases, these are only visible “to friends you’ve already shared this information with.”

But of course there is hope. Or at least there’s the chance that hell will be (briefly) raised until the national attention span becomes bored or people fail to realize how serious of a problem this really is and just say “whatever.”

How long users will tolerate this is unclear. There’s already a class-action suit pending in California against Facebook for integrating user’s pictures without their permission in advertising based on “Likes.” Many Spotify listeners and Washington Post readers are no doubt regretting listening to that one good song from that otherwise unpardonable band, or clicking on that salaciously titled article, which then appeared on the screens of everyone they know along with their smiling profile picture.

All of this is getting seriously out of hand. And to think that with almost two decades into the Internet Revolution there’s very little clear, established political theory contemplating what’s to be done and how we ought to go about doing it (or at least rises above the anarchist reproach that the internet must be destroyed altogether). Nor is there any public outcry when we’re being trampled. During the 1930s President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for an Economic Bill of Rights; what we need now is a Technological Bill of Rights. Seriously, what’s going on, people?

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