It's complicated.

A Critical Study of
Facebook's Conception of (Gender) Identity

    "Facebook is a community where
    people use their real identities. [...]
    Pretending to be anything or anyone is not allowed."
    (Facebook Account Settings)

    With roughly 1,230m active users worldwide, Facebook is one of the most popular and far-reaching SNS's today. Particularly over the last decade it has transformed into a vibrant 'virtual meeting place' for people of different nationalities, from different social and cultural backgrounds and with different interests and views. While the basic idea of 'connecting people' is said to lie at the very heart of Facebook's endeavors, the platform facilitates and encourages a whole range of further activities - the creation of personal profiles, i.e. the virtual (re-)construction of 'real-life' identity(/ies), among the most important of which.

    The issue of identity, more specifically gender identity, and its realization on Facebook will constitute the focus of the study to be presented here. The quotation introducing this brief abstract will serve as the project's starting point; in the course of the discussion, Facebook's claim to be a community which allows - even requires - its members to "use their real identities" will be scrutinized.

    The primary aim of the project is to critically examine Facebook's public image as an open-minded and tolerant community, and, in a second step, to promote a higher awareness of implicit ideologies communicated and propagated by the SNS.

    In order to lucidly illustrate the problems evoked by the synergy between Facebook and gender identity, Virginia Woolf's Orlando, the main character of her novel Orlando: A Biography, will be transferred into today's context of social media. By creating a fictive Facebook profile for the transgender protagonist, some of the difficulties evoked by Facebook's highly limited conception of gender can hopefully be demonstrated.

    Bibliographical references

    Namaste, Ki. (1994) "The Politics of Inside/Out: Queer Theory, Poststructuralism, and a Sociological Approach to Sexuality". Sociological Theory 12.2, pp. 220-231.

    Bilandzic, Helen, Geoffroy Patriarche and Paul J. Traudt, Eds. (2012) The Social Use of Media. Bristol, Chicago: Intellect.

    Hall, Stuart. (1990) "Cultural Identity and Diaspora". Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Ed. Johnathan Rutherford. London: Lawrence & Wishart, pp. 222-237.

    Eliason, Michele J. and Robert Schope. (2007) "Shifting Sands or Solid Foundation? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Identity Formation". The Health of Sexual Minorities. Eds. Ilan H. Meyer and Mary E. Northridge. New York: Springer, pp. 3-26.

    » Ten years of social networking (Guardian, June 2014)
    » Beyond 'male' and 'female' (CNN, Feb. 2014)
    » Ideology: An Introduction (T. Eagleton, 1991)
    » How Many Sexes? How Many Genders? (A. H. Devor)
    » Why stop at 56? (Guardian, Feb. 2014)