Corporatised Identities ≠ Digital Identities: Algorithmic Filtering on Social Media and the Commercialisation of Presentations of Self

In Christopher Burr & Luciano Floridi (eds.), Ethics of Digital Well-being: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Springer (forthcoming)
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Goffman’s (1959) dramaturgical identity theory requires modification when theorising about presentations of self on social media. This chapter contributes to these efforts, refining a conception of digital identities by differentiating them from ‘corporatised identities’. Armed with this new distinction, I ultimately argue that social media platforms’ production of corporatised identities undermines their users’ autonomy and digital well-being. This follows from the disentanglement of several commonly conflated concepts. Firstly, I distinguish two kinds of presentation of self that I collectively refer to as ‘expressions of digital identity’. These digital performances (boyd 2007) and digital artefacts (Hogan 2010) are distinct, but often confused. Secondly, I contend this confusion results in the subsequent conflation of corporatised identities – poor approximations of actual digital identities, inferred and extrapolated by algorithms from individuals’ expressions of digital identity – with digital identities proper. Finally, and to demonstrate the normative implications of these clarifications, I utilise MacKenzie’s (2014, 2019) interpretation of relational autonomy to propose that designing social media sites around the production of corporatised identities, at the expense of encouraging genuine performances of digital identities, has undermined multiple dimensions of this vital liberal value. In particular, the pluralistic range of authentic preferences that should structure flourishing human lives are being flattened and replaced by commercial, consumerist preferences. For these reasons, amongst others, I contend that digital identities should once again come to drive individuals’ actions on social media sites. Only upon doing so can individuals’ autonomy, and control over their digital identities, be rendered compatible with social media.

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Charlie Harry Smith
Oxford University


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