Patricia J. Williams’ Nation article on online communities, “The 600 Faces of Eve” (subscription only) looks like it might be a useful resource for my planned freshman composition course focusing on new media topics. Williams rather quickly moves past the questions of sexual predation to address what she calls the “invisible hands” that guide the activity of these social networks. Williams notes that when you create a MySpace profile, you are encouraged to “choose” interests that reflect your personality, which in her read isn’t an entirely benign activity:
You proceed by filling out themed questionnaires and following links and pursuing guided suggestions. If you choose a Paris Hilton-themed path, you might be asked how often you go shopping. If you choose hip-hop, you’re asked to “fess up to the acts of a true thug.”
Of course she’s right to point out that Rupert Murdoch’s ownership of MySpace raises important questions about what kinds of information MySpace participants post about themselves in a public space (and to what extent that information is subject to data mining), but in my experience, these quizzes are often treated with at least some ironic distance, a point that Williams acknowledges when she describes the practice of trying on different identities within MySpace. Not sure I have much to add for now, but Williams’ essay looks like something that might be useful for starting a conversation about the relationship between social networks and constructions of identity.