Identity Matters


Article from Issue 269/2023

The company behind Facebook just announced a new premium subscription model, where you pay for your Facebook account and the payment includes some add-on services that you don't currently receive.

Dear Reader,

The company behind Facebook just announced a new premium subscription model, where you pay for your Facebook account and the payment includes some add-on services that you don't currently receive. I always wondered if a subscription service might be a better model for media giants like Facebook. After all, they do provide a service to their subscribers – maybe asking people to pay directly is better than selling user data and acting as a conduit for targeted advertising.

After the encouraging headline, however, I was disappointed to see that this new subscription-based service does not make your data more private or your online presence less ad-choked. The principal purpose of your for-pay Facebook page is to make sure you are you and not somebody else. The service will provide a "verification badge," showing that you have presented a government ID to ensure that you are who you say you are. The goal is to offer some protection from rogue users pretending to be you.

Corporate social media culture, like the Microsoft lala land that preceded it, occupies a dreamy space where people tell you things and you just nod your head like it is all perfectly reasonable, even when it isn't. If you have to pay extra to ensure that no one is out there pretending to be you (basically, stealing your identity), the other side is that, if you don't pay extra, you can't be sure others aren't out there trying to be you.

I want to be fair. It really does require resources to verify someone's identity and ensure that no one impersonates, so in that sense, the company has a right to pass those costs on to users. But it all sheds light on how faulty the basic service model is in the first place. It is supposed to be against the rules to use a fake name on Facebook, so what this new service says is you have to pay extra for Facebook to enforce its own rules, and if you don't pay the money, Facebook is not responsible for enforcing its own rules.

It might seem like an impossible task to ensure that two billion active users are not impersonating each other. Actually, I believe it is an impossible task, and paying $11.99 per month won't be enough to make it possible. Is it time to admit that Facebook has an impossible business model, rather than letting them climb out of the mess by launching add-on services and claiming the problems are easily solved through consumer choice?

But this is all sour grapes for me, because I'm still disappointed that they would launch a for-pay service and not use the occasion to address the real problem with Facebook, which is all the stalking. Rest assured there are alternatives, though. This month we explore the free social media tools of the Fediverse. The decentralized Fediverse environment will help you with the stalking. As for the impersonation, there's still no universal fix, but check out the article on Mastodon for a workaround that will let you verify your identity to your followers – without paying extra.

Joe Casad, Editor in Chief

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