Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 31 October 2014
Dutch graphic design student Zilla van den Born recently made international headlines with her Bachelor’s thesis on ‘Fakebooking’. For those of us familiar with Facebook but not with Fakebooking, her project was all about falsifying her own life and posting about it on the social network.
Van den Born pretended to be on five weeks long trip through Laos, Cambodia and Thailand; she had, in fact, remained at home in Amsterdam all the time. Her creativity and photo editing skills then helped her post pictures of herself in exotic locations such as meeting Buddhist monks at a temple, snorkelling with colourful fish or walking along sandy beaches.
In an interview with a newsmagazine, she later explained her motivation for fooling her family, friends and even her academic supervisor, who thought she was working on an entirely different thesis. “I wanted to show that the ideal world, which we have created on the Internet, does not exist,” van den Born said. “Everything we upload to the web is somehow manipulated.”
Of course, the manipulation does not always come across in such blatant ways as in an entirely imaginary trip to South East Asia. It is usually more subtle than that. It happens the moment we select what to share with our friends and followers – and what not. “Why does nobody take pictures of the rain during your holidays, the dirty hotel room or the long queues?” van den Born asks.
The answer is of course that we do not want to share what we do not want others to see. Conversely, we like to make our own world look a little more polished, glamourous and spotless than it really is. We all do, and to a degree there is nothing wrong with it.
Imagine what a Facebook newsfeed of our real lives might look like. Who would want to read (Facebook-) friends go on about their own failures, misdeeds or true feelings like “Feeling hung-over”, “Just cheated on my husband”, “Missed my university deadline”, or “I really hate my boss/co-worker/sister/neighbour”?
A world with complete honesty would be insufferable. There are some things you would not want to know. On the other hand, van den Born’s thesis should at least make us more sceptical about social media.
Next time you visit a politician’s Facebook profile or Twitter account, do not be fooled that their working days consist mainly of kissing babies, cutting ribbons or speaking in Parliament. Who knows, they might have gone on a holiday around Cambodia instead.