Facebook has established itself as a leading presence in all facets of life. Mark Zuckerberg was named TIME’s Person of the Year, there was hot debate over Facebook going public, The Social Network was a huge success and the website has played a revolutionary role in the recent uprisings in the Middle East.
Still, the website is facing identity issues. Facebook is many things for many people. But what is Facebook to Facebook itself?
The number of newspaper articles and blog posts and the amount of general conversation about Facebook’s role in recent historic moments is enormous. The website has fueled protests, mobilized citizens, helped overthrow dictatorships and helped spread democracy.
Amid these movements, the website has tenaciously stuck to a policy requiring users to sign up with their real identities as a protection against fraud. It also doubles as self-protection against costly lawsuits and other troublesome user issues.
In November, Facebook shut down one of its most popular Egyptian protest pages because one of the page administrators, Google executive Wael Ghonim, had created a profile under a fake name. Was Facebook protecting Ghonim? Maybe. But whether it was acting in his best interests or the company’s is unclear.
It’s important to recognize that from Facebook’s perspective, the site is running a worldwide business that needs consistent protection and regulation to successfully operate.
Facebook can — and does — have a positive impact on the world, both as a casual social networking website and as a catalyst for democratic change.
But whether you’re an American college student or an Iranian activist (or both), it’s crucial to understand the tension between the vision of Facebook as a platform for political and social change and the company as a business.
With the exponentially increasing importance of all things online, the challenge for Facebook is to find a way to reconcile its two conflicting identities.
Elena Kadvany is a junior majoring in Spanish.