Status Update:

Celebrity, Publicity, & Branding in the Social Media Age
By Alice Marwick | Review by Amber Buck


Privacy & Publicity

erasing the word privacy with the eraser on a pencil
Social media has redefined privacy

Alice E. Marwick's previous and ongoing work on privacy, in collaboration with Microsoft Research scholar danah boyd, has greatly contributed to evolving discussions of the nature of privacy in debates of social media policy, and her discussions of privacy in this text will be of great interest to digital writing and rhetoric researchers. Marwick (2013) made a distinction between micro-celebrities and self-branders in the focus and the use of private information. Micro-celebrities, Marwick argued, are supposed to reveal private information that feels authentic, while self-branders "edit private moments in the name of brand consistency" (p. 198). Here Marwick made one of her book's primary critiques: This practice of self-branding inspires an overly corporate, safe-for-work persona that prevents individuals from expressing more creative, less corporate-friendly elements of themselves. Marwick described self-branding as a "paradox": "if one's projected self is both 'authentic' and 'businesslike,' the assumption becomes that people never do anything that would be considered unbusinesslike, illegal, or controversial in any way" (p. 199). Self-branding, like other Web 2.0 practices, becomes a way to police behavior.

Marwick's discussion of the practice of lifestreaming revealed the complex ways in which private and public are approached within this culture. She defined lifestreaming as "the capturing and broadcasting of personal information to large, networked audiences" (p. 206). Lifestreaming includes practices like checking into locations with Facebook or Foursquare, playing and tracking music with Spotify, recording workouts with RunKeeper or Fitbit, and using GoodReads to share one's reading habits. Marwick argued that lifestreaming should be understood "as an act of publicity" (p. 207). Lifestreamers have a sophisticated understanding of the consequences of publishing personal information online, and Marwick argued that they carefully weigh "their need for publicity with their desire to control their own online image. The necessity of presenting an edited self to the world requires a careful understanding of the risks and benefits of information sharing" (p. 207). While discussions of social media and personal information usually occur within discourses of privacy, Marwick's participants did not see themselves as losing privacy but "gaining publicity" (p. 229).

Marwick complicated the public/private binary by describing three ways in which her participants considered their own online information. The first was seeing social media as freedom; living a public life meant that one had nothing to hide. This viewpoint sees transparency as fostering democracy and creating a society where everyone can be authentic without judgment. Others felt that strategically publicizing some elements allowed them to be more private about other aspects of their personal lives. Finally, a third group saw publicity through lifestreaming in much the same way as more traditional publicity and celebrity: It was a way to maintain one's personal brand. Marwick exposed the assumption that lifestreaming is a wholly unfiltered image of one's daily activity, describing it instead as a "carefully edited, purposeful construction of self" (p. 242). Rather than seeing these activities as evidence of a lack of concern about privacy, Marwick argued that researchers should instead consider them as strategic performances of a particular view of one's identity.