It’s both chilling and appropriate that Facebook announced its name change and shift in business the week of Halloween. ‘Tis the season for all the mischief that accompanies wearing a mask. And Facebook has always been in the business of mask-making.
It’s fair to say that most of us on the internet wear masks that resemble to who we are underneath. We decorate our Facebook pages with photos of family and friends. We share pictures of food and pets and sunsets on Instagram. These are constructions of identity, play acting who we are for the benefit of others.
But amidst the unchecked proliferation of misinformation on social media, it’s become apparent that these masks we’ve constructed have allowed us to indulge our worst impulses. As Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
I’m reminded of Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird, specifically the scene where Scout recognizes one of the masked men who has come to lynch Tom Robinson in the night. “Don’t you remember me, Mr. Cunningham?” Scout calls to the man. “I go to school with Walter. He’s your boy, ain’t he?”
It’s here that director Barlett Sher’s staging is truly magnificent. Cunningham pulls the bag from his face as he returns to himself. Scout’s naiveté pulls this man from this faceless mob and his worst impulses, all symbolized by the shedding of his mask. It’s a wondrous sight to behold.
After all, there are serious drawbacks to living life behind a mask. For one, it becomes impossible to see the world clearly.
This is something Facebook excels at: preventing us from seeing the world clearly. As we obscure ourselves for the sake of presentation, it becomes easier and easier for us to lose sight of who we are underneath and how we fit into the world.
And make no mistake, Facebook, now Meta, is a company that profits from turning us into a masked mob.
It was the case with Facebook. It was the case with Instagram.
It will be the case with what comes next.