What Facebook should have done with its new Mark character – also known as: a man with no face | Chris Mars

One can’t help but wonder what might have happened if the original Times Square characters had been confronted by one of the new characters that Facebook unleashed on its users. One can’t help but…

What Facebook should have done with its new Mark character – also known as: a man with no face | Chris Mars

One can’t help but wonder what might have happened if the original Times Square characters had been confronted by one of the new characters that Facebook unleashed on its users.

One can’t help but wonder what might have happened if the original Times Square characters had been confronted by one of the new characters that Facebook unleashed on its users.

Facebook launched a new “meta” network with the name Mark. After a while, Mark gathered himself around the people and stories he could not get into the main network. When his notifications arrived, they came in alphabetical order, like the real one:

One. Bye.

One. Bye. Two. Bye. Three. Bye. Four. Bye. Five. Bye. Six. Bye. Seven. Bye. Eight. Bye.

Or so it seemed. More often, however, Mark felt that he had been robbed. To a once-real virtual reality had sprung up that treated him as nothing more than a shadow.

The characters – ostensibly anonymous – became instantly recognizable by their stark “Action” photos and commentaries, some of which became tasteless clickbait. One of the most difficult and often painful challenges of the digital age is to preserve your individuality while maintaining your safety from the collective attitude of everyone in the entire world. In yesterday’s real world, people could be generally assumed to be people with an equal right to their opinions, and that everyone would be treated fairly without regard to race, sex, national origin, disability, religion or sexual orientation. Our real-world boundaries had broken down, apparently, for short-term outrage. On Mark, that boundary was much more quickly crossed.

One can’t help but wonder what might have happened if the original Times Square characters had been confronted by one of the new characters that Facebook unleashed on its users. Maybe they would have followed the other characters’ lead, and decided to emigrate.

Perhaps they would have found another way to call attention to the rampant racism and intolerance they see being spread. Perhaps there would have been a fight. As I’ve seen before, once the nonconformist finds a way to achieve something meaningful that makes him or her unique, he or she will take action, even if it means crossing the line at any cost. The message of Mark’s anarchic #DeleteFacebook movement quickly faded from news sites because even most people who signed up were under the illusion that they could feel comfortable in social media. That illusion may well have been worth the effort, because without Mark, it is far less likely that his or her followers would have remained fed up.

• Chris Mars is the executive director of the Center for Emerging Media in Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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