666 V O L . 7 5 P A R T 5 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 7 THE ADVOCATE
REASSEMBLAGE ERROR AND THE MR. POTATO HEAD METAPHOR
The result of the disclosure of personal information for digital natives
online—sometimes with limited or no privacy settings—is that by the time
they reach adulthood, there is already a tremendous amount of information
about them online, which they and others around them shared voluntarily.
This information is in turn often readily accessible to anyone who is interested.
Furthermore, third parties often share, comment on and save social
media content, providing another avenue for later recollection.
Many universities in the U.S. admit to reviewing social media sites during
their assessment of student applicants. Some report that what they saw negatively
affected their evaluations.29 More than fifty per cent of employers
who conducted searches of potential employees on social media decided
not to hire the applicant due to something they saw on the applicant’s social
media.30 In the personal sphere, a third of those with recent dating experience
who use social networking sites have conducted research about someone
they were interested in dating on social media.31 When an individual
has a significant online presence, mainly through social media, a third
party may collate pieces of information about that individual, from the present
and past, irrespective of the intended audience, and use that information
to create a conglomerate identity that misportrays the real person.
The “Mr. Potato Head metaphor” illustrates this phenomenon. For those
of us who never had a Mr. Potato Head toy and never saw a movie from the
Toy Story franchise, a Mr. Potato Head is a plastic toy in the shape of a potato,
which has detachable arms, legs and facial features including a mouth, a
nose, eyes and ears. The whole set of parts usually comes in a bucket. Quite
often, the bucket containing Mr. Potato Head’s parts also comes with a number
of other accessories such as a hat, glasses or a moustache. Mr. Potato
Head is subject to the mercy of his maker because one can detach everything
on him so that he is essentially a potato with holes and then rearrange
each of his appendages so that he becomes a bizarre chimera of his own
body parts. When reassembled, Mr. Potato Head can have an arm where his
ear or nose should be, and a moustache for a leg. While Mr. Potato Head still
exists as a sum of his parts, he is no longer recognizable as himself.
Imagine the following scenario: a couple decides to name their soon-tobe
born baby “Maylee”. They announce on Facebook and Twitter that they
are expecting and post pictures of Maylee’s sonogram on Instagram, adding
the text “#Maylee” to connect all posts with this same hashtag. Before
Maylee is even born, and without any prior notice or consent, an online
identity has been created for her. After Maylee is born, her parents
announce her birth on social media and post pictures. In the child’s early