Facebook and the Panopticon

(Note work post was made in collabaration with Timothy March.)

Following from our lecture we looked at a few areas and events on which we could base our second week presentation. We decided to follow on from the subject matter discussed in the seminar groups. This was the idea of privacy and and the power of the social site facebook.

What differences contradictions can you see in the assumptions that each makes about what counts as power?

We as the user are under the assumption that we control our facebook pages,we decide on status updates ,photos,games,information ,even our own name. This can be seen in other sites such as Myspace where we had the power to personalize our own pages,that gave us the presumption of POWER it was controlled by us.

This has now been further backed by the new google social site where it gives you control of which group that you compile the participants of can only see what you put in that specific group ,not your status as a whole.

We are quite happy to live in our little bubble of self belief and hierarchy even though once we put anything on facebook ,our rights to that are lost, we don’t decide what can be done with it or where it can be used.

so we think we have power but the site and its uses and terms show that we do not and that completely contradicts the users belief of what they see as power as nothing is actually personal and under our control.

Facebook perceives power as data ,it collects ,catalogues and archives all that we do and say and sels this information on to make profit from advertisers and companies.It also sees power as size (as size does matter) the bigger and better they are in comparison to other sites the more power they have over the market and the user. But the contradiction to this is that the user still does have the power to use that site. it has to constantly update and improve the site to keep us entertained or its flow of data will stop as the user will go to a competitor meaning they will lose there perception of power. Even though they think we are working for them and providing them with power ,they are working harder to maintain that control.

What are the legitimate and illegitimate effects of power?

In terms of facebook it is still unexplored ground but it can be perceived by users as using illegitimate power. An example of that could be the fact that facebook stores information on all its users without asking permission. However it could be seen as legitimate that they advertise on the website since the service is free. This is a bit more complicated though, feeding into issues like consumerism and, at times, it could be seen as illegitimate if facebook uses the information they have on a certain user to ‘harass’ them with a certain type of ad.

What are the legitimate and illegitimate responses to power.

Legitimate responses to power are again, hard to define, because of the newness of the concept. However, there have been legitimate responses to, for example, facebook using face recognition technology without asking permission. These have been in the form of human rights and privacy campaigns done by various organisations. An illegitimate response could, for example, be the hacking of facebook by the Anonymous group. This is debatable, though, as it is an illegal action but could, possibly be justified on moral grounds.

When considering facebook we looked at social media as a form of surveillance. Facebook encourages users to be very ‘open’ on their profiles, from the moment you sign up you are asked for your real name, your age, your date of birth, birthplace, sexual orientation, religious/political beliefs and even your phone number.

Facebook tracks what it’s users do while they are on the site. they also can reveal such infomation to other users without the original users realization that they are doing so, such as what articles they have read from the guardian, what music they listen to via spotify, (it’s worth noting these features do ask for consent first time, but afterwards post automatically every time unless interfered with.) Users are also highly encouraged to post GPS data whenever they go somewhere to visit, this information is also updated in real time for facebook and the users ‘friends’ to see. This seemingly creates a situation with users where not only are their activities are being watched and analysed but also they are analysing and watching others data.

Comparisions have been made between the facebook watched/watcher idea by a number of theorists including Binoy Kampmark, a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. On his ‘giving good face’ article on Counterpunch he stated that he believed that facebook was turning into Foucaults vision of the panopticon. he states. “Facebook has ushered in a revolution, and a failed one at that. It is much like the panopticon – ‘all-seeing’, that surveillance device the English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham pioneered in the nineteenth century for penal reform.” (Kampmark:2007)

“In 1975, Michel Foucault added his gloss to Bentham’s Panopticon Notes. For Foucault, the major effect of the Panopticon is: ‘to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.’ The prison inmate ‘is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication.’” (Kampmark: 2007) He then goes on to state that

“There are subtle differences. Members of the networks have become inspectors, just as they have become prisoners. People do ‘communicate’ with each other. It is a brilliant seduction: to give the means of surveillance to everybody in order to legitimise it. We see but we are also seen (at stages). We relinquish ourselves to others, but have the luxury of indulging in everyone else’s surrender of secrecy. (Kampmark:2007)

What kampmark states above were posted in 2007, in the tech world that may aswell be decades ago and facebook has undergone numerous redesigns and a number of features have been added and taken away that seem to further support Kampmark’s ideas. perhaps the most obvious of these is the new ‘real-time’ ticker which as mentioned before posts real time information about what facebooks users are doing at time of update such as listening to music, but it also updates information about posts which the user may wish to keep quiet from other people. for example User A can see User B’s post to User C’s wall even if user A and C are not ‘facebook friends’

There have been worries about who on a higher scale is looking through infomation that has been put up, this was brought into a public light fairly recently when Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22 and Jordan Blackshaw, 20 were sentenced to 4 years in prison for inciting public disorder. their crime? setting up a group on facebook.

Foucault was qouted as saying that visibility is a trap (Foucault: 1975 Discipline & Punish) and that ‘it is through this visibility that it is through this visibility that modern society exercises it’s controlling systems of power and knowledge. he suggests that a “carceral continuum” runs through society effecting everyones working and domestic lives. could facebook be this vision taken online?






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