I for one welcome our new panoptic overlords
Facebook’s recent decision to ask people to inform on any of their “friends” who aren’t using their real names on the site is faintly surprising to me, as I’m not really convinced by claims that social networks have much to gain financially from knowing the legal names of their users. Isn’t Facebook’s use of data collection aggregative rather than individualizing? Marketers don’t care what I, as a specific individual, think or like, they care about how a network of “likes” connect to flows of money they can tap into. More generally, pace Bat, Bean, Beam, I don’t see why the “authenticity” of data would be important to Facebook, which is interested in what the population does, not who I think I am. This is why the idea that you could somehow get one over on Facebook by feeding them false data strikes me as rather quaint: you’re just giving them more data about the potential consumption decisions of the people who enjoy trying to fuck with Facebook (presumably they’ll try and sell you a copy of Adbusters).
I think Facebook and Google have, when asked about their real name policies, actually been telling at least a partial truth; they are interested, they say, in the idea that requiring people to use their legal names will change the way they behave on the site. This is supposed to be an unobjectionable attempt to get people to behave “better,” but isn’t the idea of behavioral modification by social media terms of service actually rather creepy? The data that Facebook collects is the site of most concerns about the site, but, while there clearly are cases where the information held by social networks, and its indiscriminate release, puts people in danger, most of the free-floating paranoia about social networks and privacy strikes me as overblown. However the reasoning behind the real name policy points to a different concern, which is not about what Facebook knows but about what we know, that is, how we might internalize our awareness that Facebook is watching in ways that change our behavior. In light of this concern, the description of social networks as “panoptic” is actually rather accurate. The point of the panopticon is not that someone is always watching; the panopticon could work even if no-one actually observing through it, because it functions by leaving inmates unsure as to whether or not anyone is watching, and thereby causing them to internalize the hypothetical inspection and judgment of the observer (more generally, the Foucauldian idea of power/knowledge isn’t about what people know, but about the ways in which particular ways of producing knowledge always involve particular organizations of power).
Anyway, the point of this post is to announce that I’ve set up a Facebook page for this blog. I notice through my own panoptic surveillance of how people arrive at this blog that some people are sharing posts on Facebook, and it occurs to me that those of you who use it might like to get updates about new posts via Facebook; if you “like” this blog’s Facebook page, you should start seeing updates from the blog in your news feed. I’ve also, slightly more problematically, added “like” buttons (and also “tweet” buttons) to each post. This does allow Facebook and Twitter to monitor your use of this blog, even if you’re not signed up with them; given the ubiquity of these buttons on other websites, I assume if you object to that you will already have taken steps to prevent it, but let me know if you’re particularly against the idea of these buttons showing up on this blog and I may change my mind.