Saturday, 1 September 2012

Facebook and Panopticism

It can be argued that Facebook in 2012  has certain expectations that goes with it:

1. Posts (status, links, photos, videos)
The primary reason for posting one of the above things onto either your own or another user's Facebook page would generally be due to the user finding it humorous. The expectation is thus that posts will be funny to the wider community. There is however the issue that everyone has a different sense of humour. As a result of this, users take into consideration whether a certain post will be funny and post it only if that humour will be communicated to the viewer. The risk of this however is that this humour will not be communicated through "likes" and comments. If this is the case then the post will deleted by the user or shamefully regretted.

2. Groups joined and pages "liked"
Groups are active communities where things such as clothes, books, iPhone accessories and so forth can be bought, or individuals can communicate about certain topics. Pages that can be liked however are generally joined on the basis that the title states something that is very applicable to everyday life. Take for example the page, "That feeling of relief after seeing 'accepted' when paying with EFTPOS"; real life truths that a a large number of people would nod their heads in agreement with. Additionally, pages that users like could include favourite bands, movies or books. The expectation with these two aspects of Facebook is that when people are browsing through a users page, judgement would not be made, and instead the groups would be common to the two users and there would be nods of approval and agreement to pages and interests.

3. Photos
Photos are a fundamental part of a users profile. As Facebook is a representation of the real life individual, the photos represent what the user sees to be important, as well as their values and pass-time activities. The obsession with making sure one has the perfect profile picture means scrolling through the often hundreds of "tagged" photos to locate one that is acceptable to represent the users entire page. Not only does this photo have to include a nice photo of the user, but also appropriate, socially acceptable surroundings depicting what is important to the user. For example, if a user sees drinking as an important and 'cool' pastime, their profile picture would likely contain either an alcoholic beverage or be a general scene from a party. Again, support and approval for users' profile pictures would be shown through likes and comments and often if none were achieved, the profile would be changed.

If Foucault were alive today, it would be likely that he would infer the idea of panopticism to describe the Facebook phenomenon. With such heavy expectations on Facebook users to conform to the norm and expectations of society, panopticism would offer an insight into the obsession with looking 'cool' and being accepted in the world of Facebook.

A person's Facebook profile cannot be turned off when the user is not online. Thus a profile is accessible for all (friends) to look at all day, everyday. This constant surveillance on the individual means that social norms and values translate from real-life into the cyber-realm of Facebook. Thus users self regulate themselves accordingly; posts are only made if they meet expectations, groups are joined and pages are liked if they will gain acceptance, and photos will be "untagged" if the user does not look attractive enough (primarily females). This internalisation of socially accepted norms in Facebook also translates to real-life with social behaviour being determined by "photo-opportunities" and conversations often surrounding a humourous post last night on Facebook or something similar.

Disciplinary power is also achieved through Facebook at a more in-depth level. Constant surveillance of user activity is monitored through "flag-words" which are not allowed to be posted. Thus a status or user-uploaded video name contains one of these words, the post will be deleted, or Facebook will be notified. In addition to this is the option to report abuse on friends' activity. Thus all activity is accounted for an monitored by the team at Facebook, controlling content and disciplining users who abuse their rights as a Facebook user. Punishment is done through the freezing or deletion of a users account, excluding them from the Facebook community. In a sense, this can be compared to events in everyday life; an individual misbehaves and is put in prison, excluded from society as a banned-Facebook user is excluded from The Facebook community.

As a representation of the true-life "self", Facebook allows users to create a Utopian self which embodies the discourses and social norms and values acceptable to society. Although many users see Facebook as a way to keep in touch (which is not disputed), how users represent themselves on Facebook differs considerably to their true-life selves. To understand how to be a true "Facebooker" and all that it entails, this picture summarizes the impact of constant surveillance has had on representations of the self.