Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Giving Good Face

All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy.

–Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punishment, 1977

A message popped up in September 9 last year for those lucky enough to see it. It was scripted by a self-made millionaire (or billionaire?), one of those flip-flop wearing college drop-outs Marc Zuckerman:

When I made Facebook two years ago my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better. I wanted to create an environment where people could share whatever information they wanted, but also have control over whom they shared that information with. I think a lot of the success we’ve seen is because of these basic principles.

It was also an apology. He had failed to explain the new features of his networking system to subscribers. He was merely ‘trying to provide [them] with a stream of information about your social world.’ What were these features? The ‘Media-Feed’; the ‘News-Feed’. We could effectively chart the everyday lives of fellow human beings on the network. One could see, in chronological fashion, instant updates across the entire network one was a member of. You could see when a new ‘friend’ was added, what time it took place, which date it occurred on.

Then there is the ‘poke’ facility. It is one Zuckerman has been kind enough to offer his users. In most cultures, it is an affront. There is a sexual sting in the statement. My personal space is violated; my dignity is affronted by the conceit of familiarity: do you really think you know me? My virtual space, however, is another matter. My comfort zone is global (at least across networks). Anyone who is part of this system can see me; can ‘poke’ me.

The Facebook facility keeps company with other public forums where information about individuals is shared. Myspace and Xanga – programs which espionage agencies would have saved millions had they pioneered them during the 19th and 20th centuries – jostle on the cyberspace platform for paramountcy. Users of the facility have complained (some did even before the Zuckerman statement): Facebook displays too little, cordoning off access to certain members; or, Facebook has become too informative.

This year, Facebook became saviour – survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre ‘facebooked’ (a now common and obscene verb) fellow students telling them they were ‘OK’. ‘Facebook saved me’ became a catch-cry. It is a matter of time before Facebook messages appear in lieu of flowers at a funeral.

Three decades ago, Big Brother was the enemy. Now, with the proclaimed defeat of ‘totalitarian’ communism, the surveillance culture has moved into private life with our consent. The spawn of Solzhenitsyn’s Grand Strategist or Orwell’s Big Brother are dead; we have nothing to fear. Our quibble is which surveillance feature we want. Big Brother is an invitee – and not merely in the capsule of human drudgery and slime called ‘the Big Brother house’. On the contrary, we like surveillance – take the British as an example. We like accountability, so we like people watched. We are watched to protect us from our more sinister motives.

So, employers now look at Facebook. They even issue advertisements on it. They hire and in some cases fire on the basis of a Facebook profile. Universities scan the profiles of their students.

Facebook, Zuckerman assures us, issues its own privacy controls. We have choices as to what to put on our profile. Apparently, the democratic preserve is maintained: we can choose, so we are free. It is the classic American exposition of the human condition of freedom: ‘As long as you can vote, we are free’. ‘As long as you can decide what to disclose, you are free.’ ‘I am free because I can adopt the Fifth Amendment.’ ‘I am free to profile myself on Facebook.’ We do not have to let our political views be known; we do not have to disclose our political interests, but it is advisable to do so. We do not need to know if we like men or women, but of course, we want to.

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. Zuckerman shares more with Bentham than he realises: a desire to improve the quotient of pleasure in society; a desire to maximise the network for the common good. As Bentham commences his study on penal reform, he calls his device the panopticon ‘or the inspection house’.

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.’

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.

Perhaps it is time to return to personals that do not reek of voyeuristic profiling and ‘pokes’. Consult the London Review of Books instead: ‘I celebrated by fortieth birthday last week by cataloguing my collection of bird feeders. Next year, I’m hoping for sexual intercourse. And a cake.’

BINOY KAMPMARK is a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He can be reached at bkampmark@gmail.com

 


 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

October 16, 2018
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
Ramzy Baroud
That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah
Zhivko Illeieff
Addiction and Microtargeting: How “Social” Networks Expose us to Manipulation
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail