Panopticon

April 18, 2012

Recently I was involved in a conversation at a party involving a social media employee. According to this employee, all staff at Facebook have access to any members profile. In hindsight the fact that the company is involvement in their company should not be too much of a shock, but at the time it took me by a bit of surprise. Even though I have had friends faced with a constant fights with Facebook as to moderation of content, I had always somewhat naively never thought of this company beyond just being company. This, even though it is a known fact that the internet is as a place where your activity can be watched, recorded and monitored. – We where all warned almost two decades ago about emails essentially being equivalent to post cards and not suitable for sensitive information. However, the scale of the net might have become something beyond us, and one might just think that the chance of anyone we know, or anyone at all bothering to read our emails would be microscopically small. This employee didn’t even work for Facebook, but was only in an affiliated company. But meeting this employee among people I knew, was as if the Facebook all of the sudden got a face and became much more relevant and related to myself. Being faced with the social media resource at the party, one guest raised similar stories to what my friends have experienced when it comes to moderation: This guests friend who is an artist had posted an image with two guys kissing. The image had been removed by the site and a message had been sent to him explaining that the explicit content was not suitable for Facebook. According to this guest the image was rather innocent, as well as non-public content, and he expressed with rolling eyes the contradiction of him having come across numerous of images depicting two girls kissing which apparently had been doomed to be more appropriate by the website, as they where not removed. I had heard similar stories about Facebooks seemingly inconsistent moderation of content before, but never really paid much thought to it.

These comments made me reflect on how people intimately share all bits and pieces of information all over the net, but also how this lately have become very present and lucrative for some groups. Seeing the recent events of hackers, organized or not have taken themselves into databases, it creates an increased uncertainty to the supposedly free and open space of the net, and all it’s established institutions. Several active hacker groups in Norway has taken themselves into numerous of public and commercial institutions, including the tax department, which left one single individual exposed to the entire country as everyone logging in, logged in to “Kenneths’ tax return. A scandal broke out when a norwegian social media site, mainly catering for prostitutes and theirs clients where hacked and their memberlist, including all walks of sociaty, was released online. This act of the groups showing their muscles and abilities in the field, can very much be seen as a way of reinforcing the panopticon in our society, and reminding everyone that we are still watched.

Foucault writes about the panopticon:

Consequently, it does not matter who exercises power. Any individual, taken almost at random, can operate the machine: in the absence of the director, his family, his friends, his visitors, even his servants (Bentham, 45). Similarly, it does not matter what motive animates him: the curiosity of the indiscreet, the malice of a child, the thirst for knowledge of a philospher who wishes to visit this museum of human nature, or the perversity of those who take pleasure in spying and punishing. The more numeous those anonymous and temporary observers are, the greater the risk for the inmate of being surprised and the greater his anxious awareness of being observed.” (Foucault p 202)

V.

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