Facebook: The Dawn of the Technological Era

Facebook is a form of post modernistic ‘realist art,’ created originally with the intention of maintaining and celebrating relationships with family and friends that are not in immediate contact. Since its creation, Facebook has become one of the most renowned social networking sites of our generation. With over 750 million users last cited in 2011, Facebook can be considered the third most populated ‘virtual’ country after China and India. With a consistent increase in active users on Facebook, resistance by the audience towards the site itself is limited. Nonetheless, audience resistance is vaguely existent more so towards the content exhibited on the site. Facebook is presently tagged as “popular culture,” as it is eminent with today’s generation. However, there are significant limits for these arguments.

Facebook has expanded and improvised tremendously since it opened its doors to the members of the public, enabling the growth of an extensively diverse population to communicate with relations that live abroad via an online chat forum, encouraging the elimination of all geographic boundaries at no cost to the user. This has since then unlocked avenues for global communication, thus encouraging global connectivity to a large extent. Once Facebook memberships were made accessible to the public, the value of the company shot up dramatically from US$15 billion in 2007 to US$89.2 billion in 2011 becoming one of the most profitable companies, falling second to Google. With the growing number of users on Facebook around the globe, socio-economic boundaries have been blurred to a large extent. This was possible through ‘media oligopoly,’ wherein users have been made aware of global updates through ‘liking’ different society and economy related pages designed on the site by different profit and non-profit organizations. However, Marshal McLuhan espoused that even though Facebook’s improvisations aims to improve ‘global consciousness’ by allowing users to interact amongst one another, the site shall not be successful in creating or maintaining the ‘utopian idea’ of the ‘global village’ online. Contrastingly, Kirthiga Reddy, Head of Office of Facebook in India, intends to alter the Facebook culture in India to enhance social utility within the country by increasing connectivity. Reddy states, “Facebook touches lives in fundamental ways,” this as a result has allowed the site to become the richest database for people’s interests and tastes. This has had a huge impact in driving the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Reddy also argues that securing the correct culture is important, as that is what influences people’s decisions. Through Facebook, Reddy aims to ‘foster the next generation of women leaders in India; driving children’s causes, access to education; and making an impact at a national level.’ This has reinterpreted “popular culture” by creating, what Jenkins describes as, “pop cosmopolitan,” where applications on Facebook have enabled ‘transcultural flows of pop culture to inspire new forms of global consciousness.’

Today, Facebook has evolved into an online cultural industry. Active users on Facebook have transformed into, what Adorno and Horkheimer believe to be “cultural dupes.” They define cultural dupes to be ‘passive recipients’ within the cultural industry, as they are prone to consuming cultural products rather than producing their own. On the contrary, Facebook has provided a platform for its users to innovate and advertise their thoughts and ideas to a far more diverse market of 750 million users around the globe. This has, to a large extent, blurred the boundaries between the producer and the consumer, creating what Alvin Toffler claims to be a “prosumer”. The site enables its users to engage in activities that encourage “immaterial labour,” a new concept of labour that allows other users to understand the cultural history of a particular commodity or service. This style of labour fosters ‘relationships and ultimately life itself.’ It creates a dual-purpose environment, allowing users to not only enjoy the applications provided by the site, during their leisure time, but also for work purposes. However, Adorno and Horkheimer describe this type of environment as an ‘amusement under late capitalism that would simply prolong work,’ triggering an adverse affect to the creator of the product.

Consumption of material goods and services through Facebook is a significant part of human sociability, as it develops individual identity, which is heavily influenced by societal structure. Similar to an offline environment, individuals in an online environment such as Facebook, have certain behavioural patterns and habits that distinguish the way they consume particular products and services. This is a ‘bona fide expression of self in and on society.’ The way active users on Facebook tend to utilise the applications the site has to offer testifies “subcultural resistance” towards the dominant social norms that are, at times, dictated by the capitalist economy, simply suggesting that the actions displayed by users in an online environment is a mere reflection of what occurs offline. Facebook, at present, has changed the definition of consumption, ‘it is not restricted to shopping and the movement of purchase, but rather it is a result of human production.’ Douglas and Isherwood argue that such practices encourage discrimination as it is influenced primarily by the ‘vistas’ and ‘hierarchies’ within offline environments. Similarly, the Marxist Theory suggests that ‘consumption is the most obvious evidence of inequality under capitalism.’ This reiterates the idea that Facebook could not be successful in creating or maintaining the ‘utopian idea’ of the ‘global village’ online because our contemporary modern societies don’t exist in an idealistic way.

Facebook has become an eminent part of today’s generation, influencing how their identities are built and how their behaviours are controlled through various forms of “social capital.” Bourdieu and Wacquant define social capital as “the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.” Research has shown that almost half of the American population has created an account on Facebook and that university students on average spend approximately half an hour on Facebook every day. Active users on Facebook, this predominantly applies to today’s youth, whom interact with other users, including friends, family and neighbours, on a daily basis tend to have adverse effects upon their psychological well-being, such as their self-esteem/self-worth, confidence and their satisfaction with life. Students become highly susceptible towards the content posted on the site by other users. Messages and comments announced on Facebook have the tendency to be highly persuasive as they come from within the student’s social network, thus impacting the way students behave in an online environment. Are such persuasions giving rise to subcultural frictions within an online environment? Negative racial attitudes have advanced due to ‘victim messages’ and ‘superiority-based messages.’ Although victim messages are relatively easier to digest in an online environment, they still encourage ‘viewing one’s group as victimized, which ultimately leads to feelings of anger and fear towards out-groups’ and ‘a strong desire to strengthen the in-group.’ This exhibits that resistance is more so towards the material delivered on the site by users who are unable to fathom Facebook’s diverse platform due to the restrictions contained within the social norms of their offline environments. In reality, there are imaginary divisions, such as the notion of East and West, on social networking sites like Facebook such divisions are non-existent, hence, it becomes harder to comply with offline cultural regulations. ‘Online culture has been considered as a knowledge system formed by constellations of shared practices, expectations, and structures that members choose to follow with the help of networked computer technology.’ Within a users immediate offline environment, exposure to new cultural practices is rare; this may either complement or even differ from existing practices. For example, a study conducted on the Cultural Differences between an American (Facebook) and a Chinese (Renren) social networking site showed that Renren users were more involved in benevolent in-group sharing than that if they had participated on Facebook. This exhibits that culturally strict offline communities, e.g. Chinese students, are relatively more reserved online in comparison to other offline communities, e.g. American students. However, there are exceptions. Similar to the offline culture, the online culture may influence users to ‘internalize cultural values and/or practice the shared in-group norms.’ Some questions that arise from this is ‘how do individuals adapt to different cultures online? Will experience in multiple online cultures improve individuals’ cultural competence offline?’

Picture From: under30ceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/mark-zuckerberg-032613.jpg

Picture From: under30ceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/mark-zuckerberg-032613.jpg

Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook with the intention that ‘everybody could share everything,’ however, his vision of a “transparent society” seemed to be ‘highly naïve’. The Facebook Private Policy states, “[f]or content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (‘IP content’), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook” (Facebook, 2010). This verifies that all content posted onto Facebook by the users, such as ‘demographic data, behaviour, usage and photographs,’ becomes the property of Facebook. The Facebook Corporation may then reproduce this content for profit. However, other online users can also reproduce this content for illegitimate purposes. Most often, active Facebook users take uninformed risks; this has led commentators to believe that ‘Facebook will lead to an increasingly high number of identity thefts.’ A research conducted by Sophos (an international security company) discovered that ‘41% of Facebook users will divulge personal information – such as email, date of birth and phone number – to complete strangers.’ This can cause an increase in identity theft and black-mailing along with an increased surveillance by employers and ex-partners. As a result, active Facebook users lose their claim to a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy.’ In the 2010 documentary starred by Nev Schulman, Catfish, spoke about a woman who created a false identity, on a social networking website, in the hopes of luring other users into romantic relationships. This kind of deceit most often occurs for money. Facebook can also be thought of as a modern representation of the ‘Panopticon’ model as it can be portrayed as a ‘perfect disciplinary apparatus’ that enable people to self-regulate within the presence of some form of authority. Nevertheless, for some form of action to be taken towards crimes like identity theft, online racial attacking and online stalking, the crime has to be reported by users multiple times till it is addressed.

The purpose of Facebook has changed dramatically, since the time of its creation, causing its culture to constantly evolve. This has enabled the company to have substantial profit in a short duration of time. However, at the same time, it has reinterpreted the meaning of “popular culture” online. The idea that Facebook is a virtual ‘Panopticon’ model that enables users to self-regulate, to a large extent, is untrue as most users tend to manipulate and exploit other users for their own personal gain by exceeding the boundaries permitted by the site. These kinds of behaviors are often a sign of resistance, which is a reflection of our offline environment. Hence, it is true, that the site shall not be successful in creating or maintaining the ‘utopian idea’ of the ‘global village’ in an online environment as the social norms within our offline environment is less than ideal.

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