What I’m reading

Facebook and Visibility

Bucher, T. (2012). Want to be on the top? Algorithmic power and the threat of invisibility on Facebook. New Media & Society, 14(7), 1164–1180. http://ift.tt/2ngfW1X

Ideas around visibility and agency are taken up by Bucher in an article about EdgeRank. Using notions of disciplinary power espoused by Foucault in his Panopticon, Bucher draws three conclusions to link visibility to discipline and power:
1.    Disciplinary power, understood by Foucault to be constraining and enabling, allowing subjects to reach their “full potentiality as useful individuals” (Foucault, 1991, p. 212). In Facebook, a useful individual is one who participates, communicates and interacts, argues Bucher. The ‘punishment’, then, for not doing so is invisibility.

2.    Given the content it pushes to the tops of news feeds, EdgeRank makes it appear as though everyone is commenting and liking things, providing an incentive for the individual to join in too. Disciplinary power judges according to what is considered to be normative; Facebook makes it seem as though participation is the norm here.

3.    Popularity on Facebook increases visibility, feeding further popularity, reinforcing an impression of visibility which, Bucher convincingly argues, “runs counter to […] discourse that focuses on democratization and empowerment” (p. 1176).
So in summary: the punishments for non-participation, the norms or behaviours which are privileged, and the cycles of interaction – might these be the ways we can uncover algorithms that are hidden?


Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison (Reprint). London: Penguin Books.

March 11, 2017 at 03:26PM
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