Yeey I’m on Facebook! :s
With 500 million active users spending over 700 billion minutes per month, Facebook is gaining more and more traffic each single day. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world. With these numbers we can no longer ignore the social impact of social network sites. I shall focus in this blog on Facebook since it is the most controversial social network site and has provoked several debates concerning privacy, reality and commercialization.
On the website of Facebook one can find a short description of what Facebook is and her services:
Founded in February 2004, Facebook is a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. The company develops technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people’s real-world social connections. Anyone can sign up for Facebook and interact with the people they know in a trusted environment.
‘…in a trusted environment‘, now how trusted is this environment? A environment where ones data is being used for commercial purposes. Under the pretext of ‘helps people communicate more efficiently‘ Facebook exploits the commercial opportunities of all the data provided by her users. One of the three board members of Facebook, Peter Thiel, says about Facebook:
Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries – and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all.
Now if one of the board members clearly admits that Facebook has commercial intentions, how much longer should we keep this ‘social network hype bubble’ alive? Of course there is not doubt about the social context of Facebook, it allows us to stay in touch with friends from all over the world and share our information, pictures and video’s with them. Nevertheless, under this layer one can find a hidden layer of Facebook. I would like to discuss this further – since one can write a whole thesis about the business model of Facebook, I would like to focus on the role that Facebook plays in our reality consciousness – using the work of Baudrillard [he also has a Facebook page! Kind of peculiar considering his theories] as base.
The first time that I’ve read Baudrillard I felt like there was finally an honest attempt to grasp the mechanisms of reality by a post-modern philosopher. Compared with the other philosophers that I had to slog through (but maybe that was just a matter of personal taste) Baudrillard was a welcome relief.
The concepts of reality, simulation, simulacra and hyper-reality that he introduces were mind blowing since I saw these concepts all around me, particularly in contemporary society and media. One of the characteristics of our modern day society is our urge to pursue a simulacrum created bye the different layers in our society: the movies create a simulacrum for our fantasies, the universities for education, the work-floor creates a simulacrum for our ambitions, our family, friends and the government create a simulacrum for our social behavior et cetera. Each layer imposes certain illusions on us that we constantly try to pursue. In this pursuit we try to replace ‘the real’ with a more appealing simulacrum. We can not ignore the obviously commercially driven nature of these simulacra. Which in Western society’s media is very clear visible.
Now if we look at Facebook we could say that our Facebook profile is a simulacrum of our social network; we try to have as many ‘friends’ as possible and we continuously add new and interesting information to our page to keep up the appearance of having a healthy and interesting social life. But in real life we those ‘friends’ on Facebook can hardly be called friends. As cited above we find a short description of the services of Facebook on their website: ‘…the digital mapping of people’s real-world social connections.‘ But how real are these connections really? Facebook merely functions as a simulacrum for our social network. The situation gets even more complex when we look at ‘fake‘ Facebook accounts. Fake identities or stolen identities are being used on Facebook to create a social network of relationships. The reality in this sense is far fetched: a person hides his true self behind a created identity AND this identity is being used on Facebook that provides a virtual platform for social networks. In this situation we can speak of a double simulacrum.
But becoming recently a fanatic Facebook user, (I couldn’t fall behind as a MA New Media student, it would be embarrassing) I couldn’t resist the lure of this virtual social network, where with spending time on Facebook on a rainy day can still give you the feeling of being socially active.
Although I still think that the commercial intentions of Facebook are still not enough discussed – I would like to go into that further in one of my other blog posts – I hope that Facebook won’t become a substitute of our real friendships. The simulacrum will become dangerous once the reality will be taken away, then there will be no reference for those ‘friendships’ anymore; instead of hanging out with friends and family we would browse Facebook. This is one of the big challenges in this modern day world: to stay connected to the real instead of connected to the internet, and to maintain real, genuine relationships.