Law in the Internet Society
It is strongly recommended that you include your outline in the body of your essay by using the outline as section titles. The headings below are there to remind you how section and subsection titles are formatted.

Mark Zuckerberg's Virtual Panopticon

-- By MuhammadUsman - 22 Oct 2021

Outline: Freedom of thought is the very essence of being human. However, Facebook threatens this very basic human right. This essay argues that Zuckerberg has taken guidance from Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon in order to control, modify and manipulate our thoughts and behavior. The paper explores two ideas in particular, which form the basis of Bentham’s prison and are also used by Facebook to control and modify its user's behavior: 1) constant surveillance and 2) the prisoners state of permanent visibility. To regain our ability to think freely, it is concluded, Facebook must be rejected in its entirety.

In today’s digital world, freedom of thought stands at a critical crossroads. Advances in technology and communication could be used to further free thought yet some tech companies have turned these advances into weapons that are eventually used to restrict our thought. The social media behemoth Facebook, in particular, has effectuated revolutionary means for controlling our thoughts and shaping our behavior. To achieve this, Mark Zuckerberg has taken much from Jeremy Bentham’s perfect prison. Bentham proposed the idea that the behavior of inmates of a prison can be automated and controlled if they are constantly surveilled and are in a state of permanent visibility. Zuckerberg’s prison has achieved this effectively, and in doing so has endangered what makes us humans—the ability to think freely.

Zuckerberg’s virtual panopticon, just like Bentham’s prison, controls and automates behavior through constant surveillance and a state of permanent visibility of its users. Under the model, Facebook has assumed the role of the “guard” and monitors, gathers and saves every activity of its users in database to constantly analyze it. As per Facebook’s own Data Policy, Facebook collects, stores and processes user information such as name, gender, date of birth, pages and groups a user interacts with, type of content a user views or engages with, transactions made online, types of devices used, GPS location and IP address etc. Users are given no option but to allow Facebook to access this information as it is a mandatory condition of using Facebook. Research also suggests that while a user is logged onto Facebook, all other websites visited by that user can also be tracked by the network. Moreover, Facebook is also known to collaborate with major data brokers from whom it buys data about its users’ car ownership, mortgages and shopping habits. In short, Facebook tracks and processes a user’s entire on-site and off-site activity. It knows our deepest fears and desires, our worst enemies and friends and knows what we want before we want it. A study conducted by experts from Stanford University and Cambridge University show that Facebook activity data alone knows more about our psychology than family, friends and even our significant other. The question that naturally flows from the above discussion is how, and in what ways, can Facebook use this information?

Facebook claims user data is collected and processed for purposes of marketing and is generally beneficial and useful to the Facebook community. As Zuckerberg himself said, “people consistently tell us that if they are going to see ads, they want them to be relevant. That means we need to understand their interests.” Assuming arguendo Zuckerberg’s claims are true, it surely cannot be taken as an everlasting consent by all the users to be constantly monitored and surveilled. Moreover, in depth reporting by various journalists have shown that this data can be used, and is also being used, to modify and manipulate user’s behavior. For example, as a study published in 2014 shows, Facebook has learned to shape user’s emotions and feelings by manipulating the newsfeed. The Cambridge Analytica scandal also demonstrates that the same methods can be used to alter political behavior. All of this just shows that because of constant surveillance and aggressive data collection, Facebook has successfully acquired the necessary tools to modify and manipulate its user’s behavior, sometimes in ways that are desirable to itself.

If constant surveillance was not enough, Facebook users are also under a state of permanent visibility and accordingly modify/automate their behavior while interacting with/at the ‘Newsfeed.’ In simple terms, the newsfeed shows all activity of a particular user’s network to that user and also shares that user’s activity with his/her network. A user can contribute to the newsfeed by likes, comments, sharing his/her own content (status, picture or video) or re-sharing someone else’s content etc. The act of contributing to a newsfeed is equivalent to a performance in the public that is visible and subject to review. This aspect of permanent visibility, in turn, shapes the process of contribution itself. It is perhaps not too far-fetched an idea to assume that when a person performs in the public, he or she, keeping the audience in mind, will tailor the performance with a view to attaining the maximum acceptance, appreciation and validation. This is not to say that many people genuinely do possess the desire to inform and empower their networks but to establish the point that whatever our contribution to the newsfeed may be, it is visible and subject to review. Hence, Bentham’s panopticon and Facebook both regulate behavior through permanent visibility and constant surveillance. The only difference being that surveillance on Facebook also comes from those with whom user’s share. In that sense, Facebook users enjoy a unique position where they are the prisoner’s but also occupy the guard tower simultaneously.

It is time we acknowledge that Facebook is a badly designed social networking site. It is a bad idea for Facebook to provide its services in exchange for aggressive data collection. The virtual panopticon created by Mark Zuckerberg is truly a revolutionary form of social control. It is a much more impressive, efficient and effective design where people act in a way beneficial to the operators without ever realizing they are being controlled. While Facebook users continue to see the social networking site as a measure of empowerment, but in reality, it is a measure of imprisonment. Such an invasive and manipulative scheme might be the biggest threat to our ability to even think freely.

Going forward, I believe it is time we sit and reflect whether our thoughts, desires and feelings that pop into our heads are authentic or manipulated by Mr. Zuckerberg. If freedom of thought is to exist, we must start by acknowledging its enemies. As things now stand, Facebook must be rejected or we shall all remain prisoners forever.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r3 - 20 Jan 2022 - 09:49:47 - MuhammadUsman
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM