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Michel Foucault, Panopticism, and Social Media



Argues that contemporary social media is a new form of Foucauldian panopticism wherein people voluntarily opt into asymmetric surveillance.
Michel Foucault, Panopticism, and Social Media
Michel Foucault died in 1984 before the rise of the Internet as a standard mode of
communication. While Foucault spent his life particularly concerned about the relationship between
power and knowledge and the use of power/knowledge as a mechanism of social control, the levels of
surveillance techniques present on the Internet far exceeded the mechanisms available within
Foucault's lifetime. Utilizing Foucauldian panopticism as a framework for unveiling social networking
as a mode of productive power, one must not dismiss Foucault his inability to anticipate the existence
of online social networking, but rather one should extend Foucault's arguments to a realm unbeknownst
to Foucault.
One notion of power, first formulated by Foucault is his notion of biopower. The term refers to
the regulation of the citizenry via techniques intended on subjugating the bodies of the populace.
Foucault begins his examination of biopower by tracing its roots back to previous regime-types in
which a sovereign possessed the right of life and death over his or her subjects. Foucault explains that
the sovereign's right of life was essentially deduced from the sovereign's right of death. That is, the
sovereign had the power to decide if someone should be killed. Foucault explains, “The sovereign
exercised his right of life only by exercising his right to kill, or by refraining from killing; he evidenced
his power over life only through the death he was capable of requiring. The right which was
formulated as the 'power of life and death' was in reality the right to take life or let live.1 This
methodology is in line with the sovereign's other deductive powers, that is, the ability to seize one's
possessions, time and body.
This deductive force, over time, became merely one of several apparatuses of power. In fact,
1 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction, (New York: Vintage Books, 1990): 136
Foucault proclaims that, “'Deduction' has tended to be no longer the major form of power but merely
one element among others, working to incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimize and organize the
forces under it.”2 Rather than manipulating life through deductive forces, new regime-types began
utilizing a positive impact in order to manipulate life to its utmost efficacy.
With the focus shifted towards maintaining life, war and capital punishment had to be
reinterpreted. Wars, which were once waged on behalf of the sovereign, began being waged on behalf
of the existence of the entire population. Essentially, death became a tool to ensure an individual's
continued existence and moreover, the perpetual existence of the population. As with capital
punishment of an individual, war was justified as such: “One had the right to kill those who represented
a kind of biological danger to others.”3 Thus, the right of death was not simply legitimized violence,
but rather, it was the extension of life that was utilized as its justification. Foucault supports said
argument by invoking the notion of suicide. He argues that death is the absolute limit of power. From
this notion, suicide was deemed illegal and was one of the earliest subjects of sociological analysis
because one who commits suicide is usurping power from the sovereign.
It was from the seventeenth century onward that power over life evolved into two intertwined
forms. The first form was centered on disciplining the body, optimizing its capabilities and having a
parallel relationship between a body's docility and its efficiency. This practice occurred through the
disciplines as will be explained. The second power over life was that positive power exerted over the
species body and focused on biological, reproductive processes such as birth and mortality, life
expectancy and health more generally. The oversight on this second power over life required the
invention of regulatory controls which Foucault refers to as, “a bio-politics of the population.”4 Hence,
these two poles now served not to kill, but rather, “to invest life through and through” and as such,
2 Ibid
3 Foucault, 1990, 138
4 Foucault, 1990,139
“The old power of death that symbolized sovereign power was now carefully supplanted by the
administration of bodies and the calculated management of life.”5 These two forms of power are
collectively referred to as biopower.
It was biopower, Foucault argues, which aided in the development of capitalism which, “would
not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and
the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes.”6 However, this factor alone
was insufficient as capitalism's development demanded the growth of said factors, as well as their
reinforcement, combined with their availability and human docility. In other words, certain
methodologies were necessary to maximize the forces at hand while preventing a greater difficulty with
regards to governance. In order to achieve these results, governance became less focused on
prevention of certain behaviors and activities and instead became focused on processes of
Discipline, Panopticism and Docile Bodies
It has already been mentioned that Foucault believes that the development of capitalism was
reliant upon biopower. Furthermore, Foucault argues that as industrialization occurred and a free
market became necessary, forced labor and physical methods of punishing dissent decreased while
positive methods of constructing optimal populations increased. Rather than continuing to punish
through previous methods, new methods of punishment were designed to punish in less physical, but
no less effective manners. Foucault explains:
in our societies, the systems of punishment are to be situated in a certain 'political economy' of
the body: even if they do not make use of violent or bloody punishment, even when they use
'lenient' methods involving confinement or correction, it is always the body that is at issue
the body and its forces, their utility and their docility, their distribution and their submission.7
5 Ibid
6 Foucault, 1990, 141
7 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (New York: Vintage Books, 1995): 25
Hence, in order to create an optimal workforce, disciplinary methods were employed.
Bodies are not independent, but rather are tied into complex relations of power. Additionally,
bodies are involved in a reciprocal relationship in that, "the body becomes a useful force only if it is
both a productive body and a subjected body."8
In order to develop optimal bodies, three disciplinary methodologies were implemented. The
point of this form of training was to separate, analyze, differentiate and in total, create desirable
individuals.9 The methods utilized in order to accomplish this goal were hierarchical observation,
normalizing judgment and the combination of the two, the examination.
Hierarchical observation was a disciplinary method which was modeled after military camps.
Foucault argues that this model spread to other social institutions such as housing estates, hospitals,
asylums, prisons and schools. This form of discipline functions as a microscope on individual conduct
and creates, "an apparatus of observation, recording, and training."10 The purpose of hierarchical
observation, Foucault argues, is to instill obedience and to prevent debauchery. Thus, the previously
mentioned institutions maintained an ability to observe subordinates, record their activities and train
them so as not to stray from the norm. Foucault continues by explaining that the most perfect
disciplinary structure would be one in which a single gaze could oversee the entirety of the masses.
Normalizing judgment involved correcting departures from acceptable behavior. In order to do
so, small penal systems were instituted, which distinguished micro-penalties of time (lateness,
absences, interruption), activity (inattentiveness, negligence), behavior (impoliteness, disobedience)
and speech (chatter, insolence), the body (attitudes, gestures, hygiene) and sexuality (impurity,
indecency).11 This means that even slight departures from accepted norms were observed and
8 Foucault, 1995, 26
9 Foucault, 1995, 170
10 Foucault, 1995, 173
11 Foucault, 1995, 78
punished in order to establish correct behavior.
In order to normalize, Foucault argues that five operations were utilized: (1) actions were
referred to a norm which serves as a field of comparison, a space of differentiation and the principle
rule, (2) it differentiated individuals from each other in their ability to follow the rule and by
establishing the rule as a minimum threshold of tolerability, (3) it measured and hierarchized the levels
of individuals, (4) it introduces the goal of conformity and (5) it defined the abnormal.12 Thus, the
power of molding human beings was again a positive power in that individuals were created and
molded into an ideal by measuring and correcting differences between individuals with reference to the
accepted norm.
The examination was the utilization of both hierarchical observation and normalization. It was
normalizing in that it surveys, classifies and punishes. It was hierarchical in that the differences
between individuals are visible and can be used to differentiate and pass judgment on the individuals.
Hence, each individual became a case which could be analyzed and described.
Foucault argues that the examination transformed the economy of visibility into an exercise of
power. The subject, not the sovereign became seen at all times and Foucault explains that the
examination, "is the technique by which power, instead of emitting the signs of its potency, instead of
imposing its mark on its subjects, holds them in a mechanism of objectification."13 Additionally,
Foucault argues that examination introduces the notion of individuality into the field of documentation
since each individual's aptitude was defined and contrasted with each other individual as well as with
the norm. Comparative fields were established which created the ability, "to classify, to form
categories, to determine averages and to fix norms."14 Therefore, Foucault explains that each
individual became a case to be studied since each individual could be described, judged, measured and
12 Foucault, 1995, 182-183
13 Foucault, 1995, 187
14 Foucault, 1995, 190
compared with others with regards to what was now perceived as individuality (the measurement and
marks that determine one's place, relative to the norm). At the same time, it was the individual who
was to be trained, corrected, classified and normalized.
In order for the disciplines to be of maximum effect, an optimal observatory method was
concocted. Foucault argues that this method is panoptic surveillance. A panopticon was a theoretical
prison structure originally conceived of by the British utilitarian Jeremy Bentham. The design of the
prison was such that there would be a circular structure at the center of the facility in which prison
managers could observe the inmates who would be located in cells around the perimeter of the interior.
The genius of Bentham's design was that while the prison staff could be watching any solitary prisoner
at any time from their perched vantage point, no one prisoner could be certain that he or she was being
surveyed at any specific point in time. Thus, power is omnipresent in that it is always visible, but it is
never, on the part of those being surveyed, verifiable. While the structure was conceived for prisons,
Bentham, in Panopticon, argued that it would function equally as well if it were to be applied to
asylums (Letter XIX), hospitals (Letter XX) and schools (Letter XXI).15
Foucault argues that it is the panopticon which allows for the aforementioned forms of
contemporary discipline and punishment to function. Visibility is at the heart of the disciplines and is
at the heart of the panopticon as well. The disciplines serve to further the notion of biopower, but it is
panoptic surveillance which is the overarching methodology on which the entire structure is founded.
The panopticon is successful in that it serves, "to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and
permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the
surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action."16 Under Foucault's
panoptic model, each individual was constantly under the threat of surveillance. It is the threat alone of
15 Jeremy Bentham, Panopticon in The Panopticon Writings, Mirian Bozovic ed. (London: Verso, 1995): 29-95.
16 Foucault, 1995, 201
continual observation due to the equally constant state of visibility which Foucault argues leads to
power's idyllic state in that the actual exercise of power is superfluous.
Foucault built upon Bentham's concept and utilized the panopticon metaphorically. Unlike
Bentham who was more heavily focused on the panopticon as a prison structure, Foucault understood
panopticism as being present in schools and hospitals which Bentham noted, but in additional
institution such as factories. The student, patient and worker were parallel to the ever-visible prison
inmates in that each individual was always an object of information for those in power and never a
subject in communication. Finally, panoptic surveillance fulfilled three requirements: (1) it obtained
power at the lowest possible cost (both economically and in maintenance cost since resistance was
negated), (2) it extended power to its maximum intensity without interval and (3) it increased the
docility of those who were surveyed while additionally increasing utility.
The panoptic model spread throughout society in an attempt to develop the capitalist economy,
spread education and fortify morality. The disciplines were thus able to permeate all assets of society
which allowed for the achievements of the previously mentioned goals without requiring a singular
executor of law and order as was the case in previous regimes. In fact, as regime-types and economic
systems changed, the bourgeoisie was dependent upon a new methodology of oversight and control. It
was the disciplines that provided, "a guarantee of the submission of forces and bodies."17 Thus,
Foucault argues that it was the Enlightenment which invented the notion of individual liberties which
also invented the disciplines.
With a panoptic structure in place throughout society and the disciplines being the method by
which power was actualized, the goal of creating docile bodies could be achieved. Foucault argues that
docile bodies – those that were economically productive as well as unlikely to rebel were ideal for the
political structure of the modern, industrial age. Bodies were, thanks to the positive forces of the
17 Foucault, 1995, 222
disciplines, trained to function in schools, factories and the military thanks to omnipresent observatory
forces built upon the panoptic model. Discipline was executed throughout society and it was the threat
of punishment which led to docility. Foucault explains in detail:
Thus discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, 'docile' bodies. Discipline increases
the forces of the body (in economic terms of utility) and diminishes these same forces (in
political terms of obedience). In short,it dissociates power from the body; on the one hand, it
turns it into an 'aptitude,' a 'capacity,' which it seeks to increase; on the other hand, it reverses
the course of the energy, the power that might result from it, and turns it into a relation of strict
subjection. If economic exploitation separates the force and the product of labor, let us say
that disciplinary coercion establishes in the body the constricting link between an increased
aptitude and an increased domination.18
In fact, this notion also led to self-regulating individuals. Discipline became less necessary as
individuals desired to fit into the prescribed norm and disciplined themselves. The unequal gaze of the
panopticon internalized the disciplinary individuality and docility, that is, acceptance of said
institutions and forcing them upon oneself became the pinnacle of the disciplinary society. Actions did
not need to be controlled as people began controlling themselves in accordance with the norm.
Increasing Social Media Usage
Over the past decade social media usage has spread widely among Americans. According to the
Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans utilizing social networking websites has increased
from 7 percent of all Americans in 2005 to 65 percent in 2015.19 With specific regards to only Internet
users, 76 percent use at least one social networking site. While the overall number of social media
networking users has leveled off since 2013, growth in social media usage continues among those who
were not among the earliest adopters such as senior citizens. Pew notes that “90% of young adults use
social media … at the same time, there has been a 69-point bump among those ages 30-49, from 8% in
18 Foucault, 1995, 138
19 Andrew Perrin, “Social Media Usage: 2005-2015,” Pew Research Center (October 8, 2015).
2005 to 77% today.20” Among those who are 65 and older, 35 percent currently use social media
compared to 2 percent who used social networking websites in 2005.
In addition to the growth of social networking in senior citizens, increases have been found
among other demographics. While only 6 percent of African-Americans, 7 percent of whites and 10
percent of Hispanics utilized social media in 2005, these numbers have risen to 56 percent for African-
Americans and 65 percent for both whites and Hispanics. Even rural communities have seen a major
increase in social media usage as only 5 percent of rural adults used social media in 2005 while that
number has increased more than tenfold to 58 percent of rural adults in 2015. While factors such as
limited or less technologically advanced Internet access might have caused an initial lag in social media
usage among rural communities, the rise in usage is considerable. This could similarly explain why
those in lower income brackets (earning less than $30,000) use social media at a 56 percent rate while
those in the highest income bracket (earning over $75,000) use social media at a 78 percent rate. Yet,
like rural social media users, this has been a sizable increase from 2005 when only 4 percent of those in
households making under $30,000 used social media. Finally, social media usage is utilized at
comparable rates for men and women as 68 percent of women and 62 percent of men use social
media.21 Thus social media usage, while not entirely equal among age, race and class, has increased
tremendously across these intersectional lines over the past decade.
Social Media – The 21st Century Panopticon
As Foucault considered panoptic surveillance to be present in physical institutions such as
prisons, schools, factories and the military, the precedent for panopticism as a framework for analyzing
social networking sites is already in place. At its heart, the panopticon requires asymmetric
surveillance and asymmetric power. While the guards can potentially be viewing any and all of the
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
prisoners, the prisoners cannot see the guards. This is an apt description of social media and it can be
applied three-fold; (1) one cannot see the data collection that occurs by the social networking site itself,
(2) one cannot see the data collection that occurs by the United States government through the National
Security Agency (NSA) and specifically their use of the PRISM surveillance program and finally (3)
one cannot see the potential multitude of contacts who can inspect social media posted by a content
generator. Primarily, the rest of this paper will focus on the third form of surveillance.
Social networking sites utilize the panoptic technique of inducing a state of conscious and
permanent visibility. Even if social media users are ignorant as to the data mining techniques of both
the site and governmental authorities, permanent visibility is innate within the constructs of the
medium. That is, social media users voluntarily opt into a network in which they subject themselves to
visibility by their chosen peers, even absent of external forces. This visibility is asymmetric since any
given social media user can only view one individual page at any given time. Conversely, said user's
information is potentially, if not actually, visible to all of the user's peers. Each individual social media
user has opted into the situation of a panoptic prisoner and simultaneously a member of the guard
tower. The user is a prisoner in that his or her information is permanently visible and whether or not
one's page is being accessed at any given moment is unknown and unknowable. The user is a member
of the guard tower since he or she can be surveilling any accessible page at any given time
unbeknownst to the owner of the page. While Foucault argues that workers, patients and prisoners
must be conscious of the permanent state of visibility, it is not a state that is willingly chosen. Social
networking, however, is optional. Thus, the notion of users being conscious of said visibility is
multiply true since rather than potentially being lulled into a false sense of anonymity, the choice to
participate in social networking renders the subject even more conscious of the panoptic conditions
since he or she willingly chose to participate in the platform.
What should be expected through this panoptic surveillance is the existence of self-regulating
social media users but with this notion comes a caveat of selective performance. Panoptic surveillance
outside of social media renders subjects permanently visible. Foucault argues that time, activity,
behavior, speech, the body and sexuality are regulated through panoptic surveillance and reference to
the norm. Social networking sites have specific regulations on sexualtiy as some sites prohibit users
from posting visuals that are deemed to be indecent or inappropriate for other users. While this
formality exists within the confines of the platform's user agreement, social media users also self-
regulate by choosing what to post and what to exclude.
This selective performance is not within the panoptic description laid out by Foucault, but it
does not strip the metaphor of its power, instead extending the panoptic metaphor. Self-regulation
occurs when one chooses whether or not to post. What one posts text or visuals – might be seen by
any and all of those with whom the user has chosen to share said information. Posts are not neutral but
are virtual extensions of the individual as the individual affirms the content of the post through the post
itself. Yet social media posts do not exist in and of themselves nor do they exist solely for the creator
of the posts. Instead, due to the nature of social media, posts are created for consumption for if they
were not intended for consumption, the poster could easily retain posts for private rather than public
use; what one does not post is equally as informative as what one chooses to post. Sharing this content
is done transparently as the content is attached to the user and the post renders the user further visible
to the social media guards – everybody else.
According to Foucault, micro-penalties exist to punish deviations from the norm to positively
generate behavior and social media utilizes a similar methodology. However, these penalties are not
utilized through negative reinforcement but rather are positively reinforced through social media
mechanisms. For example a user's peers can like or share any given content. Through this process,
users are positively reinforcing that the specific content is appropriate and acceptable rather than
deviant. Content must therefore be generated and framed in such a manner that it is pleasing to the
user's peer group and favored among the multitude of existing content that the group consumes. This
generation of content in that it seeks to please the surveilling masses cannot extend far beyond the
acceptable norm or risk the potential for being ignored or receiving negative comments. While
Foucault speaks more generally about the negative impact of penalties as a positive reinforcer of
behavior, this positive affirmation similarly positively generates behaviors. In desiring this affirmation,
the social media user fulfils Foucault's notion that, "He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who
knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon
himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he
becomes the principle of his own subjection."22
That social media users craft their content based on the knowledge of permanent visibility and
the self-regulating normalization is proven through two examples. Using a "learning model of human
behavior change in response to feedback on social media," Sanmay Das and Allen Lavoie articulate
that users of social media sites including Reddit and Wikipedia change their post content based on how
they perceived their prior efforts to have been received.23 Similarly, upon the revelation that the
NSA's PRISM program involved the United States government's collection of data from social
networking sites including Facebook, Pew found that "25% of those who are aware of the surveillance
programs (22% of all adults) say they have changed the patterns of their own use of various
technological platforms."24 The ways in which social media users have changed their behaviors
22 Foucault, 1995, 202-203
23 Sanmay Das & Allen Lavoie, “The Effects of Feedback on Human Behavior in Social Media: An Inverse Reinforcement
Learning Model,”Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems
(AAMAS 2014) (May 5-9, 2014).
24 Lee Rainie & Mary Madden, “Americans' Privacy Strategies Post-Snowden” Pew Research Center (March 16, 2015).
include the avoidance of using certain terminology in online communications. Thus social media users
are aware of both omnipresent surveillance and the ways in which those who view their content
respond to said content. Users craft their posts accordingly so that they might be better received by
both the state apparatus (NSA) and by their social networking peers.
The method through which social media users voluntarily subject themselves to panoptic
surveillance is confession. Foucault traces the notion of confession back through the Middle Ages and
argues that since confession was codified as a pronouncement of truth during the Lateran Council in
1215, it has remained present in Western societies.25 "Western man has become a confessing animal"
Foucault argues as he notes justice, medicine, education, family relationships and love relations as sites
of confession, one's crimes, sins, thoughts, desires, illnesses and troubles as content for confessions and
the public and private and one's parents, teachers and doctors as locations for confessions.26 Social
networking allows users to confess one's thoughts on any topic, to an audience of the public with an
ease that would astound Foucault.
Far from being emancipatory, Foucault argues that confession actually obfuscates power
relations. Confession, Foucault explains, "is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also
the subject of the statement; it is also a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship, for one does not
confess without the presence (or virtual presence) of a partner who is not simply the interlocutor but the
authority who requires the confession, prescribes it and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge,
punish, forgive, console, and reconcile."27 Wendy Brown articulates that, "In believing truth-telling
about our experiences to be our liberation, Foucault suggests, we forget that this truth has been
established as the secret to our souls not by us but by those who would discipline us through that
25 Foucault, 1990, 58
26 Foucault, 1990, 59
27 Foucault, 1990, 61-62
truth."28 While Foucault is referencing confession specifically with regards to sex, his argument again
can be extended to the confessions of social media users. That confession has been historically
ascribed to sexual behaviors and activities does not render it impotent in describing the problems of
general confession on social networking sites.
While social media might be generally used for interpersonal communication and can be
thought of as a virtual panopticon, there are examples of the potential for resistance within social
networking such as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street which both began as social media-based
social movements. Foucault's analysis can again be applied to explain such phenomenon.
Steven Lukes, in Power: A Radical View, concerns himself with notions of power in Foucault's
political philosophy, including Foucault's notion of resistance. Lukes argues that Foucault's view on
power leads to a structuralist-deterministic view of humanity in which individuals lack agency. He
explains that Foucault argues that, “the subject is 'constituted' through subjection to power."29 Lukes
argues that Foucault replies only with a vague response of, "Where there is power, there is resistance,
and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to
power."30 Lukes goes on to cite Amy Allen and agrees with her point that Foucault's aforementioned
quote does not provide a detailed account of resistance as an empirical phenomenon. As such,
according to Lukes, the only actors Foucault considers in his theories are those dominating agents of
Lukes' preceding argument is completely false and Lukes conveniently ends Foucault's quote
prior to his discussion of resistance. While Foucault does argue that individual subjects are constituted
through and molded by their relations to power, he additionally argues that it is within these exact
28 Wendy Brown, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1995): 42
29 Steven Lukes, Power: A Radical View, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005): 95
30 Foucault, 1990, 95
relations of power that revolutions are made possible. Foucault argues that, “points of resistance are
present everywhere in the power network.”31 While there is no singular point of revolt, “there is a
plurality of resistances, each of them a special case … by definition, they can only exist in the strategic
field of power relations. But this does not mean that they are only a reaction or rebound, forming with
respect to the basic domination an underside that is in the end always passive, doomed to perpetual
defeat.”32 Even though this plurality of resistive forces is, “spread over time and space at varying
densities” it also is, “at times mobilizing groups or individuals in a definitive way” which Foucault
admits leads to “radical ruptures” and “massive binary divisions.”33 In the same way that Foucault
understands power not as something that was “acquired, seized or shared” but rather as something
which was intentionally “exercised from innumerable points,” he also recognizes resistance as a
“swarm of points” which, much like the dominating forms of power “transverses social stratifications
and individual unities.”34 Thus, while these binary divisions might lead only to the further fracturing
of societal cleavages, the strategic codification of these points of resistance, which have been formed
within the web of power is also what makes a revolution possible. In fact, Foucault explains that:
I believe one's point of reference should not be to the great model of language (langue) and
signs, but to that of war and battle. The history which bears and determines us has the form
of a war rather than that of a language: relations of power, not relations of meaning. History
has no 'meaning,' though is is not to say that it is absurd or incoherent. On the contrary, it is
intelligible and should be susceptible to analysis down to the smallest detail – but this in
accordance with the intelligibility of struggles, of strategies and tactics.35
Therefore, Foucault posits that every historical event was an exercise in the exchange of power and
power resisting power, such as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, should be viewed in the same
31 Ibid
32 Foucault, 1990, 96
33 Ibid
34 Foucault, 1990, 94-6
35 Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power” from Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 in The
Foucault Reader ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Vintage Books, 2010): 56
While power and resistance coexist in social media, the success of these social media social
movements serves as a reminder of the power of permanent surveillance. Social media users
consciously craft their content so as to receive positive reinforcement and to avoid negative
reinforcement. In order to do so, users learn from their past and adapt accordingly while avoiding the
scrutiny associated with deviant social media content. Thus panoptic surveillance positively generates
self-regulating social media users. Only rarely, in such cases as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall
Street does the asymmetric power of social media lead to resistance against power. While these should
be lessons for the posterity of social media users, they also serve as a reminder to the infrequency of the
resistance efforts.
Works Cited
1. Bentham, Jeremy. Panopticon, in The Panopticon Writings, edited by Mirian Bozovic, 29-95.
London: Verso, 1995.
2. Brown, Wendy. States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1995.
3. Das, Sanmay and Lavoie Allen. “The Effects of Feedback on Human Behavior in Social Media:
An Inverse Reinforcement Learning Model.” Paper presented at the Proceedings of the
13th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems
(AAMAS 2014), May 5-9, 2014.
4. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
5. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction. New York: Vintage
Books, 1990.
6. Foucault, Michel. “Truth and Power” from Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other
Writings 1972-1977 in The Foucault Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow, 51-75. New York:
Vintage Books, 2010.
7. Lukes, Steven. Power: A Radical View. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
8. Perrin, Andrew. "Social Media Usage: 2005-2015." Pew Research Center, October 8, 2015.
9. Rainie, Lee and Madden, Mary. "Americans' Privacy Strategies Post-Snowden." Pew Research
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Whether in characterizing Catherine MacKinnon's theory of gender as itself pornographic or in identifying liberalism as unable to make good on its promises, this text pursues a central question: how does a sense of woundedness become the basis for a sense of identity? Brown argues that efforts to outlaw hate speech and pornography powerfully legitimize the state: such apparently well-intentioned attempts harm victims further by portraying them as so helpless as to be in continuing need of governmental protection. "Whether one is dealing with the state, the Mafia, parents, pimps, police, or husbands," writes Brown, "the heavy price of institutionalized protection is always a measure of dependence and agreement to abide by the protector's rules." True democracy, she insists, requires sharing power, not regulation by it; freedom, not protection. Refusing any facile identification with one political position or another, Brown applies her argument to a panoply of topics, from the basis of litigiousness in political life to the appearance on the academic Left of themes of revenge and a thwarted will to power. These and other provocations in contemporary political thought and political li
  • Michel Foucault
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.
Social Media Usage: 2005-2015
  • Andrew Perrin
Perrin, Andrew. "Social Media Usage: 2005-2015." Pew Research Center, October 8, 2015.
The Effects of Feedback on Human Behavior in Social Media: An Inverse Reinforcement Learning Model
  • Sanmay Das
  • Lavoie Allen
Das, Sanmay and Lavoie Allen. "The Effects of Feedback on Human Behavior in Social Media: An Inverse Reinforcement Learning Model." Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS 2014), May 5-9, 2014.