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This post was meant for last week – I just realized it I only hit preview but hadn’t actually clicked publish – sorry about that.

In her piece, Bucher explicates the way in which the algorithmic architecture of Facebook both revamps and rejects Foucault’s notions of visibility and surveillance. For Bucher, the algorithms that compose the “news feed” – the software that makes some stories and people visible and leaves others invisible – acts as an inverted panopticon, a cyber-architectural structure that maintains order through its layering of different visibilities, such that “there is not so much a ‘threat of visibility’ as there is a ‘threat of invisibility’ that seems to govern the actions of its subjects” (Bucher, 1171). Indeed, like Foucault’s panopticon, the Facebook news feed also serves to obscure and decentralize its central power source – the underlying software – naturalizing the hierarchized layers of visibility such that the algorithm remains out of sight and out of mind and the logic of this “threat of invisibility” becomes internalized by the users of Facebook.

 

In this respect, Facebook’s use of the EdgeRank algorithm in conjunction with the “top news” stories on the news feed becomes a way to obfuscate and subvert the traditional notions of surveillance and constant visibility being threatening and disempowering. Instead, by utilizing the EdgeRank algorithm to select specific users and actions to highlight, a process that remains shrouded in mystery to the average Facebook user, Facebook is able to instill its users with the notion that “becoming visible on the default News Feed is… something to aspire to, rather than feel threatened by” (Bucher, 1174). Thus, Facebook is able to reward behavior and actions that “conform to the inherent logics of participation” – compelling its users to interact more, to use Facebook more, or risk falling by the wayside and becoming obsolete.

 

Thus, Facebook can be seen to construct a new “regime of visibility” that is both diametrically opposite and yet paradoxically in line with Foucault’s panopticon. In both cases, the subject is governed by a specific logic of visibility – of who is visible to who and when. In this respect, in the way that Facebook “[makes] the subject ‘the principle of (its) own subjection” the EdgeRank algorithm becomes a disciplinary structure like the panopticon, the architecture of the software constructs a very real “threat of invisibility” that becomes internalized by its subjects and comes to shape their use of Facebook (Bucher, 1175).