What would Marx have said about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?

An Opinion Piece by Christian Fuchs, published by Open Democracy

Twitter says it is about “what people are talking about right now”. Facebook argues its “mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them”.

So according to social media corporations’ self-description, ‘social’ media is about expression, sharing, communication, and community. This understanding is in line with bourgeois social theory’s notion of the social: For the French sociologist Émile Durkheim, the social means social facts which exercise ‘an external constraint’ on the individual. As a consequence, every expression is seen as social because it enters into others’ thoughts and behaviour. So in a Durkheimian understanding, every posting on Facebook and Twitter – even if nobody responds – is social because it has the potential to enter others’ thoughts and behaviour. For the German sociologist Max Weber, action is social if it ‘takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby oriented in its course’. So, for Weber, Facebook and Twitter are social insofar as users respond to and comment on others’ tweets, Facebook postings, etc. The Durkheimian and Weberian understandings of the social fit well into social media corporations’ worldview that presents these companies’ technologies as the essence of the social: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview in 2011 that Facebook is “true” sociality because it fosters the “ability to stay connected to more people”. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg claimed in the same interview Facebook is the “social technology people use” and Facebook wants “everything to be more social for everyone else”.

Anti-social social media

I have argued on another occasion that commercial social media’s corporate strategies advance the engaging/connection/sharing-ideology. That something is an ideology points towards a darker reality: Someone advancing an ideology makes a claim that does not correspond to reality and that distracts from the actual state of reality in order to hide power structures. ‘Social’ media companies claim they are social in order to advance the unsocial and the anti-social.

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Christian Fuchs

About

Christian Fuchs is Professor at, and the Director of, the Communication and Media Research Institute. He is also Director of the Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies.

His fields of expertise are critical digital & social media studies, Internet & society, political economy of media and communication, information society theory, social theory and critical theory.

Details

Date
5th December 2018
Published By
Open Democracy
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