October 30, 2011 § 4 Comments


Yochai Benchler, “Networks of Power, Degrees of Freedom” (2011)

The series of tubed networks that is INTERNET allows users to bypass traditional channels of power, i.e. WikiLeaks. These new avenues aren’t in themselves game changers, not necessarily, and are a mixed bag politically (depends on who has the freedom and who has the power to do what for what reasons), but represent a shift away from older, more contained/containable models of control and towards bottom up (or perhaps more appropriately, every-which-way) collective-ish power, depending, again, on who exactly is doing what with what, and why, and how — details that need to be filled in before proper analyses can be run. Still, the shift in itself is a very big deal –not exactly “good,” not exactly “bad,” but certainly “different” and “important”– even if said power is still mostly nascent.

Tom Bissell, “The Unbearable Lightness of Games,” Extra Lifes: Why Video Games Matter (2010) 

Video games are fun because they’re fun, and sometimes that’s a difficult position to articulate. It is easy to sound a bit douchey or apologetic when talking about video games, and this can be distressing. Because one’s love of games generally and/or one game in particular is so closely tied up into who one is. Making them an odd topic of criticism. Easier if you take more of a structural approach. Still, that I is a difficult I to navigate.


Yesterday my dear friend at sent me this, a newspaper article examining the “dark side” of Facebook’s ascendancy. He assumed said darksidedness would loop back to standard cybertroll rage brigading, so was surprised to find a much more nuanced argument about the unintended political consequences of Facebook’s fetishization of “authentic” user identity. As I have previously bleated, “authentic” user anything is a weird and highly annoying concept; it assumes that “authenticity” isn’t just possible but is the ideal mode of being online. This article doesn’t address the saliency of Zuck’s basic assumption (i.e. that “authenticity” is a real thing even in real life), but does suggest that Facebook’s push for “true” identity, which simultaneously solicits and exploits personal information, is naive at best and culturally myopic at worst.

Because sure, as a citizen in a relatively stable, developed country, it might be shitty that Facebook mines all your data, but having your real name attached to the fact that you like snowboarding and just ordered season 1 of the Gilmore Girls is unlikely to put you in any immediate physical danger. Again, if you happen live in a place where those sorts of details don’t matter to anyone but advertisers. In other parts of the world, “authentic identity” –here synonymous with “traceable identity”– is a huge, the huge, liability. Where you are and who’s in charge matters, and matters in a big way, as systems that keep privileged people connected with all the friends they don’t like can also be harnessed for various stripes of repressive fuckery — harkening to Benchler’s claim that networks themselves are value-neutral. It’s the people we have to watch out for, because a really kool social tool for one person can be a mode of oppression for another. Picture definitely related.

(thanks for the protip nightguy)


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  • nightwork says:

    I’m kicking around doing a full, researchy response to this, but I wanted to point out something and make it quasi-public. The author of the Chron piece writes:

    “Facebook, for instance, insists that users provide real names in order to create an account. That’s fine for American college students who want to post keg stand pictures. But for activists and protesters living under authoritarian regimes, it can prevent them from speaking freely – or subject them to real risks when they do.”

    Despite liking the coverage of this, this framing bugs me . . . a lot. Obviously someone living under a truly authoritarian regime has more to fear from fb’s need for verification than those aforementioned fratbros. And we, and more importantly those dissidents, should understand/know this. However, doesn’t it seem to imply that there is a de facto pass for anyone living in the US/etc. as to being able to freely use their “authentic” identity to post dissenting or outright revolutionary things b/c our government and the corporations that own it are all about our right to be rabblerousers?

    Sorry, but this framing is based in a beta-level understanding of systems and technologies of control, imo. It implies that political speech in westernized, industrial “democracies” is safe from the kind of things that might happen if you get uppity in Bahrain because, well, they are fascistic savages or whatever. At the base level, there is truth to the claim since most fb users are prolly just posting innocuous crap, but there is a problem when ppl in movements such as the current OWS, much less a really revolutionary movement, expose their “troo” selves to these systems of control (even if not in what is considered public), no? People continually accuse fb of allowing government access, but even if not, they are, in some manner (even if they’re not BoA and Exxon), the powers that run the system.

    There’s also the obvious problem of shifting the problem of control and repression to only authoritarian and militaristic governments that happen to usually be muslim/brown/etc. The party line is that repression looks like 1984 with a jackboot in your face, torture, etc., which still happens of course. However, the reality of worldwide control and biopolitical power is far more insidious and comes in forms less obviously repressive. As someone who thinks Huxley, not Orwell, was right, I’d argue we need to be thinking about how our permitted “leisure” activities are actually means of repression.

    • Yes, and now I’m grumbling at my own too-quick framing — I was mostly giving the thumbs up to the/any challenge to “authentic identity,” since the concept itself is problematic at every rung up the bullshit ladder. For me, the takeaway point wasn’t so much that dissent/political strife is some sort of foreign/brown concept (“identity is problematic for THOSE PEOPLE”) — what the article highlighted (and I was reading into these lines) is that Facebook’s (public) framing of “authentic identity” is very very WHITE (in the symbolic sense) in that it presumes/universalizes a kind of safe, middle-class sub/urban life free of everything but the lowest-level social risk (“if I post this funny picture of Mitt Romney, will my Mormon cousin get mad at me?”) — and doesn’t take into account, doesn’t even acknowledge the possibility, that someone’s “authentic identity” could be a political or interpersonal liability. Or an issue of physical safety.

      Back to your point about dissent/rebellion here in the US, yes, there are certainly Facebook users doing and saying shit that could be monitored and collated and used to snuff out dissent or even just keep tabs on undesirables, whatever, either right now or in the future — we don’t know exactly what FB is doing all that data. I mean, the assumption by most people is that Facebook is a good guy and wouldn’t do anything BAD with our info (just sell it to the highest bidder NO BIG DEAL) — but the question the Chron author (and Benchler) implicitly raises is, well, what if Facebook is no longer a good guy, what if the network itself is hijacked or somehow infiltrated. Then suddenly we’re looking at a real fucking problem, and potential for major abuses of power. There may be –and you know how I feel about this, probably already is– some underhanded political shit already happening, or at the very least is setting a dangerous precedent. That’s just one of the issues here, and is why the question generally is so important to work through.

      tl;dr whatever they’re doing, whatever they already have done, FB’s push to glorify the Authentic Self is a hugely problematic and gross and cynical move if the worst thing that happens is highly targeted advertising — but clearly that’s NOT the worst thing that could happen, and/or has happened. So I guess the moral of the story is, when your best possible outcome is fucked up and bullshit, you really are gonna need a bigger boat…

  • nightwork says:

    also: the capitalization by capitalists on opposition to capitalism makes my head hurt. Poor bastard anti-capitalists.

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