The central idea of a panopticon, either as a prison or general concept, is that the possibility of being watched at any time will cause an uncertainty or even paranoia in the potential subjects. In theory, this uncertainty will make the subjects behave as if they are constantly being watched, and will therefore monitor their own behavior.
Digital surveillance by websites such as Facebook can easily be compared to the Panopticon, since it is a few algorithms designed to adjust newsfeeds for each individual user. However, the key difference with websites like Facebook is that there is no uncertainty in whether or not they are watching; they are. According to the Facebook Data Policy, they collect data based on interactions each user has with the site, how users interact with each other, users’ “networks and connections,” any companies owned or operated by Facebook, and “information from third-party partners.”
While Facebook is not being secretive about how much they are watching, it is still not widely known just how much information they are gathering. I, like many others, would never have made it through the dense Terms of Service or even glanced at the Data Policy if not required to. Unlike in the panopticon, Facebook wants to watch us constantly without changing our behavior in order to provide relevant data to advertisers and make our newsfeeds as customized to our preferences as possible. The act of liking posts is especially powerful in adjusting newsfeeds and advertisements, as I have become acutely aware of. After following Matt Honan’s example of liking everything for 48 hours, I realize just how much of an effect liking can have.
At first, my main qualm was liking the posts of people that I had not talked to in a few years, or content that was just generally annoying. Thankfully, it did not take long for that issue to sort itself out. Within a few hours, I began seeing fewer and fewer people and more… not people. By the end of the experiment, I saw only posts from the LAD Bible (“one of the largest communities for guys aged 16-30 in the world,” according to the site), The View, and 4Music.
I had never heard of any of these entities before this experiment, and I definitely do not like any of them. Likes are used by Facebook to screen content and show us what we do or might enjoy, and my rampant liking certainly confused my poor newsfeed. In general, after taking part in this experiment, I am more cautious of the information I will provide on Facebook, but am also thankful of the services Facebook provides in exchange for the genuine data I give. Now I face the daunting task of getting my account back to how it used to be.
“Home | The LAD Bible.” Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
Honan, Matt. “I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me | WIRED.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.