“While we are encouraged to join a digital stage to perform what seems like a permanency of self-appearance – but is really just a transient, one dimensional version of our self, we experience a hyper-scrutiny and collective backlash as if that one like, comment or message is a revelation of one’s whole self.” – Aaron Gozum
As the public stage of social media becomes an avatar of a facet of our identities that tends to represent and reduce our complexities to a news feed, a profile photo and a timeline, media suggests that American culture has galvanized toward a politics of privacy.
What is privacy and why does our society in the U.S. place a tremendously large value on privacy? Everyday, we are approached by messages on YouTube and WordPress asking if we would want to upgrade to a premium service that provides us the “freedom” of no advertisements as we use their digital services. Some might say, in this sense, privacy in the digital age is growingly becoming a commodity to be consumed. We live in a society where service is commodified and consuming as many commodities is what we consider the modern day achievement of Hegelian mastery.
In every avenue, privacy has been weaved in as a quasi-band-aid-fix to the unintended repercussions of neoliberalism. As technology is often associated with Western modernization, the nature of digital information has been designed to advance neoliberal agendas that allow for current conceptions of privacy to be violated as “data” becomes easily dispersed, aggregated and manipulated across spatial and temporal realities of the digital realms of technologies. We play victim of affective ankylosis, to the typification that imperialism places on us. And we viscerally polemicize anyone who breaches our privacies.
In March of 2018, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, Christopher Wylie, had exposed his former employer for harvesting millions of people’s profiles through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” Allegedly, The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica, a British company designed to assist businesses through using data to change audience behavior. According to the Cambridge Analytica website, the company specializes in data-driven marketing and political campaigning. Various media channels claimed that Cambridge Analytica gained access to over 50 million Facebook users through the “thisisyourdigitallife” app, offering tools that could be used to “identify personalities of American voters and influence their behavior” (New York Times). In this app, Cambridge Analytica used the app to map out personality traits based on likes and interests across Facebook, which was then used to target audiences with advertisements. Although 270,000 Facebook users participated in the app under the intention that their information would be used for academic purposes, Cambridge Analytica was able to access user data beyond those who participated in using their app. New York Times’ Kevin Granville ends his report on March 19, 2018 by writing, “Facebook’s lack of disclosure on the harvesting of data could violate privacy laws in Britain and several states” (Granville 2018).
The precarious nature of a Facebook account seems more prevalent than ever; yet, we are quick to determine the fault lies in Facebook’s inability to manage privacy. While this much is valid in a culture that worships privacy, the neoliberal infrastructures socially-indoctrinate us with these ideologies, embedding concepts like privacy and entrepreneurship into our skin as if it were natural. The famous cultural theorist, Stuart Hall once argued that the social conditions our potential existences, which saliently suggests that we are social beings. If we are inherently social creatures then, does social media truly go against the grains of our neoliberal epidermis?