The New Panopticon: Social Media

Is it possible that Facebook, instagram, and any other social media you can think of, is imprisoning us? Setting guidelines on how we behave and interact on social media? Are we subscribing to our own imprisonment?

The Panopticon is a building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham, the concept of the design is to allow all inmates of an institution, namely a prison, to be observed by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. Bentham described the Panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example”.

Michel Foucault used this as a metaphor for modern “disciplinary” societies and their pervasive inclination to observe and normalise. This means that the Panopticon operates as a power mechanism. The Panopticon creates a consciousness of permanent visibility as a form of power, where no bars, chains, and heavy locks are necessary for domination any more. Foucault proposes that not only prisons but all hierarchical structures like the army, schools, hospitals and factories have evolved through history to resemble Bentham’s Panopticon.

Building on Foucault, contemporary social critics often assert that technology has allowed for the deployment of panoptic structures invisibly throughout society. In 2017, what do we consider a Panopticon? Is the structure of social media a self regulating, peer reviewing Panopticon?

 

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