Apr 19, 2010
The paper by Jones and Soltren, Facebook: Threats to Privacy, explores how private individual’s Facebook profiles are and the degree to which users value being private or public. It was found that the majority of users present a lot of private information for the public to easily view; they are opening themselves to surveilled by the world. Michel Foucault’s exert from Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison explores the idea of and panoptic society and what benefits could be acquired from the implementation of such power and surveillance of the authority. If Facebook users, and thus by assumption, other internet users are disclosing personal information willingly, do we even need a panoptic society?
The idea of a panoptic society is one in which the people can be object to surveillance constantly but can never know whether or not they are actually be watched. In the cases of having this power over children in school, they would always behave because they may be being watched at that moment and can be punished if not acting properly. The kids would not cheat and would be quite when told to be. In the case of workers, there would be no theft, disorder, or distractions (Foucault 303). Some effects of this society would be that the authority would have more surveillance into private sectors of individuals lives and the efficiency would increase. There are certainly positives and negatives of a panoptic society, but the thought is that, if no one has anything to hide, everyone is doing the right thing, then there should be no problems with the increased surveillance.
In comparing the idea of a panoptic society with how Facebook and its users, an interesting theme emerges. The study conducted by Jones and Soltren revealed that the majority of Facebook users are disclosing a significant amount of personal information. It was found that “users with lots of friends tend to be much more forthcoming with their personal information, particularly that which might be valuable to advertisers” (Jones and Soltren 16). The users with lots of friends are the individuals that use Facebook most frequently and are most familiar with Facebook. Thus, I would think that they would be more concealing about their information because they understand the privacy policies and how to set and control privacy settings. The fact is, they probably are familiar with the privacy settings for from the study 74% of users from a selected population are familiar with ‘My Privacy’ but choose not to set strict private setting; this is backed up by the fact that from the same population, only 9.7% of the individuals are concerned with Facebook privacy (Jones and Soltren 20).
The majority of users on Facebook are revealing personal information and allowing themselves to be subject to surveillance and so there it seems logical that there should be no need to increase surveillance by establishing a panoptic society. Although, the people of concern here are the minority, and it those individuals that need to be surveilled. If a panoptic society was put into place, then the concealing minority would either be exposed or they would be forced to act according to the law. Note that the concealing of personal information is not the at the foundation of why the minority needs to be surveilled. Of course, people conceal personal information to protect themselves from strangers. But it is all the other information in a Facebook profile, such as pictures, wall posts, and everything else on the page, that contains the incriminating material.
A panoptic society would create order and weed out the people who conceal information from the public online. This power by the authority and pervasive surveillance would not be welcomed by many and if it did occur, mainly through the Internet because it could easily be done, would deter people from the Internet. I feel that in the end, people who did not agree with the authority’s new approach and people who had material that could not be known to the authority would either change their ways or remove themselves from the Internet and technology in general.