Social media has coded our behaviour

a critical essay written by nublaccsoul x new-black-soul (2021)

NuBlaccSoul — Stories from Africa to The World

This essay will, firstly, explore the theoretical links and differences between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze’s theories of disciplinary societies from his book Discipline and Punish (1991) and societies of control from his essay “Postscript on the Societies of Control” (1995) the theoretical backdrop as to how the social networking site, Twitter, functions. Secondly, this essay will consider Tania Bucher’s article “Want to be on top? Algorithmic power and the threat of invisibility on Facebook” (2012) as a case study in using the aforementioned theoretical framework by Foucault and Deleuze, examining how software compels and coerces certain kinds of behaviours as humans adapt to the algorithms in an effort to be visible. Lastly, this essay will consider Twitter as similar in the way in which it undermines autonomy and agency in the manner in which users are compelled to behave in a way that reinforces existing inequalities and recreating power dynamics that already exist outside Twitter.

Foucault theorises that the shift of disciplinary and punitive practices from public displays of overt violence, condemning the body to brutal reminders of the power of the ruling class, to suppressing the body in abstract, supposedly more ‘humane’ forms of disciplinary power, via panoptic surveillance; the watchful, all-seeing eyes of the State and Law and its bureaucratic institutions and their ideologies — the ideological state apparatuses, and the police, army, which serve as the repressive state apparatuses, as theorised by Althusser that maintain the systems of power that are in power (Foucault 1991:4) Contemporary society is being constantly being re-shaped and reconfigured, in accordance to the group in power. Leon Faucher drawing up rules for his “House of young prisoners in Paris” in the late 1750s, scheduling the time to begin day and determined the number of hours of work per day, of the number of hours determined, a certain portion will be for instruction — mandatory prayer with set intervals (Foucault 1991: 4–6). This was an exercise of power in regimenting the daily life of prisoners. The economy of punishment was changing to accommodate the industrial revolution, laws were being abolished, modern ’codes’ were being drawn up (Foucault 1991: 4–7). The disappearance of torture as a public spectacle was one of these changes. This act of sterilization punishment being attributed too readily and emphatically to a process of humanization when in truth it is no more humane or less cruel (Foucault 1991:14). There is a new need for societal control with the advent of a new way of living. Bodies are still controlled, albeit omnisciently, and through ideological state apparatuses more than repressive state apparatuses (Foucault 1991:143).

In a disciplinary regime, individualization is descending as power becomes more anonymous and more functional, those on whom it is exercised tend to be more strongly individualized; it is exercised by surveillance rather than ceremonies, by observation rather than commemorative accounts, by comparative measures that have the ‘norm’ as reference rather than genealogies giving ancestors as points of reference; by gaps rather than by deeds (Foucault 1991:204). The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognise immediately (Foucault 1991:205). He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject of communication. This invisibility is a guarantee of power (Foucault 1991:206). The major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the subject a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So, to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action or application; operating under the assumption that he is being surveilled (Foucault 1991:207). It is an important mechanism, for it automatizes and deindividualizes power. Power becomes omnipresent, becomes decentralized in its conception and application.

Foucault illustrates the development of the Western system of prisons, police organizations — the repressive state apparatuses, administrative and legal hierarchies — the ideological state apparatuses — for social control and the growth of disciplinary society as a whole (Foucault 1991: 187–194). He also reveals that the comparison between a school and a prison is not purely facetious — prisons, schools, factories, barracks and hospitals all share a common socialising function of disciplinary and biopower, in which it is possible to control the use of an individual’s time and space hour by hour, minute by minute and the actions thereof (Foucault 1991: 187–194). The art of distribution of space and landscape for disciplinary measures sometimes requires enclosure, that the workspace is separate from the principle of elementary location or partitioning (Foucault 1991: 187–194). The rule of functional sites for socio-political and cultural ends for the continued stronghold of hegemonic centres of power (Foucault 1991: 187–194). Discipline defines each of the relations that the body must have with the object that it manipulates (Foucault 1991: 187–194). Between them, it outlines a meticulous meshing. A correlation and relation between the body and the object, There is an instrumentalist coding of the body for functional ends (Foucault 1991: 187–194). The regulation imposed by power is at the same time the law of construction of the operation. Thus, disciplinary power appears to have the function not so much of deduction as of synthesis, not so much of exploitation of the product as of coercive link with the apparatus of production.

Deleuze starts the ‘Postscript’ (1992:3) by accurately deciphering Foucault as saying that disciplinary social orders supplanted more seasoned social orders of sovereignity and portraying this move as one from a reductive intensity of death to a positive and profitable force. An exceptional exclusion, nonetheless — the first of a few however maybe the most glaring of all — is the nonappearance of the word ‘power’. Deleuze hence avoids Foucault’s primary political understanding, specifically the significance of ‘power’ as an ignored cultural dynamic (1992:3). As opposed to recognizing order and sovereign force as Foucault as ‘technologies of power’, he uses the terms ‘sovereignty’, ‘discipline’ and ‘control’ adjectivally, speaking of ‘disciplinary societies’, talking about ‘disciplinary social orders’. This permits a genuine dissimilarity from Foucault’s situation to go plain: Deleuze accepts these ideas as characters of social orders, while for Foucault there is no restriction to the number of advancements may exist together in a social development. Deleuze does somewhere else give huge — to be sure unnecessary — regard for an alternate idea of Foucault’s, that of the dispositif of power, however Deleuze does not conceptualize these advancements as dispositifs either, which without a doubt they are not, being a lot more extensive wonder (2007:343). Having misconstrued what kind of thing Foucault’s order is, it is questionable that Deleuze additionally misjudges its nature, wrongly recognizing its pith as an issue of enfermement. In the two distributed English interpretations of the ‘Postscript’, this thought is delivered differently as ‘walled in area’ and ‘constrainment’. While the previous interpretation is all the more in a real sense right, it has a serious explicit chronicled significance in English, while the last is nearer to the feeling of the French word, which is most regularly used to allude to wonders of detainment and internment, however it should be noticed that the French word can likewise allude to mental and social rejections, with the end goal that no English word gives a completely satisfactory interpretation. Enfermement characterizes discipline contrarily and spatially, as an issue of closing individuals in, quieting them down, or closing them out.

Such spatial impacts are not those that Foucault’s work on order in the ahead of schedule to mid-seventies spotlights on, but instead is the landscape of Foucault’s first significant book, the History of Madness, composed over 10 years prior. The repression that book centres around happened during the seventeenth century, before the century, the eighteenth, wherein Deleuze in the ‘Postscript’ accurately has Foucault putting the development of control. The restriction of the seventeenth century was an antecedent to teach, yet not itself disciplinary: it saw individuals being closed away all at once, inferring neither the positive preparing of bodies nor the separation of people that are the signs of control for Foucault, but making the establishments which later could become bases of order. In this manner, control will happen in disciplinary foundations, yet it is not what makes them disciplinary. Foucault explicitly noticed this development away from basic enfermement on various occasions in Discipline and Punish, (1991:174) and distinctly affirms that ‘the standard of “walled in area” is neither steady, nor vital, nor adequate in disciplinary apparatus’ (Foucault 1991:143). Deleuze himself appears to have valued this at the hour of his book on Foucault, disagreeing with Paul Virilio for recognizing Foucault’s essential tricky as one of imprisonment, contending that for Foucault restriction is consistently optional, even in the nineteenth century; however prior still, in 1972, Deleuze as of now misidentified discipline with confinement (Foucault 1991:206).

Deleuze’s eponymous postulation in his ‘Postscript’ is that order has as of late been supplanted by something he calls ‘control’. Such a case is not unprecedented: Jon Simons brings up that both Zygmunt Bauman and Jean Baudrillard blamed Foucault’s record for intensity of being generally outdated even at the time he portrayed it (Simmons 1995:40). Deleuze contrasts in staying away from conflict with Foucault by contending that Foucault’s record of order had gotten obsolete, unmistakably so in any event, simply after Foucault had composed it in the right on time to-mid 1970s. In fact, Deleuze goes further, enrolling Foucault to his motivation, saying, without indicating what he implies, ‘that Foucault perceives as our short term’ what Deleuze calls ‘control’ (1992:4). In a meeting led the exact year, Deleuze also, again without detail, claims Foucault ‘was really one of the first to state that we’re moving endlessly from disciplinary social orders’ (1995:174).

Foucault does not anywhere define discipline succinctly, yet he reliably portrays it contrastingly to Deleuze. He gets it, as particular from the more seasoned sovereign force that worked by harming bodies, as molding and developing bodies. Hence, he utilizes the expression ‘anatomo-governmental issues’ (that is, ‘body legislative issues’) as an equivalent for discipline. Discipline does not stop with the body, in any case: rather, he contends in Discipline and Punish that disciplinary force creates a ‘spirit’ in view of the body. This implies that there can be ‘consensual controls’, in which those trained relate to and acknowledge their disciplining.

Deleuze proposes to break the person through building up linkages between people that rise above singularity, while dividuals are not more connected to others, but instead essentially more separated; dividualisation is hyper individualisation. Deleuze claims that a sign of order is the nonappearance of a logical inconsistency among individual and mass, in this manner suggesting that it is just in the time of control did independence stop to be at chances with bunch solidarity. it is definitely not exactly the case that nobody fought for the sake of the person against massification during the disciplinary period — an incredible inverse. Dividualisation is indistinguishable from individualisation: the more our invented uniqueness is demanded, the more its delicacy champions itself, however that this has persistently happened all through the cycle of disciplinary individualisation. Deleuze in Marxist design considers protection from be arising out of the propensities of contemporary, hyper-consumerist, neoliberal capitalism.

There are a few public remarks of Foucault’s that may appear to give a premise to Deleuze’s 1990 cases that Foucault saw there just like an early move away from discipline, however obviously we cannot bar the likelihood that Deleuze may have been alluding to unrecorded private remarks of Foucault’s. In a 1975 meeting, Foucault distinguishes a significant change, wherein, ‘beginning during the 1960s, it started to be understood that an unwieldy type of intensity was not, at this point as essential as had been suspected and that modern social orders could mollify themselves with a lot looser type of control over the body’. This structure he identifies with ‘imposing disciplinary systems in the schools, clinics, dormitory, manufacturing plants, urban communities, lodgings, families’. Foucault interfaces this change to the rise of new types of sexuality. Foucault is talking here the year prior to the distribution of the principal volume of the History of Sexuality, consequently while that book was underway. In that work, while he recognizes that there has been a decrease in the plain limitation of real exercises according to sex, he broadly contends that generally speaking, the system of intensity has continued as before, in light of the fact that suppression was never its quintessence, the same number of assume.

In pondering the states of probability that make conceivable the interceded scene of the post-computerized (Berry 2014) it is helpful to investigate ideas around catch and captivation, especially as expressed by Rey Chow (2012). Calculation makes the assortment of information generally simple. This expands perceivability through what Rey Chow (2012) calls “Capture”. Programming empowers more powerful frameworks of observation and henceforth new catch frameworks. As Foucault argues, “full lighting and the eyes of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap” (Foucault 1991:200). The inquiry is additionally connected to who is made obvious in these sorts of frameworks, perceivability itself can be a gendered idea and practice, as exhibited in the verifiable imperceptibility of ladies in the open arena, for instance. Here we may likewise consider the manner by which the act of making-obvious additionally involves the creation imperceptible — calculation includes settling on decisions about what is to be caught. It is useful to think about how the different types of personalities, in particular: race, sex and class become reason for prohibition in computational and biometric frameworks as the makers hold predispositions and biases (Berry 2008: 41). In the interim, with the detonating amount of data in the public arena and the moves towards an advanced economy, data is progressively observed as a wellspring of benefit for capitalism whenever caught in a proper manner. In reality, information and data are supposed to be the new ‘oil’ of the computerized age (Berry 2008: 56). This features both the political and financial longing for information. Then, the computerized empowers detonating amounts of information that are progressively difficult to contain inside association limits.

Deleuze seems to think it possible to in effect deduce effects at the level of power from changes in working conditions. To the extent post-Fordism exists, whatever political and economic implications it has (and it may have many), it is not a form of power or government. Fordism and post-Fordism are both, from the point of view of power, examples of disciplinary power. Deleuze implicitly conflates Foucault’s discipline with Fordist production, whereas these are distinct kinds of things — a technology of power versus a mode of production — with different chronologies, to produce a thesis precisely about a social essence. My point then is not to argue that our society remains essentially the same as it was in the nineteenth century, that there are no major differences, only that the array of technologies of power remain the same — and I.

Tainer Bucher (2012) makes the arguments that new kinds of modalities of visibility have been engineered by new media through the techno-scientific architectural framework of algorithms and its coding. These software processes are complicit in structuring the flow of information and communications to suit commercial means and ends, and not necessarily in line with (some of) the algorithmic factors which are disclosed to the public. Bucher argues (2012:1165) that social networking sites such as her case study, Facebook, are the new regimes of visibility in the era of Societies of Control in the digital age of Web 3.0. Subjects are threatened by invisibility, as opposed to visibility in Foucault’s panoptic disciplinary societies where the inverse is true. This notion of surveillance constituted permanent visibility characterised by unescapable visibility is juxtaposed with subjectivity visibility that is fearful of disappearing and becoming culturally obsolete on these social networking sites that are ordered by EdgeRank on Facebook, for example.

Bucher notes (2012:1165) quite importantly that the core function of media relates to the process of making any object or subject visible in their semiotics role of being a symbolical and practical techno-scientific extension of our sensory inputs as we become augmented with technology in the fourth industrial revolution age. Media assists in the experiencing of “sensing and seeing” (Bucher 2012:1165) the world around us beyond the physical limitations imposed by our bodies that are challenged by singular temporal and spatial limitations at any one time. Facebook is used by Bucher as a case study to reflect upon the way algorithmic codes that have seemingly captured the new world media state. Her analytical focus is not necessarily on the “visual manifestations and representations of bodies in code” (Bucher 2012:1166) in the form of our profile pictures or the (audio-)visuals we(re-)post and share on our status updates, but rather the more sinister granular details in the background that actively constructs visibility in a ranked, classified and sorted kind of way, which is not always transparent to its users. Echoing Marshall McLuhan’s theory, Bucher reiterates that “visibility is fundamentally mediated and affected by the medium itself,” which says the medium is the message. For example, radio could deliver tone and mood in the voice inflects when print media could not, communicating a more nuanced meaning in the message. Television furthered this by offering the possibility of non-verbal, body language to be visible through the display of “detailed facial expressions and mannerisms” (Bucher 2012:1167). The various visual cues and clues that have embedded connotation and denotation in camera “angles, shots, frames and spatial techniques” that carry layered socio-cultural messages, and sometimes ideological and political statements within them too (Bucher 2012:1167). Media visibilities are thus inadvertently political and are never neutral or impartial as they claim, as the visibility is mediated for the purposes of those who own and control the platforms, and not necessarily for the benefit of the users/consumers (Bucher 2012:1167).

Algorithmic visibility is facilitated by the intuitive web 3.0 and its filters sorts out content by rank of the “most interesting” which demarcates the field of visibility through a very subjective and political lens of relevance in culture, therefore platforming one ideal over another, constantly reinforcing pre-ascribed notions of norms, without transgressing and progressing opinions, ‘expertise’, and cultural thought with offering alternatives from the margins (Bucher 2012:1167). Facebook claims that user interaction that feeds data into EdgeRank is what determines relevancy, with other factors such as affinity between users is considered; the ‘weight’ of the interaction is measured, with comments weighed more than likes for example and time is considered as well — older posts are deprioritized (Bucher 2012:1168). These are only the factors that are shared with the public but Bucher flags that it is clear there are other factors that go into the algorithmic formula beyond these (2012:1168). The algorithmic architectural frameworks in societies of control are enablers and constrainers of what/who is visible, what ideas are centre stage and what is censored, how it seen, and more importantly, what is systematically made to disappear or not appear, rendering it culturally obsolete, thus functioning as a very power site in our world today (Bucher 2012:1170). This threat of invisibility motivates adherence and performativity to the techno-logic of the social network platform, such as Facebook. Unlike in Foucault’s panoptic disciplinary society, visibility is a desired commodity as it is scarce and selected and associated with prestige not punitive threat. Thus, the best kind of user for Facebook, or any social networking site, is one who participates and interacts as normalized (Bucher 2012:1175).

Great Britain’s research and innovation body, the Economic and Social Research Council defines twitter as “‘microblogging’ system that allows [one] to send and receive short posts called tweets, which can be up to 140 characters long and can include links to relevant websites and resources” (2019). In a Los Angeles Times interview (Sano 2009), owner and co-founder Jack Dorsey described the messaging and social networking site simply as an “a short burst of inconsequential information” in an instant messenger format. Evan Williams, co-founder and previous Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Twitter, further clarified the ambiguity surrounding the question of what exactly twitter was, stating in a 2013 interview that it was “more of an information network than it [was] a social network” (Lapowsky 2013) which echoed Dorsey’s origin conception of twitter, in his New York University undergraduate days, as this possibility of an individual utilizing a Short Message System (SMS) administration to speak with a little group (a network) and/or using a cell phone application programming system installed on the device (Miller 2010).

In short, twitter is a place where one can chat, although that is not its primary function, but more importantly, it is a virtual space that facilitates the broadcast of information in real-time and allows the rallying and creation of both local/domestic and international/global networks and groups of people between and within anyone people who just need a smartphone and an Internet connection to connect, communicate and receive information through a #hashtag that creates the network links that would lead to the trending topic(s) if it garners enough traction in terms of twitter’s algorithms or by following other users.

Before being bought out, Summize would “provide listings of the most reviewed and liked products and services,” (Wilson 2008) and its mechanism would be obvious for a search option that would list tweets according to being liked, viewed, replied to, and retweeted/reposted under the tabs of “top”, “latest” and the geolocation mechanism would help show the most relevant tweets according to proximity under “trends” according to locale. In addition to equipping Twitter with novel search capabilities, Summize conjointly brought on a number of different pioneering options that Twitter would adopt. Some of these options Summize brought were: Trending Topics, shortened universal resource locator previews, language translation, and spoken language threading — all of which were eventually be plain-woven into Twitter’s core product (Malik 2010; Wilson 2008). This followed in the tradition of media and telecommunication companies acquiring others in the effort to absorb a competitor’s excellent staff and/or intellectual property. Instagram and WhatsApp being bought by the Facebook group, the purchase of the Steve Job’s NeXT by Apple and media giant Google’s acquiring YouTube and the Android operating system.

Chang Sup Parks and Barbara K. Kaye (2019:1) argue that that the functionalities of retweeting — which is to share a tweet by another user on your own timeline with your group of followers — does not only expose the message (in the form of text, audio, visual, or all three) to a wider universe and range of people, but more than that, it is a socio-political and cultural act of validating others’ opinions as relevant, relatable, valid, or is valuable in some way or another. More so, this is a deliberate action of affirming one’s digital existence, that they are visible by means of engaging with their content (Parks & Kaye 2019:1). In this regard, actors in society who already hold social power and are notably visible in the ‘real’ world per se through mass media communication — such as celebrities, politicians, civil society, prominent figures of religious, educational and private industry institutions, respected journalists, artists and the like — are more likely to have their tweets retweeted, liked and engaged with through comments than persons who do not hold any pre-existing social capital (Parks & Kaye 2019:1). This firmly reiterates Bucher’s case that new media is not necessarily democratizing access and visibility, but only functions to further entrench the ‘norms’ which are often classist and hierarchal in nature. Messages from celebrities claim higher stature because of the number of times the content is retweeted, it reaches a wider audience and generates more authority because of its popularity (Parks & Kaye 2019:2). The tacit approval of the original tweets been inferred by retweeting, makes the retweets considerably more powerful and give greater visibility (Parks & Kaye 2019:2), as the “importance of the retweet is that it increases the visibility of the original tweet, and its creator, as well as the person who retweeted it” (Parmelee 2014; Singer 2014 cited in Parks & Kaye 2019:2). Although factors such as the message quality — which is a subjective interpretation based on the reader’s access to knowledge to verify facts, or to understand the nuances that inform humour and the cultural reference therein — the factors that weigh more heavily is who the creator is and the number of followers they have (Parks & Kaye 2019:2). Twitter has “become a key public space [that informs], shapes public opinion, sparking controversy and creating instant buzz about social and political issues” (Parks & Kaye 2019:2). Twitter’s distinctive identity from other social networking sites has thus become the conversation leader, often seeing screenshots from Twitter on Facebook and Instagram.


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NuBlaccSoul — Stories from Africa to The World

Writer/Poet | This is ancestral, past-life reading; this is meditation & prayer; this is future telling. Always becoming. The undying soul in a decaying case.