Por Ian Goodwin
This paper interrogates Facebook, a prime example of a “Web 2.0” technology, as a means for empowering citizens and democratising the media. Focusing on uses of Facebook pages, and drawing on the conception of cultural citizenship, I identify two dimensions of empowerment. The first relates to Facebook as a “space of becoming,” and I explicate this through an analysis of Māori cultural identity. The second relates to online protest, and here I explore a campaign to stop a “Win a Wife” radio competition. These appropriations of Facebook afford citizens a degree of Do-it-Yourself media empowerment. However, I argue that they rely on notions of user agency that become problematic when the nature of Facebook as a platform is considered. Drawing on political economic critique, I argue that Facebook is a thoroughly branded environment that commodifies social relationships, reinforces the power of global media corporations, and facilitates forms of neoliberal subjectivity. Furthermore, I draw on the work of David Beer to argue that Facebook produces metadata and related forms of “algorithmic” power outside of user control, and is associated with the rise of a “technological unconscious.” These issues limit user agency, but are often elided in the face of popular discourse that constructs Web 2.0 applications as liberating technologies. I end by calling for a broader and more critically informed debate.