Archive for Facebook

Facebook between Anti-Semitism and Breastfeeding

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

The Real of Facebook

The Real of Facebook

Recently Mike Arrington of TechCrunch posted a polemic of Facebook’s policies. So it turns out that Facebook does not ban denials of Holocaust and yet they ban pictures of breastfeeding women. This predictably disturbs many people, and has lead to paranoiac suggestions that Facebook is actually anti-Semite, anti-feminist, and so on.

Especially interesting here is the juxtaposition of the two taboos, positioning them from the start as a case of mispositioned censorship — one that should be but isn’t censored, and another that should not be but is in fact censored. This proves to be more problematic the closer one looks at it: of course, people would still get angry even if Facebook does not censor breastfeeding (both not censored), while probably they would be content if Facebook censors both. However, this problematic only rises when there is a displacement of censorship, as is the case at the moment.

Which leads us to a more interesting perspective: what do Jews and tits have in common? As Žižek noted, Jews are the anti-Semites’ embodiment of the malignant object-cause of desire, while breasts are of course one of the forms in which the object-cause of desire appears, according to Lacan. The appearance of anti-Semitic comments on Facebook discussions brings into obscene light this object-cause of desire, while breastfeeding, supposedly through its context, arguably does the opposite: it desexualizes the breasts into  a non-sexual, family-friendly object.

The excuse for the latter’s censorship is of course the usual one: “We knowthere is nothing sexual about breastfeeding, but nonetheless people have warped fetishes,” while the excuse for having no ban of Holocaust denial is, presumably, that all opinions are allowed and must be respected. Of course, the hate speech shown on TechCrunch’s screen-caps are already against Facebook’s TOS (which obviously leads to the rash conclusion that everyone who denies the Holocaust are anti-Semites), but it seems that the core problem is not so much the hate speech as the space for denying the Holocaust whatsoever.

It is here (and not only on 4chan!) that one encounters the Real of the Internet. We start off wanting to promote “safe content” and end up censoring arguably trivial things such as breastfeeding, which recalls the proverbial paranoia that nothing is safe on the Internet (how about pictures of feet and socks, or of children at all, should Facebook allow them when after all people can just as easily take them off of facebook with a few simple clicks and use them as a means of warped public masturbation on another site?). The obverse is also true: we start off wanting to encourage discussions from all perspectives, and end up encountering the hard limit of our so-called postmodern tolerance (every historical account is relative and its truth is questionable, except the Holocaust, the truth of which must be maintained at all costs to keep ourselves from the resurgence of anti-Semitism!).

Youd think it was really easy to moderate a group

You'd think it was really easy to moderate a group

Mike Arrington ends his article with a comment, “Yes, Facebook, this is the side of the line you’ve chosen to stand on,” and posted an obscene image of child victims. I would say that Facebook, being the “sixth largest country,” is fated to continue to find itself in dangerous situations on the other side of the line (remember Facebook’s privacy polemic several months back?) — why? Because Facebook is becoming more and more like a government rather than a system (like Wikipedia, Twitter, or 4chan, which are really more public places than a governed home). And the obscene image, what is it but a symptom dedicated to an innocent Other’s gaze for which the truth of the Holocaust must be maintained?

Accommodating society with their own postmodern paranoia and micropractical ethics is a tough, if not impossible, job. There is a line, a primordial split constitutive of society, which looks different from different sides. In some ways 4chan (especially /b/) is luckier, since it embodies nothing but this split itself. Facebook tried to be careful as it always does, but it looks like once again they got back their message in an inverted true form.

Social Networks and Mind Evolution

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

Real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf. Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction.


Photograph by Chris Jackson/Getty Images, taken from The Guardian

Photograph by Chris Jackson/Getty Images, from The Guardian

Several weeks ago there was a post in The Guardian UK titled “Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilising’ the human mind”. Gosh, I thought, not another one of those technophobic critics again! If the name of Susan Greenfield was not mentioned right at the beginning I probably would have just read a few lines and close my browser’s tab. So luckily Greenfield was mentioned, and when she is I know it’s going to be neuroscience, and it’s going to be not so much technophobic as exciting.

And I was right. Sure enough, there were technophobic tones here and there, but tones of fascination with the brain are more prevalent. It is particularly the paragraph quoted above that took my attention. Also, the conclusion of the article reads as such:

But Greenfield warned: “It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations. We know that the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world.”

This is an exciting fact. A critical theorist shouldn’t be tempted to look at this merely in the vein of some cheap “postmodern” attitude of criticizing the hegemony of mathematical neuroscience while it represses the contingency of the discourse of knowledge and therefore oppresses certain minority discourse about the brain and the spirit and such and such. Rather, one should ask what truth lie behind these claims and how they will effectively play out.

As for myself, I am highly pleased that we have such articles. At least I know that I am not the only person to make the claim that Web 2.0 is changing our minds much more radically than we may think. Of course I was never the only one, but it is disconcerting to note that most of those who think so belong to the school that call themselves “New Age”, with which I never want to be associated.

Greenfield does it in terms of neuroscientific psychology. Her points, I think, are correct. I also think they deserve much more elaboration from a proper psychoanalytic point of view. After all, psychoanalysis proper is psychology, so should it not make much more sense that they work together in criticisms? Perhaps the now fashionable divergence of the fields (one to neuroscience, another to a “materialist-transcendental” Deleuzian approach) should not be embraced so dearly, after all.

So what is my Lacanian take on this issue of what I call, for lack of a better name, a “mind evolution”? Social networks and Web 2.0, even the computer logic in general, play a world of difference in the subject’s relation to the big Other, the socio-Symbolic order, as well as his relation to his own object-production. In the social Web, we have fluid identities (we consciously construct online identities), confusion of time (we can undo many things we did not want, we can think about what we want to say in a chat before hitting Enter), and virtually eternal memory (objects of our production never disappear and can be reproduced endlessly), to name a few that I think are the major. Is this not proof that the basis of language and society itself (the notion of forgetting, of property, of not-knowing, of spatial interaction, of temporality, etc.) is changing?

My point in this post had been but one: something is happening in the human mind, and questions are popping up about this change. Analysis should not be given up to neuroscientists alone, but to critical theorists as well. We are in dire need of a coherent cognitive mapping, one that I believe psychoanalysis proper will help greatly.

Of Facebook and Porn

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , on September 27, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

image credit: Mashable

Much debate has been going on lately surrounding the idea of whether Facebook is actually killing online porn. Although the idea has been around for almost a year and a half on Mashable, it looks like that it is just now with the recent publication of Bill Tancer’s Click: What Millions of People do Online and Why it Matters that people debate about it. Many say no, that it is only a matter of statistics, that people still surf for porn but use other mediums to find it (e.g. UGC sites like YouPorn or P2P networks), etc. And although I tend to agree with those who say no, I still consider it nevertheless important never to underestimate the changing ways of online communication.

The question is not whether porn is dying or not — while piracy may be killing the big industries, I am sure that people will still be looking at online porn for a long time. The question is why are people so attracted to other things that are not porn at all? This is not meant to be an ironic comment — when you think about it, unless you’re serious about using them as a professional networking tool, social networking sites and MMOs barely have more productive things to generate than online porn. So why go for social networks at all?

The typical answer is of course that we wil always still need social connections. But is not the opposite rather true — we are getting more and more tired of real social connections, and we leave it up to the web to do it for us? The logic of the Žižekian interpassive subject applies all too well — with Facebook, we can just add a friend and forget about making a real connection with her/him without feeling guilty about it! Is this not why we love the social Web in first place — because talking and connecting in real life needs too much effort?

Pornography, I would claim, has the same logic. Recall the standard implicit moral disclaimer that real-life sex will never be as good as pornography (it is much more awkward, has so much more bad sounds and smells and unpleasant tactile sensations, we have to constantly negotiate our partner(s)’s bad taste remarks, etc…). Is this not why we can enjoy watching pornography without feeling jealous to the people behind the screen — because we know perfectly well that, if we are in their place, having the real experience, things may not turn out as good as our fantasies? Cybersex is much less tiring than real sex, but nevertheless fantasy can be sustained just as well. The computer already reach orgasms for us.

How, then, should we read the correlation between the rise of Facebook and the decline of porn into the mainstream Web? It is not the usual one that maintains how the Internet is finally put into better use by having less LOLcats and porn. Nor it is the other usual skeptic one that argues that porn is not declining at all, but moving into another realm of the Web, as it were, as mentioned above. My thesis here is much more pessimistic: I would claim that this only proves that we are not only satisfied with externalizing sex so that we do not have to do it (and whenever we do it we need more and more enhancements to keep up with our fantasies and be able to forget the dirty, tiring, awkward parts — dildos, cocaine, viagra, anal beads… — to such extent that there are no longer “real” sex), but that we now find more and more an injunction to externalize our human connections — to “map out [online] every possible human connection” we have, as Mark Zuckerberg famously put it.

I should warn once again, however, that all this is not even meant to be a criticism of the social Web, but a pointing out of its strength. If anything, I will be the first person in any room of skeptic intellectuals who would shamelessly say out loud that he loves technology outright — I am far from being a technophobe; one could even call me a Promethean. Let us just not have too much illusions about it — but neither too much illusions of what the subject essentially is.