Here’s Looking at You

Social Media has undeniably changed us both individually and as a society by providing a platform for exploitation. Music sensations blossom out of YouTube posts (Justin Bieber) or MySpace homepages (Lily Allen).

Beyond the world of celebrity, social media also provides a collective space with democratizing potential. In their work, New Media and Internet Activism: From the ‘Battle of Seattle’ to Blogging, Richard Kahn and Douglas Kellner note how social media can be utilized by a diverse spectrum of people to construct new social and political relations and to further educate and inform others. For example, Iranian Pro-Feminist Blogs demonstrate just how effective social media can be in a feminist society when one is socially restricted by their body and culture.

Whether or not you consider yourself to be an exhibitionist, you are socially “off the radar” if not a member of social media society. This “spectrum of people”, although diversified, is still flawed considering the privilege that comes with social media. Not only are capable computers a privilege but so is the time and education one must have to connect through social media. Although this digital platform can serve as a form of escapism form the female body and social restrictions, it can further isolate women from society if they lack the resources to connect.

Social media is so intertwined with embodiment and visual media that we must ask whether or not we want to escape our bodies online when so much of social media culture condones exploitation. But this exploitation can have potential harmful secondary social ramifications. Think back to Rebecca Black’s “Friday” music video on YouTube.

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The extremities to which we release our personal selves through social media allows us to be at the control of everybody by everybody. Within this digital framework we are monitored by the omniopticon which, according to Nathan Jurgenson in Surveillance and Society, is “a democratization of the gaze that has come into reality with the rise of social network sites” (Jurgenson 377). Jurgenson is noting the power of surveillance witnessed in the documentary We Live in Public about the life of internet mogul Josh Harris and his how he used social media surveillance to tamper with the human condition. Harris offered free food, lodging, drink, fun (etc.) to subjects interested in partaking in his bunker experiment, but stated that the footage was his – “that we own.”

So who “owns” us in the world of social media? In their work Surveillance Creep in the Genetic Age, authors Dorothy Nelkin and Lori Andrews conceptualize the harmful effects of DNA banking and surveillance within the military. One can easily make the connection between this DNA surveillance and the surveillance of our online identities. Photos uploaded onto Facebook, are essentially owned by Facebook. Where are all those Twitter posts stored? Credit card numbers?

Can we really escape our bodies (or our mistakes) when every personal update is broadcasted and stored? Or are we reaching an age where the digital self and the physical self are so intimately intertwined that they are one in the same?

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