The mischief of the ‘WANT’ button
On tuesday 20th september the Volkskrant wrote an article about Facebook’s introduction of four new features: read, watched, listened and want. These new feature supposedly will take their stand next to the well-known, “I-like’ button. Besides that fact that Facebook is continuously changing their settings, the new feature ‘want’ button brings Facebook into a whole new dimension, that of the consumer society.
The fact that users already over expose personal data, such as name, address and photos to your friends, Facebook now wants you to reveal your wants. But why would one want to reveal their wants in a networked society that is about connecting people. Why isn’t the ‘I-like’ button enough, especially if the three new features; read, watched and listened resemble more or less the same feature; revealing you interests. Is it really that necessary to specifically reveal our wants to our friends?
The mischief behind this mysterious ‘want’ button is, that it is not about connecting individuals on the online society, which Facebook supposedly stands for. But about collecting more ephemerality of data so that Facebook can sell their users databodies – ‘the total collection of files connected to an individuals’ (Kooijman et al: p. 2008)1 – to corporations and governments (Rogers 2008: p. 4)2 . The social network function of Facebook is therefore a masquerade, ‘to lead consumers to reveal themselves to marketers online and give the marketer use of that information’ (Turow 2006: p. 71)3 . As a result Facebook is not a networked society but a consumer society.
The more the users reveal data about themselves the more surveillance upon these users can be placed. By surveillance I do not mean Foucault’s term of discipline of reforming bodies but about accessing personal data to understand the individual’s consumer type. ‘What is taking place through this process (surveillance) is the transformation of individuals’ personal creations or relationships into grist for customized material sent to them by site owners (Facebook) and their affiliates (corporations and the government)’ (Turow: p.98). Therefore it is not about the act of collecting data but the process of what happens to the data after it is collected. In other words the act of giving away data of ourselves is a well-known activity. The users are the ones that click the ‘I-like’ button and accept agreements and therefore responsible for. However it is the process of categorizing the data of individuals into specific categories, to keep data ‘well groomed’ (Rogers 2008: p. 2) and advertising the data to third parties, such as corporations. That is the process that the users are not familiar with.
This unfamiliarity is what Facebook tries to disguise through the features such as the ‘want’ button. But then again one could argue that even though Facebook disguises the process of revealing data bodies, the users are aware that something happens to their data bodies and therefore they themselves take part of the consumer society. Turow speaks of the niche envy, a society where individuals take part in the consumer society in order to gain a more profitable outcome then other individuals (Turow: p.72). For example, due to customized generated advertising I receive a discount for a clothing brand because I notably liked the brand on Facebook. If another individual did not ‘like’ the clothing brand then that individual will not receive the discount. Therefore I am the more profitable individual. This scenario clearly shows that individuals could enter the consumer society as an act of avoiding jealousy. One could therefore say that even though Facebook tries to disguise itself as a consumer society, they do seduce the users through niche envy in order to gain more information of users then usual. Therefore one could also say that this disguise is a sort of disappearance of the disappearance. What this theory means is that there is no more disappearance but the disappearance has become traceable (Rogers: p. 9).
Applying this theory to the ‘want’ button clearly shows what disguising the process of a consumer society means. Due to the fact that Facebook tries to disguise the fact that it collects data to sell it to third parties is the disappearance part. And the disappearance of the disappearance is the part where Facebook users know that when they click the ‘want’ button that their data is made visible to others, such as friends. But due to the platform, the social network site, users tend to neglect the fact that the journey that the information users reveal does not stop at Facebook, but continues a journey to a third party. That fact that User neglect this journey is what makes Facebook a perfect platform for a consumer society.
Overall one can say that the consumer society within Facebook is a form of a niche envy, which contributes to the theory of disappear of the disappearance. And this all is made possible due to the ‘want button’ that Facebook supposedly wants to introduce. Now we just have to wait and see whether the users will accept this new additional feature and join the consumer society of Facebook.
- Jaap Kooijman, Patricia Pisters and Wanda Strauven (eds.) (2008). Mind the Screen: Media Concepts Accroding to Thomas Elsaesser. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 228-296, p. 291. [↩]
- Rogers, Richard. ‘Consumer Technology after Surveillance Theory.’ Mind the Screen, AUP 2000. [↩]
- Turow, Joseph. Niche Envy. Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2006: p. 71-9. [↩]