This paper seeks to understand relations of power connected to the increasing negotiation of visibility within a middle-class activist community in southern Stockholm using social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ning and a blog) in tandem with offline participation, fighting among other things to save their bathhouse or to preserve green areas and playgrounds. The method for studying this group is both ethno- and nethnographic, through participant observations and interviews online and offline.
The theoretical framework is based on theories of visibility and power. Following Foucault, visibility and power have always been connected but in different ways across times. Whereas in an tiquity the visibility of the few to the many was connected to power, in modernity being watched was connected to a subordinate position of being disciplined by a subtle normalizing power of
the gaze (in schools, armies, hospitals, penal institutions et cetera). Today we are participating in this disciplining by free will online in order to secure a place on the social arena. It is not at all obvious whether being watched in the context of social media is exercising power or being subordinate to it. It all depends on how skilfully the user navigates these new social media networks
and manages his or hers databases of “friends” and connections. Foucault’s discussions of power and visibility can be applied remarkably well in digital arenas. According to Foucault, the individuals over whom power is exercised are those from whom the knowledge they themselves produce is extracted and used in order to control them. This foucauldian side of social media visibility, as surveillance and control represent, has extra weight in activist ommunities, often defined in opposition to the state and the police.
The argument put forward in this paper is that a kind of network logic disciplines the activists to negotiate visibility online and to maintain and extend their activist network by continuous and reflexive updating in order to secure a position within the community. Hence activists today need
to master a new form of sociability, through database and “friend” management on different social media networks. Relations of power in this network logic are manifested in the constant monitoring/ supervision and negotiation of both oneself‘s and others‘ visibility, all encompassed in the practice of updating.
Uppsala, 2012. 8-9 p.
4th ICTs and Society Conference - Critique, Democracy, and Philosophy in 21st Century Information Society. Towards Critical theories of Social media. Uppsala, May 2nd-4th, 2012