The Heterotopia of Facebook
Robin Rymarczuk is Michel Foucault’s ‘friend’, Philosophy Now, Apr/May 2015
Facebook was founded on February 4, 2004, by Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard University room-mates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. What started out as an on-campus online ‘hot or not’ tool resulted in the registration of a billion users by 2012. Its rapid growth and perpetually expanding corporate power, as well as its part in the ‘digital privacy’ controversy, has attracted many seeking to explain its remarkable popularity as well as peoples’ discontent with it. Although interesting and important, these studies focus predominantly on what users do on Facebook, leaving underexposed what Facebook does to the user.
Facebook possesses properties that can be construed not just in terms of globalized online networks, but also in terms of a type of space. In these terms, Facebook is a world within the world that attracts or repels people by its geography as much as by its social life. So what kind of space is Facebook? I claim that it’s what philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984) ingeniously called “un espace autre” – “an other space”; better known as a heterotopia. As I will elaborate, understanding Facebook as a heterotopic space offers a style of critical thinking that invites moral reflection on digital culture and its relation to other spaces in our everyday lives.