Alice Marwick’s "Status Update" (chapters 5-8)

Chapter 5 (chapter about self-branding)

1. The personal brand is, Marwick argues, “an edited self, requiring emotional labor to maintain a business-friendly self-presentation despite the advocacy of transparency and openness by social media culture.” This is a key point: personal branding requires ceaseless labor, akin to the perpetual retraining required by post-Fordism and labor conditions or precarity. Social media self-creation is not (merely) a liberating opportunity at self-expression, as it may naively be conceived, but is instead a mandatory form of discipline and self-monitoring that workers must perform to enhance their employability. “Self-branding is not about living publically. It is about constructing a strategic self-image to appeal to a particular audience and furthering that image through every online and offline action.” It has nothing to do with authenticity but the fantasy of authenticity becomes a prod to continual maintenance of the self.

“The branded self that results is highly visible and relentlessly self-promoting, creating a new version of the entrepreneur known for his or her performed identity rather than accomplishments.” (299) Or you might say the only possible accomplishments for neoliberal subjects are performances of the self, the chief accessible capital to grow and invest is that which is rooted in the personal brand. Careers are replaced by personal brands or enterprise selves. This sort of identity suits the risk shifting under neoliberal regimes: “Self-branding encourages people to take on the responsibility of economic uncertainty by constructing identities that fit current business trends” (305).

By creating an atmosphere of lateral and almost passive surveillance, capitalist social media create and sustain the requirement of perpetual self-editing work: “the collaborative, networked audience of social media requires people to engage in unpaid emotional and immaterial labor to keep their brand image pure” (347). Marwick notes that social media need not automatically function this way, to enforce neoliberal subjectivity (she argues that early social media allowed for free play of identity). But social media have been subsumed by capital, have be enlisted by capital, and have achieved scale through accommodating capitalist aims. “These are not values that are somehow inherent in internet technologies; rather, they are market values being mapped over a particular use case of social media.”

But why this mapping over? I think the scaling up of networks to increase their efficacy meshes with capitalist imperative of growth — early social media withered away because they didn’t scale, and failed to achieve the size for network effects to kick in. Google’s insistence on real identities in Google+ seems related to the need for authenticatable identity in order for network effects to kick in. Real identities leads to the kind of participation that scales; free play is disintegrative. And capitalist incentives also kick in to help nascent networks grow; interested parties market them, instrumentalize them, etc. Free-play networks only rely on pleasure to expand, and pleasure is not about growth, size, organization; pleasure is entropic, ephemeral.

Capitalism appropriates social media, and ideology of tech utopianism, to generalize neoliberal subjectivity and enforce it upon everyone. Other potentialities in social media are suppressed, never reach efficacious scale — they are pre-empted by commercial social media, among other things. Self-branding is not a personal choice; it is a requisite survival mechanism.

2. Marwick works through the usage of neoliberalism to settle on a meaning derived from Foucault and Aihwa Ong: neoliberalism involves governmentality through the broadened use of markets as metaphors for how human social behavior must be organized. People become subject to the fun morality in that they must maximize utility in the form of commodified, quantified pleasure to be “normal.” The self becomes legible only insofar as its behavior fits this general imperative.

3. This is a useful distinction between identifying with corporate brands and self-branding: “Self-branding is significantly different from the use of brands as identity markers, since it actively teaches people to view active identity construction as a product. Thus, people define themselves both through brands and as brands. This ability has been amplified by the internet” (312). Rather than augment the self with the overtones of an external brand, self-branding involves limiting identity to a factitious creation entirely government by its marketing potential. A layer of reflexivity is added to one’s conception of oneself: the level of editing the self and to fully become the redacted version of oneself.

4. Self-branding thrives given the technological “affordances” of social media: “Social media configures these values through technical status affordances, bringing the potential audience to the forefront by turning ephemeral status or reputation information into quantifiable metrics, such as blog analytics, number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Comments, references, and Twitter @replies become indicators of successful self-branding, demonstrating value through the awareness of others” (315). Social media allows us to quantify our personal branding efforts and subject them to cost-benefit-style analyses. It permits the sort of alienation required to craft identity as a product while still inhabiting it.

5. Long fieldwork section of anecdotes of self-branders in Silicon Valley. Not surprising that these people would use social media to commodify themselves; yearning to see an account of the more subtle ways this affects people who are not professionally implicated in the roll-out of Web 2.0. She looks at some moronic-sounding self-help books that basically argue that if financial success doesn’t result from assiduous self-regard, it’s your fault and you need to work harder or believe in yourself more: “failing to achieve economic success is not due to structural equality, a lousy economy, or stagnating wages; instead, it is the fault of the worker, who is positioned as an entrepreneur without a safety net.” That’s pretty much the neoliberal order in a nutshell. “The entrepreneurs of Web 2.0 are proof of concept that neoliberalism can work,” she claims, but they are uniquely incentivized to buy into neoliberal subjectivity to the degree that it can be used to render their tech firms and skills socially necessary. They try to generalize an ethos embodied by the tech they have develop capitalistically. They have invented tech that supports capitalism because capitalism was the reason for its development (if that is not too tautological). The tech ends up being deterministic in that sense; it is developed to replicate the capitalism that enriches its developers.

6. This is the characteristic consequence of self-branding on friendship: “People also had to demonstrate relational ties between themselves and members of their audience, and this often required performing intimacy and interest in others, even when it was lacking. Interpersonal relationships were intertwined with self-branding edicts, and the two often clashed.” There is no way to gauge what is strategy and what is concern for the other. It is impossible to figure out when you are not merely being used.

7. Marwick argues that social media fosters a new sort of entrepreneur. Neoliberalism presumes an entrepreneurial self, but the nature of what entrepreneurship means changes within the field supplied by social media. People pursue attention, celebrity, an expansive identity, personal brand equity moreso than traditional forms of capital. These new forms of capital may begin as intermediary steps toward accumulating traditional hard capital, but become goals in their own right. Amassing personal brand equity becomes necessary for survival, much as accumulating capital is necessarily for the survival of firms in Marx’s analysis (accumulation as the Moses and prophets” for capitalists).

8. Marwick fuses Lazzarauto’s immaterial labor with Hochschild “emotional labor” to describe social media behavior as “immaterial emotional labor” — not entirely sure how this is different from “affective labor,” which Hardt and Berardi among others use. Marwick is mainly concerned with the emotional effort required to share and self-promote and kiss ass and so forth, the sort of labor that is vastly expanded by perpetual, open-ended connectivity. She links the problem to social media’s dogmatizing of “authenticity” — a fictional construct used to browbeat people into greater performativity in search of that alleged inner truth. There is no authenticity, only contexts that prompt us to behave in various ways, emphasize different dimensions of our potentiality.

9. I don’t get why Marwick want to defend self-branding in abstract but condemn it in its neoliberal expression. I don;t think these are separable. Personal branding is contingent on neoliberal ideology’s ascendency. There isn’t one without the other. So this seems right: “The problem is that self-branding, as a practical technique, is limited and will only be successful for a slim sliver of the population, yet it is being advocated as a universal solution to the economic downturn that can be adopted by anyone.” It is always and ever a “practical technique.” that is it’s inherent definition. There is no such thing as impractical self-branding. You only brand because it is entrepreneurially useful, and the celebration of self-branding is always an ideological justification of inequality of opportunity and outcomes, of generalized precarity as a way to separate the deserving from the undeserving on the basis of how much cultural capital they have coming into the game and how willing they are to debase themselves in feats of flexibility.

Chapter 6 (chapter about “lifestreaming” and lateral surveillance)


1. Disclosure is a form of publicity for the personal brand. It is the attempt to attract an audience similar to the way a TV show tries to draw ratings. Makes one an attention broker — you can sell the attention you receive to a third party (i.e. an advertiser).

2. “networked lifestreaming often creates anxieties about performing identity in front of an audience, and the extra layers of social information can result in intense social problems colloquially referred to as drama” — you can say that again. It invites “remixing” of others’ lives for entertainment, self-promotion or sheer impishness.

3. After listing some of the supposed benefits of “lifestreaming” (it simulates co-presence), Marwick nails the problems with it: “First, that the lifestream and networked audience creates and publicizes social information that, when combined, is more revealing than the sum of its parts. Second, that intimacy and conflict are often performed for an audience, or to elicit reactions from others. And third, that the context of constant self-monitoring often instigates paranoia and surveillance.” Personal information becomes decontextualized and available for ready remixing.

4. “Context-collapse” problems of lifestreaming — the supply of material that is removable from its immediate context and can be used for other purposes (gossip mongering; advertising; profiling; surveillance, etc.). “First, social media encourages people to reveal or publicize information within a context that may feel social (e.g. performing for a networked audience made up of friends and acquaintances), but in reality is accessible to anyone.” Then “the combination of digital information from many disparate sources into the lifestream results in emergent social information that is more than the sum of its parts.” In sharing, we believe we have a certain amount of control of how the info will be interpreted, but in reality we have no clue, considering the vast amount of cross-referencing and recombinations that are possible. We surrender control of the stories that can be plausibly told about us but sharing habitually across various persistent platforms. “The accessibility and persistence of personal information tracked and broadcast through social media creates an extra layer of relational data that is not easily explained by the dichotomy of public or private” (402). Following danah boyd, Marwick argues we should view these problems through the lens of the public/publicity dichotomy (not public/private). “Information that is public can, in theory, be accessed by virtually anyone, but in practice will probably only be seen by a few. Information that is publicized is strategically made visible to a greater audience through three dimensions: the effort it takes to find information, the ease of locating that information (e.g. searchability), and the interest in that information” (404). Participating in social media is an act of publicity, whether we want it to be or not, it seems to me. Social-media companies try to play it both ways, but in the end, they encourage the repurposing of information to make it more attention-grabbing — they are in the attention business, and all content can usefully be “improved” by making it more enticing to more people, regardless of the original intentions of the person who supplied it. That is why it is so important that Facebook and not users own the content served by Facebook. They want to use your public information and make it publicity.

5. Mandatory publicity and lateral surveillance tends to be justified with cant about the authtentic person having nothing to hide or fear from “living in public”: But “the idea of a single, authentic self, although it carries a great deal of currency in contemporary American culture, is a social construction, and at odds with actual social practice.” Publicity leads to more time spent in self-justification rather than in living; boundaries allow for minimal time and energy wasted on identity management. Boundaries allow for relatively shallow identities to be inhabited to facilitate action in the moment. Without boundaries, “chilling effects” set in, where people refuse to act from fear of having to be permanently associated with a particular deed and have to integrate it into a unitary identity.

Marwick points out the dubious functions of openness ideology:

First, promoting absolute openness disregards the privilege of most people in the tech scene. It is one thing for a wealthy, white male programmer to admit that he sometimes smokes pot. It is another for an undocumented worker to publicize his immigration status, or for a woman escaping a domestic violence situation to reveal her home address. Advocating openness ignores the very circumstances that may make transparency dangerous. Second, upholding personal transparency
as an ideal supports the business models of social software, which profit from information disclosure.

(414) Openness cant, like most things that increase surveillance, serves the interests of tech companies and the state; it preserve status quo distributions of power.

6. Editing the mandatory lifestream (mandatory for purposes of personal branding in the neoliberal economy) becomes a major amount of work — of “immaterial emotional labor” (419) in Marwick’s phrase — the effort to seem authentic and connected online to make your personal online brand seem legitimate. It is generally uncompensated affective labor that nonetheless throws off useful marketing information and so on. Marwick also includes “monitoring” in this category — checking ot see that other people in your network are not sharing things about you that tarnish the story you are telling about yourself — there is no end to that sort of labor, and no guarantee it will even be efficacious.

Chapter 8: Conclusion
1. Good summation:

I argue that Web 2.0 discourse as instantiated in software inculcates a neoliberal subjectivity which encourages people to see themselves as users, products, and packaged commodities. Social media teaches users to create an edited persona, whether based on a celebrity or a brand, and use it to boost social status by strategically appealing to viewers and sharing personal information. Status, a primary motivator for human action in all social contexts, is measured in these applications primarily by attention, visibility, and access to others; people are rewarded for engaging in behaviors that get them attention. These behaviors and methods of identity construction constitute emotional, immaterial labor, which is both creative and affective. This labor is exchanged for the relational and personal benefits provided by social media, such as support, intimacy, and connection. The labor value is converted into literal capital by social media companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, who profit from personal disclosure and the attraction of users to their products. This exchange commodifies identity, emotion, and relationships within a digital context. Social media, which teaches this way of thinking about the self, constitutes a technology of subjectivity. This subjectivity incorporates strategies of commodification and promotion drawn from advertising, marketing, and celebrity culture and applies them to the self and its relationships to others. Web 2.0 therefore teaches a way of understanding oneself that supports a neoliberal culture in which market-based principles are used to evaluate success or failure in daily life. These principles in turn support the business models of social technologies, which depend on selling eyeballs to advertisers or personal information to data-mining firms (both which treat the user, or the user‘s digital dossier, as a salable commodity).

Yes yes yes. Social media, as a technology of subjectivity, ends up shaping the ways we can conceive of ourselves, encouraging us to see ourselves as consumer goods. This ties in nicely with the thesis Zygmunt Bauman elaborates in Consuming Life and suggests how social media support consumer society as well as neoliberalism.

2. Also worth remembering: “While the networked audience provides external validation, emotional support, and a general feeling of ambient awareness for many users, it also consciously or unconsciously limits and circumscribes self presentation choices.” Surveillance makes you feel known, obviously, but it limits you to behaving in ways that can be countenanced, regardless of whether they suit some inner sense of self. Whether that inner sense is a real, ontological thing is another question.

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