From Marx to Mark: Philosophy of History in the Age of Facebook
- 02 Maggio 2017

From Marx to Mark: Philosophy of History in the Age of Facebook

Scritto da Raffaele Danna

9 minuti di lettura

Page 3 – Go back to the beginning

False Disintermediation

Now let us try to discuss some aspects of this text. It’s a very peculiar blend of American positivist, smart-liberal, progressive and civil-rights oriented political thought. It’s philosophy of history made in Palo Alto: very smart, optimistic and with a lot of understated – but well-aware – corporate branding. A lot of values Zuck says to stand for are progressive and democratic, and the author of this article would stick to most of them. But the way in which Zuck’s argumentation is carried out is interesting and worth a minute of attention.

In this worldview, the national state is presented as an outdated XIX century heritage, and the concept of supra-national state (recently rather unpopular) is not even mentioned as part of the story. Quite a few concepts are blurred and undefined. One significant example are what Zuck calls «our values». Are they the values expressed in the Community Standards which every Facebook user declares he will stick to, in a sort of a (most of the time unconscious) social contract? Of course, a lot of faults along the path are not mentioned, like the remarkable shortcomings Facebook is experiencing in making its users stick to «our values», as recent investigations have shown (examples here and here). As obvious, Zuck proposes a neutral – if not entirely positive – view of technology.

But what is even more difficult to tell is who is talking in this post. The text is mainly organized in the first person plural: ‘we’ appears 169 times, ‘our’ and derivate words appear 113 times. But the way in which the first person plural is employed is tricky:

On our journey to connect the world, we often discuss products we’re building and updates on our business. Today I want to focus on the most important question of all: are we building the world we all want?

History is the story of how we’ve learned to come together in ever greater numbers — from tribes to cities to nations. At each step, we built social infrastructure like communities, media and governments to empower us to achieve things we couldn’t on our own.

In this passage ‘we’ and ‘our’ are employed to refer both to humanity at large, to the large community of Facebook users as well as to the small group of the Facebook team («we at Facebook»). The same pronoun refers to billions, millions, and to a few people. This rhetorical device gives the impression of an overlapping of the different layers, and of Zuck’s voice with the user/reader’s voice. It’s very difficult to disagree with what his babyface is arguing: what he says is almost identical to what we say. This thin line goes throughout the post. The text is in fact designed to disguise the role of the «we at Facebook» within the «we» of the community.

Here we arrive at one of the fundamental issues at stake in this text. The force that lies behind all of the passages of this peculiar philosophy of history is the driving role of the «we at Facebook», if not of Zuck himself, in shaping the development of the global community. There is an intentional attempt to disguising this role, presenting it as the natural outcome of the will of every Facebook user. In other words, this text aims at disguising the mediation role of the social network itself. But what we learn beneath the surface is that disintermediation does not exist. Mediation just gets disguised or displaced.

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Scritto da
Raffaele Danna

Ha studiato filosofia a Bologna ed è dottorando in storia all'Università di Cambridge. Su twitter è @Raff_Danna

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