Book note: Taina Bucher, Facebook

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewResearch

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Taina Bucher
Facebook, 2021, Polity Press, 288 pp: €18.10.
ISBN: 9781509535170
Christoffer Bagger (cbagger@hum.ku.dk)

“Facebook is Facebook” (p. 3) is the central claim of Taina Buchers newest book. In other words, Facebook is not reducible to being a social networking site, a platform, an infrastructure or even a proxy for the internet itself. Instead, we are invited to consider Facebook as a “hyperobject” (p. 200), a term developed by philosopher Timothy Morton (2013) to denote black holes, rainforests and other objects defying immediate human comprehension. The present book makes a decent case for adding Facebook to that list.

This expansion of Facebooks ontology stands as the central contribution of the book. Here, Bucher is upfront about noting the perceived “has-been” status of Facebook as a social medium or object of study, while also stressing that we may not be as free of the platform as we perceive ourselves to be. Here she may be read in extension of recent monographs about the difficulties of disconnection from the digital (Couldry & Mejias 2019), and from Facebook in particular (Karppi 2018). As Bucher says, if you think yourself beyond Facebook, “[t]hink again” (p. 4).

The chapters treat a different aspect of Facebook and implicitly argues why the usual conceptions of it are insufficient. Chapter 2 gives an STS-inspired account of Facebook as an alleged “infrastructure” or “utility”, while underlining the “symbolic engineering” necessary to accept these metaphors. Chapter 3 treats the “programming” of sociality inherent in Facebook as a social medium, but also stresses how the Facebook is a federated identity provider for other systems (e.g. the dating service Tinder). Chapter 4 treats initiatives such as the much-discussed Free Basic program and other ways in which Facebook has expanded beyond being a social networking site. Here, Bucher stresses that “Facebook has won the internet” (p. 136), although it cannot as of yet be reduced to being the internet. Here it might be useful to note that the book predates Facebooks re-branding as Meta, and the consequent pivot in stated aims. Chapter 5 discusses how Facebook cannot be reduced to a “platform” for advertising, in part because Facebook frequently intervene as producers of ads themselves.

Facebook “def[ying] easy definitions” (p. 54) is more of a feature than a bug. This is the conclusion in chapter 1’s treatment of the metaphors utilized by Mark Zuckerberg and others in describing their creation. Accordingly, chapter 6 stresses a need for analytical context sensitivity, especially when judging of Facebooks impact on the realm of the political. In line with her call for context sensitivity, Bucher is never presents any univocal denouncement of Facebook, in contrast to other recent books on the matter (e.g. Vaidhyanathan, 2018; Zuboff 2019).


Given the eclectic nature of the chapter subjects, the book is understandably driven largely by a synthesis of existing research rather than an abundance of new empirical materials. This makes it a useful introduction to the current state of research on Facebook. In spite of the definitive title (not even “an introduction” , “a handbook” or any subtitle at all), this is perhaps best viewed as a new starting point for thinking about Facebook, rather than an epilogue. Buchers closing passages certainly assure us that her book should not be the final word on the subject, even if we may have add the word “hyperobject” to our vocabularies.


References

Couldry, N., & Mejias, U. A. (2019). The costs of connection: How data is colonizing human life and appropriating it for capitalism. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
Karppi, T. (2018). Disconnect: Facebook’s affective bonds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. U of Minnesota Press.
Vaidhyanathan, S. (2018). Antisocial media: How Facebook disconnects us and undermines democracy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Zuboff, S. (2019). The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for the future at the new frontier of power. London: Profile Books.










Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Communication
Volume37
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)365-366
ISSN0267-3231
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2022

ID: 275884859