In an article published in the academic journal Computational Culture, the artist Benjamin Grosser, winner of First Prize at VIDA 16.0 for his Computers Watching Movies project (2013), analyses the way in which the social media site Facebook encourages its users’ activities through the quantification of their actions. Under the title “What Do Metrics Want? How Quantification Prescribes Social Interaction On Facebook”, Grosser examines the way in which information such as the number of friends a user has, the number of “likes” a post receives or the times it has been shared is quantified, as well as the contemporaneity of all content, through timestamps which indicate the time that has passed since publication. Grosser claims that this quantification encourages users to play a more active part in the social network, since it promotes the desire to “have more” (more friends, more “likes”, more comments) which is identified as part of the ideal lifestyle model in capitalist society. “Capitalism is ‘always about growth’,” says Grosser. “This ‘growth fetish’ […] [is] driving our tendency to consider everything within business terms.” The value of each person (or user) becomes synonymous with a certain numeric figure – the number of interactions, of friends or followers. The very interface itself does not remain neutral with regard to this information. Instead, it rewards the most popular posts by giving them greater visibility on the main news feed. For this reason, argues Grosser, Facebook presence becomes the reverse of Bentham’s Panopticon (a prison designed to maintain surveillance of inmates at all times): instead of fighting to avoid being watched, the user is fighting to ensure ever greater visibility.
Benjamin Grosser’s article, which can be read in full on the Computational Culture website, has been extensively commented on by the international media such as The Washington Post, Huffington Post, France Info, WIRED (Italy), La Reppublica and the Daily Mail. His research is part of a broader project – Facebook Demetricator(2013), a browser extension that hides all the metrics on Facebook, meaning that the user does not know how many “likes” or the number of friends they have, among other figures. According to Grosser, this plug-in shows just how Facebook manipulates the user’s desire to continually have more through the repeated and insistent display of numerical values.