21 Sep 2011
The most popular website on the Internet for American users, Facebook, is a site that is so widespread that it is coming to replace email for many younger users. However, it was initially one of its smallest, most culturally homogeneous, and most exclusive. In 2006, being on Facebook meant that you were a student at one of the most exclusive private universities in the world: Harvard. The Internet is a media technology that many view as inherently democratic and thus multiracial or even antiracist. However, the history of Facebook’s structure, affordances, aesthetics, and user base were formed within a racialized social network–the elite private university–that has both consolidated its now-unquestioned hegemony and reflects the logic of exclusion that produced it.
SNS’s like Facebook permit users to visualize and manage their social relations, to contain, regulate, and circulate them by mathematical means, or algorithmically. From its earliest days race has been understood as essentially algorithmic and has shaped online social networks from the beginning. Indeed, the notion that race is informational is part of the earliest understandings of racial classification as scientifically and biologically based rather than contingent, contextual, and culturally constructed. The social networking site’s structure, coding, aesthetics, and form produce an elegant apparatus to manage social identity, inclusion, and exclusion, in short, to mediate race, gender, and class.