The Rhetoric of Facebook -- Control, Creativity, and the Charm of Transgression

"Anders is missing 'is'": The Prescripts of Facebook -- Anders Fagerjord, University of Oslo, NO Every Facebook user is invited to describe his or her "status", which most users seem to interpret to a description of where or what she or he is doing, alternatively, his or her mood. Until last year, the status field always contained an "is": "Anders is ...". The ellipsis mark would then be replaced by the user ("Anders is writing an abstract for a panel proposal"). The day after the "is" was taken away, the majority of the people on my "Friends list" in Facebook used their status fields to comment on this fact. "N.N. IS", "N.N is missing is", "N.N. contemplates life without 'is'" and so on. In my experience, this is a typical example of Facebook use. Users respond to suggestions and actions from the Facebook system. The system hails its users, and users respond. A user's presence in a social network site (SNS) is signified by the user's profile page (Boyd and Ellison, 2007). Like other SNSes, Facebook provides tools to create the profile page quickly and easily. These tools provide what I call the "prescripts" of facebook. "Prescripts" is a term used to describe template-based easy-to-use authoring systems, like blogs, video editing software, or homepage editors. Prescripts is what is written before you begin (Fagerjord, 2005). In Facebook, the prescripts include the status field, fields where users are encouraged to describe themselves in terms of demographic variables and various interests. Additionally, Facebook also includes "apps", additional functionality a user may choose to include in his or her profile page. A large number of the popular apps invite users to describe their tastes in more detail, and each app has its own prescripts. The prescripts forms how users present themselves in a SNS. Consequently, the prescripts determines the users' very existence. As Jenny Sundén has phrased it, users "type themselves into being" (2003). In Facebook, a significant share of this typing is provided, and thus predetermined, by the prescripts. Facebook users may also post messages on their own profile pages, and on the profile pages of other users who have accepted them as "friends". A popular kind of message is results from quizzes and magazine-style "personality tests", and invitations to others to take the same test. Popular web sites who carry such tests and quizzes often provide links that automatically publish test results on the user's Facebook profile, and invitations to his or her friends. The history of the Internet is also a history of personal publishing and "self writing" (Foucault, 1988). A general trend is that the Web has made it simpler and quicker to write. Homepages required some knowledge of HTML until popular site editors like, e.g., GeoCities appeared. Blogging systems made it even easier. Facebook apps may be viewed as the last development in this trend: not only is it quicker to write, the system also tells you what to write: you just answer a set of questions, and you have written you existence in the system once again, as your post appears in the news lists of all your friends. A cynic might call it a blog for those who don't know what to say.

I am conducting a content analysis of a sample of Norwegian Facebook users, studying what they publish on their Facebook profiles, and then analysing the prescripts of the most popular publishing tools. The first results will be presented in my panel presentation. From ‘configurative’ to ‘writerly’ networking services -- Christian Ulrik Andersen, University of Aarhus, DK Social networking sites and web services like Facebook, Second Life, Flickr,, etc. can be seen as much more than merely functional spaces (‘Zuhandenheit’). Other spatial aspects can be highlighted. With our actions we also perform activities – we reach for objects in Second Life, we apply applications in Facebook, etc.; we take in space by moving and going to places – typically by RSS feeds or linking in LinkedIn,, Facebook, etc.; we judge what we reach for and link to – by tagging, rating, social book marking as performed at e.g. These behaviours change the software space to a place we inhabit (‘Dasein’). The main question for this presentation is, in which way we inhabit these spaces? What kinds of actions does the space encourage and what kind of existence is affected? Beyond doubt, dealing with software we are witnessing a particular distribution of a sensual experience (in the terms of French philosopher, Jacques Rancière). In this landscape of creative and participatory software that characterizes the Internet today we thus need a language to further distinguish between our ‘spaces of action’ and the software’s distribution of our sensual experiences. The paper will suggest that an analysis of the software interface and its discursive and semantic properties is needed to reveal these political aspects of software. Examining Facebook – with references to other web services and networking sites – the presentation will suggest that the social networking site channels a type of behaviour that is characterized by ‘user configuration’. This configuration in many ways resembles other software tools but carries several characteristics of the type of software configuration that takes place in games. Games force the user to perceive the space from the cybernetic perspective of the system that the user acts within. Supplementary (and opposed) to this ‘configurative’ behaviour the presentation will suggest a ‘writerly’ approach to software. This type of approach refers to the user’s reading of the software as a text that can be (re)coded, literally by programming or by interventional acting. By appropriating a ‘writerly’ approach to the software, the user allows herself an external perspective on the system, challenging its underlying rules. By doing this, the user appropriates another type of authorship with semantic liberty and a right to express oneself that produces meaning not otherwise intended by the system (in the terms of Jacques Rancière, one might say that the user imagines ‘another ethos than designated’ or ‘a redistribution of her sensual experience’). Within Facebook, writerly behaviour can be noticed in certain types of user-generated (coded) applications and in users’ play with fictional identity but is also comparable to the idea of ‘art platforms’ as suggested by Olga Guriunova (Media Lab, Helsinki, 2007). Foregrounding the difference between the configurative and the writerly behaviour, the presentation thus suggests that the technical architecture may allow for cultural creativity at its own premises – as opposed to a system architecture that merely promotes participation.

'Your Friend has just tackled you. Bite, lick, or tackle them back, or click here to theorize about what this all means': a Rhetorical Analysis of the Behavior of Scholars and Academics in Facebook. -- Kim De Vries, California State University, Stanislaus USA Though Facebook was initially the province of teenagers, it has become popular with a surprisingly broad range of users, including academics. The inclusion of people beyond the original intended audience has created wider possibilities for transgression of social roles. Academics who use Facebook often clearly see themselves as needing to justify even their presence in a community that not only was originally aimed at their students, but that also is typical of many 'web 2.0' sites in taking advantage of free user labor to acquire content and in having a Terms of Service agreement that grants them intellectual property rights over usergenerated content. The ambivalence of these scholarly users can be seen in their posts to professional mailing lists, on their own Facebook pages, and of course in the articles they publish. Along with what might be considered transgression of a professional role, academics on Facebook also may easily cross social boundaries. Because the idea of an audience is built into the structure of Facebook, a Burkean rhetorical view that is focused on the issues of audience and scene and questions the motives for participation is almost inescapable. At the same time, many scholars in fact use Facebook quite intensely, in spite of understanding that the privacy policy is terrible, that the Terms of Service agreement is outrageous, and that their actions are being channeled by the design of the interface and of the applications available to enhance each Facebook page. But how are scholars using Facebook, and are we using it exactly as teens do? Probably not, but I suspect there is more overlap than many care to admit. And what keeps us using it in spite of our critical awareness? To explore these questions, an auto- ethnographic approach offers some advantages. It allows observation of not only one's own interactions with friends, but also observation of those friends' interaction with others. However, size of one's friend network may be small, and may represent a narrow range of user behavior. Further, some people may choose not to have their actions reported in their newsfeeds, so they are invisible to everyone except the recipient. Therefore, to check the validity of direct, but limited observation, self-reports are also being solicited from a wider range of users, but this paper represents a snapshot of what I have observed myself, and a brief discussion of the social dynamics about which I plan to collect some survey data on the rhetorical perceptions of scholarly users. My aim is to determine the extent to which other academics find themselves crossing borders, how they perceive their audience/s, and what effects this border-crossing or "inappropriate behavior has for them personally and professionally. My own experience suggests that while perhaps there is some risk, there is also considerable personal and professional benefit to redefining for certain audiences the interpretations of prescribed playful actions. And this cooperative redefinition enhances Forming connections that are playful and emotionally more intimate seems to offer both personal and professional advantages. People with whom we have multi-valent relationships online may also become people with whom we might collaborate on research, or organize conference panels, or at least go to for advice when visiting their home countries/cities. Thus I ultimately argue that along with the playful air pervading Facebook, there can also be a feeling of risk, and that users sharing experiences that give rise to this tension actually strengthen their social and professional bonds. In academic circles there aren't many venues where play and risk are valued or even possible, which may explain why Facebook has been so attractive to many of us who by rights ought to be the most resistant to its charms.

Marianne van den Boomen will serve as respondent to the panel and provide a critical response as well as providing her own perspective. Brief Biographies: Anders Fagerjord is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo. His research interests include the rhetoric of multimedia, convergence, and the Web, about which he has published extensively. Outside of academia, he has worked as a radio host and Web designer. Christian Ulrik Andersen is Assistant Professor of Information and Media Studies at the University of Aarhus, Denmark and a founding member of Digital Aesthetics Research Centre, which hosted the Read_Me festival in 2004. His research addresses a 'writerly' aspect of computing/computer interaction - where users may access the scripted, hidden layer of code behind the interface. Most of his work has been on gaming but also explores the 'writerly' of musical practices, networks and urban life (as part of a wider, research project entitled Digital Urban Living). Kim De Vries is Director of Composition and Assistant Professor of English and California State University, Stanislaus. Her research interests center on borders, boundaries, and transgressions of both; examples of contexts for exploring this include transnational literacies, comparative (and contrastive) rhetoric, new/digital media, online communities, and identity studies. For eight years she also has been a staff writer for Sequential Tart, a webzine devoted to comic books and pop culture. Marianne van den Boomen has been working as editor, freelance journalist and web designer. She was involved with the early Dutch Digital City (1994), and published several articles and books about Internet culture (Leven op het Net: De sociale betekenis van virtuele gemeenschappen, Amsterdam 2000). Since 2003 she has been employed at the Department of Media and Culture Studies (Utrecht University), where she teaches BA- and MA-courses in the program New Media and Digital Culture. She is currently working on her Ph.D., a philosophical inquiry into the role of metaphors in Internet ontology.

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