Sexual Alias. Mediatisation of Desire in Social Network Services

Essay, 2017

29 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents


Mediatisation and Sexuality
The Service
Aliasing and Algorithm
Facebook ’ s Alias

Facebook User Analyses
Controlled Conditions
Age 13: Findings
Age 25: Findings
Deconstructing the Alias

The Algorithmic Life
Nexus of Practise
Actor-network Theory

Social Network Sexualities
Performing (Sexual) Desirability
Servicing (Sexual) Desire

Mediatisation of Desire
Crises of Individuation
Surveillance and Stalking
Symbolical Mastery
Displaced (Self) Mediators

Sexual Alias

Mediatisation of Desire in Social Network Services


The relationship between sexuality and communication technologies is changing. In media life, people are increasingly seeing themselves and others through the social network service (SNS). Social media users “sign up” their name, age, and sex before they have access. Once attained, the user is afforded a ‘configurable networked self’ (Cohen, 2015:69) that is voluntarily serviced with and within the social network. With growing aspects of use, especially in younger people to ‘communicate their own life story’ (Larsen, 2016:24), the SNS poses and imposes differential user-experiences rooted in media logics.

For media to embed its logic into social-sexual practice it must contend with deep human emotions or ‘sub-processes’ that are at the core of psychological development; ‘how people understand themselves, how do they think of themselves; do they label themselves, and do they announce or enact that identity to an audience or in a social setting?’ (Plante, 2006:200). A person’s sexuality then, their gender expression and identity, are part of one’s developed (sub)consciousness. Principled archetypes - the socio-cultural norms and values of femininity and masculinity - are violently in flux. Under the integration of social media into social life the psychological recognition and reconfiguration of one’s sex i.e, their sexual identity(s), orientation, fantasies, feelings, behaviors, and desires (weeks 2011), are becoming part of an assemblage of interdependent media networks.

As Walgrave et al (2016) lament, such logistics change ‘how the characteristics of SNSs accommodate needs inherent to adolescent development [which] may explain why adolescents have rapidly and enthusiastically integrated SNSs into their daily lives’ (p.124). The evolving characteristics of SNSs are not only dependent on active interactional and communicative needs executed within the service but also produce differential user experiences based on the information supplied with the service.

The paper investigates this phenomenon, specifically how age, location and/or sex effects the Facebook SNS user experience - to explore the relatively uncharted territory of how new media logics symbiotically service people ’ s desires as a form of media-embedded practices. Given the complexity of the research topic, the paper breaks into five parts - Mediatisation of Sexuality; Facebook User Analysis; Deconstructing the Alias; Social Network Sexualities; Mediatisation Desire - grappling with notions of a mediatised sexual alias.

Mediatisation and Sexuality

People now sexually communicate through media-embedded socio-sexual practices afforded and accommodated with the use of SNSs. Like with other aspects of mediatisation research (Ekstrom et al. 2016; Deuze 2014; Mazzoleni & Shultz 1999), media-embedded processes driving sociocultural change are becoming the norm. The rise and integration of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have proliferated a data mine of social and cultural capital that the SNS has used to appropriate itself into public/private spheres.

Now ‘perceived as cultural properties as well as social technics' (Jansson, 2015:2), the SNS inhibits mediatisational processes, changing the psychological development of sexual self-determination and selfidentification. Related work points to de Ridder’s (2015; 2017) mediatisation approach to sexuality, asking ‘why media matter to people’s sexualities and how people value their sexual lives in, with or around media’ (p.19). Warning of a ‘radical ontological change in how we look at processes of communication, mainly mass communication and culture,’ de Ridder calls attention to ‘ Facebook (now used by an ever-increasing number of people around the world to communicate sexual identity).

Sexuality and sexual identity(s) are now an embedded media practice. Hilton-Morrow & Battles, (2015) introduces sexuality as a categorization process. Sexual identity and language are constructed and managed, ‘continually in flux as cultural meanings are continually negotiated' (p. 10). This negotiating of norms in the construction and management of sexual identity on SNS presents an insightful perspective into media-embedded forces that normalize certain behaviors, orientations, and desires.

The Service

The social media service (SNS) is a symbiotic relationship between user wants and service needs i.e., social media institutions ‘provide stability and meaning to social behavior’ (Scott, 2012:15) whilst relying on the expropriation of such behaviors to service user wants, motivations and desires. This is to encourage meaningful user-generation and mediation, giving the service more social and cultural capital. Given the nature of the social media site and the induced processes of meditation as outlined, the social network service would be a better approximation. The use of an identity service, or ‘identity workshop’ (Wakeford 2003), implies the voluntary, participatory and cooperative motion that a user undertakes.

The SNS, like the servicing of an automobile, brings with it notions of a certain set of skills or tools that are hired and utilized. Unlike the automobile service, however, the form of capital is socio-cultural - if one transacts their personhood online they are free to use the service. The user needs to go through a process of mediatisation in order to embed their social practices and identity in the service e.g. like an automobile needs a WOF. When a user registers to a service, their information is crosschecked as part of a wider network that authenticates and verifies the transaction. As we will explore, the SNS also crosschecks a user's information when they sign up their name, age, and sex. After passing, the user is then prompted to generate or "repair" their newborn social media life: uploading more content, being suggested posts, tweets, photos, friends, groups and so on. These suggestions or “recommendations” by the service advises and guides a user to their experiential evaluations, granting them tools and utilities dependent on their incentive saliency.

Granted with “toolhood” (Heller and Goodman, 2016), the user utilises the SNS as a manageable Figure removed due to copyright issues substitute for offline interpersonal interaction and identification. This symbiotic relationship is programming an online performing persona that uses social networking mechanisms to Figure 1 comfortably and neatly control their social life. This is seeing a growing phantasmatic attachment to SNSs, currently dominated by Facebook (Fig.1), providing a finely-tuned tool for identification, presentation and impression management. The service’s ‘identity workshop’ is extensive and constantly being updated and reconfigured - a saliently desirable ‘pipeline of experience’ (Mark Zuckerberg in 2014) - narrated by the user but plotted by the platform.

Within the SNS users narrate or “self-qualifies” their own life story, held in juxtaposition to the computational and media logics that quantify these life stories in code. The socio-cultural frequency or quality of the information shared with the SNS service, like sexuality, are connected to complex interpersonal psychological developments that are being oversimplified or aliased, under algorithmic processes. As Iliadis & Federica Russo lament (2015), organisations like SNSs ‘own vast quantities of user information and hold lucrative data capital, wield algorithms and data processing tools with the ability to influence emotions and culture.’ (p.1).

Aliasing and Algorithms

Unlike the user’s social media presence, profile or persona, the user’s alias is this distortion or under- sampled version of configurable Self. Traditionally used to define how distortion occurs when processing images, film, and sound, ‘aliasing arises when a signal is discretely sampled at a rate that is insufficient to capture the changes in the signal’ (Olshausen, 2000 p.1). Through aliasing, the self-qualifying ‘signal takes on a different persona or a false presentation due to being sampled at an insufficiently high frequency’ (p.2). This ‘algorithmic identity’ (Cheney-Lippold, 2011) is an evolutionary part of a weapon of math destruction, where ‘all knowledge - past, present, and future - can be derived from data by a single, universal algorithm' (Domingos, 2015:27).

Machine-learning algorithms now station the communicative highways of the Internet (Google 2017). Data is centralising around cloud technologies and services that implement such algorithms; ‘using both simple and complex sorting mechanisms at the same time, they combine high-level description, an embedded command structure, and mathematical formulae that can be written in various programming languages’ (Roberge & Seyfert 2016). These programming languages are only fluent to a small few who have studied the computational programming of algorithmic cultures - talents of which have been soaked by big data empires. These largely misunderstood mechanisms are driving ubiquitous media futures in which those with the highest capacity of algorithmic logics and control embody an overarching command structure.

These media structures are the new multi-dimensional gatekeepers, calculating, processing and reasoning internetworked alias produce an autonomous and effectual method of computation. The entrenched alias is thus part of the deterministic mesh of non-human forces that is prefigured through the pedagogical consumption for the machine- learning algorithms. - ‘creating an algorithm unfolds in context through processes such as trail and error, play, collaboration and negotiation’ (Roberge & Seyfert, 2016:10).

Facebook ’s Alias

Before we proceed with the user Analyses of SNS Facebook, we must take a critical look at where the company is situated when it comes to potential ties with other networks. The Facebook alias, as part of a neoliberal postcapitalist ‘algorithmic ideology’ (Mayer 2012), is owned, privatised, and profiteered off

Driving and aggregating more web traffic than Google (Ingram 2015), Facebook (previously Facemash) will have more than 2 billion users interacting and communicating with the service by 2018 (Petro 2012). The Facebook alias is part of a vast interworked conglomerate valued at $100 billion; currently owned by Facemash creator Mark Zuckerberg, Accel Partner investment founder Jim Breyer, mobile sharing site Paths Dustin Moskovitz, Uri Milner of Digital Sky investments, Napster ’s Sean Parker, Paypal founder Peter Theil and even Microsoft ’ s Bill Gates (Dunlop 2017). Along with connections to data mining and profiling companies Datalogix, Epsilon, Acxiom, and BlueKai, the Facebook alias also joins the network of over 50 companies including social media services Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, ConnectU, LuckyCal and interactive firms Wildfire Interactive and Oculus Rift.

As Goodwin (2016) lament, ‘an average of over 1,000 minutes per month are now spent on it by its users. For many, most notably users in eastern Asia, Facebook is not just the Internet - it's bigger than the Internet. With servers farms that scale to 487,000-square foot (Data Center Knowledge 2016), Facebook is restructuring the data trails and traffic of the Internet. The SNS processes at least ‘2.5 billion pieces of content and 500+ terabytes of data each day...pulling in 2.7 billion “Like” actions and 300 million photos per day, and it scans roughly 105 terabytes of data each half hour’ (Constine 2012). The Facebook alias evolves through such “like”, or desirable, actions taken in one’s social media life, with the user’s data - name, age, location, and sex - being utilised for “experiential reprogramming". Facebook ’ s new underwater cable Marea put down this year has a capacity to transfer such data at 160 terabits per second - “this one cable will be able to do almost half of what all the cables do” (Markman 2016).

The Facebook alias is thus the key to unlocking how and why SNS like Facebook use the socio-cultural capital they acquire, adapting and accommodating the interpolation of their user’s desires. Facebook uses aliased information to target different social groups, loaning out social capital to, say, ‘disadvantaged youth seek[ing] to connect and expand their networks well beyond their limited social capital’ (Arora & Scheiber, 2017).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Researchers have found that heteronormative forces (Boryczka, 2017; Phipps et al. 2017) have migrated online (Antin & Cheshire, 2011) although little research is focused on how socio-cultural understandings of sexuality have translated (and aliased). After starting with a predominantly male user base, in the 2008 Facebook saw female users suddenly and protectively become the majority (Fig. 2). During this time Facebook was opened to the free market and self-proclaimed feminist Sheryl Sandberg was hired as the COO, posing questions to how market forces and such a socio-sexual perspective influenced the direction of the service. At the time Facebook’s profits were stumbling, now the company is generating hundreds of billions in profits through market analyses and advertisement. One direction Facebook took, was to do a complete overhaul of their affordances and features, one of which was “options for discovery” in the form suggested pages, people, and groups. The suggestions produced are steeped in mathematical code and required analyses from the "inside-out".

Facebook User Analyses

With its consistent hold on the network as outlined and driving more web traffic than Google (Ingram 2015), Facebook will be the analytical site in which the SNS will be investigated. Under controlled conditions, this study artificially manufactured Facebook aliases online to see how the service’s “options for discovery” differentiates depending on age, location and/or sex.

Using an analysis of the “top suggested” groups and related tags that Facebook ’ s algorithm formulates will shed some light on the ‘algorithmic ideology’ (Mayer, 2012) employed. With each being the opposite sex, ages chosen included 13 (requirement age) and 25 (average age of user). These two age categories are focal points for Facebook, striving to sign up new users as well as maintaining their most numerous. It must be noted that Facebook requires either the binary choice of male or female before the user can configure their social media Self and experience.

This test is to trial how Facebook ’ s affordances and suggestions differ from purely age, sex and/or location of a user. There was no uploading or interacting with the network. The only information that was supplied only included what was required to sign up: email/phone number, name, age, birthday and the choice between female and male.

Conventional emails were created (Outlook, Yahoo, Google, AOL) as well as convincing names (Jenny Taylor, Robert Smith, Margret Jones, John Williamson), which could or could not have an effect. All users access Facebook on the same day (2/5/2017), with the same web browser (Google Chrome) over the course of 6 hours with screenshots being used to document each user experience. Along with Jodi Dean (2003), the paper hypotheses that ‘we might expect a social media tailored to individualism, competition, alliance, entertainment, and pro-creation’ (p.2).

Controlled Conditions

Site of Access

Facebook ’ s algorithm can behave differently depending on the GPS location of where a user is logging in from i.e., for now, home computer, tablet or mobile. The number of different students that would use University library computers, as well as the server-based login system, provide a level of anonymity that would be impossible from a personal computer.

Signing up each user's Facebook alias was done from a different University library computer (IP address) under the “guest-login” account. All cookies (website files that store user-specific information) and caches (file ‘images’ web browser stores) will be deleted prior. This is to help mask the user’s identity whilst interacting with the service, which could or could not have an effect.

VPN (Virtual Private Network)

By use of programs such as Hola (Google Chrome extension), VPN can change the IP address of a computer to act if it is a different country. This makes Facebook act as if that user is accessing the platform from the chosen country, in this case, America (US) and New Zealand (NZ).

Under such rapid growth as outlined, VPN was used to see if demographical “hot-spots” change the user experience of a given country. Differences in Facebook ’ s suggestions dependent on nationalities offer a socio-cultural lens through which the service operates and accommodates.

Group Categories and Table Comparison

Six group categories were chosen with respect to the related tags that Facebook associates with that particular category e.g. Relationship with Love. This approach led to a couple of categories for NZ (Women and Gender) to be different from US (Marriage and Dating).

With sex at the top and group categories down the left column, the table displays Facebook’s top 4 suggested groups followed by the 10 related tags in numerical order. The category groups and related tags that correspond across both sexes (Table 1 and 2) and countries (Table 3) have been highlighted. Although most results speak for themselves, we will then do a brief evaluation of each comparison.


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


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Sexual Alias. Mediatisation of Desire in Social Network Services
University of Auckland
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Sexual Alias, Mediatisation, Desire, Social, Network, Social media
Quote paper
Henry Louis Sterling Appleyard (Author), 2017, Sexual Alias. Mediatisation of Desire in Social Network Services, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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