Social media and confession

In the History of Sexuality vol. 1, Foucault argued that rather than living in the shadows of a repressive history– a Victorian hangover that can only be cured by the soothing tonic of free discussion and disclosure–we are living in an age defined by confession. Bipower runs on the self-disciplining apparatus of personal confession at every level, personal and institutional.  He was writing, obviously, well before twitter, tumblr and Facebook. I’m interested in how Foucault’s analysis holds up in the age of social media. Certainly, distinct types of disclosures are encouraged on different media platforms. In my research on youth online trauma autobiography, I’ve found that tumblr is often the online venue of choice for suicide notes, while youtube is the venue of choice for inspirational stories of triumph after trauma. One of the most troubling things I’ve found are that there are a number of youth who have made youtube videos about how they overcame bullying–either in an “It Gets Better” video or a “My Secret’s” Video–only to later commit suicide and leave a note on tumblr that said, it really never got better and I never thought it would. What type of pressures were they under in each case to tell their story in a particular way? Sometimes disclosures online are literally life threatening for bullied youth, and yet youth risk it. I’ve seen over 30 youth end their videos by saying some variation on: “No one is here for me, I am here for you. If you ever need anything. Contact me.”

Broadly, I wonder how and why various social media platforms facilitate certain types of personal disclosures and subject postions and exclude others. How do disciplining apparatuses work online? What is the interplay between dominant discourse, personal agency and internet disclosures. Are we online confessing because we are disciplined to confess, and if so, is there room here for (r)evolution and resistance? Is it possible to create powerful counter-narratives? Is that what the youth who say “I am being hurt and I will risk anything to stop you from hurting” are doing? I hope a discussion on this will lead to some excellent conversation.

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About Joanne Farrall

Joanne has a BA honors in Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies from UBC and is a current MA student in Gender Studies at Queen's. She likes studying about brains, critical theory, social media and sex, in any combination.

One Response to Social media and confession

  1. Rosemary says:

    Interesting. I was captured by the piece you wrote and was right with in a sense of wonder and inquiry. One item peaks my curiosity. It was your question, or perhaps hypothesis, that confession might be viewed as something we are disciplined to produce. I wonder if you would comment further on this notion. I confess (a simple desire to be honest, here) that I know little of the religious history related to confession, and so I come from a secular place where my gut tells me that these people who post to sites are looking to connect in the safer circumstance of the global community with the cushion of distance and some anonymity.
    Do you suppose their strong desire to help others-in-need is a direct reflection of their strong desire to be helped? Does it appear to be an equal measure in the cases you have looked at?

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