Social Performance on Facebook: To Like or Not To Like

Everyday human actions have their effects on the construction of reality in ways we may not always foresee. We are not referring here to a physical formula, a “whole is a sum of its parts” type of cliché. Going beyond logical determinisms and precise mathematical rationalities, there are practices and discourses that through their repetition create new meaning and propose an eventually conventional, more or less homogeneous, order.

A brief example: every time you enter a public restroom, you unconsciously reaffirm the dichotomist separation that rules humankind. We are referring of course to the man/woman binary system. If our daily habits screamed out every time they were executed, upon entering a restroom we would hear: “I’m going into the men’s restroom, therefore, I am a male, and consequently I am not a woman, because they go into the other room that has a moon hung on its door instead of a sun.” Someone outside would continue hearing a muffled “and so I agree with the hetero-patriarchal separation that conceives societies as a heterosexual human group divided into men and women.” as the door shut behind us. 

And so, our daily actions have implicit consequences whose impact we rarely put much thought into. As Butler would say, they are performative, meaning they have an effect in the reality in which they operate. However, in spite of many individuals’ eagerness to transform their environment through their actions, a performative act is not a singular act. Individuals cannot change a collective reality at will. Performative actions are ritualized and form part of specific collective technologies that encourage certain actions and condemn others. Each actor is not responsible for the repetitions; it is repetition itself, as part of everyday interaction, which creates temporary conditions of existence.

Ironically, in our digital era, the collective approvals and disapprovals mentioned by Butler become much more tangible. On Facebook, Reactions and Shares function as mechanisms that perpetuate the established order between users. They are particularly common in content that works as digital proof of extraordinary events: a “Facebook official” new couple, wedding pictures, baby videos, etc. On the other hand, Comments generate debate on whether what was published was correct or not; they offer a space for dialogue or negotiation between users.

When a post lacks any of these evident forms of interaction (Shares, Reactions or Comments), their absence is a way of sanctioning the published content by means of omission. The subject (and therefore, the reality) proposed by the creator of said post is not only confined but collectively ignored. In the worst case scenario, the post is reported to Facebook itself so that It, as Sole Dictator King, can swiftly eliminate its content or even send its author to digital exile.  

In this never-ending combat between legitimate and illegitimate practices, some actions are ignored and some negotiated, while others are condemned. Still others are encouraged and repeated, though never entirely in the same manner; this is where the possibility of change resides. The tension between practices is lived both online and offline: while entering a men’s’ restroom as a male is encouraged, entering as a female would generate another sort of collective reaction.

This public approval and condemnation through digital interactions helps us understand why baby pictures and funny cat videos are so commonly shared on social platforms, whereas content on literature, art and history, when shared by individuals, is collectively ignored. The logic behind performativity shows us that online reality is configured through Likes, Shares and Comments, or lack thereof. They endorse a way of living and expressing our collective reality through each post.

Leave a Reply