Richard Joyce, “Internet Surveillance: A Virtual Panopticon?”

This short blog post appears to be part of Richard Joyce’s blog for a course at Bowdoin, and, similar to this blog, he’s thinking through some of his own thoughts in relation to what he’s read. The thrust of his thinking is that the internet, especially social media, may provide a new kind of panopticon, in which there is a two-way visibility of exhibition and surveillance and, in so many words, the public occupies the tower of the prison:

I find it intriguing to apply the idea of “panopticism” to the Internet, especially after reading about how the anonymity of the web can be liberating.  If we disregard hacking and surveillance of private material such as email, maybe we can think of the Internet as a Panopticon with open doors, where the central tower is accessible to anyone who desires it.  A Facebook newsfeed is like a Panopticon in which users are simultaneously in a visible cell and in the anonymous viewing tower.  The tower provides power because it is very informative, but this power if [sic] distributed relatively evenly.

Like The Circle makes clear, we are in a society of making ourselves seen by others and watching others–a person on Facebook self-polices what they post, but they still post it; they are creating a certain story/discourse/confession of themselves to present to the world and thus, filtering their story through social norms. Joyce points out that we grow wary when someone dangerous enters the central tower of the panopticon, like a sexual predator or the government, but what about the danger that comes from all of us occupying that tower all the time? All of us as prison guards and confessors all at once?

Joyce articulates well some of what I’m thinking about and helps me to think further about the relationship between the internet, social media, the panopticon, and the confessional.


Joyce, Richard. “Internet Surveillance: A Virtual Panopticon?” Bowdoin: Sociology 022 – In the Facebook Age – Spring 2010 – Dhiraj Murthy. 19 April 2010.

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2 Responses to Richard Joyce, “Internet Surveillance: A Virtual Panopticon?”

  1. Pingback: Ki Mae Heussner, “Digital Confessionals: Tweeting Away Your Vices” | Digital A-Rae

  2. Pingback: Social Media & The Digital Confessional: Full Outline | Digital A-Rae

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