An Introduction to Facebook's Nationalist Discourse and its Practice

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2010 24 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Globalization, Political Economics


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Strong Power to Internalize

3. Statistic Background

4. The Facebook Infrastructure
4.1. Symbolism
4.2. Selection of Topic Relevant Activities:
4.3. Focus on Assumed Functions

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Facebook[1] is the world’s biggest social network.[2] It connects millions of people each day, who participate in a wide range of activities. Some of these activities can be seen in the frame of a nationalist discourse.[3] This paper will provide an idea of this discourse in the light of its performance, as much as possible. Since it is nearly impossible to get sufficient information for general claims about the use of the network, this paper will instead focus on the network’s overt infrastructure. The paper aims only to offer an introduction to the study of nationalist discourse on Facebook, rather than giving a comprehensive account. The main focus is Facebook’s nationalist discourse, other collective identities are taken into account as in many ways the discourses resemble each other. The paper understands national identity as a part of an individual’s ethnicity.[4] Consequently this paper’s definition of nation attributes the concept of “nation” exclusively to the nation-state to not confuse it with other forms of collective identity.

Facebook is used by many people on a daily basis. Since habits and rationality are indivisible, it can play an important role in how individuals understand their world (cf. Bourdieu and Wacquant 2006:161). If rationality is to a large extent a product of habits Facebook plays a great role in forming the world and has incredible potential, given its regular use. Most crucially interaction and mutual recognition can produce social facts. Zhao et al. argue that today’s average Facebook user regards his internet identity as a part of his overall identity (2008:1819). “[S]ome of the complex negotiated views that form our self-identity are shaped by the media” (Spencer 2006:iv). There are many ways identity plays a role in Facebook and as it is implied with the term ‘social network’, individuals are found in a network, meaning that multiple influences might appeal to a member. “Mediascapes” provide a wide pool of pictures and stories; they are tooled through the merging of news, politics and commodities, which at times leads to an indivisibility of reality and fiction. (Appadurai 2003:33h).[5] The greater the distance between the sender and recipient the harder it becomes to differentiate between imagination and reality.

It is difficult to say whether Facebook creates new identities, but it certainly can change or reproduce the way its users think about their world and themselves. It has the means to give the user some orientation about their identity, though the actual usage of the average user can hardly be estimated. Facebook can refresh stereotypes and provides an easy way to express a national identity by adding content to one’s profile.

As I consider the naturalization and essentialization of an identity as its main mechanism Chapter 2 covers this process, before more closely examining Facebook itself. Chapter 3 provides the statistical background of Facebook, while the infrastructure, symbolism, activities on Facebook and their assumed functions will be discussed in Chapter 4, which takes the points made in Chapter 2 into account, while focusing on the platform’s means and usage. The Section about the infrastructure will provide a more general view of the network, while passages about symbolism, activities and their functions will have narrower perspective. It overall seeks to combine theory of identity construction with the means and usage of Facebook.

2. Strong Power to Internalize

The strength of cognitive approaches lies in their ability not to understand group identities as objective entities, but rather in a non-groupist manner as perception of the world (Brubaker 2004).[6] The nation derives parts of its significance not only from its material reality, but also because it exists in people’s perception.[7]

Responsible for the shaping of this perception are naturalization and essentialization as the core of a national identity (cf. Scherschel 2006:72). Without such processes a specific identity would lose its grounds. These processes are the reason why people do not question their identity, think in categories of the nationalist discourse and, most importantly, seldom question their raison d’etre. The process of naturalization of an identity produces, in consequence, a belief in the absolute validity or objectivity of this identity. This process is mainly accomplished by internalization. In everyday life, parts of the nationalist discourse can be seen in the habitus. Habitus is structure of life and element, which actively shapes the life at the same time (Bourdieu und Wacquant 2006:173). It reproduces itself. The concept represents the attempt, especially by Foucault and Bourdieu to bridge the theoretical gulf between structure and agency (Bourdieu und Wacquant 2006:148ff.; Spencer 2006:104; Scherschel 2006:67). Importantly “[h]abitus is generative of practices in ongoing and improvisatory encounters with the social fields of one kind or another “(Jenkins 1996:35). Members of the same group are thereby subject also to a similar conditioning through the habitus (Bourdieu 2005:31f.).

The history of the group and the personal history of the individual have great influence on identity and are part of the habitus (Spencer 2006:102). For Scherschel, habitus is a condensed historical processes, which more importantly moulds “collectively generated understandings” deeply into the mind (2006:62; my translation). How a person understands their nationality cannot be comprehended unless processes of internalization are included into the analysis. The direct connection of habitus and the phenomena of identity becomes clear, when Bourdieu describes habitus as a ‘system of boundaries’, within which human beings can at times even creatively act (2005:33). Daily practice limits the individual’s possible actions through the cognitive scheme, which is always interacting with the habitus. The cognitive scheme provides a person’s agency and therefore the logic of exclusion as well.[8] Here Bourdieu does not dispute that actors make decisions, but that they generally choose consciously (Wacquant 2006:47)[9]

The habitus plays a major role in the creation of social facts (Jenkins 1996:128), as indicated in the aforementioned generation of understanding. It is crucial for the successful maintenance of any identity. Norms of a discourse are repeated through the performative act (see also Klein 2006:42), just as football players know the rules of the match. An important part of the habitualized game is that the players on Bourdieu’s field internalized a set of rules of the game.[10] [11] Significantly the habitus is not about the rational and reflexive questioning of the game.

The conceptual frame can be transferred to the nationalist discourse on Facebook and other social media. The strength of an identity is thereby determined by its integration into a daily routine. The creativeness within the rules of discourse can be observed in the adaption of the communicative Facebook structure and fusion of each set of rules.

3. Statistic Background

For statistical data this paper needs to rely on the official statements of Facebook (2010) itself, since it is impossible to collect sufficient data to make even vague statements about global penetration of the network. Dependency on a single source of information does not dismiss the relevance of the numbers, even if the official claims outdo common sense estimations. It is likely that such statistics, taken from Facebook itself, provide an exaggerated picture of the reality, though any such picture is still useful.

Facebook is a part of the daily routine of many users. It reports to have more than 350 Million active[12] users, which would mean that 5.15 percent of mankind is represented on a single platform. Supposedly it more than doubled its members in the course of the year 2009. The numbers are even more impressive as Facebook states that half of its users log in everyday, 35 million update their status each day, and “the average user spends more than 55 minutes per day on facebook” (Facebook 2010). These add up to more than 320 Million hours spent on the platform worldwide on each single day.

With no possibility to refute these claims, the enormous impact of Facebook is still undeniable. Millions of users log in every month (cf. Checkfacebook.com). Especially the bans of the page on many companies’ computers and reports about economic loss through Facebook use support this argument (e.g.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2Zhi/south_asia/8423888.stm). Therefore it is undeniable that Facebook is a part of the global habitus. Even if the membership and participation in Facebook is smaller than reported on its website, it employs enough people to have great effect.

4. The Facebook Infrastructure

The more an identity plays a role in the daily social relationships the more it determines the mind and actions of the individual. Though the number’s validity cannot be proven, what can be described accurately is the structure of the website. The whole page is built up on the creation of a distinct identity. To engage the site’s community you need only your name, but as it supports people to give a lot of information by providing blank fields (a contour)[13] to be filled out, this minimal usage is more than unlikely, let alone a possible human inclination towards self-presentation or exhibitionism. Also such attitude might be seen as deviant to what could be called the ‘Facebook code of conduct’ or the ‘common Facebook practice’, which shows it to be natural to give much information.[14] The main feature of creating an identity is an ongoing process as most information is subject to change (cf. Boon and Sinclair 2009). At the same time the profile’s information has different ‘expiration’. While many users replace status and profile pictures etc. regularly, political and religious view are seldom modified. It can be argued that connecting with friends is the most important feature, but identity construction and social interaction can be seen as codependent.

Facebook is what Zhao et al. call a “nonymous online space”, which gives the means to empower the individual and “actualize” identity (2008:1819). People get the chance to enforce their self-conception, claim an identity and advance this conception (cf. Zhao et al. 2008:i8i7ff). What seems to be self-evident is the overemphasis on popular characteristics (e.g. funny, social, adventurous etc.). Interviews[15] conducted by Zhao et al. of showed that while some things where blocked[16] other were not, indicating a conscious use of the privacy settings. They imagined the individual to carefully pick what content to show and what to hide. This might be the case for some users, but random view at profiles today show that people often do not change any visibility setting and at least 10 percent leave, unaware or aware, most of their lives open to the public.

An aspect, is the way people express their identity, namely that people rather “show” than “tell” their identity (Zhao et al. 2008:1825); applications, fan pages and groups are one way and the boxes of the profile another. The typical user uses quotes to create his identity instead of describing himself.


[1] If not specified otherwise Facebook, the network, the platform or the website are used synonymous throughout the paper.

[2] The understanding of this paper depends on the reader’s familiarity with the network. It is not meant to provide enough information for complete laymen.

[3] For better legibility I will use the singular throughout the paper. It is important to mention though that this should not imply that a homogeneous concordant discourse can be found anywhere, but simply that any discourse has a plural nature. Also the forms of this discourse probably vary in place and time, but this will not be the concern here.

[4] For further discussion see Jenkins (2008).

[5] For the concept ‘mediascapes’ see Appadurai 2000.

[6] „Groupist“ in Brubaker (2004) means the representation of groups as homogeneous entities.

[7] This means a partial rejection of rational choice.

[8] Internalizing, besides rational choice, was already a reason to obey the rules for Hobbes (1986).

[9] For the connection between experience and identity see Fay (2003:11).

[10] This means a partial rejection of rational choice.

[11] Internalizing, besides rational choice, was already a reason to obey the rules for Hobbes (1986).

[12] For Facebook a user qualifies as active, if he has visited within the last month.

[13] Facebook does not have a box to fill in en ethnic identity, which can be judged positive, since such provisions actively support constructing boundaries, create social facts, and rather exclude than include (cf. discussions about the negative impact of categorization in Jenkins (2008:75) and Ratcliffe (2004:34); for contrary position concerning an extra Facebook field see Ginger (2008)).

[14] The existence of an attitude, which takes it for granted to put much information online, can be seen in the discussions about privacy settings and data collection and the fact that critics point out that many people do not think about the content they put online (for examples see BBC News online).

[15] Note that it was only a small study with 63 profiles of university students. By now university students are not the majority anymore (cf. Checkfacebook.com).

[16] ‘Blocked’ here means ‘made invisible’.


ISBN (Book)
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509 KB
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Institution / College
T.C. Yeditepe University Istanbul – Department of International Relations
Nationalism Facebook Nationalist Discourse Social Network Internet Thema Facebook




Title: An Introduction to Facebook's Nationalist Discourse and its Practice