Facebook: Corporate Hackers, a Billion Users, and the Geo-Politics of the "Social Graph"

By Fattal, Alex | Anthropological Quarterly, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Facebook: Corporate Hackers, a Billion Users, and the Geo-Politics of the "Social Graph"

Fattal, Alex, Anthropological Quarterly


As Facebook moves to a new office space, consolidates its growth internationally, and sculpts its corporate identity, it navigates contradictions between the attempt to preserve ideals associated with the company's founding and the demands of global growth. Through an ethnographic snapshot of Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California I explore the company's expansion toward one billion users and its efforts to dominate the few national markets in which competitors still have the upper hand. I argue that Facebook combines technical and geopolitical savvy by using cross-network pressure and the softpower of user data, or what it calls "the social graph," to win the market-share wars. These realpolitik demands trump the impulse to reproduce Facebook's idealistic origins outside the realm of its carefully crafted "corporate culture," performed meticulously in the company's office design. [Keywords: Facebook, corporate culture, social media, media politics]

Facebook's S-1 Filing with the SEC

On February 1, 2012 Facebook filed a S-1 form with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its highly anticipated initial public offering. The 793-page document, which contains an open letter to investors from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, clearly sets out the company's mission, business philosophy, strategic assets, and future risks. The form attempts to communicate Facebook's corporate culture and makes plain the company's global ambitions. The filing papers are the company's most comprehensive self-presentation and candid assessment of its strategic outlook. With this in mind, I've inserted textboxes with excerpts from Facebook's S-1 Registration filing papers with the SEC throughout this piece since they dovetail so closely with my arguments.

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)


In the lobby, tourists from Milan, Italy posed for a picture in front of a Facebook poster autographed by the company's first 200 employees. They were visiting Stanford University and wanted a photo of the building that creates the website that they frequent. The tourists took their photos wearing a giant foam "Like" thumbs up, a prop the receptionist has on the ready (see Figure 1). After milling around the lobby, and stopping to stare at the "Real Time Friend Connections" display, a spinning globe with white streaks charting the consummation of Facebook friendships in almost real time (within ten seconds), they leftto grab dinner in San Francisco. In their brief visit, these Italian tourists tasted two aspects of Facebook that this essay will explore: the symbolism of its headquarters and the company's international expansion.

Through an analysis of the design of Facebook's main office at 1601 South California Avenue in Palo Alto and interviews with Facebook employees, I locate contradictions in Facebook's expansion and raise questions about the implications of those contradictions. The first section, on the symbolism of the office space, focuses on the office as an expression of the values that Facebook has sought to embody since its founding, and desires to selectively preserve in its projected future. The second section, on the geo-politics of the global social graph, looks at some of these values and their limits in the context of the company's international expansion. At stake in both sections is an effort to retain and perform founding principles-"openness," being "anti-establishment," and the company's one word motto, their condensed amalgam, "HACK." I will expand on these terms in a moment, but the important point that this essay strives to make is that while these ideals serve as the company's internal cultural logic, that logic is contradicted by corporate practices and realpolitik battles for market share and profits-what official company discourse elides. Zuckerberg walks a fine line as he denies and downplays the profit motive in his letter to investors, while assuring them that the company is not naïvely idealistic.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Facebook: Corporate Hackers, a Billion Users, and the Geo-Politics of the "Social Graph"


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?