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In Social media + society

As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, new technologies are being leveraged to enforce social distancing requirements. I explore social distancing through the theoretical lens of Michel Foucault's biopolitics, with an emphasis on recognizing unauthorized movement and controlling circulation. Although reporting and widely shared data visualizations about COVID-19 have made many people newly aware that their movements are being tracked and surveilled, governments are already implementing new measures such as geofencing and artificial intelligence (AI)-based facial recognition to facilitate the enforcement of social distancing. The tracking of COVID-19 spread and social distancing behaviors of the public has made more visible the practices of biopolitics but also generated new opportunities for even greater surveillance and control. The current moment offers an opportunity to shift public perceptions about data surveillance, technological control, and the racial disparities of biopower, much in the same way that public perceptions around social media shifted during and after the Arab Spring. How we collectively respond to these biopolitical processes will, in part, determine how such power relations are articulated in the future.

Sylvia J J

2020-Jul

COVID-19, Michel Foucault, biopolitics, media genealogy, social distancing