Is Virtual Suicide even Possible?

Can there be a better example of the seemingly inescapable nature of digital culture, of the house-of-mirrors logic of simulation inherent in social networking sites and the internet in general, than the false promise of freedom offered by advocates of virtual or “Facebook suicide”? The site Seppukoo (a phoneticizaiton of the Japanese word for the form of ritual suicide practiced by the Samurai) claims to counter what its creators see as the commoditization of our social and private lives online by offering an application that will deactivate one’s Facebook account and redirect friends to a personalized memorial page. The contradiction inherent in this process is revealed in the manner that the Seppukoo virtual “community” is modeled after Facebook itself, with a user’s status increasing according to how many of his former friends are convinced by his act to commit virtual self-destruction themselves. The act of removing oneself from the narcissistic web of digital culture thus instantly re-inscribes one in the selfsame logic of simulation, with the ability to re-activate one’s Facebook account always present as a means for resurrecting one’s online presence.

Despite the Seppukoo site’s flaunting of the cease-and-desist order it claims Facebook has issued, it would not be surprising to this author if the application were revealed to have been issued with the tacit approval of Facebook itself, as a means of negotiating its current controversies over privacy settings. In this context, the opportunity for Facebook suicide (and an equally dramatic resurrection, when loneliness sets in) becomes just another spectacular, digitally public event–a kind of pressure release valve that will allow disgruntled users to rediscover just how much they need social networking sites in their lives.

What would be truly subversive is the application a friend of mine described, which would use one’s Facebook account to eradicate all postings, pictures and traces of activity recorded in triplicate on the three separate databases that I have been told Facebook uses to store its data. After accomplishing this uprooting of one’s online presence, the account would be permanently shut down, and the digital equivalent of a “do not resuscitate” order inscribed on the Facebook servers. According to my source, this application existed, for a time, but was promptly suppressed by Facebook, as its’ providing a true reversibility of one’s digital existence ran contrary to the interests of Facebook to accumulate, and capitalize upon, the masses of personal data gathered about its users.

This type of application, whether it ever really existed or not, seems to approximate the violent removal of the subject from the hegemonic field that Slavoj Zizek describes in his paraphrasing of Badiou’s idea of “subtraction”. In this theory, the subtracting of oneself from the field of constantive power relations has the dramatic effect of revealing the hidden reciprocities between seemingly contradictory subject positions, thus exposing the usually hidden tensions in the totality of the ideological framework (see First as Tragedy, Then as Farce. p.128). But perhaps this, also, is too strong a claim: the logic of simulation upon which social networking sites are based quickly fills in any “holes” in the fabric of hyper-reality with its nigh-limitless supply of content, and it would take a critical mass of users to “drop out” for this to have any noticeable effect.

Perhaps the true “third way” out of this predicament is to performatively embrace the logic of simulation itself, while undermining it from within through, say, simply not participating in divulging any actual information about oneself. “Friending” perfect strangers, creating bogus accounts and false online identities and disseminating false or trivial information via these networks exposes the simulated nature of our reified online identities, though these tactics could have unintended and unwanted effects in one’s realworld life. To this extent an “account swap” tactic whereby users exchange passwords and impersonate other users, if performed by enough people, would have the effect of destabilizing the entire system. But why mess with a good thing? We love the attention, and the ability to attend to our friends and acquaintances. And without these sites, where would we be able to find and share funny stuff?

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