Patenting sociality: uncovering the operational logics of Facebook through critical patent analysis
Lungani Hlongwa and Fernan Talamayan
While the growing influence of digital platforms on social life is now widely recognized, scholars continue to grapple with the operation of digital platforms and their mediation of social life. This article examines some of Facebook’s operational logics to shed light on the company’s social imaginary. Our argument is that Facebook imagines a sociality that can be broken down to machine-readable signals which can also be patented for capital accumulation. This argument is based on a critical analysis of Facebook patents that revealed key operational logics underpinning the platform, namely: data extraction, user surveillance, profiling, ranking, and preemption. Through critical patent analysis, we unveil not only the platform’s configuration but also its creators’ orchestration of human actions and interactions. At a time when companies are more inclined to protect their innovations through patents, perhaps now more than ever, is an opportune moment to examine what their inventions make possible.