The Gender Binary Will Not be Deprogrammed: Ten Years of Coding Gender on Facebook

Bivens, R. (2016) “The gender binary will not be deprogrammed: Ten years of coding gender on Facebook” New Media & Society XX(X): 1-19. Published online before print December 27, 2015, doi: 10.1177/1461444815621527

Posted: 2 May 2014 Last revised: 30 Dec 2015

Rena Bivens

Carleton University

Date Written: December 27, 2015

Abstract

A February 2014 iteration of Facebook’s software upgraded the number of options for gender identification from 2 to 58. Drawing on critical theoretical approaches to technology, queer theory, and insights from science and technology studies, this iteration is situated within a 10-year history of software and user modifications that pivot around gender. I argue that the gender binary has regulated Facebook’s design strategy while the co-existence of binary and non-binary affordances has enabled the company to serve both users and advertising clients simultaneously. Three findings are revealed: (1) an original programming decision to store three values for gender in Facebook’s database became an important fissure for non-binary possibilities, (2) gender became increasingly valuable over time, and (3) in the deep level of the database, non-binary users are reconfigured into a binary system. This analysis also exposes Facebook’s focus on authenticity as an insincere yet highly marketable regulatory regime.

Keywords: socio-technical, critical theory, gender binary, code, social media software, queer theory, transgender, antagonism, database, software-user relationship

JEL Classification: O30, O33

Suggested Citation

Bivens, Rena, The Gender Binary Will Not be Deprogrammed: Ten Years of Coding Gender on Facebook (December 27, 2015). Bivens, R. (2016) “The gender binary will not be deprogrammed: Ten years of coding gender on Facebook” New Media & Society XX(X): 1-19. Published online before print December 27, 2015, doi: 10.1177/1461444815621527. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2431443 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2431443

Rena Bivens (Contact Author)

Carleton University ( email )

1125 colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6
Canada

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