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
Date Written: December 27, 2015
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: Suggested Citation