Laura Haley

Who’s Watching Who? Inverting the Capitalist Gaze in News Images of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos

April 3, 2021   /  

Name: Laura Haley
Major: Communication Studies
Minor: Global Media and Digital Studies
Advisors: Dr. Rohini Singh, Dr. Melissa Rizzo Weller

The purpose of this study is to delineate the elements of the visual relationship between consumers and surveillance capitalists, specifically, the features of the consumer gaze upon capitalists. My study analyzes four news images of then CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, drawn from the years 2018 to 2020. To conduct my study, I utilized Finnegan’s five elements of visual analysis. My analysis found that the images inverted the typical power dynamics between consumer and surveillance capitalists by making capitalists the subject of consumers’ gaze and scrutiny. This inversion happened in two ways. First, the images shrink the capitalists’ power and authority by ridiculing them and making them appear physically smaller. Second, the images expose the physical harms and consequences of capitalism, which often go unseen and unquestioned. I am interested in studying surveillance and privacy through my chosen method because it aids in revealing the implications of the devices and platforms we as consumers use every day. My research is a just a starting point for future studies on the rhetoric of surveillance in media.

Laura will be online to field comments on April 16:
2-4pm EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

67 thoughts on “Who’s Watching Who? Inverting the Capitalist Gaze in News Images of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos”

  1. What a wonderful presentation. I am glad to see the tables turned on the powerful, and the opportunity to exploit the consumer’s power highlighted. It is encouraging to know this is just a start, and that our future leaders ( and consumers) are much more than JUST “tech savvy .” Well done!

    1. Thank you! It was fun research to conduct. Yes, consumers are much more attentive than we are given credit for!

    1. Hi Dr. Johnson,

      I chose to analyze images that represent each capitalist in order to understand the similarities and differences in the ways power is displayed and the implications of that power. Thinking about our current moment I wanted to pick photos that were relevant, recognizable, and hold real world implications. In addition, I decided on photos that were over different media and method.

  2. Hi Laura – This is such an interesting project and area of work. Congratulations! Thank you for sharing with us…

    (I second Dr. J’s question…I’m curious, as well, about your selection of images.)

    1. Hi Dr. K,

      Thank you for stopping by!

      I wanted to study images that are relevant to our current moment as well as from a variety of media (memes, tweets, etc). In addition, these photos are all very visually interesting and after first seeing them, so many questions came to mind!

  3. Congratulations Laura! I can’t wait for your live chat time to learn more…..Way to go!! 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing your research work Laura! Love what you are noodling with here. It’s so interesting to think about who is looking at whom and what their relative powers are in their gazes. Do you think that “surveillance capitalists” can provide any good for society?

    1. Hi!

      Thanks for the nice comment! That’s a great question. I am very bias on the subject so my initial response is no, haha. Potentially the only good that could come about from these capitalists are their abilities to make us, as consumers question the status quo. My study discusses a lot about revealing capitalism’s harms and questioning what has always been perceived as ‘natural’ through these platforms, which wouldn’t be possible without the capitalists themselves.

  5. Very nice work, Laura! I love the idea of treating social media, and two of its key leaders, as an object to be observed. I had never heard of visual analysis before, so it was good to learn about that.

    And I had also never heard the term surveillance capitalists before, either. Does it mean that they are capitalists or leaders who are in the business of surveillance? Is this a commonly-used term? Or is it one that you have created?

    For future research, is there any way to track what sort of impact the dissemination of these images might be having on leaders, and their future practices and policies?

    1. Hi!

      Thank you for stopping by and for the questions!

      Surveillance capitalism is a term coined by theorist Shoshanna Zuboff (who has a fascinating book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism). Surveillance capitalism refers to the economic gain capitalists receive when turning harvested user data into profit. Capitalists make this profit by gathering information users have posted online and selling it to advertisers. More specifically, Zuboff emphasizes “human experience as free raw material,” meaning that anything that users choose to share online i.e., their ‘human experience,’ is ‘free raw material’ or fair game for capitalists to harvest and sell.

      In the recommendations for future research section of my study I discuss how this field would benefit from more quantitative work. Through this future research it would be more possible to track these implications. However, more broadly, by looking at performance trends of these companies, the data would paint a more accurate picture of the public’s perceptions of their businesses and what they have done or have failed to do.

  6. Thanks for your creative approach to designing your study. As I look at the images, I wonder what the role of symbols is in shaping us, as viewers, and who decides what symbols we will be exposed to or not. Scary stuff.

    1. Hi!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      I totally agree. Throughout the process of my study I kept grappling with the question “who decides who decides?” which is frightening and almost always leads back to who has the most power and wealth. This helped me understand that what I set out to study, i.e., surveillance is part of a much bigger element known as capitalism.

  7. Laura, You’re the smartest coolest ever. Its been so amazing to work alongside you for 4 years. Your work ethic is so admirable and you’re going to go so far with your kind spirit and your big brain! Lucky to know you.

    1. Laney!

      Thank you so much for the uber kind comments. It’s truly been the best to have so many classes with you and have the ability to pick your brain through the many hours we spent in dusty Wishart. I appreciate you!

  8. Laura this is such a good project! Your analysis of the images was fascinating. In your opinion, what are some ways you think consumers can try to take back some power from surveillance capitalists in their everyday life?

    1. Becky!

      This is a fantastic question!

      I think it starts with awareness. I happened upon this topic in part because I was horrified and furious that no one knows, or really cares about the implications of the platforms and services we use every single day. Being aware of these implications is half the battle and an essential place to start when wanting to gain some control.

      In addition, educating yourself on why the implications of the use of these services, platforms, and devices specifically effects you is essential. There are also a multitude of resources from documentaries (The Social Dilemma), books (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshanna Zuboff, and MindF*ck by Christopher Wylie), as well as organizations (Center for Humane Technology) that are great and I highly recommend as they explain why you should care and how these issues of surveillance and control effect you.

      Finally, understanding that you are in the drivers seat in terms of the amount of time and money you put into these platforms. Although these systems are purposefully built to be addicting, making a conscious effort to not get so caught up in our feeds and be okay with not getting our package on our doorsteps the next day can provide you with some power of your own.

  9. Wow, what an interesting topic! I really enjoyed your analysis. Congratulations, Laura!

  10. This is amazing, Laura! I’m so happy learn about all of the hard work you’ve put in over the past year. I’m so proud of you.

    Surveillance capitalism is not something I am familiar with. What are some ways you hope to teach the people around you about this issue? Do you intend to weave this topic into the next steps of your career path?

    1. Kendra!

      Thank you for this question. After conducting this research and understanding the multitude of implications of this topic, I can’t stop thinking about it (or talking about it, as you know). I’ve also learned that it’s very difficult to convince people why they should care when the implications don’t affect their daily lives. However, I hope that by being very honest and open about how I feel towards these capitalists and about these platforms I can conduct some positive peer pressure (haha) and enlighten those I interact with.

      I would love to continue research in this field! In my recommendations for future work section of my study I mention that I believe this field could benefit from some data driven research on the public’s perceptions of these capitalists and these platforms. The hunt begins for a quantitative research partner! Until then I’ll be reading, listening, and watching on this topic as much as possible.

  11. Great work Laura! Its so interesting to see how those who’ve been a part of creating social media platforms, like Mark Zuckerberg, are the subject of what they’ve created. Interesting research!

  12. Congratulations!! So proud of you and have loved hearing about your topic all year. Can’t wait to learn more!

    1. Katie!!

      Thank you for stopping by! I appreciate all the support and thank you for being a listening ear to all my thoughts.

  13. Laura, this was a really interesting analysis and certainly the depictions of these CEOs are in line with populist politics today, as they are often reviled on both the left and the right. Do you think there is any possibility, though, that these depictions might actually create sympathy for Bezos and Zuckerberg as “victims” of “the mob,” regardless of where along the political continuum the mob is situated? Congrats on a fine project.

    1. Dr. Bostdorff,

      Thank you for stopping by! That’s a really interesting question. I think that those who are very pro Bezos and Zuckerberg specifically would perceive them as victims. However, I’m not sure how much consumers may consider these capitalists to be victims once they have learned about the implications of these companies, what they have done, or what they have failed to do. In part because ‘consumer’ encapsulates those on both sides of the political spectrum as mostly everyone is subject to a capitalist system.

  14. Congratulations on creating such an interesting, topical project as the hallmark of your four years at Wooster, Laura! Your analysis was spot-on and I enjoyed hearing your analysis of capitalists and surveillance. Has your project had any impact on you as a consumer? Do you think you will continue to study this area as you graduate and embark on the next step in your career? So proud of you!

    1. MGB!

      Thank you for stopping by, and for the nice comments.

      For sure, conducting this research has made me consider where I choose to purchase from, how often I consume, what I consume, as well as the platforms where I choose to spend my time. I’d like to think I’ve nudged some friends into considering this as well.

      I would love to continue to study this topic and area. In my recommendations for future work section of my study I mention that I believe this field could benefit from some data driven research on the public’s perceptions of these capitalists and these platforms. I just need to find a quantitative research partner! Until more formal research begins I’ll be reading, listening, and watching on this topic as much as possible while boycotting Amazon in the process, haha.

  15. Hi Laura,
    Congratulations on such an interesting and innovative study. Plus from the comments it looks like your work is introducing Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism to a new audience!

  16. Laura! This project is amazing and the level of detail you were able to draw from these photos I think is really cool. I was wondering what you thought of the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the relationship between consumers and people such as Jeff Bezos? The Covid 19 pandemic has seemed to show a lot more reliance on places such as Amazon to get basic necessities and so how can we continue to give power to consumers and invert the capitalist consumer gaze?

    1. Sarah!

      Thank you for this great question!

      Yes, for sure Amazon was there when we were all scrambling for toilet paper last March. However, a lot of competitors such as Costco, Walmart, and Target really ramped up their sales as well. In addition, it wasn’t until the pandemic struck that we got a much clearer picture of what Amazon’s working conditions are like and their mistreatment of workers. These instances not only hurt Amazon’s monetary income, but the publics’ perception of the business.

      In terms of what can we do as consumers regarding Amazon specifically, there are a few things I recommend. I think it starts with awareness. I happened upon this topic in part because I was horrified and furious that no one knows, or really cares about the implications of the platforms and services we use every single day. Being aware of these implications is half the battle and an essential place to start when wanting to gain some control.

      In addition, educating yourself on why the implications of the use of these services, platforms, and devices specifically effects you is essential. There are also a multitude of resources from documentaries (The Social Dilemma), books (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshanna Zuboff, and MindF*ck by Christopher Wylie), as well as organizations (Center for Humane Technology) that are great and I highly recommend as they explain why you should care and how these issues of surveillance and control effect you.

      Finally, understanding that you are in the drivers seat in terms of the amount of time and money you put into these platforms. Although these systems are purposefully built to be addicting, making a to be okay with not getting our package on our doorsteps the next day can provide you with some power of your own.

  17. Laura this is beyond fascinating!
    Your analysis has such depth and is motivating me to learn more about the capitalist gaze in the news.

    1. Lia!

      Thank you so much! I could talk about this for hours, I’m always happy to discuss more if you ever have specific questions (email works, too!).

  18. Congratulations, Laura! This is such a cool topic. Love your analysis of visual rhetoric.

  19. Amazing work as always, Laura!! I feel like I hear about the capitalist gaze a lot so appreciate being able to learn about it through your I.S. Also, the images you selected were very interesting and makes me realize that I should be paying more attention to the deeper meaning of magazine covers.

    1. Sam!

      Thank you!

      Yes! Once I learned more about rhetoric and visual rhetoric specifically I officially became the most annoying person in the room to watch movies, TV shows, and commercials with. I’m constantly analyzing and thinking about the implications of choices of images and texts. Oh to social science!

  20. Your presentation is an engaging summary of your IS, which was so interesting to read. Have you thought of any other capitalists (beyond our defense discussion) that might be interesting to study if you were to continue this line of research at some point?

    1. Dr. Weller,

      Thank you for stopping by, and for reading my I.S!

      If I were to add an addition capitalist beyond our discussions I would pick Apple CEO, Tim Cook. Apple has become a standard for cellphones in the last decade and the ability for the software to work seamlessly across devices makes it difficult to escape and switch to another provider or device. Due to this, and Apple’s new commercials promoting privacy, I think it would be fascinating to incorporate Cook in this similar type of work.

  21. Laura! Congratulations!! Your research is very relevant and you should be proud of your hard work!

    What do you think are some other ways to mitigate the effects of capitalism, besides what you mentioned in your presentation? Also, how would your study have been different in a non-westernized society in a different continent (i.e. if you were to have studied CEOs of other companies that were smaller and located in less westernized countries)?

    1. Matt!

      Thanks for the insightful questions!

      I think there are several ways we as consumers can mitigate the effects of surveillance which in turn could help mitigate the effects of capitalism. I think it starts with awareness. I happened upon this topic in part because I was horrified and furious that no one knows, or really cares about the implications of the platforms and services we use every single day. Being aware of these implications is half the battle and an essential place to start when wanting to gain some control.

      In addition, educating yourself on why the implications of the use of these services, platforms, and devices specifically effects you is essential. There are also a multitude of resources from documentaries (The Social Dilemma), books (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshanna Zuboff, and MindF*ck by Christopher Wylie), as well as organizations (Center for Humane Technology) that are great and I highly recommend as they explain why you should care and how these issues of surveillance and control effect you.

      Finally, understanding that you are in the drivers seat in terms of the amount of time and money you put into these platforms. Although these systems are purposefully built to be addicting, making a conscious effort to not get so caught up in our feeds and be okay with not getting our package on our doorsteps the next day can provide you with some power of your own.

      In terms of your second question, the implications of capitalism often effect those in non-western societies the most. I believe that one limitation of my work is that I study capitalists that profit off of technology advanced nations, are white, and are men. In addition, I study my topic from the perspective of a white person in a technology advanced nation with access to the technologies available to surveil these capitalists. I believe that my major conclusions and implications would be very different if I were to consider capitalists and CEOs from other countries. I think doing a similar study as my I.S. with very different capitalists as you suggest would be a great addition to this work.

  22. Such a great presentation, Laura! So proud of everything you have accomplished so far and can’t wait to see what is to come. Miss you tons!!

  23. CONGRATULATIONS, LAURA HALEY! I am so proud of you! You are a bright and shining star!

    1. Bradlee!!

      I appreciate you! It’s truly been the best to work alongside you all these years. Thank you for the constant support!

  24. Hi Laura–
    This is fantastic research! I’m so impressed, and intrigued too! What was most surprising to you in your research? I’d love to know!
    Congratulations on this awesome work!

    1. Hi!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      This is a great question. There were many moments when conducting my research that I was surprised about the publics’ perceptions of these capitalists. For example, I cite several Tweets that claim Zuckerberg is a lizard, robot, and un-human. In addition, I reference a Gofundme created to promote the guillotining of Bezos. It is clear that the public have strong opinions, however, I was surprised to learn about how timely this reach was as the public is beginning to take a more critical stance towards these capitalists, what they have done, or what they have failed to do.

  25. Laura, congratulations on your important project on this exciting topic, and thank you for sharing this project here in such an engaging way! Have you observed any generational differences between Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg in terms of their public visual images?

    Wishing you the best in your future endeavors!

    1. Dr. Park,

      Thank you for stopping by!

      In my analysis I discuss memes on social media as being a great way, and one method that consumers have to surveil these capitalists. However, this method is very geared towards younger consumers. I think it would be very interesting to consider additional ways in which consumers can surveil capitalists that transcend these generational differences (besides being aware of the implications of these platforms and advocating for more policy).

  26. Laura, I’m watching you…but only because I am your advisor and wanted to come straight to this page to see your presentation. I’m a surveillance educationalist, I suppose. Lovely job with your presentation and fielding all these questions. I am really proud of how hard you worked, all the way from learning visual analysis in Rhetorical Criticism, to weaving your study abroad experiences into this fine and polished I.S. Well done all around. And the COMM profs and I are so happy to hear we have made one more person be “that annoying person” pointing out what media messages are doing to their friends. That’s the dream!

    1. Dr. Singh,

      I suppose that surveillance is justifiable, haha. I can’t thank you enough for all the help, insight, and encouragement you’ve offered me, I appreciate you!

  27. I’m so glad you were able to show your hard work off during the symposium! It was a pleasure to get to see all of the research and insightful findings.

    I was wondering if you came across any useful solutions on how the every day person can combat and avoid the ubiquitous surveillance surrounding our capitalist society? If there are no solutions that are particularly helpful, do you think there will be a niche market created from this in the near future through capitalism?

    1. Abby!

      Thank you!

      I think there are several ways we as consumers can mitigate the effects of surveillance. I think it starts with awareness. I happened upon this topic in part because I was horrified and furious that no one knows, or really cares about the implications of the platforms and services we use every single day. Being aware of these implications is half the battle and an essential place to start when wanting to gain some control.

      In addition, educating yourself on why the implications of the use of these services, platforms, and devices specifically effects you is essential. There are also a multitude of resources from documentaries (The Social Dilemma), books (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshanna Zuboff, and MindF*ck by Christopher Wylie), as well as organizations (Center for Humane Technology) that are great and I highly recommend as they explain why you should care and how these issues of surveillance and control effect you.

      Finally, understanding that you are in the drivers seat in terms of the amount of time and money you put into these platforms. Although these systems are purposefully built to be addicting, making a conscious effort to not get so caught up in our feeds and be okay with not getting our package on our doorsteps the next day can provide you with some power of your own.

      In terms of your second question, the implications of capitalism often effect those in non-western societies the most. I believe that one limitation of my work is that I study capitalists that profit off of technology advanced nations, are white, and are men. In addition, I study my topic from the perspective of a white person in a technology advanced nation with access to the technologies available to surveil these capitalists. I believe that my major conclusions and implications would be very different if I were to consider capitalists and CEOs from other countries. I think doing a similar study as my I.S. with very different capitalists as you suggest would be a great addition to this work.

  28. Congratulations Laura! I am glad someone in the college sphere is delving into the issue. I have watched “The Social Dilemma” and thank you for sharing some books in your comments for further suggested reading. Now that you have begun to explore this topic of surveillance capitalism and relationship to the consumer, do you have any suggestions as to what to do to redirect the younger generation, who are and will grow to become the main consumers in our society, from continuing to be mesmerized by social media’s devices and platforms? Would you promote educating the youth, or making policy’s and regulations to have more control to regulate how the companies utilize the consumer data they are collecting? Great work, interesting presentation!

    1. Hi!

      Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope you are well.

      In terms of the future consumer, I agree. I think it is vital to educate these younger consumers on the implications of the platforms they are beginning to use. I also believe that it is important to educate their parents. I am hopeful that more policies will be put into place however, I doubt that these will occur until the implications of these platforms and services is more widely understood. Until then, activism and education are in my eyes, the way to go.

  29. Thanks for sharing your research, it is something we take for granted, privacy, without realizing the ramifications. Love you!

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