Via Big Think, I found this piece by Rob Horning of The New Inquiry on "Social Graph vs. Social Class." I'm not enough of an insider to be able to decode the whole thing-- academic Marxism is defined as much by its tangle of inside references as any academic field-- but I thought it worth linking to.
This interpretation of how society is organized — the one that anything labeled as “social” by the tech world helps sustain — precludes an interpretation that acknowledges the possibility of class, of concrete groups with shared interests that they work to construct and then use as the basis for forcing concessions from capital. In the network, you are on your own; its ideology suggests we are all equally points on the great social graph, no different from anyone else save for the labor we put in to establishing connections. This obviates the issues of pre-existing social capital and class habitus that facilitate the formation of better connections and the ability to reap their value instead of being exploited by them.
Since the social graph traces intricate constellations that are always becoming ever more complex, it requires massive computer power and elaborate algorithms to interpret and trace out underlying patterns of significance. Generally, only capital has the resources to summon such power, so the commonalities called into being through such analysis of network data are commercial ones. Retailers can figure out what demographic and lifestyle pattern you fit into, whther you know it or not, and then you with advertising that reinforces your belonging and takes advantage of it.
But to forge a social class, a different sort of work is required, called forth by a different conception of society, based on antagonisms between blocs (and ongoing fights that require long-term strategies), not antagonisms between individuals (whose spontaneous skirmishes require more or less ad hoc tactics). Think E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, which treats class not as a statistical artifact but as something that’s as much forged deliberately by members than ascribed by outside forces. The social graph purports to passively record social arrangements that emerge organically and thus reflect some sort of true and undistorted account of how society works. That conception discourages the possibility of those plotted on the graph from making a social class. Social media users don’t take advantage of their connectedness to undertake the work of finding the bases by which they can see their concerns as being shared, being in some way equivalent. Instead, their connectedness drives them to preen for attention and personal brand enhancement. One must work against social media’s grain to use it to develop lasting, convincing political groupings.
I suppose the reply would be that if social media don't work to forge class identity, they have proven their worth as a tool for organizing other kinds of groupings: smart mobs, insurgencies, the Arab spring, and so on. And I'd be curious to know whether if you eliminated the language of the social graph, Horning's objections would be answered.