Life, Death, and Facebook: The Toponymics of San Francisco Technoscapes

Authors: Erin McElroy*, University of California - Santa Cruz
Topics: Urban Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Cultural Geography
Keywords: technology, gentrification, surveillance, San Francisco, protest, data colonialism, Big Data, public health, technoscapes, toponymy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Gallier B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This article situates the rebranding San Francisco’s public hospital from “the General” to “the Zuckerberg” upon contemporary San Francisco technoscapes. In 2015, after Facebook’s Zuckerberg donated to the hospital, thereby acquiring naming rights, local toponymical tension percolated, largely due to Facebook’s gentrifying role. How can an entity imbricated in structures of uneven spatial/racial revalorization, and therefore public health deterioration, also claim the city’s only public hospital’s name? Further, how can a company that publicly prides itself on disease elimination simultaneously create technologies that denigrate user health and “datafy” bodies into speculative profit? In this paper, I suggest that Facebook’s entry into local corporeal worlds reflects its multi-scalar practice of latticing data colonialism with gentrification, all under the auspices of philanthropic liberalism. By growing a global empire of Big Data, virtual fragments, and digital afterlives in the name of local public health, Facebook exercises its own double incision technology. Further, during the time of rebranding, Facebook launched a “real name” policy, threatening to evaporate accounts with non-normative usernames, causing an uproar amongst local immigrant communities, queer users, people without documentation, Indigenous users, abuse survivors, and others requiring and/or desiring anonymity. What does it mean for a company that venerates “birth names” (for surveillance and marketing purposes) to remove the original name of a hospital that prides itself in serving many impacted by the real name policy? To study the toponymy of the Zuckerberg, I argue, is to study a racialized heteronormalization process in which techno-utopic logics gentrify publics and bodies alike.

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