Blogging from unlike us, Amsterdam, on social media monopolies and theit alternatives, day 2

http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/unlikeus/2-amsterdam/

Conference day 2: Saturday, March 10

11.00 – 12.30 > SESSION 4 >

Software Matters

One of the important components of social media is software. For all the discourse on sociopolitical power relations governed by corporations such as Facebook and related platforms, one must not forget that social media platforms are thoroughly defined and powered by software. We need critical engagement with Facebook as software. That is, what is the role of software in reconfiguring contemporary social spaces? In what ways does code make a difference in how identities are formed and social relationships performed? How does the software function to interpellate users to its logic? What are the discourses surrounding software?

ModeratorKorinna Patelis

Speakers:

David M. Berry (UK)
Thinking Software: Realtime Streams and Knowledge in the Digital Age

As software/code increasingly structures the contemporary world, curiously, it also withdraws, and becomes harder and harder for us to focus on as it is embedded, hidden, off-shored or merely forgotten about. The challenge is to bring software/code back into visibility so that we can pay attention to both what it is (ontology/medium), where it has come from (media archaeology/genealogy) but also what it is doing (through a form of mechanology), so we can understand this ‘dynamic of organized inorganic matter’. In this talk I want to present some of the questions raised by thinking about software/code but also to explore some of the implications of code/software for critically understanding social media and more broadly for knowledge and the university itself.

Anne Helmond (NL) and Carolin Gerlitz (UK)
Reworking the fabric of the web: The Like economy

In recent years, Facebook has increasingly expanded beyond the limits of its platform, first through social buttons and the Open Graph, and more recently through new possibilities of app development, frictionless sharing and differentiated Facebook actions. These digital devices allow Facebook to turn user interactivity instantly into valuable data, creating what we have described as a Like Economy. In this paper, we explore how the platform produces a very particular fabric of the web with its software design by focusing on social buttons, apps and actions. The introduction of social buttons and social plug-ins allowed for a partial opening of the platform as walled garden – carefully regulated by its Graph API – and led to an increasing decentralisation of the web. Yet, the new apps, sharing possibilities and actions introduce a recentralisation as content and user activities are designed to remain within the platform. By tracing the data- and content flows enabled between the platform and the web, we suggest that the Like Economy cuts across straightforward ideas of Facebook as a walled garden but instead creates complex spatial relations, organised through a number of new relationship markers beyond the hyperlink which create new multi-layered dataflows.

Ganaele Langlois (CA)
Language, Subjectivation and Social Technologies

This presentation will engage with the works of Virno, Bifo, Lazzarato and Guattari to understand how language can be used as a site of analysis to understand the processes of subjectivation at stake in the neoliberal, post-fordist context. The starting premise is that capital, through new communication technologies, has invested heavily in subjective areas of life such as sociality and affect, most visibly through the development of online social networks and user-generated content platforms. In contrast to industrial capitalism, which sought to destroy the human psyche, the post-fordist context promotes the integration of previously alienated and resistant dynamics of individual and collective expressions of subjectivity. Language in particular should now be studied as a site of expression of such processes of subjectivation, and should therefore be understood as more than pure linguistic signs uttered by human actors. Rather, language involves not only social power relations, but also technolinguistic processes (automated and personalized recommendations, ratings and rankings) that create the dynamics through which subjectivities are encircled. In so doing, a theoretical shift should be undertaken from a focus on the content of communication to the semio-technical conditions that manage a seeming plurality of exchange.

Harry Halpin (UK)
The Hidden History of the “Like” Button

The Facebook “Like” Button is officially known as the “Open Graph Protocol” despite it being neither open nor a protocol, although rather surprisingly it is built out of open standards. In particular, the “Like” button depends on the W3C’s RDF (Resource Description Framework), the foundational knowledge representation system of Tim Berners-Lee’s idealistic and controversial Semantic Web. Facebook uses RDF to describe products, although who precisely “likes” a given item is transmitted back to Facebook via Javascript. We will explore how Facebook dialectically deployed open standards to build a closed giant global graph of people and products. In a world where collective intelligence is controlled in “walled gardens”, what is the role of open standards? Does the ubiquity of social media the creation of a new nervous system of an interconnected humanity or the primitive accumulation of the life-world?

13.30 – 15.30 > SESSION 5 >

Pitfalls of Building Social Media Alternatives (Debate)

It is not only important to critique and question existing design and socio-political realities but also to engage with possible futures. The central aim of this project is therefore to contribute and support ‘alternatives in social media’. What would the collective design of alternative protocols and interfaces look like? We should find some comfort in the small explosion of alternative options currently available, but also ask how usable these options are and how real is the danger of fragmentation. How have developers from different initiatives so far collaborated and what might we learn from their successes and failures? Understanding any early failures and successes of these attempts seems crucial. A related issue concerns funding difficulties faced by projects. Finally, in what ways does regionalism (United States, Europe, Asia) feed into the way people search for alternatives and use social media.

ModeratorCaroline Nevejan (NL)

Taking part in the debate:
Carlo v. Loesch/lynX (DE) from SecushareMichael Rogers (UK) from BriarElijah Sparrow(USA) from Crabgrass, Spideralex (ES) from Lorea and James Vasile (USA) from Freedombox.

See ‘Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media‘ for project descriptions.

15.45 – 17.30 > SESSION 6 >

Social Media Activism and the Critique of Liberation Technology

While the tendency to label any emergent social movement as the latest ‘Twitter revolution’ has passed, a liberal discourse of ‘liberation technology’ (information and communication technologies that empower grassroots movements) continues to influence our ideas about networked participation. This discourse tends to obscure power relations and obstruct critical questioning about the capitalist institutions and superstructures in which these technologies operate.

As the first years of euphoria are over, the wild west style data digging companies are facing resistances from every level: single users campaign against facebook’s ubiquitous data collections as well as nation states and the EU are slowly understanding the urge to push wild west 2.0 back into a regulated framework. Once Social Media is integrated into a larger framework of policies and laws, once its place in society reflects a position negotiated by stakeholders, states and privacy commissioners, will such a normalised commodification of communal communication simply be accepted?

ModeratorOliver Leistert (HU)

Speakers:

Philipp Budka (AT)
Indigenous cyber activism: the case of K-Net and MyKnet.org in northwestern Ontario, Canada

In 1994 the Kuhkenah Network (K-Net, http://www.knet.ca/), a tribal council initiative, started to connect people in the remote region of northwestern Ontario, Canada, through digital communication technologies. It started with a simple bulletin board system and now includes the construction and support of a whole broadband internet infrastructure. This infrastructure allowed for the creation of services that have become widely popular among First Nation people, from telemedicine and online learning to free webspace. One of those services is MyKnet.org (http://myknet.org/) which provides free personal homepages, particularly for the youth. Those homepages can be understood as local representations of indigenous cultures, lives and identities within the world wide web. This paper discusses K-Net and MyKnet.org as agents of an indigenous cyber or digital activism that aims to change living conditions in the region’s remote and isolated communities.

Stefania Milan (CA)
Cloud protesting. How is protest changing

Social media are changing the way people organize, mobilize, and protest. Organizing has become easier and quicker. Organizational patterns have transformed, as individuals become more prominent at the expense of traditional movement organizations. Protest tends to be elusive. The narrative of the action is no longer centralized and controlled by movement organizations, but any activist can contribute, by producing, selecting, and diffusing texts and audiovisual material. Surveillance, too, has become diffused and can be outsources to the movement. Borrowing the metaphor from computing, I call this type of mobilizing “cloud protesting”. Contemporary mobilizations can be seen as a cloud where a set of soft resources facilitating mobilization coexist. They be selected by individuals who can tailor their participation. In this talk I will explore different aspects of the “cloud” seen in relation to the technical properties of social media, including organizational patterns, identity building, tactics and surveillance mechanisms.

Max Schrems (AT)
Europe versus Facebook

The first part of the presentation will explain the data use of Facebook by focusing on the background data our group got by making access request at Facebook. The second part will focus on some of the complaints that we filed against Facebook, claiming that their use of personal data is illegal under European data protection regulations. By the time of the presentation there will also be the first results of these complaints that will be analyzed in the presentation. Additionally questions concerning the factual monopoly of Facebook, alternative ways of shaping social networks and user duties under European data protection laws will be discussed.

Eleanor Saitta (USA)
Networks and Nation States

Moving from a centralized, institution-driven culture to a network structure would imply massive disruption even without the simultaneous failure of neoliberalized capital and onrushing climactic and resource catastrophe.  As we understand of our current position, we must expect an unprecedented degree of societal disruption. The shape of that disruption is determined in part by the nature of institution to network transition.  If we want to understand this disruption, we have to start here.

In this talk, we’re going to look at a couple of specific, concrete projects that point to that shape, namely the Constitutional Analysis Support Team and our work in conducting a threat model of the Icelandic constitution and the Sukey project in London, a crowd-sourced, distributed, real-time activist counterintelligence system.  With these projects, we’ll paint a picture of the structures of institutional failure and reconstitution and what a hollow institution looks like in practice.  We’ll close with discussion of the problems of institutional discretion and the jurisprudence of networks.

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