Unlike Us #3: 22-23 March, 2013

Unlike Us #3: 22-23 March, 2013 at TrouwAmsterdam and Studio HvA / MediaLAB Amsterdam

 Is the word ‘social’ hollowed out, or does it still have some meaning? How to understand the thunderous growth of mobile uses in social media? Is there really something like a Facebook riot and how do we start one? Theorists, programmers and artists alike react to the monopolies that control social media – by designing decentralized networks, creating art that’s criticizing and surprising at the same time or by trying to understand the big networks from within. Meet them at the third Unlike Us conference organized by the Institute of Network Cultures on 22-23 March 2013 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

International speakers discuss both the big gestures of Theory, the ambitious plans of artists, programmers and activists. There are workshops to put Unlike Us into practice without delay and discussions on specific issues that Unlike Us hasn’t dealt with so far. The different themes will cover theory and critique, decentralization, mobile use, activism, and the art and politics of social networks.


Unlike Us Reader: a collection of essays on social media monopolies and their alternatives

Unlike Us Reader
Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives
Edited by Geert Lovink and Miriam Rasch
INC Reader #8
Download pdf or order a your copy here

The Unlike Us Reader offers a critical examination of social media, bringing together theoretical essays, personal discussions, and artistic manifestos. How can we understand the social media we use everyday, or consciously choose not to use? We know very well that monopolies control social media, but what are the alternatives? While Facebook continues to increase its user population and combines loose privacy restrictions with control over data, many researchers, programmers, and activists turn towards designing a decentralized future. Through understanding the big networks from within, be it by philosophy or art, new perspectives emerge.

Unlike Us is a research network of artists, designers, scholars, activists, and programmers, with the aim to combine a critique of the dominant social media platforms with work on ‘alternatives in social media’, through workshops, conferences, online dialogues, and publications. Everyone is invited to be a part of the public discussion on how we want to shape the network architectures and the future of social networks we are using so intensely.

Download pdf or order a your copy here

Contributors: Solon Barocas, Caroline Bassett, Tatiana Bazzichelli, David Beer, David M. Berry, Mercedes Bunz, Florencio Cabello, Paolo Cirio, Joan Donovan, Louis Doulas, Leighton Evans, Marta G. Franco, Robert W. Gehl, Seda Gürses, Alexandra Haché, Harry Halpin, Mariann Hardey, Pavlos Hatzopoulos, Yuk Hui, Ippolita, Nathan Jurgenson, Nelli Kambouri, Jenny Kennedy, Ganaele Langlois, Simona Lodi, Alessandro Ludovico, Tiziana Mancinelli, Andrew McNicol, Andrea Miconi, Arvind Narayanan, Wyatt Niehaus, Korinna Patelis, PJ Rey, Sebastian Sevignani, Bernard Stiegler, Marc Stumpel, Tiziana Terranova, Vincent Toubiana, Brad Troemel, Lonneke van der Velden, Martin Warnke and D.E. Wittkower.

Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam 2013

ISBN 978-90-818575-2-9

Unlike Us Reader: call for contributions.

Unlike Us Reader: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives

Following the success of the previous INC readers we would like to propose to put together a reader with key texts (see under below for possible topics). Anthology (print, pdf, epub) produced by the Institute of Network Cultures in collaboration with the Unlike Us research network. Following the second Unlike Us conference in Amsterdam, the Institute of Network Cultures is devoted to produce a reader that bundles actual theories about the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and the development of alternative, decentralized social media software.

Critical Twitter Studies // Artistic Responses to Social Media // Genealogies of Social Networking Sites // Biopolitics // Exploitation of Immaterial Labour // Social Media Activism and the Critique of Liberation Technology // Social What? Defining the Social // Software Matters: Sociotechnical and Algorithmic Cultures // The Private in the Public // Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media // Pitfalls of Building Alternatives

Internet, visual culture and media scholars, researchers, artists, curators, producers, lawyers, engineers, open-source and open-content advocates, activists, Unlike Us conference participants, and others to submit materials and proposals.


We welcome interviews, dialogues, essays and articles, images (b/w), email exchanges, manifestos, with a max of 8,000 words. For scope and style, take a look at the previous INC readers and thestyle guide.

This publication is produced by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam and will be launched late 2012, ready in time for a possible Unlike Us #3 (no details known yet about the date and place).

DEADLINE: August 20, 2012

SEND CONTRITBUTIONS: miriam[at]networkcultures[dot]org (Miriam Rasch)

Unlike Us: 
INC readers: http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/inc-readers/
Or email: miriam[at]networkcultures[dot]org (from 1st of June on you can expect a response)

The INC reader series are derived from conference contributions and produced by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam. They are available (for free) in print and pdf form onwww.networkcultures.org/readers.

Previously published in this series:

INC Reader #7: Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz (eds), Critical Point of View: A Wikpedia Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. For millions of internet users around the globe, the search for new knowledge begins with Wikipedia. The encyclopedia’s rapid rise, novel organization, and freely offered content have been marveled at and denounced by a host of commentators. Critical Point of View moves beyond unflagging praise, well-worn facts, and questions about its reliability and accuracy, to unveil the complex, messy, and controversial realities of a distributed knowledge platform.

INC Reader #6: Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles (eds), Video Vortex Reader II: moving images beyond YouTube, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. Video Vortex Reader II is the second collection of texts that critically explore the rapidly changing landscape of online video and its use. With the success of YouTube and the rise of other online video sharing platforms, the moving image has become expansively more popular on the Web, significantly contributing to the culture and ecology of the internet and our everyday lives. In response, the Video Vortex project continues to examine critical issues of online video content.

INC Reader #5: Scott McQuire, Meredith Martin, and Sabine Niederer (eds.), Urban Screens Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2009. The Urban Screens Reader is the first book to focus entirely on the topic of urban screens. A collection of texts from leading theorists, and a series of case studies that deal with artists’ projects, and screen operators’ and curators’ experiences, offering a rich resource at the intersections between digital media, cultural practices and urban space.

INC Reader #4: Geert Lovink and Sabine Niederer (eds.), Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2008.
The Video Vortex Reader is the first collection of critical texts to deal with the rapidly emerging world of online video – from its explosive rise in 2005 with YouTube, to its future as a significant form of personal media.

INC Reader #3: Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter (eds.), MyCreativity Reader: A Critique of Creative Industries, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2007.
The MyCreativity Reader is a collection of critical research into the creative industries. The material develops out of the MyCreativity Convention on International Creative Industries Research held in Amsterdam, November 2006 (no longer available in print; pdf online).

INC Reader #2: Katrien Jacobs, Marije Janssen and Matteo Pasquinelli (eds.), C’Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2007.
C’lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader is an anthology that collects the best material from two years of debate from The Art and Politics of Netporn 2005 conference to the 2007 C’Lick Me festival (no longer available in print; pdf online).

INC Reader #1: Geert Lovink and Soenke Zehle (eds.), Incommunicado Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2005.
The Incommunicado Reader brings together papers written for the June 2005 event, and includes a CD-ROM of interviews with speakers (no longer available in print; pdf online).

See also: http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/inc-readers/


Unlike Us #1: The launch of the research network took place during a one day event took on November 24, 2011 in Liamassol, Cyprus. The conference was organized by the internet and communications department of the University of Limasol and focussed on the political economy of social media.

Unlike Us #2: The second event of the Unlike Us event took place in Amsterdam from March 8-10, 2012. The major themes of the workshops and two-day conference were alternatives in social media, software studies, artistic practices and the private and the public.


Miriam Rasch
Publications + Projects
Institute of Network Cultures
t:  +31 (0)20 595 1865

Unlike Us #2: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives

Date: March 8-10, 2012

LocationTrouwAmsterdam, Wibautstraat 127, Amsterdam
Contact: marc[at]networkcultures.org
Program / Biographies / Tickets

Unlike Us 2 is the second event on ‘alternatives in social media’, where artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers gather. This international research network analyzes the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Through workshops, conferences, online dialogues and publications, the Unlike Us network intends to both analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.

Unlike Us – Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives from network cultures on Vimeo.

Whether or not we are in the midst of internet bubble 2.0, we can all agree that social media dominate internet and mobile use. The emergence of web-based user to user services, driven by an explosion of informal dialogues, continuous uploads and user generated content have greatly empowered the rise of participatory culture. At the same time, monopoly power, commercialization and commodification are also on the rise with just a handful of social media platforms dominating the social web. These two contradictory processes – both the facilitation of free exchanges and the commercial exploitation of social relationships – seem to lie at the heart of contemporary capitalism.

On the one hand new media create and expand the social spaces through which we interact, play and even politicize ourselves; on the other hand they are literally owned by three or four companies that have phenomenal power to shape such interaction. Whereas the hegemonic Internet ideology promises open, decentralized systems, why do we, time and again, find ourselves locked into closed corporate environments? Why are individual users so easily charmed by these ‘walled gardens’? Do we understand the long-term costs that society will pay for the ease of use and simple interfaces of their beloved ‘free’ services?

Unlike Us will ask fundamental and overarching questions about how to tackle these fast-emerging monopoly powers. Situated within the existing oligopoly of ownership and use, this inquiry will include the support of software alternatives and related artistic practices and the development of a common alternative vision of how the techno-social world might be mediated.

Facebook makes everyone believe There Is No Alternative, but Unlike Us dares to differ.

[8 March] Showcasing alternatives in social media: There is currently a multitude of decentralized social network software in the making which allows users greater autonomy to define with whom to share their data. Visit Unlike Us 2 and discover the latest alternatives (Lorea, Secushare, Thimbl, Diaspora, Crabgrass, Social Swarm, Freedombox and more). The best way to undermine platform monopolies is to support alternative open source/free software. Get out of the Cloud, take control of your realm and install your own social network locally. Come along to find out more!

[9-10 March] Conference themes: Social what? Defining the Social, Artistic Responses to Social Media, The Private in the Public, Software Matters, Pitfalls of Building Social Media Alternatives, Social Media Activism, Critique of Liberation Technology.

Confirmed speakers and presenters: David M. Berry (UK), Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius (NL), Philipp Budka (AT), Thomas Chenesau (FR), Jodi Dean (USA), Carolin Gerlitz (UK), Seda Guerses (TR/BE), Spideralex (ES), Anne Helmond (NL), Eva Illouz (IL), Walter Langelaar (NL), Ganaele Langlois (CA), Carlo v. Loesch/lynx (DE), Caroline Nevejan (NL), Arnold Roosendaal (NL), Eleanor Saitta (USA), Max Schrems (AT), Elijah Sparrow (USA) and James Vasile (USA).

Unlike Us: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives

Invitation to join the network (a series of events, reader, workshops, online debates, campaigns etc.)

Concept: Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Lemasol)

Thanks to Marc Stumpel, Sabine Niederer, Vito Campanelli, Ned Rossiter, Michael Dieter, Oliver Leistert, Taina Bucher, Gabriella Coleman, Ulises Mejias, Anne Helmond, Lonneke van der Velden, Morgan Currie and Eric Kluitenberg for their input.

The aim of this proposal is to establish a research network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’. Through workshops, conferences, online dialogues and publications, Unlike Us intends to both analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.

If you want to join the Unlike Us network, start your own initiatives in this field or hook up what you have already been doing for ages, subcribe to the email list. Traffic will be modest. Soon there will be a special page/blog for the initative on the INC website. Also an independent social network will be installed shortly, using alternative software. More on that later! List info:http://listcultures.org/mailman/listinfo/unlike-us_listcultures.org

Whether or not we are in the midst of internet bubble 2.0, we can all agree that social media dominate internet and mobile use. The emergence of web-based user to user services, driven by an explosion of informal dialogues, continuous uploads and user generated content have greatly empowered the rise of participatory culture. At the same time, monopoly power, commercialization and commodification are also on the rise with just a handful of social media platforms dominating the social web. These two contradictory processes – both the facilitation of free exchanges and the commercial exploitation of social relationships – seem to lie at the heart of contemporary capitalism.

On the one hand new media create and expand the social spaces through which we interact, play and even politicize ourselves; on the other hand they are literally owned by three or four companies that have phenomenal power to shape such interaction. Whereas the hegemonic Internet ideology promises open, decentralized systems, why do we, time and again, find ourselves locked into closed corporate environments? Why are individual users so easily charmed by these ‘walled gardens’? Do we understand the long-term costs that society will pay for the ease of use and simple interfaces of their beloved ‘free’ services?

The accelerated growth and scope of Facebook’s social space, for example, is unheard of. Facebook claims to have 700 million users, ranks in the top two or three first destination sites on the Web worldwide and is valued at 50 billion US dollars. Its users willingly deposit a myriad of snippets of their social life and relationships on a site that invests in an accelerated play of sharing and exchanging information. We all befriend, rank, recommend, create circles, upload photos, videos and update our status. A myriad of (mobile) applications orchestrate this offer of private moments in a virtual public, seamlessly embedding the online world in users’ everyday life.

Yet despite its massive user base, the phenomena of online social networking remains fragile. Just think of the fate of the majority of social networking sites. Who has ever heard of Friendster? The death of Myspace has been looming on the horizon for quite some time. The disappearance of Twitter and Facebook – and Google, for that matter – is only a masterpiece of software away. This means that the protocological future is not stationary but allows space for us to carve out a variety of techno-political interventions. Unlike Us is developed in the spirit of RSS-inventor and uberblogger Dave Winer whose recent Blork project is presented as an alternative for ‘corporate blogging silos’. But instead of repeating the entrepreneurial-start-up-transforming-into-corporate-behemoth formula, isn’t it time to reinvent the internet as a truly independent public infrastructure that can effectively defend itself against corporate domination and state control?

Going beyond the culture of complaint about our ignorance and loss of privacy, the proposed network of artists, scholars, activists and media folks will ask fundamental and overarching questions about how to tackle these fast-emerging monopoly powers. Situated within the existing oligopoly of ownership and use, this inquiry will include the support of software alternatives and related artistic practices and the development of a common alternative vision of how the techno-social world might be mediated.

Without falling into the romantic trap of some harmonious offline life, Unlike Us asks what sort of network architectures could be designed that contribute to ‘the common’, understood as a shared resource and system of collective production that supports new forms of social organizations (such as organized networks) without mining for data to sell. What aesthetic tactics could effectively end the expropriation of subjective and private dimensions that we experience daily in social networks? Why do we ignore networks that refuse the (hyper)growth model and instead seek to strengthen forms of free cooperation? Turning the tables, let’s code and develop other ‘network cultures’ whose protocols are no longer related to the logic of ‘weak ties’. What type of social relations do we want to foster and discover in the 21st century? Imagine dense, diverse networked exchanges between billions of people, outside corporate and state control. Imagine discourses returning subjectivities to their ‘natural’ status as open nodes based on dialogue and an ethics of free exchange.

To a large degree social media research is still dominated by quantitative and social scientific endeavors. So far the focus has been on moral panics, privacy and security, identity theft, self-representation from Goffman to Foucault and graph-based network theory that focuses on influencers and (news) hubs. What is curiously missing from the discourse is a rigorous discussion of the political economy of these social media monopolies. There is also a substantial research gap in understanding the power relations between the social and the technical in what are essentially software systems and platforms. With this initiative, we want to shift focus away from the obsession with youth and usage to the economic, political, artistic and technical aspects of these online platforms. What we first need to acknowledge is social media’s double nature.

Dismissing social media as neutral platforms with no power is as implausible as considering social media the bad boys of capitalism. The beauty and depth of social media is that they call for a new understanding of classic dichotomies such as commercial/political, private/public, users/producers, artistic/standardised, original/copy, democratising/disempowering. Instead of taking these dichotomies as a point of departure, we want to scrutinise the social networking logic. Even if Twitter and Facebook implode overnight, the social networking logic of befriending, liking and ranking will further spread across all aspects of life.

The proposed research agenda is at once a philosophical, epistemological and theoretical investigation of knowledge artifacts, cultural production and social relations and an empirical investigation of the specific phenomenon of monopoly social media. Methodologically we will use the lessons learned from theoretical research activities to inform practice-oriented research, and vice-versa. Unlike Us is a common initiative of the Institute of Network Cultures (Amsterdam University of Applied Science HvA) and the Cyprus University of Technology in Lemasol.

An online network and a reader connected to a series of events initially in Amsterdam and Cyprus (early 2012) are already in planning. We would explicitly like to invite other partners to come on board who identify with the spirit of this proposal, to organize related conferences, festivals, workshops, temporary media labs and barcamps (where coders come together) with us. The reader (tentatively planned as number 8 in the Reader series published by the INC) will be produced mid-late 2012. The call for contributions to the network, the reader and the event series goes out in July 2011, followed by the publicity for the first events and other initiatives by possible new partners.

Topics of Investigation
The events, online platform, reader and other outlets may include the following topics inviting theoretical, empirical, practical and art-based contributions, though not every event or publication might deal with all issues. We anticipate the need for specialized workshops and barcamps.

1. Political Economy: Social Media Monopolies
Social media culture is belied in American corporate capitalism, dominated by the logic of start-ups and venture capital, management buyouts, IPOs etc. Three to four companies literally own the Western social media landscape and capitalize on the content produced by millions of people around the world. One thing is evident about the market structure of social media: one-to-many is not giving way to many-to-many without first going through many-to-one. What power do these companies actually have? Is there any evidence that such ownership influences user-generated content? How does this ownership express itself structurally and in technical terms?

What conflicts arise when a platform like Facebook is appropriated for public or political purposes, while access to the medium can easily be denied by the company? Facebook is worth billions, does that really mean something for the average user? How does data-mining work and what is its economy? What is the role of discourse (PR) in creating and sustaining an image of credibility and trustworthiness, and in which forms does it manifest to oppose that image? The bigger social media platforms form central nodes, such as image upload services and short ulr services. This ecology was once fairly open, with a variety of new Twitter-related services coming into being, but now Twitter takes up these services itself, favoring their own product through default settings; on top of that it is increasingly shutting down access to developers, which shrinks the ecology and makes it less diverse.

2. The Private in the Public
The advent of social media has eroded privacy as we know it, giving rise to a culture of self-surveillance made up of myriad voluntary, everyday disclosures. New understandings of private and public are needed to address this phenomenon. What does owning all this user data actually mean? Why are people willing to give up their personal data, and that of others? How should software platforms be regulated?

Is software like a movie to be given parental guidance? What does it mean that there are different levels of access to data, from partner info brokers and third-party developers to the users? Why is education in social media not in the curriculum of secondary schools? Can social media companies truly adopt a Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights?

3. Visiting the Belly of the Beast
The exuberance and joy that defined the dotcom era is cliché by now. IT use is occurring across the board, and new labour conditions can be found everywhere. But this should not keep our eyes away from the power relations inside internet companies. What are the geopolitical lines of distribution that define the organization and outsourcing taking place in global IT companies these days? How is the industry structured and how does its economy work?

Is there a broader connection to be made with the politics of land expropriation and peasant labour in countries like India, for instance, and how does this analytically converge with the experiences of social media users? How do monopolies deal with their employees’ use of the platforms? What can we learn from other market sectors and perspectives that (critically) reflect on, for example, techniques of sustainability or fair trade?

4. Artistic Responses to Social Media
Artists are playing a crucial role in visualizing power relationships and disrupting subliminal daily routines of social media usage. Artistic practice provides an important analytical site in the context of the proposed research agenda, as artists are often first to deconstruct the familiar and to facilitate an alternative lens to understand and critique these media. Is there such a thing as a social ‘web aesthetics’? It is one thing to criticize Twitter and Facebook for their primitive and bland interface designs. How can we imagine the social in different ways? And how can we design and implement new interfaces to provide more creative freedom to cater to our multiple identities? Also, what is the scope of interventions with social media, such as, for example, the ‘dislike button’ add-on for Facebook? And what practices are really needed? Isn’t it time, for example, for a Facebook ‘identity correction’?

5. Designing culture: representation and software
Social media offer us the virtual worlds we use every day. From Facebook’s ‘like’ button to blogs’ user interface, these tools empower and delimit our interactions. How do we theorize the plethora of social media features? Are they to be understood as mere technical functions, cultural texts, signifiers, affordances, or all these at once? In what ways do design and functionalities influence the content and expressions produced? And how can we map and critique this influence? What are the cultural assumptions embedded in the design of social media sites and what type of users or communities do they produce?

To answer the question of structure and design, one route is to trace the genealogy of functionalities, to historicize them and look for discursive silences. How can we make sense of the constant changes occurring both on and beyond the interface? How can we theorize the production and configuration of an ever-increasing algorithmic and protocological culture more generally?

6. Software Matters: Sociotechnical and Algorithmic Cultures
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?

One of the core features of Facebook for instance is its news feed, which is algorithmically driven and sorted in its default mode. The EdgeRank algorithm of the news feed governs the logic by which content becomes visible, acting as a modern gatekeeper and editorial voice. Given its 700 million users, it has become imperative to understand the power of EdgeRank and its cultural implications. Another important analytical site for investigation are the ‘application programming interfaces’ (APIs) that to a large extent made the phenomenal growth of social media platforms possible in the first place. How have APIs contributed to the business logic of social media? How can we theorize social media use from the perspective of the programmer?

6. Genealogies of Social Networking Sites
Feedback in a closed system is a core characteristic of Facebook; even the most basic and important features, such as ‘friending’, traces back to early cybernetics’ ideas of control. While the word itself became lost in various transitions, the ideas of cybernetics have remained stable in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the biopolitical arena. Both communication and information theories shaped this discourse. How does Facebook relate to such an algorithmic shape of social life? What can Facebook teach us about the powers of systems theory? Would Norbert Wiener and Niklas Luhmann be friends on Facebook?

7. Is Research Doomed?
The design of Facebook excludes the third person perspective, as the only way in is through ones own profile. What does this inbuilt ‘me-centricity’ imply for social media research? Does it require us to rethink the so-called objectivity of researchers and the detached view of current social research? Why is it that there are more than 200 papers about the way people use Facebook, but the site is ‘closed’ to true quantitative inquiry? Is the state of art in social media research exemplary of the ‘quantitative turn’ in new media research? Or is there a need to expand and rethink methods of inquiry in social media research? Going beyond the usual methodological approaches of the quantitative and qualitative, we seek to broaden the scope of investigating these media. How can we make sense of the political economy and the socio-technical elements, and with what means? Indeed, what are our toolkits for collective, transdisciplinary modes of knowledge and the politics of refusal?

8. Researching Unstable Ontologies
Software destabilizes Facebook as a solid ontology. Software is always in becoming and so by nature ontogenetic. It grows and grows, living off of constant input. Logging on one never encounters the same content, as it changes on an algorithmic level and in terms of the platform itself. What does Facebook’s fluid nature imply for how we make sense of and study it? Facebook for instance willingly complicates research: 1. It is always personalized (see Eli Pariser). Even when creating ‘empty’ research accounts it never gives the same results compared to other people’s empty research accounts. 2. One must often be ‘inside’ social media to study it. Access from the outside is limited, which reinforces the first problem. 3. Outside access is ideally (for Facebook and Twitter) arranged through carefully regulated protocols of APIs and can easily be restricted. Next to social media as a problem for research, there is also the question of social research methods as intervention.

9. Making Sense of Data: Visualization and Critique
Data representation is one of the most important battlefields nowadays. Indeed, global corporations build their visions of the world increasingly based on and structured around complex data flows. What is the role of data today and what are the appropriate ways in which to make sense of the burgeoning datasets? As data visualization is becoming a powerful buzzword and social research increasingly uses digital tools to make ‘beautiful’ graphs and visualizations, there is a need to take a step back and question the usefulness of current data visualization tools and to develop novel analytical frameworks through which to critically grasp these often simplified and nontransparent ways of representing data.

Not only is it important to develop new interpretative and visual methods to engage with data flows, data itself needs to be questioned. We need to ask about data’s ontological and epistemological nature. What is it, who is the producer, for whom, where is it stored? In what ways do social media companies’ terms of service regulate data? Whether alternative social media or monopolistic platforms, how are our data-bodies exactly affected by changes in the software?

10. Pitfalls of Building Social Media Alternatives
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.

11. Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media
The best way to criticize platform monopolies is to support alternative free and open source software that can be locally installed. There are currently a multitude of decentralized social networks in the making that aspire to facilitate users with greater power to define for themselves with whom share their data. Let us look into the wildly different initiatives from Crabgrass, Appleseed, Diaspora, NoseRub, BuddyCloud, Protonet, StatusNet, GNU Social, Lorea and OneSocialWeb to the distributed Twitter alternative Thimbl.

In which settings are these initiative developed and what choices are made for their design? Let’s hear from the Spanish activists who have recently made experiences with the n-1.cc platform developed by Lorea. What community does this platform enable? While traditional software focuses on the individual profile and its relation to the network and a public (share with friends, share with friends of friends, share with public), the Lorea software for instance asks you with whom to share an update, picture or video. It finegrains the idea of privacy and sharing settings at the content level, not the user’s profile. At the same time, it requires constant decision making, or else a high level of trust in the community you share your data with. And how do we experience the transition from, or interoperability with, other platforms? Is it useful to make a distinction between corporate competitors and grassroots initiatives? How can these beta alternatives best be supported, both economically and socially? Aren’t we overstating the importance of software and isn’t the availability of capital much bigger in determining the adoption of a platform?

12. 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. What are the assumptions behind this neo-liberal discourse? What role do ‘developed’ nations play when they promote and subsidize the development of technologies of circumvention and hacktivism for use in ‘underdeveloped’ states, while at the same time allowing social media companies at home to operate in increasingly deregulated environments and collaborating with them in the surveillance of citizens at home and abroad? What role do companies play in determining how their products are used by dissidents or governments abroad? How have their policies and Terms of Use changed as a result?

13. Social Media in the Middle East and Beyond
The justified response to downplay the role of Facebook in early 2011 events in Tunisia and Egypt by putting social media in a larger perspective has not taken off the table the question of how to organize social mobilizations. Which specific software do the ‘movements of squares’ need? What happens to social movements when the internet and ICT networks are shut down? How does the interruption of internet services shift the nature of activism? How have repressive and democratic governments responded to the use of ‘liberation technologies’? How do these technologies change the relationship between the state and its citizens? How are governments using the same social media tools for surveillance and propaganda or highjacking Facebook identities, such as happened in Syria? What is Facebook’s own policy when deleting or censoring accounts of its users?

How can technical infrastructures be supported which are not shutdown upon request? How much does our agency depend on communication technology nowadays? And whom do we exclude with every click? How can we envision ‘organized networks’ that are based on ’strong ties’ yet open enough to grow quickly if the time is right? Which software platforms are best suited for the ‘tactical camping’ movements that occupy squares all over the world?

14. Data storage: social media and legal cultures
Data that is voluntarily shared by social media users is not only used for commercial purposes, but is also of interest to governments. This data is stored on servers of companies that are bound to the specific legal culture and country. This material-legal complex is often overlooked. Fore instance, the servers of Facebook and Twitter are located in the US and therefore fall under the US jurisdiction. One famous example is the request for the Twitter accounts of several activists (Gonggrijp, Jónsdóttir, Applebaum) affiliated with Wikileaks projects by the US government. How do activists respond and how do alternative social media platforms deal with this issue?

Contact details:

Geert Lovink (geert[at]xs4all.nl)
Korinna Patelis (korinna.patelis[at]cut.ac.cy / kpatelis[at]yahoo.com)
Marc Stumpel (m.stumpel[at]gmail.com)

Institute of Network Cultures
CREATE-IT/Hogeschool van Amsterdam

The Politics of Social Media. Facebook: Control and Resistance.

Hereby I post my MA thesis ‘The Politics of Social Media. Facebook: Control and Resistance’ for anyone who is interested in the political dimension of social media. A link to the full PDF can be found below.

This thesis examines the governance of contemporary social media and the potential of resistance. In particular, it sheds light on several cases in which Facebook has met with resistance in its attempt to exercise control. This social networking site has raised concerns over privacy, the constraints of its software, and the exploitation of user-generated content.

By critically analyzing the confrontations over these issues, this thesis aims to provide a framework for thinking about an emerging political field. This thesis argues that discursive processes and (counter)protocological implementations should be regarded as essential political factors in governing the user activities and conditions on large social networking sites.

A discourse analysis unveils how Facebook enacts a recurrent pattern of discursive framing and agenda-setting to support the immediate changes it makes to the platform. It shows how contestation leads to the reconfiguration and retraction of certain software implementations. Furthermore, a software study analyzes how the users are affected by Facebook’s reconfiguration of protocological assemblages. Several tactical media projects are examined in order to demonstrate the mutability of platform‘s software.

Facebook, Network-making power, Counterpower, Framing, Protocol, Tactical Media, Exploitation, Open-source, Agonistic Pluralism, Neodemocracy

Download: The Politics of Social Media. Facebook_Control and Resistance (PDF)

File-sharing or attention-sharing? Implications of the hybrid economy

This paper explores the economical and cultural implications of file-sharing on the creative industries. Through several case studies and perspectives on file-sharing, beneficial relationships between the file-sharing and the music-, movie- and games industry are revealed. In the so-called hybrid economy, sharing economies run parallel to commercial economies. This paper reveals that a part of the creative industries benefits from the hybrid economy, while another part struggles with it. This paper asserts that file-sharing attracts and generates valuable attention to digital media objects.

Everyone breathes
This paper explores the economical and cultural implications of file-sharing on the creative industries. While big media conglomerates are still waging war against copyright infringement, copying media has become as common as breathing (Lessig, 2008). Over the last couple of years popular file-sharing websites like The Pirate Bay are increasingly targeted by anti-piracy organizations. This does not seem to have a clear impact on the ongoing practice of downloading and uploading copyrighted material. Legislators are struggling with copyright law, as they intend to protect the financial compensation of cultural production and at the same time have to keep up with the common use of new media technologies. File-sharing, the downloading and uploading of especially music and movies and games through new media technologies, has become a common use of the internet. However, it still generally perceived as a criminal and illegal activity.

File-sharing is a widely debated topic and national governments are currently trying to find a solution to what seems to be a radical economical problem for the creative industries. In my view this radical problem should be nuanced by looking at the possible benefits of the use of peer-to-peer technologies. The common practice of online file-sharing creates both disadvantages and benefits for the creative industries. In the file-sharing debate the possible benefits must not be overlooked. The research question that therefore will be addressed in this paper is: What do the creative industries gain from file-sharing?

Throughout this paper, several contemporary file-sharing platforms will serve as case studies to discuss several perspectives on file-sharing: Bittorrent website Mininova.org, file-sharing blog Rlslog.net and movie distribution service VODO.net. Three sectors of the creative industries, that are known to be affected by file-sharing, will be dealt with: the music-, movie- and games industry. By discussing each industry the following question will be answered: what are the economical and cultural implications of file-sharing on the industry?

..Continue reading (Download pdf)


This paper explores the economical and cultural implications of file-sharing on the creative industries. Through several case studies and perspectives on file-sharing, beneficial relationships between the file-sharing and the music-, movie- and games industry are revealed. In the so-called hybrid economy, sharing economies run parallel to commercial economies. This paper reveals that a part of the creative industries benefits from the hybrid economy, while another part struggles with it. This paper asserts that file-sharing attracts and generates valuable attention to digital media objects.

RjDj and the rise of ‘reactive’ music.

As our daily interactions are increasingly affected by the use of mobile wireless devices and technologies, new media seems to become more reactive to our actual environment. Is there an attributable value of our environment to the means of cultural production, consumption and distribution through the use of new media technologies?

The futuristic thought by critical media thinker and researcher Rob van Kranenbug in ‘the Internet of Things’ that “iPods will display colours and produce sounds that correspond to your surroundings”[1] has now been actualized with the rise of RjDj, the ‘reactive’ music player.

Last week I attended the Music and Bits conference, where Reality Jockey Ltd. demonstrated their RjDj application and shared their idea of using unique sensory data, generated by the user and the environment as an input for  ‘experiencing’ music. According to the speakers Andy en Martin the experience of music has changed:”Everything is Music”. The application, released in 2008, uses the audible input acquired by the iPhone headset or microphone for the reactive (re)creation of sound.

RjDj directly applies effects to its input, by which a unique piece of audio is created. This piece can be recorded and uploaded to the website, where users can also create a profile and share their recordings. Unique audible moments are captured, stored and shared, by the use of reactive compositions that are called ‘scenes’.

“Scenes have a different musical structure than traditional compositions and they often have no clear beginning and end. Some scenes promote active listener involvement and others promote passive listening. In any case, when listening to RjDj, take care and enjoy your mind twisting hearing sensations.”[2]

There is a variety of free scenes available and there are paid scenes as well. Nonetheless, how these scenes are being created is much more interesting. RjDj gives the opportunity to create scenes by providing a composers pack that contains tools for creating a scene and share it with the RjDj community, which allows composers to experiment with this new ‘reactive’ music genre that RjDj is promoting and advocating.

However, the ‘genre’ is in a clearly in a very early stage. For me, using RjDj indeed is a ‘twisting’ hearing sensation, that went beyond synthesizer plug-ins or simple soundboards. It made me excited to think about music in a much less constrained way. Arguably referring to RjDj as an emerging music experience is much more suiting than calling it a new ‘music’ genre.

As our environment has become more influential to the production, consumption and distribution of culture, it is satisfying to notice a movement in the music ecosystem whereby the issues surrounding ‘intellectual property rights’ simply tend to fade and music experiences that are being created by the use new media technologies can be ‘fun’ again.

“Join the augmented music revolution”!

Visit the Rjdj website
Download the free RjDj iPhone application
Listen to a recording that I’ve uploaded

[1] Rob van Kranenburg. The Internet of Things: A Critique of Ambient Technology and the All-Seeing Network of RFID. Amsterdam: INC, 2007
[2] RjDj, What the heck is RjDj?

Interpassivity on Facebook

Social networks give online opportunities to construct social connections, stay in touch with our friends and create/share user-generated content. They are characterized by interactivity; users are capable to react to each others’ actions. However, as our connections grow, our interactivity inherently might not. Therefore the question arises: what role does passivity play in social networks?

At first sight this may be a personal question; we all have our own way of interacting in these networks and maintaining our social connections. However, as our presence and absence in social networks plays an increasingly important role in our ‘real’ social lives, it might be good to take a look at some ways social networks allow users to be passive instead of being active. I will specifically focus on Facebook, but first let’s have a look at an alternative perspective on interactivity.

In ‘The Interpassive Subject’, the Slovenian sociologist, philosopher and cultural critic, Slavoj Žižek terms ‘interpassivity’ as an opposing concept to interactivity. Not only new media objects, but every form of media, gives the subject (the user) the sense of interactivity. However, Žižek argues that the object is active instead of the subject, who’s passive. He states that with interactivity a false activity occurs: ’you think you are active, while your true position, as it is embodied in the fetish, is passive’. Žižek refers to the Marxist notion of commodity-fetishism to imply that social relations are increasingly reduced to objects (Žižek, 1998).

To clarify interpassivity, Žižek uses an example of someone who lets the VCR record movies, without watching them and feeling profoundly satisfied about it. He lets the VCR ‘enjoy’ the film for him as it were. The VCR watches movies on behalf of the user. From this perspective, the VCR is a medium of symbolic registration, which he calls in Lacanian terms ‘The Big Other’ (Žižek, 1998: p7). This is a clear example where an object literally takes over activities from the user.

On the other hand Žižek also describes a form of interpassivity where substitution takes place; all kinds of emotions can be moved from a subject to an object (Žižek 1998: p4). To illustrate this substituted interpassivity, Žižek uses the example of a television-show with ‘canned laughter’ to indicate that the object can influence the subject before interaction can take place. The subject’s laughter is pre-mediated as it where. The subject can experience the same emotion without laughing, because the laughing is substituted by the television. In this case Žižek would call the subject’s interpassivity ‘laughing trough the Other’.

Žižek’s interpassivity is based upon a situation where an individual seems or feels active but is instead passive trough substitution or the assigning of activities to an object. However, social networks contain a lot of individuals that are connected to others trough the same object. How does the notion of interpassivity translate in the use of Facebook?

Facebook is known for its newsfeed system: a list of friends’ updates that displays on the main page. The newsfeed consist of updates by individual users who are aware that their friends may not even read their updates, because the newsfeed is time-bound. Besides, it’s very likely that the users do not have their Facebook startpage opened constantly, which means that they can easily miss messages. Weather you open the page or not, Facebook receives everybody’s status update for you and you’re able to read the updates later. Thus, the newsfeed system can be perceived as a symbolic registration system like the VCR used in Žižek’s example; as the user doesn’t read his friends’ updates, Facebook does.

Highlights and email notifications
Facebook users might not always be able to see every link, photo or video that every other user submits on their profile page. This is why on the right side of the page there are ‘highlights’ to see what posts other friends reacted to. This way Facebook will actively show things that might be of interest to the users. The same goes for email notifications from inbox messages. You don’t have to constantly check your Facebook inbox, as you receive a link in your email when you receive a new message. Facebooks’ (default) active way of notifying users allow them to be passive, while the notifications itself can lead to reactions.

Substituted sociality and interpassive social enhancement
It’s harsh, but I think it’s quite possible for (real) social relations to become substituted interpassively on Facebook. While users are communicating with their online friends, their social communication in the ‘physical’ world can become less important to them. I’d argue that friendships can turn into a more passive one trough an interpassive sociality that occurs on Facebook. However, on the contrary, people that do care more about their ‘real’ social life, rather than about their digital one, can join Facebook, which allows them to still connect to people who are using it more actively than they are. Even if they do not like to use the service or visit the site often. Facebook is able to enhance their social lifes by making it possible for other users to connect to them, while personally they’re not actively involved on Facebook at all.

The ‘like’ button
If you like something, you can click on the ‘like’ button beneath an update, to show everyone that you do. I’d argue that this is also a case of substitution, where the ‘liking’ something is actively expressed by Facebook, while the passive user doesn’t have to literally express the emotion. The user ‘likes it trough Facebook’, which applies to Žižek’s idea of being or acting through the Other.

Facebook is a new media object that allows users to interact with each other, but I’d say that this interactivity is overrated; in many cases Facebook users seem more active than they really are. Facebook is often ‘active’ for its passive users. Žižek’s notion of interpassivity challenges and encourages us to think about how ‘active’ our interactions with new media objects really are. And as we have seen, they allow us to be interpassive too.

The Interpassive Subject. Slavoj Žižek. Centre Georges Pompidou. Paris, Traverses. 1998.

The Habermasian implications of the Twittersphere

Blogosphere’, ‘Twittersphere’, ‘Afrosphere’. We’re gradually getting used to a new media terminology whereby we quickly refer to new communication spaces and specified fields as ‘spheres’. As the Twittersphere is still rapidly growing, we might want to look back at Habermas’ classic concept of the ‘public sphere’, which was one of the earliest common ‘spheres’ to refer to.

Twitter, the insanely popular micro-blogging service, which makes it possible to reach every other user in real time with short message of 140 characters, can be seen as a new powerful way of many-to-many communication. It promptly sends out your message to the world, you’re given a voice, others can ‘raise’ your voice by ‘retweeting’, in other words repeating your message in their own user-network  and your messages can reach anyone who enters corresponding words in their Twitter-search query. Twitter is part public, and part private. What does it imply, when we compare the Twittersphere to Habermas’ public sphere?

Public sphere
Jürgen Habermas, is a German philosopher and sociologist that’s well known for his work on the concept of the public sphere in ‘The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’, which was originally written in 1962. Habermas defined the public sphere itself as a place where the private bourgeoisies come together and form a public to discuss, engage in critical-rational-debate and form a public opinion[1]. In the eighteenth century economical developments had a lot of influence on the (reading) bourgeoisies in Great Britain, France and Germany. They started to come together in coffee houses and salons to reason in rational-critical-debate and moved discussions about literature and art from their private environments to public places. This revealed their importance to the decision making of power state in the eighteenth century, while in the nineteenth century their separate discussions and debates became institutionalized within the European bourgeois constitutional states. The public sphere was important to generate critical discourse that influenced political actions of the state [2].

“In its clash with the arcane and bureaucratic practices of the absolutist state, the emergent bourgeoisie gradually replaced a public sphere in which the ruler’s power was merely represented before the people with a sphere in which state authority was publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by the people” [3].

Contempory relevance
Although the bourgeois public sphere in its contemporary form wasn’t everlasting, as the state and society became more merged over time [4], the concept of the public sphere still remains a relevant paradigm when looking at new digital spheres were people come together. The twittersphere, for that matter has some interesting similarities to Habermas’ concept of the public sphere. Twitter is a public place that’s outside of the control by the state, it allows individuals to exchange views and knowledge, also allow individuals to share critical points of view, and finally is a space were public-minded rational consensus can be developed.

A very recent example is the quick response to a new policy plan from Buma/Stemra. On the 1st of October Buma/Stemra, two Dutch private organizations that collect and distribute remunerations for Dutch music artist, revealed their plan for fining Dutch bloggers who embed copyrighted music(videos). As a result a lot of users on Twitter started posting furious reactions, which later resulted in a petition, a crowd-sourced letter and ultimately a statement against Buma/Stemra’s plan by the political party CDA [5]. This example shows that the Twittersphere can act as a public sphere where contemporary critical discourse can rapidly emerge and influence political action. However, no final decision to reject or refine the plan has been made.

It’s also important to note that Habermas’ concept of the public sphere also received a lot of criticism. There are people who argue that the public sphere, a place for pure rational independent debate, never really existed [4]. The ‘public’ will never be accessible to ‘everyone’. In that respect, Twitter doesn’t come close. There are still people who don’t use Twitter, people who cannot use it because of the digital divide, and people who keep their tweets private. Then again, the Twittersphere is a unique sphere that surely can remotely influence political actions by users who elaborate their view and knowledge to a large public, and form a public opinion. But is the Twittersphere really a suitable place for debating?

Twitter might quickly pick up public discourses, for example in the Buma/Stemra case, but in terms of debating, Buma/Stemra’s absence on Twitter shows that the real debate on the subject is going to take place elsewhere. Twitter is probably more suited to amplify discourses by any individual who can make aphoristic statements about particular themes: Short original subjective or observational thoughts which are easy to remember [6]. These aphorisms can be retweeted a lot and thereby reach a greater amount of people. This can lead to a community with the same opinion. However, I’d argue that the Twittersphere is actually limited for critical independent debate because of its swift, short messages, which don’t allow greater reasoning. Besides, when a public opinion is formed, it’s fragmented (on Twitter itself) which makes it more difficult to respond centrally if you don’t agree with it.

Twitter marks the digital era where we can all use our voices to reach the (Twitter) public with our views and knowledge and thereby engage in contemporary discourses, which might eventually influence political action. However, not everyone is on Twitter or committed to such endeavors; Twitter obviously can be used in many ways. Then again Twitter does bring together a large amount of people with the same interests and therefore makes it possible to generate a group of people surrounding a particular concern. However, Twitter is more suitable to amplify public debate then hosting the debate itself. The concept of Habermas’ public sphere may seem outdated, but it surely has left its traces in new media spheres like the Twittersphere. It’ll be interesting to keep track of the influence of Twittersphere on contemporary discourses in society and political actions. In the (near) future it might be possible that this spherical influence of Twitter will be applied in a more fixed way.

[1] http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/public/summary.html
[2] http://www.smartmobs.com/2007/11/05/habermas-blows-off-question-about-the-internet-and-the-public-sphere/
[3] The structural transformation of the public sphere, Jürgen Habermas, 1991
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%BCrgen_Habermas
[5] http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2009/10/02/embedded-video-can-cost-you-a-lot-in-holland/
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphorism

About Me

Marc Stumpel is a new media researcher, blogger and producer.

He holds a MA degree in New Media and Culture from the University of Amsterdam (2009-2010).

His main research interest is the antagonism within the political and economic dimensions of digital culture, especially in relation to social media.

Being a privacy/user-control advocate, he is concerned with the development of alternative social networking spaces and techniques. He is involved in the FB Resistance project and has written his master’s dissertation the Politics of Social Media, focussing on control and resistance in relation to Facebook.

He also holds the degree: Bachelor of Communication & Multimedia Design, Business & Organization Interactive Media at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, specialization project management (2005-2009).

Marc is also a musician and producer under the alias of Zuurstof.