[-empyre-] Leo: Intro, Identity as Tech, Questions

Ben Grosser grosser at bengrosser.com
Wed Feb 3 17:24:43 AEDT 2021

Thanks so much for this detailed intro Leo. Happy to be in conversation. So
much I could respond to. Here's a bit...

I'm thinking about the relationship between obfuscation and disinformation
that you brought up in your description of URME. One can create/use
obfuscation without leading to disinformation (e.g., code obfuscation is
meant to make it difficult for someone to interpret and/or reverse engineer
that code but isn't trying to mislead). One can create disinformation
without using obfuscation (e.g., Trump telling supporters he won the 2020
election is intentionally misleading but not intentionally unintelligible).
But often, at least with your projects, and also with mine (e.g. ScareMail
[1] and Go Rando [2]), they are coupled. With URME your masks of your face
are worn by others in a way that both obfuscates (hides the wearer's face)
and disinforms (pollutes face detection databases w/o incorrect info). With
Go Rando, which intercepts user clicks on the Facebook like button in order
to generate a random reaction for them, the work obfuscates (hides a user's
real emotional reaction) and disinforms (confuses Facebook's emotion
profiling). I'm just thinking out loud, but it has me wondering how often
these get coupled, and whether one project doing both might not be more
commonly used within media artworks than it is otherwise? I'm sure I'll
probably think of counter examples as soon as I hit send here...

Your last question about whether working within existing social media
systems is fruitful or fruitless reminds me of a conversation Geert Lovink
and I had last spring [3] (Geert is part of next week's group). I remain
convinced that while we undoubtedly need to imagine, prototype, and build
new social media systems that are decentralized, open source, public, and
anti-surveillance, that, as long as so many users remain on Facebook or
Twitter or Snapchat or TikTok then somebody has to work within those
platforms to nudge/push/drag users away towards such new alternatives.
Though I will admit that nudges aren't much of an action against the
network effect of 3 billion users, most of whom never see the work artists
make. How many times has #deletefacebook trended on Twitter in the last few
years, only to go nowhere? Perhaps more important than nudging them off
(which most just won't do as long as it's where their friends are) is
creating conditions through which they develop critical reflection on/of
the platform, that they begin to think about how the system pushes them to
act in certain ways (often/usually against their own interests) and thus
take more agency in their own use (by say, being more experimental,
obfuscatory, etc). Real change would undoubtedly require government
regulation and successful antitrust prosecution. It's hard to imagine the
special-interest-driven US Government really going down that road in a
substantive way. Zuckerberg is a savvy political actor and he cozies up to
whomever is in power (and controls the algorithm that decides what those 3B
see of the world each day). But perhaps art actions within the platforms,
combined with various critical scholarly efforts outside of them (e.g.,
Safiya Noble's work would be a good example here [4]), might combine in
ways that support a sympathetic administration to act?

Other tactics we might discuss could include erasure, selective editing,
recomposition. I could also head off on a tangent with your TikTok meme
thoughts. If we don't hear from anyone else tonight, I'll dig into that a
bit tomorrow.


[1] https://bengrosser.com/projects/scaremail/
[2] https://bengrosser.com/projects/go-rando/
[3] https://networkcultures.org/geert/2020/04/23/ben-grosser-geert-lovink/
[4] Noble, Safiya. Algorithms of Oppression. New York: NYU Press, 2018.

On Tue, Feb 2, 2021 at 8:29 AM leo selvaggio <leo.selvaggio at gmail.com>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hello all!
> Thank you Empyre for welcoming me into your digital space and to
> Renate and Tim for inviting me. In many ways, my practice and its
> concerns echo that of Ben Grosser, whose work has helped shaped my own
> thinking on the matter of social media discourse.
> As a little bit of an intro to my practice, I have been working with
> the idea that the working model of personal identity, specifically in
> the face of a globalized and digital world, has shifted dramatically
> from one of personal authorship to that of distributed authorship for
> about 8 years now. This was spurred by observing the performance and
> curation of identity for the consumption of others on social media
> platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, etc. Inspired by the
> open-source methodologies of distribution, I launched a now defunct
> project in 2012 called YouAreMe.net. The web-based project posted the
> user name and password for a variety of my social media accounts so
> that people could be “me” online as if my digital identity were a
> kernel program that I was giving others access to work on, improve,
> and share back with me. This project began my creative research into
> this idea of identity as tangible material that can be hacked and
> manipulated by others. We have real-world examples of this in Twitter
> doxing, in which hundreds if not thousands of people can imprint a
> negative association (for better or for worse) onto a person so much
> so that it overpowers and replaces the individuals’ ability to assert
> their own identity. Throw in all the marketing algorithms that Ben and
> Renate have described earlier and it's plain enough to see that who we
> are in this world anymore is only partially within our own power.
> Like Ben, I became very concerned with the state of surveillance and
> how data from silicon valley social media platforms were being used to
> feed into both federal and state governmental institutions. Ben’s post
> made me think of the recent article by Shoshana Zuboff in the New York
> Times [1] in which she coins the term “surveillance capitalism” to
> describes the shift the societal vision of the U.S. to an all-knowing,
> total information awareness state post 911. In the article, she argues
> that you can not have both surveillance capitalism and democracy. She
> also describes that the first fall was the allowing of companies to
> treat data created by individuals as property. This is an idea I chose
> to exploit in 2014 while a graduate student at Columbia College
> Chicago in a project called URME Surveillance, in which I developed a
> photo-realistic 3D printed prosthetic of my face for the public to
> wear in surveilled space, thus attributing their actions as my own in
> facial recognition databases. Like Ben, I am interested in
> obfuscation, but in terms of tactics, URME Surveillance [2] may be
> better described as using a disinformation strategy. While the
> prosthetic does protect the wearer’s identity (obfuscation), if it
> goes undetected, then it also produced disinformation about the
> identity “Leo Selvaggio” within the system, such as my extrapolated
> height, gender, gait, location, etc. In this way, the continued
> performance of my identity by others in public spaces could produce
> enough disinformation to call into question facial recognition
> technologies efficacy. Disinformation can be a tricky tactic and it
> won’t work in all scenarios, but it has the advantage that the system
> you are trying to fight will often replicate your intended effect for
> you without ever knowing it has been compromised.
> URME Surveillance has caused me to reassess my own identity,
> especially because I am a white-presenting cis-male. Until white
> privilege is dismantled, at its best, URME Surveillance asserts that
> perhaps white male privilege can be distributed to others, because
> nothing is more invisible to surveillance than a white man in a suit.
> This has lead me to recontextualize my working model of distributed
> identity into working with the idea of identity as a technology. In my
> case, by detaching my person from my face, a container was made, a
> technology to be used by others. This is what I am exploring today.
> This brings me back to social media and the recent popularity of
> digital mimicry. Lipsynching, reacting to viral dramas, dances, etc on
> platforms like Tik Tock and Snapchat is an important area for
> discourse as users of those platforms are becoming living memes as
> reenactors of cultural signifiers, many of which are attached to an
> individual identity. In this digital meme phenomena, the source
> material is no longer attached to the individual that created it, but
> rather it has become an infused vessel that others inhabit, or a
> technology, much in the way that theatre or wearing a Guy Fawkes mask,
> each imbuing the actor/wearer with the signifiers of the part they are
> playing.
> This brings me to my most recent project, Apologize to America [3], in
> which I have used an Augmented Reality snap chat filter to invite the
> public to apologize for the many atrocities Trump is responsible for.
> These are not deep fakes, but rather a collection of performative
> videos that emphasize the need to hold him accountable via a tactical
> media strategy, much like the Yes Men have with the BP oil spill.
> Trump is so much more than a person. He is a signifier of right-wing
> white supremacy, and in that way, he has weaponized his own identity
> into a technology that mobilizes the worst of America. This project is
> an all too poor attempt to retool that technology to create a
> speculative, if not fantastical world, in which we collectively show
> the world what he should be held accountable for.
> I really didn’t mean to write this much as just context, hahah! But I
> should say I am interested in learning from the group this week, what
> successful collective actions that you have seen on social media? I
> can think of a few: Women’s March, BLM, the recent GameStop/redit
> actions, etc. Which inspire you and what do you think have lead to
> their success?
> I would also be interested to hear from those who actively disrupt
> algorithms and what your strategies are?
> Lastly, I would love to hear perspectives on if working within social
> media platforms, in ways that Ben and I do, is fruitful or fruitless?
> Do we need to abandon social media for the sake of dismantling
> surveillance capitalism? If so, how do we rebuild or decontextualize
> the non-capitalist functions of social media that have become embedded
> into our way of life?
> [1]
> https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/29/opinion/sunday/facebook-surveillance-society-technology.html?referringSource=articleShare&fbclid=IwAR2TfatXF3OEOpwq57cMXruaTcUbSNmtT57U36V2-s9H6Kpvjd7sXS_UBfw
> [2] http://leoselvaggio.com/urmesurveillance
> [3] http://www.apologize2america.com/
> Leo Selvaggio
> Independent Interdisciplinary Artist
> MFA- InterArts Columbia College
> Founder of URME Surveillance
> www.leoselvaggio.com
> www.urmesurveillance.com
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

grosser at bengrosser.com
@bengrosser <http://twitter.com/bengrosser>

PGP public key <https://bengrosser.com/share/pgp/Benjamin_Grosser_pub.txt>
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