[-empyre-] Intro, launching some initial questions

Geert Lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Wed Feb 3 20:12:26 AEDT 2021

Thanks, Ben. My proposal would be to start at the end, today, and agree on a plan for the next five years.

https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/5-year-plan-template <https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/5-year-plan-template>

To escape the regime of the perpetual now we need to step aside. The fact is, we’re stuck on the platform and need multiple exit strategies.

Ben, your artworks are showing the way. This is a sociological fact when dealing with avant-garde concepts :) However, this only stage one, the key one about raising awareness. My theses would be that we have left behind that first stage (maybe not in the USA yet, but there things might move slower as it is home of the Zuckerbergs etc.). 

Do we need more documentaries like The Social Dilemma? I doubt. This film was anyway 2-3 years late, for mysterious reasons. We can and will collect more evidence about discriminating algorythms, fake news manipulations, censorship, take downs, you name it (the list is long and getting repetitive). 

Here is a summary of my Five Year Plan:

1. Develop a culture of refusal, based on the real existing discontent over dominant social media platform. The aim should be collective exodus but there need to be alternatives first, otherwise ordinary people will not move on. Herd behaviour is important in the migration process. This is the key of network dynamics. However, this has been a stagnating strategy for the past decade, a chicken-egg situation we’ve not been able to resolve, despite many reasonable alternatives that are now on offer.

2. Political pressure to break up the monopolies. This is topic SV really does not like to be discusssed in public. It is been a utopia and taboo for years, beyond the event horizon. This only changed in 2020. Not even in the aftermath of 2016 this was on the table. Now it is.

3. Preparations for the building aka renaissance of internet as a public infrastructure (or at least parts of it). Here we really need to gather and start some serious brainstorm sessions as we’re not very far into this at all, apart from some worthy notions such as the ‘public stack’.

4. A real beginning would be the ban of Google, Facebook and other corporates from the traditional internet governance bodies such as IETF, ICANN etc. as their so-called neutral engineers are posing a real political power there, bocking any change. This necessary palace revolution, imho, will be the real fight, followed by the even bigger quest for the socialization of data centres and ocean cables.

5. A federated, decentralized web is not happening inside AWS. While decentralization may sound like a worthy goal, the current ‘nodism’ is fake as it is all taking place inside the centralized cloud. Is it realistic to bring back server to the people, the villages, the neighbourhoods and schools? This debate is urgent as our romantic notions should be hollow. If we want social networks to be local again, where do we actually situate them?

6. In the meanwhile the breaking up of the globalist dream is a fact. Europe and the US have been drifting apart for years. The geo-political division of the world is a fact, with distinct techno-social regions such as Russia, China, Europe, UKland and its dreamed-up satelites, India, Turkey, the list is growing fast. We can skip the Balkanization debate, this is not the point. For us, the question will be more and more how to subvert the new enclosures, organize exchanges and debates, and facilitate encounters with others with royal gestures. 

Best, Geert

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hello All,
> Thanks to Renate and Tim for pulling this timely topic together. I'm very happy to be in conversation with you all. 
> First, a tiny bit of background. I've been focused on social media as a primary topic of investigation and a site for artistic action for more than a decade now. Facebook has been a frequent (and ongoing) target, while other projects of mine take on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, as well platforms that aren't explicitly thought of as social media such as Google Search. 
> For some in the world, the current crisis of disinformation---and the scale of off-platform violent action it can create (e.g., Jan 6th)---has been a surprise. Others, including those leading discussion over the next month, have been talking, writing, and/or creating artworks and other projects for years to investigate and communicate about how the actions of social media and other technology platforms have been leading the world towards a moment like this for quite a while. Quite frankly, it's pretty easy to name any specific ill produced by platforms today and to identify an artist, designer, scholar, theorist, or other thinker who has been essentially yelling about that ill for years, predicting it, warning about it, and in various ways, offering up alternatives to it.
> Given this assessment, and thinking about the initial questions that Renate posed regarding analysis of the present landscape and imaginings for future alternatives to it, I thought a good way to start would be to outline and assess specific platform characteristics of concern and to catalog our current tactics, all towards eventually imagining aspirational paths forward. I'd love to talk about both the realistic we-can-do-it-today kind of ideas as well as the perhaps-impossible-today-but-maybe-possible-tomorrow kind of plans. I think some discussion of individual vs collective action is probably appropriate in this discussion as well. 
> From my vantage point, a primary area of concern is the surveillance-based engagement- and profit-motivated monopolistic-platform-enabled algorithmic feed. Algorithmic feeds (e.g., the Facebook News Feed, Twitter's "top tweets" feed, etc) are not designed to produce an informed citizenry through discussion and debate, they are a tool created to produce *engagement*. More user engagement (through the prescribed paths of liking/"reacting"/sharing/commenting) produces more data from those users, ultimately leading the platforms to what they most desire: more profit. Engagement-motivated algorithmic feeds are a major player in the disinformation ecosystem, not only enabling the sharing of misleading content, but also in the ways they create incentives to craft, share, and emotionally activate users through inflammatory lies and manipulations.
> One tactic I've engaged in response to the threats posed by algorithmic feeds is obfuscation. Through works such as Go Rando (an extension that obfuscates a user's emotions on Facebook) [1] or Not For You (an automated confusion system for TikTok that reveals how that platform feels when its feed is no longer made "for you") [2], I've worked to not only create systems for individual protection, but to also activate broader discussion about how the designs of software platforms are always in service of someone---and that this someone is rarely, if ever, the user. Obfuscation techniques can and do produce interesting aesthetic and information experiences, can pollute big data stores with nonsense (potentially confusing surveillance systems), and can generate conversation between users and in the media. But from my perspective, perhaps the most useful effect of obfuscation tactics (in the world of algorithmic social media feeds) is the tension their presence can create for users when they consider whether to use them at all. Often users are reluctant to use a work like Not For You because they're worried it will confuse their carefully constructed platform profile, leading the feed to start showing them posts that don't conform to what they hope to see. This provokes some users to start thinking more critically about how the system sees them and their interests, who that vision most benefits, and who it makes most vulnerable.
> I'd be interested to hear others speak about their tactics, what those tactics can accomplish, and where they fall short. Further, what areas of the platform landscape---as they relate to a crisis of disinformation (or elsewhere?)---are you thinking about in this moment?
> best,
> ben  
> [1] https://bengrosser.com/projects/go-rando/ <https://bengrosser.com/projects/go-rando/>
> [2] https://bengrosser.com/projects/not-for-you/ <https://bengrosser.com/projects/not-for-you/>
> -- 
> grosser at bengrosser.com <mailto:grosser at bengrosser.com>
> http://bengrosser.com <http://bengrosser.com/>
> @bengrosser <http://twitter.com/bengrosser>
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