[-empyre-] Week 4 Social Media: algorithms, untruths and insurrection

Mukherjee, Rahul mrahul at sas.upenn.edu
Fri Feb 26 01:33:00 AEDT 2021

Hi All,
Thanks to Renate and Tim, for the invitation to think, share and discuss with this remarkable group.
This has been such a rich and illuminating discussion around social media, “untruths,” algorithms, and surveillance capitalism. Am particularly grateful to find out about such remarkable art projects and conceptual art that have critiqued social media surveillance practices. In India, governmental surveillance of, and clampdown on, protestors, journalists, and activists criticizing state policies has been a concern. There have been spirited protests against the recent problematic bills enacted by the state such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA, Dec 2019) and some specific farm bills (that aim to deregulate the agricultural sector). Some apps like WhatsApp have been used for anonymous encrypted communication earlier by protestors, and now there is a limited shift toward the apps Signal and Telegram ever since concerns regarding WhatsApp’s new policies related to data sharing have emerged in public debates. While WhatsApp has helped anonymous communication for progressive causes in the last six years, it also has been used by problematic populist right-wing outfits including cow vigilante groups in India.
I want to now discuss a somewhat related point about misinformation campaigns in India, particularly those that are amplified by the majoritarian Hindutva (nationalists) network collectives. Social media platforms and apps have offered Hindutva nationalism propagandists an extended media sensorium to create a communal atmosphere (“mahaul” in Hindu or Urdu). Such misinformation campaigns use a variety of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, and perhaps are most reliant on WhatsApp forwards (on mobile phones) in order to spread. While considerable work has been done on Twitter trolls in India, less research has been carried out on WhatsApp forwarding of objectionable messages with the notable exception of the comprehensive report prepared by Shakuntala Banaji and Ram Bhat titled “WhatsApp Vigilantes.” This is because of two reasons: a) being more used in urban India, Twitter receives more attention compared to media forms and technologies used in villages; b) there are mechanisms to publicly search keywords, hashtags, and URLs on Twitter, but such tracking is not often possible on WhatsApp. In India and elsewhere, while discussing or sharing news, people are moving from relatively open (Twitter, Facebook) to closed (WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger) social media.
An event, which could be as graphic as a live-streamed shooting incident or video of a lynching mob of cow vigilantes attacking a Muslim cattle farmer (or an image, meme or Twitter storm) keeps getting forwarded and circulated drawing Hindutva nationalist supporters into a variety of digital media platforms powered by the cell phone, thereby mobilizing sensing, affect, and multiple sites of attachment. Ravi Sundaram calls this phenomena “event chains” in a “distribution engine,” an engine which is an affect machine and a crisis machine dependent on the habitual micro-actions of likes and forwards. There are several reasons for the unabated WhatsApp forwarding tendencies: habit, pressure to participate, prejudice, and more… I have written elsewhere that the easy camera recording technologies of today’s mobile phones and the cheap circulatory affordances of WhatsApp make acts of cow vigilantism seem like performative rituals, very much ready and available for “mobile witnessing.” Fathima Nizaruddin has discussed how in certain public WhatsApp groups, the narrative of “CoronaJihad,” which blames the minority Muslim community for the spread of the virus in India, was being spread. While WhatsApp often gets singled out (because of its widespread use by mobile phone users in India), misinformation campaigns indeed are transmedial/intermedial as a range of material moves across platforms/apps like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, ShareChat and Helo.
WhatsApp has taken some steps to limit the number of users who can be added to a group, to limit the number of forwards to five (in India and it seems, some restrictions have been implemented in Brazil as well), and there is an option (though not default option) provided to WhatsApp users to not be added to groups without their consent. That said, the scope of algorithmic tweaks are limited given WhatsApp’s self-imposed encryption barrier (which might change in the future). I wish there was an artwork tactic or an obfuscation technique around the WhatsApp forwards. There may indeed be one in the works that I do not know about…on another note, I remain interested like many others about the “Five Year Plan."
Shakuntala Banaji and Ram Bhat, “WhatsApp Vigilantes” - http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/104316/1/Banaji_whatsapp_vigilantes_exploration_of_citizen_reception_published.pdf
Ravi Sundaram, “Hindu Nationalism’s Crisis Machine” - https://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/1485
Rahul Mukherjee, Mobile Witnessing on Whatsapp - https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14746689.2020.1736810
Fathima Nizaruddin, Role of Public WhatsApp groups within the Hindutva Ecosystem of Hate and Narratives of “CoronaJihad” - https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/16255

Rahul Mukherjee
Associate Professor of Television and New Media
Cinema Studies Program, Department of English
University of Pennsylvania

On Feb 22, 2021, at 1:56 PM, Renate Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu<mailto:rferro at cornell.edu>> wrote:

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Many thanks to our Week 3 guests who joined us:  Alex Taek-Gwang Lee, Robby Collins, Domenico Barra, Paul O'Neill, Kerry Guinan and Ricardo Castellini.  I invite you to stay on this week if your schedule permits.  It has been so generous of you to share your work, research, and thoughts. I will also welcome warmly Justin Blinder, Rahul Mukherjee, David Quiles Guilló, and Ulises Mejias for joining us this week.  We look forward to their own contributions as we head into the end of this month's discussion, Social Media:  algorithms, untruths and insurrection

To those of you who have been following all of the contributions have extended our thoughts on surveillance capitalism, but I would like to lead us into next week particularly thinking about Alex's insightful post from a few days ago. Here is the link to Guattari's article he cited, Towards a Post-Media Era. https://www.metamute.org/editorial/lab/towards-post-media-era
Thanks for that Alex.  I also reposting the last sentence of your post which I think might be interesting to think about as we head into next week,
<snip>There is no perfect Big Brother in surveillance's mechanical function, but many potential resistances within them because its control always fails. This is the reason why we should organize the possible resistance against mechanical governmentality. <snip>

I want to also nod to our colleague and friend in Western Canada, Arthur Kroker and Marylouise Kroker who passed away last year.  Their collaborative work on these issues and more have been seminal to me.  I share their edited collection published in 1987, Digital Delirium.  If you have a university connection you may be able to link in to this https://dspace.library.uvic.ca/handle/1828/7131 or pick it up via the internet.  It is really worth the read from beginning to end.

In a nod to both Marylouise and Arthur I will quote this substituting in my mind's eye social media for mass media:
"Mass media have never been about reciprocity, exchange, interaction, or even communication.  They replace reciprocity with false simulation, exchange, with the tyranny of information overload producing a numbed culture that shuts down for self-protection, interaction with a dense operational network substituting polls and focus groups and high -intensity marketing warfare for genuine solidarity, data for communication and speed for meaning."

So, hoping that the juxtaposition between Guattari and the Krokers will incite all of you who have joined in so far to comment as well as those of you lurking from afar.

Justin Blinder is a Brooklyn-based artist, technologist, and researcher. His work examines how bottom-up, immersive, and poetic approaches to technology can help us to better understand socio-political institutions, built environments, social networks, and others’ lived experiences. His work has been included in exhibitions at the MoMA, New York, NY; Nathan Cummings Foundation, New York, NY; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany; the Collection Museum, Lincoln, England; Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, MI; Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, New York, NY; and BRIC, Brooklyn, NY. Selected personal projects of his have been featured in online publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, BBC, The Guardian, and The Verge among others Justin is currently a Research Assistant in the City Science group at the MIT Media Lab. He was previously a Creative Technologist at The New York Times R&D Lab, Eyebeam Honorary Fellow, and NEW INC member. He holds a BFA in Design and Technology from Parsons.

Rahul Mukherjee completed his doctoral studies in Film and Media Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara, with graduate emphases in ‘Technology and Society’ and ‘Global Studies’. His academic preoccupations often meander into imaginings about media’s role with(in) alternative futures for/of politics and technology. He has been a fellow at the Center for the Humanities, Utrecht University and Atkinson Center for Sustainable Future fellow at the Society for the Humanities, Cornell University (2017-18). Drawing on the conceptual lenses of cultural studies, media theory, and science studies, he has written on database management systems, advertising cultures of mobile telephony, Bollywood thrillers, development discourses, chronic toxicity, and translocal documentaries. He has been part of two collaborative projects related to mobile media practices: one concerned with the circulation of locally produced SD-card enabled music videos in parts of India and the other exploring ICT usage in Zambia. Rahul’s work has appeared in many peer-reviewed journals including New Media & Society, BioScope, Media, Culture & Society, Science, Technology and Human Values, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies (with Lisa Parks), and Asiascape: Digital Asia (with Abhigyan Singh). His book titled “Radiant Infrastructures: Media, Environment, and Cultures of Uncertainty” (forthcoming from Duke University Press, Apr 2020) involves mediations of debates/controversies related to radiation emitting technologies such as cell antennas and nuclear reactors. Rahul’s second book project “Unlimited: Aspirational Politics and Mobile Digital Practices in India” examines aspirational mobilities unleashed by mobile media technologies (under review). He is beginning a third book project on the histories of wireless signals and plant ecologies interwoven in the work of biophysicist JC Bose. Rahul received the Nicholas C. Mullins award from the Society for Social Studies of Science in 2014. At Penn, Rahul is part of the Digital Humanities and Environmental Humanities initiatives. He is part of the editorial advisory board of the Journal of Visual Culture and Media+Environment.

David Quiles Guilló. born artist in 1973. now also tech entrepreneur, curator, writer, composer and full publisher at large with a family. right now: working on a new project, incubated by telefónica's open future alicante, and warming the jets for the 5th edition of the wrong biennale. founder and director of: - The Wrong Tv (since 2o2o) live streaming exhibitions & love - 7tNbjV (since 2017) releasing abstract literature graphic novels and art projects as paperback books - Abstract Editions (since 2o15) publishing house to deliver the new abstract literature genre printed to the world - The Wrong Biennale (since 2o13) the most compelling digital art biennale ever - Nova (from 2o1o to 2o12) a contemporary culture festival - Rojo® (from 2oo1 to 2o11) a visual magazine & platform to promote creativity and visual art lectures & workshops in many institutions since 2oo1; mis museum for image and sound, sesc paulista, sesc pompeia and cinemateca brasileira in são paulo, sesc copacabana and eav parque lage in rio de janeiro, centre d’art santa monica, elisava school for arts & hangar in barcelona, european cultural foundation in rotterdam, university of málaga, casino luxembourg, arco art fair in madrid, instituto cervantes in nyc and casablanca, hagaram design museum in seoul, university of art in linz, pxl-mad school of arts in hasselt, and saic, school of the art institute of chicago, to mention a few https://davidquilesguillo.com

Ulises Mejias
Ulises Ali Mejias  is professor of communication studies and director of the Institute for Global Engagement at SUNY Oswego. His research interests include critical data studies, philosophy and sociology of technology, and political economy of digital media. Ulises' work has appeared in various journals in his field and he is the author of "Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World" (2013, University of Minnesota Press) and, with Nick Couldry, of "The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating it for Capitalism" (2019, Stanford University Press). Ulises is co-founder of Tierra Común (tierracomun.net), a network of activists, citizens and scholars working towards the decolonization of data, and he is in the process of launching a Non-Aligned Technologies Movement (nonalignedtech.net). He serves on the board of Humanities New York, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. ulisesmejias.com.

Renate Ferro
Visiting Associate Professor
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Art
Tjaden Hall 306
rferro at cornell.edu

empyre forum
empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au

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