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The Project III.

(Back at it with the research notes!)


In the previous posts we have covered Conceptual Art (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), the Ubiquitous issues of Communication (covering topics such as meaning, data, information, messages, misinformation, disinformation, fake news, facts, truth and their role in social diffusion) and Design Activism. The only thing that we are missing is the framing of the project.


Therefore, the first step we need to take is to find the frame (context/area of focus), which will help us define the direction and the boundaries of the project. If we observe the themes which we have been exploring so far, we can identify in what area they all merge and overlap.


Ubiquitous Issues of Communication -> Truth, Ethics, Meaning -> Social Media


In the 21st century, it is to be expected that a Project that explores truth, ethics, and understanding will land itself in the digital realm. Especially, if we consider the fact that communication is now synonymous with Social Media and the online world. Admittedly, there has been a plethora of projects that try to tackle the Internet giants (and each year this number rises), but we cannot step away from this challenge just because we are not the first to pursue this topic. Additionally, we have to keep in mind that our approach will be different and unique in its own right. Furthermore, narrowing our project down to Social Media or the Digital world still leaves us with quite a broad frame as it includes everything from sociology, psychology, politics and identity politics, to surveillance, laws and policies, communication, ethics, etc. (There is way more to unpack as you can imagine.)


The next step is to generate a range of ideas for the project – What are we trying to communicate? To whom? And how? And perhaps most importantly, what questions do we want to have answered?



Project Ideas:


Contradicting Statements


  • The contradictions might not read well (not click) for everyone.

  • It is too broad.


What makes the truth true?

  • Asking people on the street (the above-mentioned question) and collecting the answers which would be used to create a visual.

  • Not feasible because of the current Lockdown situation and the scale of the project.

  • Saving this idea for another time.


What Social Media Looked like before the People came?

  • Fantasy take on the issue of Social Media.



You are the Media.

  • Re-assigning responsibility for the issues of the online world.


Why are you posting that?

  • Questioning the behaviour of users on Social Media.


After some consideration it became apparent that the last three ideas from our brainstorming process have something in common – they are parts of the same project but each one represents a different chapter. As a whole they are exploring the behaviour and purpose of social media platforms and users.


The Questions that come up in relation to the Digital world:


"Why are you here?"


A good amount of people are aware of the not so glamorous side of Social Media and yet they continue to use it.


Most logical answer would be, “I am here because everyone else is.”


Thanks to COVID Internet connection became a necessity for survival - jobs, education, finances and other essentials for life are easily (or only) accessible online.


We arrived at a point where, we cannot imagine that there could be an alternative.


"They let us watch - so it is only fair that they get to watch us too?"


Foucault’s theory of surveillance and self-regulation.


Some may say that they do not care about privacy issues because they have nothing to hide. However, that is not the point of the discussion.


Cookie consent pop-ups are not providing us with a fair choice. We tend to take the path of least resistance and therefore, we are giving away cookies like it is nobody’s business – allowing others to make profit from our data. This is not just an issue with Cookies. There are also Tracking pixels (Web Beacons) - these are 1×1 pixel graphics that track web traffic, site conversions, user behaviour, and more at a site's server level.


Gathering data to improve services is not wrong but the way how it is currently done is.


Let’s say that this morning you decided to visit your local Café. Presumably, there were other people, who could see you (watch you), but they did not have any additional information about you, ie. they cannot use any of that information to influence your behaviour or otherwise profit from such knowledge – you were nothing but a backdrop to their life. Whereas the situation on the internet is something completely different.

Another example is that a Police officer must have a search warrant if they want to search your property (if they suspect you from a crime). Meanwhile, Amazon knows exactly what items you bought, when you bought them, which card you used, and to which address they were delivered. Alexa and Google have the details of all the things you have said, asked and searched for. Your smartphone and smartwatch know precisely what time you get up and they know exactly where you are at any moment during the day… Admittedly, this is a very extreme example, but it is used only for demonstration purposes and perhaps for a little bit of shock factor.


With all this data one might wonder, "Does Data have an expiration date?"


"How valuable is the information you are sharing?"


As we have learned (in one of the previous posts) all forms of communication should have a purpose.


So how purposeful are the things we share and see online?


Is it worth our time and our resources?


"Is it true?"


The validity of information online, where anyone can contribute, is rather questionable.


"If hate speech is banned, then what is truth speech?"


If you silence hate speech/misleading information – have you automatically defined the truth?


Who should have the right to do that and on what basis should the information be evaluated?


Is there a filter for truth?


What if algorithms were on our side?


Every second there is so much content flowing in that it is hard to imagine how we would be able to screen every single post for falsity, hate speech, etc. unless we use AI.


Sure, everyone desires freedom, but if everyone excesized their own freedom to the extreme - it would be a hell on earth. "My freedom ends where yours begins."


"If everyone was held responsible for what they share would we be less likely to engage?"


What would it feel like to see a blank feed?


What if Social Media went quiet?


We are living in an age of individualism and it is becoming more and more difficult not to step on anybody's toes. Perhaps, remaining silent would be an option.


"What has Social Media become?"


Does it have more authority than it should?


"Why are we saying ‘it’ or ‘they’?"


Social Media, Apps and Programmes were made by designers, programmers, and entrepreneurs (aka people) and these 'online spaces' are populated and used by people. There is no ‘it’ or ‘they’ to speak of. Just like when we refer to websites as if they were actual places, we visit - It is just our mind making simplified connections between reality and digitality, there is no ‘there’ there. It is just a screen and you are not moving anywhere.


This comes down to the fact that the language we use shapes how we think and feel – so the language we use when we speak about the Digital world has a big impact on how we rationalize it.



As we can see there are many questions which we simply cannot hope to answer in a single project. It is not our place to do that anyway, rather we should try to pass these questions on to the wider audience to make them think more critically about their own actions and the technology they use daily. But before we go any further, we have to establish our own list of certainties (our POV).

To preface this next section, we must acknowledge that this project began with the presumption that we (society) are to blame for the conflicts and issues that appear on our own news feeds. However, we cannot make such claims before we have thoroughly investigated the issue at hand. Therefore, we must rely on further research to gain more clarity – starting with the pros and cons of Social Media use.


The Good

  • It breaks down geographical barriers.

  • On a professional and personal level, it provides an opportunity to share information, to promote oneself, and to receive and give support.

  • Customers can give feedback efficiently.

  • Businesses can rapidly collect insights and respond accordingly.

  • Citizens can share advice and information with their local community.

  • to promote events, to help in the search for missing individuals, etc.

  • It is also a unique environment for academics because the digital space is filled with people from different backgrounds.

  • Place where everyone and anyone can contribute/learn.

  • It generates Big Data, which helps businesses to ensure that they are adding value and meeting goals.

  • Online communities offer a sense of belonging which (for some individuals) might be unattainable in real life.

  • Crowdfunding opportunities for Charities or Good Causes

(Dwivedi, et al. 2018)


As we shall see in the second part of this list most of the ‘pros’ can quite easily become ‘cons’. This only reinforces the fact that the digital world is a ‘space’ filled with tools and it is up to us how we use them (which applies to both individuals and the platforms themselves). A delicate balance is required to have a truly neutral space. However, whenever there is an option to gain more power or make profit people will try to achieve it by any means. For reference the Facebook’s mission statement begins by claiming its purpose which is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” (Facebook – Resources, s.d.) Understandably, it does not go on to state that their business model runs on personal data information where they use the data profiles of their users to match them with advertisers.


The Bad

  • Emotions and Context are difficult to detect, comprehend, and convey. If there is no obvious context or tone people will make up their own.

  • This leads to Misunderstandings.

  • Anonymity –> a free pass on morality –> leads to unacceptable behaviour.

  • Low Accountability.

  • Re-Sharing something online does not elicit the same feelings of responsibility as if the content was made/said by the person himself/herself.

  • Sharing it ≠ Saying it

  • Cancel Culture tries to right this wrong by making people suffer the consequences (however, many sources argue that this movement has gone too far).

  • “Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favour of ideological conformity.” (Harper’s Magazine, 2020)

  • It eliminates boundaries. (private, public and professional sectors overlap)

  • „Self-presentation of professionals on social media can be likened to post-modern performances in which the traditional boundaries between actor and audience are intentionally unsettled.“ (Richey, et al. 2018)

  • Big Data might cause generalization(creates bias). This happens when we accept that there are certain people on certain platforms that say/do certain things as a fact.

  • Is their behaviour authentic or performative?

  • What about the rest?

  • This leads to Misrepresentations.

  • It is a tool that instigates and supports competitiveness.(both good and bad – do you remember the Tide Pod Challenge?)

  • The communication channels are always open. (Where is the on and off button?!)

  • Everything in nature (from animals and plants to the seasons of the year) has a certain rhythm. Should the system adapt to our nature or are we supposed to adapt to its 24/7 regime?

  • Time pressure (Everything and nothing is happening simultaneously - right now.)

  • Constant stream of content, where a good portion of the updates is rather meaningless.

  • Negative psychological consequences.

  • Addiction

  • State of depressive hedonia – not an inability to get pleasure (ahedonia) rather an inability to do anything except pursue pleasure. There is a sense that something is constantly missing. (Fisher, 2009)

  • Living with a Status -> Consumers of Services.

  • It provides the means to threat public safety. (cybercrime, opportunities for terrorists)

  • Political games

  • The opposite = Internet surveillance (South Korea)

  • Loss of ownership and control over content.

  • Cultural Appropriation.

  • Shared culture where everyone owns everything, and no one owns anything. (ie. TikTok) (Wei, 2021)

  • A culture that is merely preserved -> is no culture at all. (Fisher, 2009)

  • Censorship of Art

  • Platforms restrict artistic 'graphic content' but endorse it from celebrities and influencers.

  • Shadow ban allows Instagram to throw a dark cloak over large segments of its user base, making them tangibly invisible. (silencing minorities)(Dawson, 2020)

  • Ideologies, Extremism and Fragmentation

  • Epistemic Bubbles are informational networks in which important sources have been excluded by omission, perhaps unintentionally. It is an impaired epistemic framework which lacks strong connectivity. Members within epistemic bubbles are unaware of significant information and reasoning. (Bright, 2016)

  • Echo chamber refers to situations in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system and insulated from rebuttal. It is an epistemic construct in which voices are actively excluded and discredited. It does not suffer from a lack in connectivity; rather it depends on a manipulation of trust by methodically discrediting all outside sources. (Bright, 2016)

  • Both can be the reason for the escalation of ideologies within communities. However, this phenomenon is not limited to politics. For example, we could observe similar trends within Eating Disorder communities and their sites, hashtags, and blogs (pro-ana, pro-dia, thinspo, etc.). These keywords are now being closely monitored and continually suspended/deleted from most platforms.

  • “It is algorithms that may be tearing us apart. But maybe it's also algorithms that reassemble us, albeit in smaller unit sizes.” (Wei, 2021)


This list is just an extract from the plethora of issues which are attached to social media use and the digital world (which are also connected to capitalism and individualism). We also have to acknowledge that there is an extensive list of literature covering these topics. For our purposes we shall focus on the following resources:



The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship

About the book: “Rethinking the interface: how the Internet/computer spectator is engaged, rendered, and regulated; theoretical models and case studies that range from text-based and graphical communication settings and women's webcams to male programmer's physical and psychic pain.” (White, 2006)

  • “Internet and computer spectatorship has an even more consequential effect on identification than do film and other media because the spectator spends significant amounts of time engaging with computers; computers and networks also appear in film, television, and print advertising; dream or trance-like experiences are often part of the engagement; the connection with characters and other representations can be intense; and there is an idea that the spectator is part of the setting, people are alive, and bodies are accessible through the Internet.” (White, 2006)

  • “Microsoft’s Internet Explorer offers the “go” menu, and its advertising campaign appears to directly address the spectator when asking, “Where do you want to go today?” Andrew L. Shapiro suggests that Microsoft’s motto places the individual at the center of the action. It asks you “where you will go, what you will do, with whom you will interact” and tries to convince spectators that they are in control while depriving them of options.” (White, 2006)

  • The Internet is like commercial television in that it “constantly addresses, appeals, implores, demands, wheedles, urges, and attempts to seduce the viewer.” (White, 2006)

  • “Foucault’s theory of surveillance and self-regulation has been applied to Internet settings even though the physical architecture, which he indicates is an aspect of this system, is not present. In Foucauldian considerations of Internet surveillance, the visibility of individual bodies within the panoptic structure is replaced by the consolidation of the individual’s records into a “data image,” search services that provide addresses and arrest details, aerial depictions that pinpoint home locations, “googling” to obtain personal facts, and cookies that record web usage. These Internet methods provide a vast amount of information, render an eerie feeling of being watched, suggest that the individual is ever see-able, and encourage people to regulate their behaviour. However, these methods of information retrieval do not place the body under visual surveillance even though they are associated with looking. MOOs also provide a great deal of information about characters, when the look and looking oriented commands are employed, but information about spectators is more difficult to determine.” (White, 2006)


Social Dillema

  • Netflix Documentary


Eugene Wei


Capitalist Realism

About the book: “The book analyses the development and principal features of this capitalist realism as a lived ideological framework. Using examples from politics, films, fiction, work and education, it argues that capitalist realism colours all areas of contemporary experience. But it will also show that, because of a number of inconsistencies and glitches internal to the capitalist reality program capitalism in fact is anything but realistic.” (Fischer, 2009)

  • In a capitalist realist system, expressions of opposition to the socio-political situation, from Nirvana to The Hunger Games, are always-already transformed by the smooth logic of capitalism into its very products for sale. “Success only means failure, since to succeed would only mean that you were the new meat on which the system could feed.” (Fischer, 2009)

  • Children of Men parallels -> Nothing new can ever happen. How long can a culture persist without the new? What happens if the younger are no longer capable of producing surprises? (Fischer, 2009)

  • “Is there no alternative?” (Fischer, 2009)

  • Higher Education

  • Auto-surveillance – More time and energy is spent on generation and messaging of representations rather than on the official goals of the work itself. (Fischer, 2009)

  • Marketization of education – students are the consumers and the product. (Fischer, 2009)


Additional resources to review:

  • Francis Fukuyama - Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (currently reading)

  • Adam Curtis - Hypernormalisation

  • 2016, BBC Documentary

  • Notes

  • At the beggining there was this enthusiastic view of cyberspace - described as a place, "...where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity." The Cyberspace Manifesto written by John Perry Barlow's also tells to Governments of the Industrial World to stay away from this 'space' as they have no power there. (A Declaration of of the Independence of Cyberspace, 1996)

  • Algorithms create self-agreeing bubbles on which the internet giants profit. These are places where you can only hear and see what you like or already agree with.

  • When it comes to politics any form of disagreement which can elicit strong emotions (anger) are the most profitable because, "Angry people click more." Whether more clicks achieve anything (as in change the outcome) that is a different question.

  • Criticism

  • The core thread of the documentary is Adam's narrative. He puts forward the ways how power brokers manipulate reality - serving the viewer with various fragments from the past, which are meant to form a larger (unfathomable) puzzle. However, David Jenkins, the editor for the Little White Lies magazine, points out that Curtis "uses smoke and mirrors to attack the smoke and mirrors. He offers the impression that he is reporting from the other side of the looking glass, a privileged position where the eccentric shifts of global power can be viewed with chilling clarity. Yet the way he presents his arguments suggests that he trades on the ignorance of his audience. He knows that as long as he frames himself in a position of authority, he can say anything he likes and we’ll swallow it whole." (full article)


  • Adam Curtis - Can't get you out of my head

  • 2021, BBC Documentary Mini Series

  • Bloodshed on Wolf Mountain

  • The first part opens with a quote from an esteemed anthropologist David Graeber, “The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”

  • Then we are once again exposed to a variety of obscure moments in history, which are masterfully threaded together using archive footage and recordings. Although, Curtis meanders through Britain to China, Russia and America highlighting a range of facts he never makes a significant point - yet?

  • The themes that are explored in this episode are:

  • Hidden powers - Discordianism, Counter-Culture, Conspiracy Theories, the obscuration of truth by authorities, asking for the why behind events does not reveal the truth - instead we have to look for patterns

  • Behaviour of the British Empire

  • Individualism - cases of Jiang Qing, Maya Plisetskaya and Ethel Voynich.


Bibliography


Bright, J. (2016) 'Explaining the emergence of echo chambers on social media: The role of ideology and extremism' In: SSRN Electronic Journal At: http://www.ssrn.com/abstract=2839728 Dawson, A. (2020) 'From self-censorship to activism: artists react to Instagram’s ban on ‘offensive’ art' In: The Art Newspaper 13/08/2020 At: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/blog/from-self-censorship-to-activism-responses-to-instagram-s-ban-on-offensive-art (Accessed 27/04/2021). Facebook - Resources (s.d.) At: https://investor.fb.com/resources/default.aspx (Accessed 27/04/2021). Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?. John Hunt Publishing. At: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=ibN3fGpW1DIC Harper’s Magazine (2020) A Letter on Justice and Open Debate. At: https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/ (Accessed 26/04/2021). Richey, M. et al. (2018) 'The perils and promises of self-disclosure on social media' At: https://repository.lboro.ac.uk/articles/journal_contribution/The_perils_and_promises_of_self-disclosure_on_social_media/9501158 (Accessed 26/04/2021). Wei, E. and Wei, E. (2021) Remains of the Day. At: https://www.eugenewei.com/ (Accessed 27/04/2021). White, M. (2006) The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship. MIT Press. At: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=DTOc64DAgw8C

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