CMCS Research Fellow Oliver Leistert, co-editor of Generation Facebook: Über das Leben im Social Net, and CMCS Research Fellow Stefania Milan are both participating in the second "Unlike Us" event in Amsterdam this week, on 8-10 March.
Facebook may try to make everyone believe there is no alternative but, the event's organizers say, Unlike Us dares to differ.
Unlike Us: Understanding social media monopolies and their alternatives is an international research network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers. Unlike Us analyzes the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and propagates the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software, through workshops, conferences, online dialogues and publications.
The Amsterdam event consists of two main parts. The first day, March 8, is meant to showcase 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," the organizers say, pointing to Lorea, Secushare, Social Swarm, Thimbl, TheGlobalSquare, Diaspora, Crabgrass, Social Swarm, Freedombox and others. "The best way to undermine platform monopolies," Unlike Us posits, "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."
On March 9-10, conference participants tackle a number of themes: "Social what? Defining the Social," a session moderated by Geert Lovink; "Artistic Responses to Social Media"; "The Private in the Public"; "Software Matters"; and "Social Media Activism and the Critique of Liberation Technology". There will also be a debate about "Pitfalls of Building Social Media Alternatives". Speakers during these days will include Jodi Dean, D.E. Wittkower and David M. Berry.
Oliver Leistert will be moderating the session on "Social Media Activism and the Critique of Liberation Technology". The discussion is framed as follows:
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.
As the first years of euphoria are over, the wild west style data digging companies are facing resistances from every level: single users campaign against facebook’s ubiquitous data collections as well as nation states and the EU are slowly understanding the urge to push wild west 2.0 back into a regulated framework. Once social media is integrated into a larger framework of policies and laws, once its place in society reflects a position negotiated by stakeholders, states and privacy commissioners, will such a normalised commodification of communal communication simply be accepted?
In her presentation during this session, Stefania Milan will pursue a somewhat different line of thought, speaking about Cloud protesting. How is protest changing:
Social media are changing the way people organize, mobilize, and protest. Organizing has become easier and quicker. Organizational patterns have transformed, as individuals become more prominent at the expense of traditional movement organizations. Protest tends to be elusive. The narrative of the action is no longer centralized and controlled by movement organizations, but any activist can contribute, by producing, selecting, and diffusing texts and audiovisual material. Surveillance, too, has become diffused and can be outsources to the movement.
Borrowing the metaphor from computing, I call this type of mobilizing “cloud protesting”. Contemporary mobilizations can be seen as a cloud where a set of soft resources facilitating mobilization coexist. They be selected by individuals who can tailor their participation. In this talk I will explore different aspects of the “cloud” seen in relation to the technical properties of social media, including organizational patterns, identity building, tactics and surveillance mechanisms.
The concept of the Unlike Us network was initiated by the Dutch new media theorist Geert Lovink, founding director of the Institute of Network Cultures and Research Professor of Interactive Media at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA), and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Limassol). The event in Amsterdam is the second time the participants of the network present analyses and initiatives, after a first conference in Cyprus last November.