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January 2019    Dennis R. DuBe'     671/3733

Gehl, Robert W., Reverse Engineering Social Media, notes
     The nation that controls magnetism will control the universe.
          Robert Gehl #3733   Created 10/28/2014   Updated 02/08/2016

[wikipedia note: Scientific management, also called Taylorism,[1] is a theory of management that analyzes and synthesizes workflows. Its main objective is improving economic efficiency, especially labor productivity. It was one of the earliest attempts to apply science to the engineering of processes and to management. Its development began with Frederick Winslow Taylor in the 1880s and 1890s within the manufacturing industries. Its peak of influence came in the 1910s;[2] by the 1920s, it was still influential but had entered into competition and syncretism with opposing or complementary ideas.]


Dyer-Witheford argues that the Internet has simultaneously enabled extensions of the Taylorist domination of labor and the very means for labor to short-circuit global capital. One the one hand, the internet might allow for "fast capitalaist" flows of commodities and value realization, but on the other hand, it allows for the fast and space-eroding coordination of protest. 4

Clearly, social media outlets are new media capitalism's attempt to absorb and capture this explosion of user-generated content as objectified surplus value. ..... it is being exploited for profit. 5

Social media also have to be understood as software engineered to privilege and enhance certain users while closing off others. 5

...what Tiziana Terranova has aptly described as "free laborers." As she argues, free labor is rife with contradictions it is freely given yet exploited; it is done for love, et hypervalorization haunts and directs it; it is work, but it is play. Similarly, the "ghostly frames" sumoto.iki reveals are simultaneously sites of user freedom and rigid structures of exploitation. Social media must be understood along these lines and to do so, we have to turn to computer architecture design as a key source for the4s contradiction. 6

In the words of Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge:

"Complementing the work of the computer scientists on the mechanics of software development and human computer interaction, and research on digital technologies more generally, social theorists, media critics and artists have begun to study the social politics of software: how it is written and developed; how software does work int he world to produce new subjects, practices, mobilities, transactions,and interactions; the nature of the software industry; and the social, economic, political and cultural consequences of code on different domains, such as business health, education, and entertainment." 7

...this book draws on three engineering metaphors, using them as methodological windows into social media software: software engineering, reverse engineering, and heterogeneous engineering. 8

Software engineering

the engineering metaphor oriented producers toward making objects for use and thus for users/customers. 9

engineering post-Garmish is marked by hierarchical control and the division of labor to produce software commodities. 9

(reverse engineering) is to move backward in time. Good reverse engineering takes temporality--if not history--seriously. 11

...this emphasis on temporality also helps us deconstruct the metaphors and language of social media and technology. Many scholars and popular writers place far too much emphasis on newness and novelty. Such terms as "new media; and especially " Web 2.0" posit a radical break with the past, eliding--even denying--history, even though the techno-utopian worship of the new has been with us for at least all of modernity. ...... However, if we take the reverse engineering metaphor to heart, we ignore grand "revolutions" and instead do the practical work of tracing technologies back through time to uncover their associations with prior technologies and practices. 11

Looking backward once again, I link a division of labor apparent in social media to the internal divisions of labor built into computers, best exemplified by the Von Neumann Architecture. This architecture, which divides the processor from memory and allows the storage of programs, has been replicated in social media. In social media, users are granted the power of the processor: they are allowed to process digital objects, liking this, tweeting that, rating, commenting and sharing. This is "collective intelligence" in action--at least s that intelligence is modulated within social media. However, social media companies maintain a strict division between the user/processor and memory, the other side of the computational equation. Social media companies derive power from storing the results of user's affective processing in archives. These archives can then be drawn on to construct "facts" about users: which consumer objects they desire, which trends they are tuned into, even whether thy might agitate fore political change. These "facts"--artifacts or a particular "harnessing" of collective intelligence--can then be sold to marketers or surrendered to states. This division between the processor and the archive helps maintain the social structure of social media. 17

Our current social media have been designed to adhere to the standards produced by the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau). Through these standards, social media sites link heterogeneous user-generated content of all kinds (from posts to status updates to the affective labor of constituting social networks) to networks of marketing and advertising. Advertising standards have thus played a major role in shapring the surveillance-based business models of such social media sites as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. 18

...users can recognize their position as free laborers and strike against social media exploitation. 19


I then connect this history to the concept of noopolitics. "Noopolitics" is a term coined by Maurizio Lazzarato to describe our contemporary emphasis on the politics of attention and memory. ... In Lazzarato's view, the older political forms that Michel Foucault describes (discipline and biopolitics) are being subsumed into the politics of attention and memory.

I suggest that social media's "culture of confession" is producing a massive data-set of the internal states of minds in human beings. Once this codification is done then the Universal Machines (in this case, socialbots) can imitate the human in a modern-day Turing Test. Socialbot's success in this regard certainly raises the specter of machine intelligence. But, more importantly, socialbots' success demonstrates that social media capitalism is getting more and more skilled at alienating the fruits of laborers--in this case, data appropriated from social media users via surveillance and standardization. Ultimately, I argue that this alienation serves a particular end. Social media is an instantiation-- albeit a nascent one--of noopower; the action before action that works to shape modulate, and attenuate the attention and memory of subjects. 23

As such, memory's constitutive power has been, in Lazzarato's view, the outside of the enclosed spaced of discipline and biopower, the virtuality and becoming that enclosure seeks to cordon off: "Memory, attention and the relations whereby they are actualized becomes coal and economic forces that must be captured in order to control and exploit the assemblage of difference and repetition. It is by remaining faithful to this intellectual tradition that Deleuze can affirm that in 'a life there are nothing but virtuals.'" And here, then, we see the possibilities of noopower, the institutionalization of the politics of mind, wherein (to use Foucault's definition of power) one mind's action shapes other minds' actions: memory and attention. Noopower, then, is a relation of power in which one mind may act before others, and, as we shall see, this is often done at a distance. Such acting-before-acting minds aggregate and codify the possibilities of their actions by forming institutions: mas media, poling companies, market research firms, and states interested in shaping public opinion. Noopower is institutionalized thoughts that (to borrow from Foucault) "incites ... {I}t induces, it seduces, it makes easier or more difficult; it releases or contrives, makes more probably or less; in the extreme, it constrains or forbids absolutely, by it is always a way of acting on one or more acting subjects by virtue of their acting or being capable of action." Such power is a way to modulate and condition the sheer potentiality of immaterial (i.e. cognitive) labor power, to subtly shift the probabilities that the public will think in particular ways, support particular policies, or consume goods in particular patterns. 31

In the language of Web 2.0 Architectures, a Web 2.0 software engineering guide, this is "declarative living":

'In conversations around the world, people are constantly expressing their preferences and opinion. In other words, we live declarativly. We declare who are our friends are and who are acquaintances or business colleagues are. We talk about the videos music, books, art, food and so on that we've encountered, the people that inspire us, and the people we'd rather avoid. It's no different on the Web, except that on the Web we can make these declarations explicitly through common formats and technologies ... or we can leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs and let other people draw their own conclusions. (see note 59 chapter 1) 34

Instead I want to suggest that the ability of socialbots to pass as human might be more a function of the a prioi reduction of human activity to predetermined datasets that due to the coding skills of socialbot engineers. And with such reduction in place, the modulation of perspectives, thoughts, and communication among publics is a much simpler task. 37

Akseli Vitrtanen argues this is achieved via noopower over moods, sentiments, and habits of mind: "The organization of immaterial production is possible only through the management of the general conditions of human action and communication, through organizing the general conditions of organizing. Th is organization of organization does not operate at the level of actual action or plain intimidation but on that of anxiety and inadequacy; not by confinement or demanding obedience to the rules and being afraid of their violation, but by setting expectations, moods, opinion climates, standards of communication and cooperation. It is the only way to control and organize labor power as an immaterial power, that is, not at the level of actual acts or productions but on the level of potentiality and possibilities of life." 38

It should be clear that any system in which such user activities as expressions of opinion, desire, and emotion can be standardized and typified to the point that even robots can do the work of friending, liking, and relationship management is a boon to a highly rationalized system like social media capitalism. 40

Here, we confront a contradiction: the smooth interfaces that users enjoy appear to solely comprise immediate connections and instant information, but the servers powering them are maintained in large part because of their long-term archival potential. This contradiction is the motor that drives social media. 42

Control of the archive leads to social power

If Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Marlene Manoff, and Geoffrey Bowker are right in arguing that control of the archive leads to social power, then social media site owners above becoming quite powerful indeed, because they have the ability to pull data from their archives to produce knowledge. New media capitalists. 43

I draw on Karl Marx's Money-Commodity-Money (M-C-M) circuit to illustrate how archiving user activities is a means to build social power. 43

The reality of information is entirely contained in its speed of dissemination... [S]peed is information itself!" Paul Virilio see note 29 chapter 2 50

In short, while users have become accustomed to instantaneous connections to their friends, capitalists, investors and media companies have become accustomed to users' near-instantaneous processing of data and have positioned themselves to exploit and, as we shall see, archive the results of this processing. 52


While the social media emphasis on collective intelligence and the wisdom of crowds is compelling, the goal of commercial social media sites is to capture the processing power (and subsequent value) of a critical mass of users, either directly (as in the case of Digg) or indirectly (as in the case of the Amazon Mechanical Turk). The owners of the sites do not particularly care what the uses are processing, so long as their attention is fixed on the site. In short, the development of social media out o this history is a trajectory of increasing capitalization of the processing power of the masses of computer users. 59

In social media, what began as an ethic of nonprofit volunteering to a greater cause (NASA clickworkers) has morphed to an individualistic emphasis on sharing and personal connection (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, YouTube) even to the ultimate just-in-time flexible labor market (Amazon Mechanical Turk). This emphasis is reinforced by the predominant emphasis on the new.

...a commodity's use-value is suspended in time until the exchange is completed. ... In the case of social media, the use-value of access to the social network and connection to friends remains imaginary until after the exchange (logging in and agreeing to the Terms of Service--that is, the exchange of private data for access to the network) is completed. ... We can thing of this with a simple formula. Facebook seeks to have a large archive (A) of these objects for users to interact with. .. The basic applications (of Facebook dd) allow users to post test, photos, and comments on other users' profiles. As users interact with these objects, processing (P) them, Facebook watches their actions and collects data, archiving (A') this newly generated data. This is the information Facebook seeks to sell to advertisers. ... In sum, Facebook---and other social media sites--- seek to grow the archive through the process of A-P-A'. The larger the archive and the more granular the data about the desires, habits and needs of users, the more valuable the archive. And if the archive is reliably linked to users who can sort data and process digital artifacts, the archive can be grown and made more precise. 63

But datasets are not in themselves archives. To be an archive, the material collected must be organized in a manner that allows for the post hoc constructing of power/knowledge: "Indeed, how could one start constructing an archive without knowing the principle of its construction, without knowing, in advance, among other other things, what to select?" (ch 2-76 Chang, To The Archive, 204) The material collected must be done in anticipation of its future reconstruction. Briankle Chang sees the archive as existing in the future perfect: "They will have become what they already were." This becoming echoes the self-production of users: they rely on social media to become what they already were. Their becoming and the data they produce are always already waiting for the archon (authority, curator) to appear as predicted in the future perfect. As Alan Sekula argues, "Clearly archives are not neutral; they embody the power inherent in accumulation, collection, and hoarding as well as the power inherent in the command of the lexicon and the rules of language." (ch. 2 - 77). Geoffrey Bowker puts it very clearly: "What is stored in the archive is not facts, but dis-aggregated classifications that can at will be reassembled to take the form of facts about the world." (ch2-78) Thus, what is required is an authority to construct "facts" from the fragments that sit on the archive's shelves. Bowker's name for our computer-driven memory episteme is "potential memory", a mode of power where those with access to the archive create narratives post hoc from a priori taxonomically organized objects that are scattered across many physical storage sites. 66

..rationalized identities in social media arise from the metrics of capital and consumption: user profiles, categorized social connections ("friends", "coworkers", "family"), credit scores, searches, purchase histories, media consumption, desires, fantasies, demographics, and movements through space; that is, this is Deleuze's "dividuation" in action. (ch2 -79) 67

..the most salient effect of social media is a radical increases in surveillance in the digital enclosuer (Mark Andrejevic and Zittrain) ch2-84 67


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