Notes for "What Happened to Sharing Is Caring"(5): What Is the Worst Thing That Can Happen?

Berlin, April 28, 2018 | #Facebook #MeToo #TuringTestTarpit

Query – again, I'm admittedly naive in these matters –

Here's a current stat on Fb –

As of the fourth quarter of 2017, Facebook had 2.2 billion monthly active users. In the third quarter of 2012, the number of active Facebook users had surpassed 1 billion, making it the first social network ever to do so. Active users are those which have logged in to Facebook during the last 30 days. (from statista.com) –

My assumption is that these stats are wildly exaggerated, and that the definitions of "active", "unique", "logged in" or even "users" have little to do with how these terms are commonly – naïvely – understood.

I keep coming back to this enormity which stresses across any number of cultures/population segments and wonder how this might be governed at all – given the number of empty accounts, bots, etc. And what are the mechanisms of control that anyone might apply to this quantity – as well as the quantity of material YouTube, say, handles daily? It's one thing to theorize what is to be done or not done, or whether Z. should be jailed or not; it's another to deal with this flood of material. As a problematic user, I'm always amazed at the naked control Fb exercises – the simplest example being the top stories trope over the recent. What may be turned off varies from week to week, but basically, nothing.

Facebook makes its users hysterical: about intimate stuff, about politics, and even more so about Facebook. One example would be the issue with "top stories", which I assume is the outrage about specific content that appears or fails to appear in what Facebook users tend to call "their feed", and the conclusion that secret "algorithms" have begun to take control of their lives. Even though the same is true for, say, my own – self-hosted, self-programmed, not-platform-or-silo-dependent – blog, if I had one: some things appear, some don't, I might even "personalize" content in a way that is intentionally intransparent, and if you don't like it, you're free to go elsewhere.

The third of the world that is on Facebook didn't get there as a result of enslavement by a global corporation. They're on Facebook because they love it. Maybe, since you explicitly use the term of "control" to describe the mechanisms at work here, it's worth to take yet another look at the little text, written and published in 1989/1990, that introduced this term – to me, but (I guess) to many others around here as well:

We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become "dividuals," and masses, samples, data, markets, or "banks." Perhaps it is money that expresses the distinction between the two societies best, since discipline always referred back to minted money that locks gold as numerical standard, while control relates to floating rates of exchange, modulated according to a rate established by a set of standard currencies. The old monetary mole is the animal of the space of enclosure, but the serpent is that of the societies of control. We have passed from one animal to the other, from the mole to the serpent, in the system under which we live, but also in our manner of living and in our relations with others. The disciplinary man was a discontinuous producer of energy, but the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network. (1)

But in the present situation, capitalism is no longer involved in production, which it often relegates to the Third World, even for the complex forms of textiles, metallurgy, or oil production. It's a capitalism of higher-order production. It no longer buys raw materials and no longer sells the finished products: it buys the finished products or assembles parts. What it wants to sell is services but what it wants to buy is stocks. This is no longer a capitalism for production but for the product, which is to say, for being sold or marketed. Thus is essentially dispersive, and the factory has given way to the corporation. (1)

The conception of a control mechanism, giving the position of any element within an open environment at any given instant (whether animal in a reserve or human in a corporation, as with an electronic collar), is not necessarily one of science fiction. Félix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one's apartment, one's street, one's neighborhood, thanks to one's (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person's position—licit or illicit—and effects a universal modulation. (1)

Can we already grasp the rough outlines of the coming forms, capable of threatening the joys of marketing? Many young people strangely boast of being "motivated"; they re-request apprenticeships and permanent training. It's up to them to discover what they're being made to serve, just as their elders discovered, not without difficulty, the telos of the disciplines. The coils of a serpent are even more complex that the burrows of a molehill. (1)

The above was written by a man in his 60s, so when he disses "young people", which I find boring and stupid, we may want to attribute that to the author's age and accept it as something excusable, given that the rest of the text is often rather lucid. Specifically the reference to "motivation", which resonates with an idea that comes up rather often in his (or Guattari's, or Foucault's) work: What if "oppression" or corporate enslavement were the wrong terms to describe our societies? What if desire was always positive? And what if it was desire – a positive force, before it becomes articulation, flame war, fake news or online harrassment – that had occupied Facebook in the first place, rather than the other way around?

The idea to jail Zuckerberg, if I recall correctly, was Jaromil's. I'm just wondering: for what? I saw a Zuckerberg meme (on Facebook) recently that said: "That face when you just wanted a faster way to rank girls by looks and ended up installing a fascist government in the most powerful country on earth." (2) I thought the first part was well put, but the second part made me close the tab (with Facebook in it) pretty much instantly. Because I really don't think that's how the world works (outside Facebook), that social formations are "installed" like software updates or operating systems, by programmers or engineers or corporations. I don't know much about Zuckerberg, other than that he was definitely not the brightest one of his batch. He found himself in one of the highest ranked dorm rooms in the world, was definitely bored, and started a little experiment that got out of hand. But is it his fault? (Hint: No, it's YOUR fault!) What would be the charges? Obviously, what brought Zuckerberg to where he is today is an almost pathological lack of ambition. But should he go to jail for that?

Next month, the French will commemorate the 50th anniversary of a revolt that almost turned into a revolution. They do so in order to make sure that it doesn't repeat, and that no-one attempts an update. Of course, my sympathies are with the people who wrote, in mid-May in the occupied Sorbonne, as it would read today: "Humanity won't be happy until the last entrepreneur is hung by the guts of the last investor." (3) But life is not about sympathies, it's about actions. The above is an appeal to, in the broadest sense, justice, and not to the law, as it exists: yet another round of senate hearings, yet another fantasy of impeachment, yet another collective psychosis. But when it comes to picking the guts that our Facebook friend would be dangling from: if anyone touches the guy who did Napster, I'm out, and we might have a problem.

There are obviously alternative platforms but it's a question of populating – the people I want to reach are on Fb as their primary platform (for example free jazz / improvisation which reaches worldwide) – there must be millions of mini-commons like this.

The alternative platforms are the worst: they are true misery. If Facebook, to stick with that image (and it's not just an image), is heroin, then to me, these alternative platforms look like methadone. Sure, you can substitute Facebook by using something else, but... if "platforms" were all that was left of the internet, and of our own imagination of what the internet could be, then I'd rather do Facebook than any of this other junk, because none of it seems to make people happy.

I do see the damage Fb does and www for that matter; when I began teaching Internet culture/community/etc. in 1995 or so, I took my students first to stormfront.com which had the most sophisticated website at the time – it was international, in several languages, and a platform for neonazi organization.

I see the damage too. I also see where you're coming from (ironically by glancing over a few Facebook posts of yours, post Trump, and then post that). I'm "with you", which is not a matter of sharing "opinions", or agreeing on every aspect of these matters. Here, for example, is one that I fully agree with:

I want to thank Stephen and Sebastian for their responses, particularly Stephen's.

Because, again: it's about actions, not words, and there are much better ways to spend one's time than by posting long rants on nettime; Stephen's account is one of the many examples.

I've seen the damage, I've seen the nazis too, but I've seen worse than that. I think the "alt-right" is overrated, another dying dinosaur rotting in a hipster outfit, just like the "new economy" and such. Of course: Beware of dying dinosaurs! But this is an area where I'm optimistic. When I wrote "Facebook faşizme mezar olacak!" (5), "Make Facebook the graveyard of fascism!", that sounded good to me, something I would maybe chant in a demonstation; but obviously, it is a rather problematic – and ultimately wrong – case of détournement, given that the original slogan is "Kürdistan faşizme mezar olacak!", and the people of Kürdistan want to live in Kürdistan, while no-one on earth wants to live on Facebook. So I would like to update it, even if it doesn't sound so good in Turkish anymore (maybe someone on this list can come up with a good translation?), because what I meant was: Make Facebook the Turing Tarpit of Fascism! or even better: Make Facebook the Turing Test Tarpit of Fascism! It's going to be hard to translate: A tar pit (6) is some sort of naturally occurring asphalt lake that will trap anyone who falls into it, a Turing tarpit (7) is a turing-complete but esoteric programming language that, even though everything is possible to program in it, will trap any programmer who attemps to implement even the most trivial computational task, and a Turing Test Tarpit – derived from the Turing test (8) – is a social media platform where bots and nazis and the "facebook liberation front" fight it out, shadowbanned from the outside world forever, while everyone else has long left the building, for greener pastures, so to say. With the internet, it's a bit like with Berlin, which I happened to begin to inhabit at the same point in time: claim it while it's fun, but don't defend it for too long when it becomes untenable, and get out when it turns sour. There is a difference between a barricade and a bunker. And just like "anti-gentrification activism" may turn out to be one of the main starting points for many processes of gentrification, today's social media activism, be it against control, commercialization or nazis, produces social media.

But it's not that simple, not only because many cannot leave, and many cannot even enter. Also "young people": they're strangely motivated, they're super smart, but what do you do if you're born as a girl in a place where, as a girl, you cannot even own a phone? Maybe Stephen can take over here. And of course, to stretch the analogy further, you don't even have to be Turkish or trans to see Berlin as liberation, even if the conditions are becoming increasingly difficult. It's their city, not mine; they should sing their songs, and not listen to my broken records – just like no-one on the internet of 2018 needs advice from 90s nettime veterans, unless, say, in an emergency.

But it's also not that simple because, as I said: I've seen worse. Which is a matter of perspective, obviously, and not the claim I had a vision of some universal truth; horror and horror are hard to compare, and should not be compared. But it's not hate speech that worries me, it's the languages of desire, and what becomes of them once they enter the grid of two hundred million. (9) Google "Jessi Slaughter", for starters – but don't click on any of the links ;)

(1) Gilles Deleuze: Postscript on the Societies of Control

(2) Turns out it was a tweet: https://i.imgur.com/R1g47tO.jpg

(3) Original: "Humanity won't be happy until the last bureaucrat is hung by the guts of the last capitalist," (4), which itself is a détournement of an 18th century slogan: "Humanity won't be happy until the last aristocrat is hung by the guts of the last priest."

(4) Original "meme": https://i.imgur.com/QfLts0V.jpg

(5) https://thegermanissue.com/texts/notes_for_what_happened_to_sharing_is_caring_1.html

(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tar_pit

(7) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_tarpit

(8) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test

(9) See https://thegermanissue.com/texts/notes_for_what_happened_to_sharing_is_caring_4.html