The Future of Identity in a Digital World by Tobias Leingruber at Unlike Us #3

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Tobias Leingruber at Unlike Us #3 organized by the Institute of Network Cultures, March 22-24, 2013, Trouw, Amsterdam.

Facebook as an identity provider

Tobias Leingruber, a member from the Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab, discussed the future of (online) identity in relation to Facebook. He started his talk with an anecdote of bouncers at nightclubs checking attendees’ Facebook accounts on their phones as a way of identification, see BBC’s article on “Bouncers ‘checking Facebook on phones’ as identification.” This implies an interesting shift from traditional identity mechanisms, where the ID is provided by the state (the passport or the driving license) to the social network profile as an un-official identification to enter a club. Facebook has become a very prominent identification mechanism online with Facebook Login (previously known as Facebook Connect) which is used by webmasters and game developers to use the Facebook platform as an identity provider. This is often done because Facebook has a real-name policy: “Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you’re connecting with.” (Facebook Help). The consequence of the increasing presence of Facebook as an identity provider is that in some cases websites cannot be accessed, apps cannot be run or blog posts cannot be commented upon, before identifying with and logging into Facebook.

In response to Facebook taking over from the state as an identity provider Tobias Leingruber developed the Social Network ID. The project was initially called the Facebook Identity card but after a cease-and-desist letter, which according to Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico from the Face-to-Facebook project functions as a form of recognition or the success measure of a project, and several legal threads by Facebook over the use of its name, Leingruber changed the name to the generic Social Network ID. The Social Network ID is created using custom-made software, the Social Network Identity Card Generator, which looks up a user’s Facebook Social Network profile and uses this information to produce an official looking ID-card, using an €800 ID-card printer.

Social ID Bureau

The next morning at Unlike Us #3 Tobias Leingruber organized a Social ID Bureau workshop where all conference participants could apply for a Social Network ID card. Unfortunately the printer did not work, but all cards were generated and will be printed and send out to all participants in a few weeks.

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Social ID Bureau by Tobias Leingruber at Unlike Us #3

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Social ID Bureau by Tobias Leingruber at Unlike Us #3

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Social ID Bureau by Tobias Leingruber at Unlike Us #3

Minds Without Bodies: Rites of Religions 2.0 by Karlessi from Ippolita at Unlike Us #3

Karlessi from Ippolita @ Unlike Us #3

Karlessi from Ippolita at Unlike Us #3 organized by the Institute of Network Cultures, March 22-24, 2013, Trouw, Amsterdam. Photo: Martin Risseeuw

Karlessi from the Italian research group Ippolita talks about the increasing data production of web users and how we contribute to measurement systems and the dissemination of real-time dataflows often discussed in terms of big data. He argues that big data is not only produced for “Big Brothers” but that the act behind the production of this data, for example tweeting, liking, sharing and commenting have become rituals inscribed in the mediation of sociality by platforms.

Mediated rituals

For Karlessi the ritual recalls the flow of water where a rite is something that flows, changes but also repeats itself in proceeding. These repeated practices can become rituals of interaction to “make things happen” in a relatively predictable manner. Such procedures, for example established rituals, are structured in a predictable manner and therewith are the very means to control crowds. In Crowds and Power (1960) Canetti describes how we do rituals to avoid open crowd eruption whereas in Religion for Atheists (2012) Alain de Botton discusses rituals as a way to organize communities (in both religious and secular states). In secular societies we still have many rituals and the inscribed mechanisms within social media platforms. Karlessi jokes how it’s very good and convenient to be Catholic on Facebook: you can just stand on the stage and explicate all your emotions where the platform records your confessions without the need of a pries. In such post-secular societies religious rituals don’t disappear at all but they are transformed and often replaced by personal and social rituals that are mediated such as liking. Social network accounts can be seen as ritualized spaces as personal belongings and habits are more and more mediated by digital devices. These habits become the rites of Religion 2.0 and are transformed by the sociotechnical assemblage of software, databases, algorithms and users.

Algorithms or the 2.0 liturgy

Algorithms are the rhytms of the online liturgy as the rites are inscribed and acted upon very often without the conscious interaction of users, or as Waldbillig describes it: “These unconscious algorithmic rituals practiced en masse become the form and function of online liturgy, or public worship, to the unconscious – presumably leading to the title of today’s talk “Minds Without Bodies”. The various forms of interaction that are becoming increasingly technologically mediated that are devoted to and developed by algorithms are carried out via directed social networks.” Karlessi describes how you don’t know how the algorithm works but “it works” and algorithms such as PageRank, EdgeRank, GraphRank and Amazon Recommendations make particular things happen. We are under an algorithmic authority that is deeply inscribed in our daily habits, including mediated rituals online, and the way out of this new control mechanism for Karlessi is to transform our rituals into new ones not governed by capitalistic social media platforms.


See also: Karlessi from Ippolita – Minds Without Bodies: Rites of Religions 2.0 by Kimberly Rose Waldbillig at the Institute of Network Cultures blog.

Facebook Demetricator and the Easing of Prescribed Sociality by Ben Grosser at Unlike Us #3

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Unlike Us #3 organized by the Institute of Network Cultures, March 22-24, 2013, Trouw, Amsterdam

At Unlike Us #3 Ben Grosser presented the Facebook Demetricator which is a web browser extension that hides all the metrics on Facebook and therewith demetricates Facebook’s interface. Grosser describes his project as a piece of critical software that intervenes in the numerical focus of Facebook.

The quantification of social relations: More!

Ben Grosser narrates a scene from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps where Jacob asks his new boss, Bretton James: “What’s your number?” “Everybody has a number, a set amount of money that once they hit, they’ll leave the game and just go play golf for the rest of their life. What’s yours?” and his response is: “More.”

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The scene depicts a moment in the movie, which deals with the 2008 USA financial collapse, before the financial crisis and shows capitalist society’s fetish with increasing numbers and numerical growth which eventually came to a collapse. He describes the human desire to make numbers go higher, whether this means stocks rising, calories burned, friends added, likes accrued or comments left. Grosser states how we are obsessed with these numbers and that we’re paying more attention to the numbers than the actual content of the interaction.

He defines metrics in relation to his project as enumerations of data categories or groups that are easily obtained via typical database operations and studies these in relation to the Facebook platform from a software studies perspective. How do these metrics enable things in the sense of Matthew Fuller’s conditions of possibilities? The metrics increase user engagement with the site through the quantification of social relations as may be seen in the +1 included in the Add Friend button. You can increase your personal worth by incrementing your social value if you add a friend and the number is making that value explicit.

The extension does not only remove the numbers from likes, shares or friends but it also removes the timestamps in the interface. The Newsfeed is presented as a never-ending conversation and has engineered presence in the system where if you step out of the stream you may miss something. By quantifying our social relations Facebook becomes a technology of control that pushes for continous consumption. In our paper on Facebook’s Like Economy colleague Carolin Gerlitz and I describe this as a process of intensification and extensification where “user engagement is instantly transfigured into comparable metrics and at the same time multiplied and intensified on several levels:”

the metrifying capacities of the Like button are inextricable from its intensifying capacities. Within the Like economy, data and numbers have performative and productive capacities, they can generate user affects, enact more activities and thus multiply themselves or, as Simondon puts it, ‘Beyond information as quantity and information as quality, there is what one could call information as intensity’ (cited in Venn, 2010: 146). Such dynamics are enabled through the medium-specific infrastructure of the Like economy which simultaneously enacts, measures and multiplies user actions. (Gerlitz & Helmond, 2013)

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Ben Grosser at Unlike Us #3 organized by the Institute of Network Cultures, March 22-24, 2013, Trouw, Amsterdam

Facebook Demetricator user feedback

The feedback from users that installed the Facebook Demetricator after five months reveals how it removes addictive behavior (to like more, to constantly check for feedback or appreciation), how it blunts competition and calms users down, how it lessens emotional manipulation (one user stated (s)he was now in a neutral state of mind all the time) and how it relaxes rules. When going through the feedback it became apparent that many Facebook users have self-imposed rules on how to deal with the numbers and how to interact with content. One user stated: “I don’t know how to respond to this because I don’t know how old it is” indicating that (s)he would not respond to old content and actually asked if (s)he could have the Facebook Demetricator but with the timestamps back. Another user stated that “I need to know the numbers because I don’t want to be the first or second person to like it, because what if other people don’t like it?” and “If it has over 25 likes I am not going to like it anymore because that person has enough likes.”

With this piece of critical software Ben Grosser addresses how Facebook constructs its users by guiding its social interactions through the metrification of its interface.

More by Ben Grosser:

  • Ben Grosser – How the Technological Design of Facebook Homogenizes Identity and Limits Personal Representation (PDF)
  • Reload the love: Reload The Love! automatically detects when your Facebook notification icons are at zero and artificially inflates them for you. If new notifications arrive after Reload The Love! has inflated them, they will instantly revert back to accurate values. And any time you want to reinflate them, just reload the page to Reload The Love!
  • Interview with Ben Grosser by Matthew Fuller: Don’t Give Me the Numbers

Video: Reworking the fabric of the web: The Like economy

Conference presentation at Unlike Us #2: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives. Session 4: Software Matters

Anne Helmond (NL) and Carolin Gerlitz (UK) – Reworking the fabric of the web: The Like economy. Conference Day 2: March 10 2012 Amsterdam, 11.00 – 12.30

In recent years, Facebook has increasingly expanded beyond the limits of its platform, first through social buttons and the Open Graph, and more recently through new possibilities of app development, frictionless sharing and differentiated Facebook actions. These digital devices allow Facebook to turn user interactivity instantly into valuable data, creating what we have described as a Like Economy. In this paper, we explore how the platform produces a very particular fabric of the web with its software design by focusing on social buttons, apps and actions. The introduction of social buttons and social plug-ins allowed for a partial opening of the platform as walled garden – carefully regulated by its Graph API – and led to an increasing decentralisation of the web. Yet, the new apps, sharing possibilities and actions introduce a recentralisation as content and user activities are designed to remain within the platform. By tracing the data- and content flows enabled between the platform and the web, we suggest that the Like Economy cuts across straightforward ideas of Facebook as a walled garden but instead creates complex spatial relations, organised through a number of new relationship markers beyond the hyperlink which create new multi-layered dataflows.

Blog post on our talk: Anne Helmond and Carolin Gerlitz Explain the Like Economy

Blog post containing the visualizations shown in our talk: Visualizing Facebook’s Alternative Fabric of the Web

Photos Unlike Us 2 Conference in Amsterdam

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Geert Lovink

“Unlike Us #2 is the second event on ‘alternatives in social media’, where artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers gather. This international research network examines the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Through workshops, conferences, online dialogues and publications, the Unlike Us network intends to both analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.” Continue reading by downloading the program booklet in pdf. Photos taken at the Unlike Us 2 conference, March 9-10, 2012 in Amsterdam.

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Question from the audience

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Jodi Dean

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Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media

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Max Schrems from Europe versus Facebook

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Walter Langelaar

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Marc Tuters

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David M. Berry

More photos from the Unlike Us conference in Amsterdam on Flickr. Blogposts from the conference are available at the Institute of Network Cultures Unlike Us blog.