Images – use and misuse

Chandell Gosse and Jacquelyn Burkell – Western University – Misogyny under the microscope: Emphasizing the social and cultural contexts of face-swapping technology

Over the last year issues of cybermisogyny and gendered online abuse have reached a ‘tipping point,’ and social media platforms have been caught flat-footed and even complicit, unable or unwilling to mount an effective response. For further support, governments, researchers, and organizations have stepped in to help understand the problems and to identify effective policy responses (Amnesty International, 2018; Duggan, 2014; Jane, 2014, 2017; Pasricha, 2016; Roberts, 2016; West Coast LEAF, 2014). Much of this work, however, focuses on issues with the technologies themselves, and thus seeks solutions by intervening at the technical or policy level. In this paper we argue that in order to understand and address inappropriate uses of new technologies, we must cast a wider net of analysis, looking at the influence of material conditions within which these new technologies are deployed, such as social and cultural contexts. We explore this thesis with respect to one specific issue: misogyny; and one specific technology: face-swapping algorithms.

In the last year, face-swapping technologies have garnered a lot of attention as the newest form of digital manipulation (Roose, 2018). While not problematic in and of itself, face-swapping technology exists in a social environment rife with cybermisogyny (Mantilla, 2013; 2015), toxic-technocultures (Massanari, 2017), and attitudes that devalue, objectify, and use women’s bodies against them. The basic technology, which in fact embodies none of these characteristics or propensities, is deployed within this harmful environment to produce or facilitate problematic outcomes, such as the creation of non-consensual pornography known as deepfakes (Cole, 2018; Roettgers, 2018; Roose, 2018). The problem of ‘deepfakes’, therefore, cannot be located in the technology itself. We argue that it is important to put an emphasis on the social aspects of problems that occur across socio-digital environments, and thus to adopt a more material-based approach to understanding issues such as deep-fakes and non-consensual pornography.

Karen Cross – University of Roehampton – The time of the social image

It appears today that time has become a lost feature of visual social media communication and that we are far more enthralled to the drives of immediate (self-)gratification that are sustained by the image feed. At the same time, digital media and its (re)mediations of social life are highly concerned with time and the delay of time that is a core component of photographic forms of (re)production. Be it staging a departure from the past (as in the early descriptions of ‘new’ media) or through the nostalgic longings of the retro frames and filters that were common during the emergence of iPhonography, it appears that our engagements in and through social media involve a range of investments in the past, especially the past of photography, which theory relating to the digital can no longer avoid. This paper seeks to unravel this aspect of remediation in and through contemporary examples relating to the new time-features of social media platforms (e.g. ‘time hop’ and #tbt) that rely upon the circulation of images as memories. However, it also grounds this in a discussion of a longer history of an aesthetic ‘turn to the social’ that was heavily dependent upon photography as a media form, and which brought into relief the political transformative and affective nature of the medium. The paper describes why this remains important to consider today within the current context that is overridingly invested in ‘the social’ as a visual strategy, and will reflect upon the need to build once again a critical analytic frame of analysis and practice relating to photography and the use of photographic images within society.

Alberto Cossu – University of Amsterdam – Brands and productive publics in the event economy: the case of Milano Design week

The economy of the event designates a production method (Bologna and Banfi, 2011), based on short-term events open to the public (festivals, universal exhibitions, fairs, etc.) and characterised by structural instability. In this context, successful events are pivotal in the global competition for a city to be perceived as a true creative city (Florida). Success is measured by the attendance of the public (e.g. numbers of visitors) and, increasingly, by the social media activity that an event is capable to trigger.

In this context, my contribution focuses on the role of publics as producers (Arvidsson, 2013) in the “Milano Design Week”. The analysis is conducted on a dataset of 10,000 Instagram photos on which a digital methods analysis (Rogers, 2013) has been conducted, along with a critical visual analysis (Rose, 2016). Through these research methods I identify the communication patterns between the publics and the event main communication outlets and, thanks to visual analysis, I assess the extent to which publics are reproducing or resisting the dominant aesthetics proposed by the Design Week brand.

Andreja Trdina and Dejan Jontes – University of Maribor – Scripted stylization and forms of travel: anti-tourism, the fabrication of ‘van life’, and new online class distinctions

The paper explores the discursive realization of new ‘elite’ forms of travel on selected travel blogs and Instagram profiles with a special focus on processes of social differentiation and performances of class identities in transmedia age. Travel blogs and Instagram profiles are approached as forms of presencing (Couldry), sustaining a continuous presence-to-others across space, and are thus considered in terms of interactions as spaces of interaction rituals or performances. We start from the assumption that performances on social media involve specific stylization that we understand, following Thurlow and Jaworski (2006: 105), as “strategic (re)presentation and promotion of particular ways of being (or styles) involving language, image, social practice and material culture.” We argue that in our case stylization is used to foster anti-tourism discourses (van Nuenen), where especially authenticity is promoted as a tool to reach beyond otherwise assumed superficial experiences offered by tourism industry, to distance oneself from it and thereby secure distinction.

With the rise of modern global tourism and democratization of tourist practices the distinction has shifted from “what” to “how” as class pursuits of distinctions, that is attempts to differentiate themselves from another in attempt to maintain social distance, have become grounded more in the modes and attitudes towards travelling than in travel itself. For the multimodal analysis a sample of travel blogs and travel related Instagram accounts was selected, considering particularly the displays of new forms of travel such as “van life”, whereby we demonstrate how the semiotic and interactional realization of elitism is achieved through particular practical codes of staging and ways of strategic self-presenting (informed by intense aestheticization, narrative detail, professionalism of essentials or perfectionism of small things, expressive utility, symbolism of hedonistic self-indulgence) that reflect and reinforce broader modification or reworking of prestige today.

The analysed interaction rituals or stagings of the “van life” epitomize the shifting strategies of distinction in social life in general where downplaying or rejecting recognized status symbols plays an important role in articulating elite class judgments. The paper therefore deals with online performance of new elitism that goes beyond traditional bourgeois values and status anxieties to be build around adopting voluntary simplicity in one’s lifestyle. Through such performances a manipulation of the illusion that class does not matter is being sustained, though from a very privileged position. Schor’s concept of downshifting and Brooks’ notion of bourgeois bohemians (Bobos) are employed to highlight the paradox of anti-materialistic ideologies and the transfer of aesthetic perception to the field of ordinary and everyday life, both profoundly implicated in reproduction of social divisions. We conclude that performances of new elite travel, manifested in “van life” social media phenomenon, reorganize modes of tourism consumption while also reformulating established notions of class distinctions. In this way the paper addresses broader social processes enacted through media-related practices.