Reframing the social

Elinor Carmi – Liverpool University – Conducting the rhythms of the social and the antisocial

The term ‘social media’ is often used by media companies, journalists and academics. While this term has been criticised by scholars such as José van Dijck and Taina Bucher, the focus still remains on the politics of creating the social and its (in)visibilities. This paper challenges these notions by using sound studies, and particularly the concept rhythm, as a more suitable approach for (re)organisation in multi-layered networks.

This paper proposes a new theoretical approach, which I call Rhythmedia, to examine the productive power of repetitive (re)organisation of time and space in software mediated networks. Rhythmedia is composed from three approaches – Raymond Williams’ concept of ‘planned flow’, feminist technoscience (Karen Barad and Rosie Braidotti) notion of ‘process’ and Henri Lefebvre’s ‘rhythmanalysis’. This approach examines the way media companies (re)order people, objects and their relation for economic or political purposes, promoting the desired rhythms while excluding and filtering the harmful ones. In other words, it is the way the social and antisocial are ordered and configured.

To illustrate the way Rhythmedia is deployed, I will focus on two main algorithms that Facebook operates: Its newsfeed algorithm and its Facebook Immune System (FIS) algorithm. In the first example, I show how Facebook (re)produces particular temporalities to draw an artificial line between ‘organic’ and ‘paid’ ordering of its newsfeed to make a profit from the service it offers for free to ‘normal’ users. In the second example, I show how Facebook categorises behaviours that might harm its platform as spammy and filters them out in various ways. What these examples show is that by statistically analysing time (frequencies, speed and pace) and spaces of people’s behaviours media companies can shape, manage, filter and remove rhythms. By doing so, they decide and enact what is human, nonhuman and deviant.

Carwyn Morris – The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) – For Digital Space and Place: Socially constructed place in urban China’s digital space

The link between the ‘social’, and ‘space’ and ‘place’ has received years of interrogation in the field of Geography. Some of the more established geographic thought on space and place – i.e. David Harvey and Doreen Massey – has made its way out of the discipline, particular as a ‘spatial turn’ has taken place across the social sciences. If space and place are socially constructed, as Massey argues, then any conversation on the social in the digital age should also consider the spatiality of the digital age. This article, building on long-term fieldwork in Beijing on the social media and instant messaging practices of urban youth, urban migrants and gig economy workers, examines this spatiality and argues for a spatial understanding of social media, instant messaging and other digital social spaces that goes beyond spatial metaphor. This would lead to a ‘social’ and ‘digital’ understood through the multiplicity of place and as spatio-temporal event. It moves the researcher away from a ‘platform’ centred view of the digital and sociality towards a spatial understanding of the digital and the social practices centred around it, one with important theoretical and methodological considerations. The spatial lens makes it easier to understand digital sociality through existing social science theories while helping us to better identify and understand new spaces of sociality.

Sarah Cefai – London College of Communication – Putting the social back into social media

This paper examines the nature of the bond, contract, or trust that animates ‘the social’ in social media. Drawing on my research into the affective and discursive structure of humiliation, this examination is based on the premise that this bond is at stake in the reanimation of the social by social media: it is this bond that humiliation breaks. But humiliation too makes the social anew, in its threat and its consequences. The patterning of humiliation as an affective cluster not only results from but underpins many of the social media contexts we encounter. This means that a deeper understanding of the social in social media must realise both the affective nature of social bonds as well as the structures of identity from which these bonds stem. The paper therefore revises our conceptualisation of this bond in social and cultural theory given the specific ways in which social media mediate affect, as well as anticipates the technological determinism we risk in the disciplinary trend towards the study of data and the algorithm. By ‘putting the social back into social media,’ we must grapple with the role of the social articulation of algorithmic cultures in changes to the cultural politics of identity.

Chris Till  – Leeds Beckett University – Reality work: Digital labour as a reality construction

This paper will suggest that we should see some forms of digital labour (Terranova, 2013; Fuchs, 2014) as "reality work". The mobilisation and accusation of “fake news” has become central to political discourse and although propaganda is not new social media has provided opportunities to recruit witting and unwitting participants in the construction of new realities. The seemingly organic spreading of conspiracy theories and spurious claims is built on both “astro-turfing” (Zhang et al, 2013) and the genuine engagement and curiosity of users but both rely on the “digital labour” of sharing. While sometimes centrally coordinated this is often voluntarily organised to capture the disillusioned and disaffected through radicalisation, “red-pilling” and hashtag highjacking to strategically manipulate networks and the political economy of the media (Marwick and Lewis, 2017). Such activities are analogous to those of “fan labourers” volunteering time and skills to service “fandoms” and thus construct the affective meaning of “brands” (De Kosnik, 2013). Disinformation and destabilisation of reality have been used by state actors directly employing “troll farms” (Giles, 2016) and activating unknowing users through “psyops” tactics of “reflexive control” (Thomas, 2004). The construction, and deconstruction, of these realities is central to the political economy of social media which is built on the “social logic of the derivative” (Martin, 2013) through constructing arbitrary “virtual” realities out of the concrete desires and affective relations of everyday life (Arvidsson, 2016). Strategies for the management and exploitation of complex social worlds and financial markets have merged in the move from disciplinary to control societies (Deleuze, 1992) with users mining their own lives for the raw materials for psychographic profiles and the construction of brand identities. The affective and cooperative work of online “social reproduction” (Jarrett, 2016) is thus central both to the fabrication and manipulation of political realities and their resistance.