Reverse Engineering Social Media

Reverse Engineering Social Media: Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism

Robert W. Gehl
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Reverse Engineering Social Media
    Book Description:

    Robert Gehl's timely critique,Reverse Engineering Social Media, rigorously analyzes the ideas of social media and software engineers, using these ideas to find contradictions and fissures beneath the surfaces of glossy sites such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

    Gehl adeptly uses a mix of software studies, science and technology studies, and political economy to reveal the histories and contexts of these social media sites. Looking backward at divisions of labor and the process of user labor, he provides case studies that illustrate how binary "Like" consumer choices hide surveillance systems that rely on users to build content for site owners who make money selling user data, and that promote a culture of anxiety and immediacy over depth.

    Reverse Engineering Social Mediaalso presents ways out of this paradox, illustrating how activists, academics, and users change social media for the better by building alternatives to the dominant social media sites.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-1036-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Looking Forward and Backward: Heterogeneous Engineering of Social Media Software
    (pp. 1-20)

    Web artist sumoto.iki’s “web2diZZaster” is a collection of bland, muted pastel images containing little more than rectangles and lines.¹ The images are unremarkable, even unattractive, and it is hard to determine what they represent. And yet, many of these images seem eerily familiar. A second glance reveals why: these muted rectangles take shape as common social media sites. Digg, the social bookmarking site, is identifiable by the peach tabs that indicate the number of “diggs” that users have given to various stories. The tabs are empty, as is the rest of the page, but this largely empty frame is still...

  5. 1 The Computerized Socialbot Turing Test: Noopower and the Social Media State(s) of Mind
    (pp. 21-40)

    The last tweet you got may have been from a robot.

    Networks of socialbots are beginning to spread across social media. Internet users have long been familiar with bots;¹ the most benign ones are Web crawlers that index sites for search engines. Wikipedia editors may have seen some of their edits cleaned up by editing bots. Automated searches and e-mail sorting are another type of bot built into e-mail clients. However, socialbots are different from their more benign predecessors. According to Tim Hwang, Ian Pearce, and Max Nanis, “What distinguishes these ‘social’ bots from their historical predecessors is a focus...

  6. 2 The Archive and the Processor: The Internal Hardware Logic of Social Media
    (pp. 41-70)

    In 2008, during Mark Zuckerberg’s first profile on CBS’s60 Minutes,he helped reporter Lesley Stahl create her own Facebook profile.¹ He guided her through the template, even doing the work of typing in and selecting her “likes” for her. “Within a few minutes,” Stahl reports, somewhat surprised, “I got a friend request” from someone she had not talked to in two years. Moments of inputting data into Facebook thus resulted in the elimination of years of lost time. Stahl notes that the near-instantaneous connection to friends is a reason why Facebook is so “addictive.”

    Speed, the new, and immediacy...

  7. 3 Architecture and Implementation: Engineering Real (Software) Abstractions in Social Media
    (pp. 71-91)

    On January 12, 2011,Bloomberg Newspublicly broke the announcement that Myspace CEO Mike Jones made to his employees: the site was either going to be sold or spun off from its parent company, News Corp.¹ The news came as little surprise, as Web-industry writers had been reporting on the demise of Myspace for at least two years. In 2009, Myspace laid off 30 percent of its employees, cutting four hundred jobs.² This was followed by a further cut two years later, reducing its workforce to roughly five hundred.³ This restructuring of the company was a reflection of the downward...

  8. 4 Standardizing Social Media: Technical Standards, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the Rise of Social Media Templates
    (pp. 92-116)

    When it comes to discussions of the history and politics of social media, technical standards are, oddly enough, downright sexy.¹ Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), the communications standards that structure the Internet, have been pointed to as the source of the Internet’s politics of academic freedom and entrepreneurialism.² Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the standards that structure the Web, are touted as the source of the Web’s meteoric growth and thus its fundamental challenge to mass media.³ BitTorrent and other decentralized peer-to-peer technical standards are proclaimed to be one of the most valuable tools for undermining...

  9. 5 Engineering a Class for Itself: The Case of Wikipedia’s Spanish Fork Labor Strike
    (pp. 117-140)

    So far, this book has largely been a response to the very valuable analyses of networked labor put forward by such scholars as Tiziana Terranova;¹ Hector Postigo;² Detlev Zwick, Samuel K. Bonsu, and Aron Darmody;³ and Mark Andrejevic.⁴ Specifically, Terranova’s seminal essay “Free Labor,” published in 2000, provides a very clear anticipation of the contemporary social media processes explored in this book. As she explains, “Simultaneously voluntarily given and unwaged, enjoyed and exploited, free labor on the Net includes the activity of building Web sites, modifying software packages, reading and participating in mailing lists, and building virtual spaces on MUDs...

  10. 6 A Manifesto for Socialized Media
    (pp. 141-166)

    This book has been about the heterogeneous engineering of social media software as it has been produced in capitalism. It must also be about resistance to the inequalities and reductions built into that system. It must be about potential ways to dissociate social media capitalism. It must, therefore, be about thereverseengineering of social media software. To this end, this chapter attempts to synthesize two things: a design for an ideal social media system and the specific, material efforts to build such a system. In much the manner described in Chapter 3, it thus proposes an abstract architecture and...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 167-190)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-214)
  13. Index
    (pp. 215-222)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-223)