Abstract - Beyond the social network / Facebook entkommen

While it was still conceivable in the 1990s that non-commercial cooperation, collective self-organization and knowledge production along with the emergence of global social relations could have become the key elements in shaping the Internet in its entirety, similar visions face a radically different situation today. After twenty years of continually intensifying commercialization, network capitalism has fully developed and established itself in a form that is increasingly shaped by monopoly-like positions, thus frequently invoking the term 'feudalism'. Both the art and knowledge production of users and their social relations are subject to intensifying valorization. Within this context, modes of subjectivation on individual and collective levels are shaped by the business models of the major platforms that create a mixture of hyper-individualism, competitive narcissism, network-shaped pseudo-collectives and the segmentation of advertising target groups that is generated through data mining. Thereby several components of the web have been shaped to a degree which render the actualization of alternatives nearly impossible, all the while setting dominant business models as a norm which an increasing number of new generations of users are less and less able to challenge.

But practices of resistance have also changed and developed in reaction to this increasingly difficult situation: Such positions have become more realistic and the strategies more subtle. They can rely on traditions that have existed since long before the dotcom boom, web 2.0 and social media. Ultimately, network capitalism has also increased the production of new contradictions – e.g. between the hyperindividualism that is generated on ideological and interface levels while simultaneously dismantling the individual on a deeper technical level – which opens up new fields of opportunity for alternative actions. That a fundamental critique of the major platforms and their business models has – fueled through broad discussions of problems like fake news in general or concrete cases like the manipulations during the US election campaign in 2016, but also general concerns e.g. in relation to the continual intensification of children’s media usage and increasing addictions – reached the mainstream now, might create a new situation which opens new possibilities for change.

Before this backdrop the project aims at developing an overview of current alternative approaches through interviews – a format that should primarily facilitate associative alliances. To support this, the field of possible approaches should not be restricted all too much in advance: The context of social movements and activism is one focus, which should at the same not be analyzed in isolation of the singular user’s everyday situation in the context of mainstream general purpose services as social networking platforms. Particular ideas and tactics might be interesting across the various types of implementation, be it in the context of setting up own infrastructure as alternative social networking sites or encoding it in a piece of free software, to forming part of practices of activist groups to develop their very own mix of networking structures and communication channels they use, to subversive tactics or just attempts to escape valorization on the level of the singular user. The project’s maybe most fundamental question is, how alternative strategies relate to the problem of hyperindividualism and how to overcome it – be it through approaches related to collectivity or to dividuation. To get a broader context for this question, a few interviews will follow up on it also beyond the field of social networking, to include current developments e.g. in cryptocurrency- and blockchain-communities or hacker- and makerspaces.

The interviews will primarily be conducted in winter 2017/2018. They will be published continuously (in the original language, which is mainly English, but in some cases German) at http://midstream.eipcp.net (to a certain extent also at http://transversal.at) and will form the basis of a book that will be published in German with transversal texts in Summer 2018.

Raimund Minichbauer