First Monday, Volume 18, Number 3 - 4 March 2013

Smell the fish: Digital Disneyland and the right to oblivion
First Monday

Smell the fish: Digital
Disneyland and the right to oblivion by Oliver Leistert

The critique of ‘social media’ is only beginning. A huge range of effects that ‘social media’ initiate still can only be guessed. From the mutation of mobile phones into Facebook interfaces to the new lure of objectivity in emerging Doppelgänger sciences, this text addresses some commonly overseen difficulties that we face in our partnership with computers and proposes a new modal operator for file alteration which would safe us from harm.


Unlike Us: Life on a data mining platform
Just a statistical outlier
We are products with standardized IDs and we face sock puppets
Doppelgänger sciences
What are then these things called computers?
Restriction of hazardous immaterial waste directive



Unlike Us: Life on a data mining platform

The discussions that our Unlike Us conferences [1] have initiated so far are an ongoing interrogation of what ‘social media’ can be, how we can conceptualize it, what affordances it brings and what desires it responds to [2]. The preliminary answers and new questions that we have produced within Unlike Us range from the problem of federation and technological protocols for non–commercial social networking alternatives to the question of the social as such. This wide approach does not facilitate fast responses; what is more, we traverse different fields that demand their own concepts. The idea of this text is, therefore, to propose a couple of elements that, to my understanding, can be seen as transversal lines within the wider and de facto non–synthezable scope of Unlike Us. In a rather brief fashion, the following sections try to address the pertinent but rather lurking issues of a political–techno–economic complex in which we are weaving our social relations. An analytics of the present faces the difficulty that its object of study is necessarily in a particular precarious tension, as the object remains ontologically unstable; it responds to demands of the different agents it connects to and is in constant change. ‘Social media’ therefore is a process and amendable to change.

While we are sometimes aware of this, and acknowledge that it is not a constant object that we study and theorize, in fact many of the more common approaches towards social media immunize themselves against such precarities. Whatever fantasy social media invoke to researchers, the common ineptitude to develop a critical and sovereign position vis–à–vis the totalizing datarization of the social overwrites skepticism to a large degree. It appears as if the temptation to equal ‘social media’ data with ‘the social as such’ resonates very well within contemporary affordances of fast evidence production in beautiful colors. Then, in the end, the majority of ‘social media’ research operates merely as a means to enhance and amplify ‘social media’ in its current state, contributing to the over–saturation of the social with data mining, sorting and analyzing. But as researchers and theorists we have to position ourselves in light of a process of economization and monetization that prolongs a trajectory of control and alienation. Andrew Ross states this bluntly:

The social platforms, Web crawlers, personalized algorithms, and other data mining techniques of the recent years are engineered to suck valuable, or monetizable, information out of almost every one of our online activities. [3]

The following subchapters are, therefore, not so much a reiteration of the main monetizing trajectory that we are witnessing: how everyday jabber is turned into money [4]. Much more, they focus on some so far neglected affordances and effects of ‘social media’ and data. This way, they point towards the temptations and false promises that our present mode of existence inhales, once more, as a promise to, finally, perform a simple sorting of the social in a conjuncture where our “culture [is] based on the cultivation of social capital.” [5]



Just a statistical outlier

In his latest novel Kill decision Daniel Suarez draws a picture of the coming struggles that our societies will encounter through the mass dissemination of drones and, in particular, of autonomous lethal drones [6]. Amongst the many technologies which process information to identify targets that are portrayed in Suarez’s narrative, ‘social media’ play a key role [7]. This role is illustrated by the story of a protest against the drone killings by coincidence. It happens to take place in front of an office building that hosts a consulting agency cooperating with the big players in the drone business. The ‘social media’ consultant Clarke, after studying his ‘social media’ analysis tools, states:

‘Some potential protest knots in Portland and Austin, but defiance–related tag cloud groupings in social media put us within the three–sigma rule — meaning roughly sixty–eight percent of the values lie within one standard deviation of the mean.’ Clarke gazes down at the protesters in McPherson Square. ‘Meaning everything’s normal. I wouldn’t worry about them — they’re not the reality. Just a statistical outlier.’ [8]

Clarke knows what he is talking about ... what ‘social media’ is and what it is not. Twitter has become the first instance for alert reports. Nowadays, if anything happens anywhere in the world and manages to gather enough momentum for whatever reasons, Twitter is the sensor that delivers quantifiable statements, e.g., if this is ‘just a statistical outlier’, or something that enters vectors which might change the normalized fields. News corporations are at the forefront of Twitter analysis to keep up with the pace of ‘breaking news’. The crowd as a mesh network on the ground is something every top–down structure needs to ‘listen to’, analyzing the data it produces for anomalies that might be of interest. The repercussions within ‘social media’, once the editors decide to pick up the anomalies and turn them into news, can be compared to bifurcations in systems theory, moments when a new quality emerges and alters the existing state of a system.

This dialectic of ‘social media’ remains true today: the information flows upstream, and the gatekeepers sort it, and opt to push it or push it not to broadcast media, after due consideration and ‘fact checking’. However, media has always depended on upstream information. What is original is that the new social sensor networks have the economic advance to deliver information from around the world free of charge and in a digestible digital form: searchable, mineable and even amenable for evaluation to some degree by machines.




But there are alliances of huge corporations behind such a comfort, which continue to broaden their scope. For Facebook, there are hardly any new users left to harvest in the West. Membership numbers even start to drop in the U.S.; the rest of North America and Europe might follow. Peak FB is reached. Thus growth — the imperative here — demands new trajectories. Amongst the many strategies for enclosing more people into their Disneyland–simulacrum of the Internet, Facebook harvests as of now millions of new users who are just about to be connected for the very first time in their life to the global communication infrastructure. Rarely these are new Internet users. Of course, the Internet is still growing — but slowly. Its limits are set, since the internet as we know it relies on a complex and specialized infrastructure, which will still not be in reach of more than 30 percent of the global population during the course of this decade. Too much of it depends on a working landline infrastructure, as it requires, for instance, the copper wires that connect the family homes. And since mobile phones leapfrogged landline telephony in many parts of the world, the present and future of fast growing connectivity is the mobile phone sector.

For a long time, simple mobiles and so called feature phones were separated from the Internet in almost every consideration related to connectivity. In the West, we are bombarded with 3G and 4G smartphone offers and data plans. Unprecedented patent fights between the only three remaining big players in the field second this (Apple, Samsung, Google). Meanwhile, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium, at and other non–commercial and NGO actors can only sit back and observe how the Internet for the mobile is about to be standardized by the International Telecommunication Union (, comprised of 193 states, driven by their economic interests and a WTO (World Trade Organization, at mindset. The trajectory is to privilege infrastructure companies (telcos), like the German Telekom, over companies like Google or Facebook. The net profit margins of Google and Facebook are 10 times higher than those of the telcos, and this is about to be changed. Net neutrality, both an expression of neoliberal deregulation and of a ‘contract without contract’ [9], helped Google to achieve hegemony in their core businesses, but it now stands in the way of the telcos interests, who are ultimately the owners of the mobile infrastructure. Here, a new business is currently being demarcated between the actors:

Pure traffic is thus the basic commodity for mobile digital media. [...] However large or multiplied this data commodity is, it is not the only commodity. Information on traffic and user behavior can also be refined and sold the same way as information on television audiences and audience behavior can be packaged for circulation on a market. This could be called the traffic commodity. [10]

It is decisive to understand that we are enmeshed into two ‘Internets’, that besides of being connected at the backbone level, they have not actually so much in common. Mobile connectivity had never anything to do with the original blueprint of the internet of open standards as a product of non–commercial, often academic peer production. The more people are connected via mobiles, the more commercial standards are used for data transmission, which foremost treat TCP/IP as a problem of protocol translations and ‘tunnel’ it through rather obscure cellular protocols [11].

Yet, silently another critical shift in connectivity regimes is taking place: the introduction of the Facebook SIM card can stand as an apt example here, whatever its actual market penetration is [12]. Facebook found a way to harvest users of simple phones by way of offering a SIM card, previously the exclusive business of telcos or intermediaries. Since Facebook could easily count on the interests of many Asian, African and Latin–American telcos to gain an advantage over competitors in one of the most prospective markets; this SIM card integrates a text–based and simple Facebook connectivity into a 10 USD phone as a (preliminary) ‘free’ service. Other approaches include feature phones that are being shipped with ‘free’ WAP Java Facebook applications, locking the user into Facebook with a zero pay plan [13].

A further way to access Facebook without old–fashioned Internet connectivity is materialized, at least in India, via the almost forgotten USSD. This is a protocol that is part of the GSM standard. One can communicate directly via ‘short messages’ (up to 182 characters, not SMS in the strict sense) with a service provider. This protocol is well known for checking the balance on a pre–paid phone. But in many countries, you type *325#, and you land on Facebook or Twitter [14]. The competitive advantage of offering ‘the biggest social networks’ on a simple phone lets telcos row up to be part of Facebook’s successful third world integration plan.

All in all this is a brilliant, sustaining and aggressive move into emerging markets of mass scale. The strategic insight that the device does not matter, but that social belonging — once it is locked in — is convincing, makes Facebook a pioneering company in the struggle for market penetration and exploration. With such programs and partners, Facebook pushes and guides an emerging multi–billion dollar market into its walled realm by seamlessly hopping back and forth between generations of access technologies. Facebook’s success to partner with the mobile phone infrastructure league needs further investigation, both on the regional level, and on a global scale. What are the gains for the telcos and what do their business plans proclaim? We can observe economic giants fighting over the way of how users ought to communicate. Just remember the short messaging business with its astronomic incentives: who wants to use this anymore when you can contact someone for ‘free’ via Facebook? And, on the other hand: the messaging paid services, in contrast to Facebook, usually offered a weak promise of not collecting and mining user data. But since telcos are realizing their great strategic position for this business and want to become content providers, an analysis of at least short messaging metadata would be a gold mine [15].

The old digital divide discourse now faces how its blindness for the political economy of ICT turns into a truly spoiled victory. It always was a heretic question to ask what the demand for an unspecified access or connectivity is about within the digital divide discourses. And while there remain some good arguments for the spread of mobile banking (the quiet monetary revolution that is happening in many African countries right now), Facebook’s fast sucking–in trajectory frog leaps the entire net neutrality, freedom of access, and ‘citizen’s right to the net’ debate from behind [16].

One can see an analogy here. Like the way land grabbing established the odd situation of local agricultural and biofuel over–production in areas where sufficient nutrition for the population remains an issue, Facebook sets up a grabbing dispositif for the (in the most part) still to come digital uttering, jabbering and human social networks, designed to enclose users in their ‘demand generation’ [17] machine. While land grabbing often provokes accusations of neo–imperialism, Facebook’s commodities seem to be situated beyond such old–fashioned terms. The divide between material and immaterial commodities reproduce divided discourses: that of some sort of neo–imperialism and that of neoliberalism. This bifurcation in discourse might be a side effect of post–Autonomia inspired Italian theory, whose focus on immaterial labor helped to develop insights into informational capitalism by under–representing the industrial production of ICT components. Andrew Ross recently called the production sites for iPhones and other ICT components in mainland China as “fordism on steroids” [18] and stressed the commonality of immaterial labor [19] and of the contemporary production labor of ICT components:

It’s worth noting the feminine dominance of this factory labor pool has come into being at the same time as young women have disproportionately entered the precarious world of self–employment and creative labor at the other end of the production chain[.] [20]

Since the production cycle of a monetized Facebook comment starts in mainland China, we need more research on these production sites, their ownership and political dependencies. Having left out the material on which our bytes run on, the analysis of political economies might just turn out as a mode of alienation or affirmation of our own research position; as, in other words, an effect of the information society ideology [21].



We are products with standardized IDs and we face sock puppets

At Unlike Us #2, Arnold Roosendal argued that we cannot determine our online identity, since this is done by companies who have specialized in data relation and search to produce our representations online [22]. Data sets construct our identity and we do not control the contexts of our data. The biggest part of what is attributed to us is invisible to us. We are the spectators sitting in cheap seats, witnessing the production of our doppelgänger, invested with rather simple tools to intervene, while the outcome of these interventions is not again in our hands. All that is left to us is the suffocating perspective of adding data to data to data.

Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius provided insights about a practice in motion as he explained the ecosystems of online audience buying for targeted advertising [23]. He showed how we are being sold, while using the commodified Internet, in real time to auction systems. Without our consent and without being informed. That these practices might very well be in accordance with privacy policies since our names do not appear once again shows how the privacy debate is misleading here. The gain that it will be hard to send us printed ads via mail looks not much like a victory of citizen rights, but rather like another element that actually obscures the set up. For the current online ad system, the name does not matter much. What matters is what we look at and where we click, and how long we stare at some site. All these activities are being recorded most commonly by setting cookies, the euphemistic name for specialized virtual tracking devices on which large parts of online business rests. The political–economical genealogy of cookies still remains to be written.

When it comes to ‘social media’, there is more than cookies, since the algorithmic production of sociality has its own means and rules. One of the ingredients of ‘social media’ is hardly known: artificial online personas, or the sock puppets. Clarke, the ‘social media’ strategist in the novel Kill decision, explains:

We create armies of artificial online personas — user accounts that espouse views certain interested parties want espoused. We flood forums, online comment sections, social media. It requires good software to manage it all — to automate the messaging while maintaining uniqueness, and to keep all the fictional personalities and causes straight. I took the logic from my bot–herding software — from the gold–farming operation in China. [...] In the old days they used armies of paid shills to sing the praises of products and causes online, but human beings are unreliable. We’re more cost–effective. You want a million ‘people’ to say the same thing online, on a certain day, at a certain hour? I’m your man. [24]

If credibility has turned into an algorithm, and trust has become a matter of numbers of followers, ‘social media’ consists of semantic objects derived from pre–calculated necessities for a specific outcome. The production of discourse is always under observation and can be subjected to changes at any time — whatever the customer demands, may this be Coca Cola, Thyssen Krupp, or Barack Obama.

This then makes two domains of ‘social media’ — company owned and determined online identities and their surfacing artificial counterparts, the sock puppets — operating in an complex interplay of auction biddings, demand generation, and discourse production. The social, as it is presented to us in these realms, is a social of different kinds and origins: mediated, produced, processed.

Still, in the long run, identification remains key. If the two domains of ‘social media’ (tracking/auctioning and puppets/discourse production) would be combined with an ID, the prospects involve many new customers — those in need to identify (from insurance companies to law enforcement). This is why “the current century will be the era of universal standards of identification.” [25] The systemic threshold of ‘social media’ is a matter of protocols of standardized identification. Everything else boils down to statistics, no matter how fine grained and personizable their outcome might be. Facebook’s sharp approach towards users to snitch, to identify false names of their friends, may come with shareholders’ pressure. But this ‘risky’ operation — never provokes a shit storm amongst those you exploit — to minimize pseudonymous communication echoes the viral and vital spreading of Facebook credentials as identification data for a fast growing number of third parties’ Web sites. A true big business, since Facebook tracks, analyzes and mines the use of such credentials for the access of third–party Web sites with eagerness. Facebook, with its global user base, is the only current candidate to set up a universal standard of online identification, which is necessary for accomplishing the task of total ‘social media’. Or as Schljapa, one of the members of the Russian Pussy Riot group puts it: “Capitalism is based on the principle ‘buy and sell’. This only works when you have a face and show it. A person without a face does not appear as a market participant. Capitalism does not tolerate anonymity.” [26]

Interestingly, not that long ago, there were voices that would disagree with full fervor. They were convinced that the marriage of surveillance and business, of identification and participation in the market is not a systemic link. People like Eric Hughes, David Chaum or other cyberlibertarians of the early Internet age were fighting for anonymity while being enthusiastic about market–driven capitalism. These late Ayn Rand off–springs are in the early twenty–first century Wild West scenario of ubiquitous connectivity what Rudolf Diesel (running his superb fuel–saving engine on peanut oil) was to John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) in the Wild West scenario of gasoline and cars during the early twentieth century. Diesel cars are still around, but running on diesel made from petroleum [27]. Crypto software, the solution to the cyberlibertarian’s vision of anonymous market participation, is securing MasterCard transactions and access to Facebook. And as a diesel engine can still run on peanut oil today, crypto can be still used for anonymous payments and for securing dissident communication on decentralized networks. But both have remained a niche for tech–savvy, highly educated (mostly male and white) info geeks. Are you one?



Doppelgänger sciences

Every effort to study ‘social media’ empirically has so far remained naïve. The epistemological regime inherent in digital methods is not freely chosen by researchers out of a set of diverse and rich possibilities, but remains pre–determined by the systemic capabilities of algorithmicity and code design per se. In almost all research scenarios, the tools used are closed source. Never before in the history of social sciences have researchers depended so highly on a black box. And only this precondition induces ‘[s]ociality [to] breed more of it’ [28]. If the question is ‘how to diagnose cultural change and societal conditions using the Internet’ [29] the first step is to overcome the old white men’s dream of total oversight and keeping our hands clean, and reflect on the luring lust of digital neo–positivism — the figuration of the modest witness 2.0. This new (old) lure of objectivity, the image as an epistemic device, the automated analysis and directedness, the dream of universalism are amongst the elements that currently initiate a strong backlash against research practice [30]. The development of doppelgänger sciences, that proclaim the same epistemological standing as analog ‘methods’, has led to an epistemological turn that had, mostly unconsciously, gained momentum in the hard sciences with the Monte Carlo simulation of the H–bomb and which turned into matters of research practice when computer simulations provided a third realm of erkenntnis operating in the “netherland” (Peter Galison). Thanks to Facebook, social sciences can now follow their fellow hard sciences into the age of simulation.

The new power/knowledge nexus can only be understood in the process of its unfolding; but as with any new epistemological endeavor, its contemporaries tend to look in the wrong directions. The insights of the differential critique proposed in the 1990s by Donna Haraway targeted the static conceptions of Western thought not only as a tautological game of identity and otherness, but also called for skepticism towards any new configurations of epistemological hegemony [31]. Algorithmicity as the blind spot of all digital methods programs, has become the new unmarked category from where the new programs brightly shine. Francis Bacon and the Vienna Circle of the 1920s were amongst its previous keepers. The disembodiment of the researcher might have never been a problem for the community at large, apart from feminist scholars. Is this the reason why even the disembodiment of the people under study does not matter either?

The most basic Foucauldian insight, which is to understand the conditions of the possibilities for knowledge in its historical and societal settings as a starting point for situated social sciences, is ignored only because data streams are cheap and no dirt enters the house. For the social sciences the question is therefore how to develop methods that help us to understand the systemic limits and effects of algorithmicity — and the problem is to locate these effects. Missing, therefore, is a new meta–heuristics which will make, before anything else, these effects intelligible and that can then trace back the way they have been constituted.

One solution would be to ‘freeze’ the epistemological status of digital methods to mere simulations until fundamental problems are at least addressed. This calls for a memorandum of understanding that the research community would agree on. In the time being, why not see ‘social media’ as a laboratory with all the radical implications of the deep insights that the French word fait has, as it simultaneously means both fact and made.

Approaches that use ‘social media’ as a means of diagnosing the social have, naturally, a limited explanatory reach and rest on a mutation. The very specific mediated terms, tools and concepts of digital methods deeply resonate with the objects themselves. This peculiar kinship of the digital fact and the digital made subverts the researchers choice of position and too easily produce a perfect match. For example, there is a danger that false positives and false negatives are becoming indistinguishable since they are produced by tools that are a priori discriminatory. Non–intelligibility by method, one might say. The doppelgänger sciences are thus the logical outcome of this process: putting the totality fantasy of ‘social media’ on a scientific basis.

Matthew Fuller has termed the bits and pieces that produce new objects in a database flecks of identity:

[I]t becomes possible to describe flecks of identity, in their existence as standard objects, within databases as a primary compositional element within surveillance systems. This is what at its scalar levels control sees, an informational token of conformity or infraction. An element, cluster, or concatenation of data, flecks of identity — a number, a sample, a document, racial categorization — are features that identify the bearer as belonging to particular scalar positions and relations. [...] The citizen has a place, a speed, a set of functions as a variable within a social, bodily, technical algorithm. [32]

But it only matters what these flecks and their large possibilities of combination produce if this can be traced throughout the continuum of prescribing and describing formations of social and cultural processes. The data itself is neither the origin nor the outcome but just a re–occurring piece of performative disembodied agency. Its difference to other parts of the equation relate to its immediate responsiveness to Boolean operators and to read/write operations. As such, they inhibit the space whose task it is to provide feedback, alter and correct. ‘Social media’ normalizes not so much because Gaussian curves are their guardian angels. The limited set of possible interactions matters much less, here, than the precarious translations between digital objects and their wet ware. ‘What is it that flows between us?’ asks a sticker from Delhi based Sarai [33]. Most definitely, the doppelgänger sciences will not provide the answer.



What are then these things called computers?

When it comes to technology, the ideas of progress, of change and democratization seem to be hardwired. Communication technology not only shapes subjectivities, updates power relations, and enforces new inequalities, but acts on its own. This is leading to the production of an ontological set–up of its own, that we still try to grasp as something made for us, for our benefit and progress. Maybe because the sci–fi narrative of ‘humanity against the machines’ makes it hard to see that a sea of data, a life online and the capitalist logic pushing towards ubiquitous connectivity has unconsciously made us partners of the machines.

In her talk at Unlike Us #2, Stefania Milan posed the question of cloud protesting [34]. Referring to the plenty of resources that ‘social media’ offer within seconds for customizing one’s own image of protests, protesters and movements, older concepts of identity building and organizational patterns are becoming less and less prominent. It is the cloud that decides what fits, not an organized group where each member is committed to responsibility. This has many dramatic effects on duration, sustainability, identity production and, I would add, on how robust the political trajectory can become. Seen from the perspective of the ideological cornerstones of the 1970s social movements, cloud protests blur many pre–arranged borders, which had been helpful and restricting at the same time. The question is what are their new qualities?

Natalie Fenton and Veronica Barassi have stressed that ‘social media’ favor the individual over the group and they show ‘how the self–centered forms of communication that these platforms enable can challenge rather than reinforce the collective creativity of social movements.’ [35] So what if ‘social media’ simultaneously describe and prescribe contemporary form of social agency? If this is the case, then any legitimate cause to fix the operation of ‘social media’ so that it better fits the organizational models of the pre–‘social media’ era ignores this dialectical relation that ‘social media’ exert on the social. While social media guide and encourage specific productions of subjectivity, of representations, and virtues, they also heavily rely on the users’ ability to fulfill this program. Thus, there is a difference in what the cloud wants and what Facebook can give. And the materializations of these frictions are not so much protests and user comments against new autocratic impositions by Facebook, but the death of the users. Facebook relies on its users continuing to jabber. Bound into this dialectical relation, the crowd has a say. Power over ‘social media’ is distributed. Not equally, of course. Like an organic body, the machine is hungry for communication. The sock puppets only produce revenue streams if they have real personas to address. A bot–to–bot social network does not generate profits.

The lurking temptations of comfort and of endless retention, whether in the daily use of Facebook or in doing research with social network data, fit well into the affordances of our contemporary existence, where more is still more. But immaterial data is much less constrained in its growth than common goods. As such, it constitutes our simulacrum of modernity. While due to global warming, financialism and the persisting neo–liberal agenda, the call for progress has become a forgotten claim, at least in its basic modern sense as progress for every person on the planet, we collectively look at immateriality, at the endless chains of 0 and 1, in reminiscence of this lost modernism. At least in this domain everything still gets bigger for everyone.



Restriction of hazardous immaterial waste directive

Just like nuclear power proved to be wrong since there is no way to cope with its waste, the current use of ‘social media’ produces far too much waste data for the post–modern condition. Take, for instance, the case of data that is long forgotten by its producers, but which continues to attract commerce, industry, law enforcement agencies and researcher alike. ‘Social media’ data still radiates a disproportional long time after it has been produced. Nuclear waste shares this disproportionality with current ‘social media’ waste data, and who knows about the long–term issues? A well–known predicament lurks behind this problem: computers lack mechanisms of oblivion; but humans need to forget, to reduce, to focus. The imperative to store data, resulting from the engineering state of machines to read, write, and execute, is currently chasing societies and makes us believe that growth can still happen. The technical construction of the most basic computer operations is the underlying driving material force of our condition: read/write/execute [36]. The same powers that engineering ingenuity once made operational in machines, long before anyone could anticipate its effects, have by now, become the structuring component in the partnership between humans and computers, since they are ubiquitous and indispensable. Data determines our condition, as Kittler would have put it.

If this is the case, then why is there no handle to it? A possible entry lane is the introduction of a new modal operator. In addition to rwx, this would be the modal operator ‘o’, addressing the state of oblivion. Ideally, this would represent a value which determines the CPU cycles necessary to read (and thereby alter) a file. A combined effort of hardware manufacturers and operating system designers could implement such a novelty. This would provide a bridge between informational capitalism and fordism on steroids. Similar analog cases have occurred. It was possible, for example, to establish a ‘Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive’ (RoHS), which forbids the use of lead in electronics, banning ingredients that pose high health risks in opposition to the then existing policies of many member states (Directive 2002/95/EC in the European Union; for further details, see It took less than 10 years from the initial proposal of this directive to the complete disappearance of lead in electronics. A ‘Restriction of Hazardous Immaterial Waste Directive’ could be the solution to our current dilemma. Since hardware lifetime cycles are short, then, maybe by 2025, this Wild West data mining capitalism would be overcome. As long as ‘social media’ does not change from its current state of archiving to a modal state of oblivion cycles, a true ‘social contract’ between humans and machines remains science fiction [37]. End of article


About the author

Oliver Leistert, Dr. phil, is a lecturer in Media Studies at University Paderborn, Germany. His research interests include mobile and social media, political economies of digital media, surveillance media, computer simulation and code studies. With Theo Röhle he recently co–edited Generation Facebook: Über das Leben im Social Net (Bielefeld: transcript, 2011).
E–mail: oleist [at] zeromail [dot] org



The author would like to acknowledge the support of Korinna Patelis, Pavlos Hatzopoulos, and Theo Röhle.



1. Unlike Us #1, Limassol, Cyprus, 23 November 2011; Unlike Us #2, Amsterdam, 8–10 March 2012.

2. See the agenda of Unlike Us:

3. Ross, 2013, p. 15.

4. For a critical discussion of the political economy of social networking sites and their relation to labour and exploitation, see Andrejevic (2013) and Terranova (2000). For a more classical Marxist variant of critique, see Fuchs (2013).

5. Ross, 2013, p. 18.

6. At present, Pakistan’s society already faces the necessity to develop a contain–strategy of living with lethal drones. Pakistanis are experiencing a total powerlessness over the decision who is to live and who to die, and when and why with many more than 3,000 humans killed by drones so far. See

7. Reality and fiction are hard to separate in this case, as the software “Riot”, that tracks down individuals or groups by means of ‘social media’ analysis, demonstrates: (accessed 12 February 2012).

8. Suarez (2012).

9. Only recently and to regulate the powerful mobile industry and telcos, net neutrality is codified into law in some countries, e.g., the Netherlands and Slovenia.

10. Bolin, 2012, p. 98.

11. For a detailed technical discussion of mobile data protocols, see Harald Welte’s presentation “Cellular protocol stacks for Internet” at 28C3: Here RRC, RLC, PDCP, NBAP, RANAP and many more obscure and almost unknown protocol elements are explained, which are made operational everytime a mobile data connection is initiated.

12. I contacted Facebook, Gemalto and the Argentinian telco that sells the Facebook SIM Card to receive real numbers on this SIM card’s use. Unfortunately, none of them replied.

13. Like Tata in India once offered one year Tata–to–Tata free–of–charge calls to connect the (rather poor) unconnected.

14. Shetty (2011).

15. For a discussion of the political framework on which such a business would rest, see my article about data retention in the European Union: Leistert (2008).

16. I have discussed the political rationality of mobile phone connectivity in detail and within a framework of governmentality in my dissertation. See Leistert (2012).

17. Hof, 2011, p. 67.

18. Ross, 2013, p. 28.

19. Cf. Lazzarato (1996) and Virno (2004).

20. Ross, 2013, p. 30.

21. Exceptional and insightful is Huws (2003).

22. Roosendal (2012).

23. Borgesius (2012).

24. Suarez (2012).

25. Galloway and Thacker, 2007, p. 131.

26. Interview “die tageszeitung”, 28 September 2012, at!102587/, my translation.

27. Any diesel engine can run on biofuel without modifications. Originally, it was not intended to run on petroleum. The market, read: the petro giants, arranged that only petroleum is available for it to run on.

28. Rogers, 2009a, p. 32.

29. Rogers, 2009b, p. 8.

30. These are the aspects stated by Rieder and Röhle (2012).

31. Haraway (1997).

32. Fuller, 2005, p. 148; emphasis in original.

33. Sarai is an initiative based in Delhi that works in the field of urbanism and media. See

34. Milan (2012).

35. Fenton and Barassi, 2001, p. 180.

36. Read/write/execute is the implemented modulation trinity to situate and regulate any data within an operating system.

37. Some software has already implemened mechanism for oblivion, for example the peer–to–peer, censorship resistant, decentralized Freenet. See



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Editorial history

Received 20 February 2013; accepted 20 February 2013.

Copyright © 2013, First Monday.
Copyright © 2013, Oliver Leistert.

Smell the fish: Digital Disneyland and the right to oblivion
by Oliver Leistert
First Monday, Volume 18, Number 3 - 4 March 2013