Knowing Deplatforming (I): The Invisibility Machine

In an period of rampant platformization, the deplatformed – like Alex Jones and Donald Trump – have emerged as being a rarefied class of media celebrity, conspicuous by their absence on mainstream social media.

Shakespeare was half-right: all the men and women are merely gamers, but the world of today is a platform, not a stage.

I.   The Platform

Midway through  The particular Ecological Approach to Visual Perception , published in 1979, James J. Gibson makes a seemingly obvious observation: “ The floor is quite literally the basis of the behaviour of land creatures. ” ᶦ Since then, however , the argument that  the platform   has become the new basis of conduct has slowly gathered weight. In the city, even the countryside, square-footage without technology has started to disappear. Should the fast platforming of our ecology be of any concern?

Not according Twitter & Co.

“ A raised level surface which people or things can stand. ” Admittedly, the  Oxford English Book   definition of system is not exactly threatening, however the supportive aspect of the word shows only half the story. Every single platform, by definition, must have an edge. One can stand on the raised surface, but one can also be pushed.

In “ The National politics of ‘ Platforms, ‘” Tarleton Gillespie writes:

‘ Platform’ has been deployed in both their particular populist appeals and their particular marketing pitches— sometimes because technical platforms, sometimes as platforms from which to talk, sometimes as platforms of opportunity. Whatever tensions exist in serving all of these constituencies are carefully elided. ᶦ ᶦ

Soapbox, stump speech, anstoß pulpit, where one  stands   with an issue. To this day, beneath a lot of political terminology, one can find the  the platform   playing semantics: a delicate reminder, not only the heritage of the word, but showing how spatial metaphors can survive after becoming disconnected from fact.

When discovering platforms, therefore , one should never go by first impressions. Design  de -signs. “ Platforms don’t look like how they work and don’t work such as how they look, ” writes design theorist Benjamin Bratton. “ Platforms are exactly what platforms do. ” ᶦ ᶦ ᶦ A thorough hunt for platforms must get to the heart of the  action  and bypass surface-level rhetorics. But how does get from surface (how systems look) to action (what platforms do)? Well, standard practice for infrastructural theorists is to  go  to the edge— or, at the very least, study those who have fallen off.

[Visualization by Necessary Disorder]

II.   The Deplatformed

Laura Loomer. Milo Yiannopoulos. Alex Jones. Donald Trump. Within an era of rampant platformization,   the deplatformed  have emerged being a rarefied class of media celebrity, conspicuous by their absence. Over the course of five years approximately, a nonrandom sample of relatively open-and-shut cases have grown to be synonymous with  deplatforming : a phenomenon described by media scholar Richard Rogers as “ the removal of one’s account on social media for breaking platform guidelines. ” ᶦ ᵛ Within the same time period, particularly throughout the 2017 and 2018 dunes of the YouTube Adpocalypse, one more class of rule-breakers make the news.

Logan Paul. Philip DeFranco. Felix “ PewDiePie” Kjellberg. Casey Neistat. Like  the particular deplatformed , who have turn out to be representative of platformization  carried out right   (often used to frame Silicon Area as a site of essential creative destruction),   the demonetized  have grown to be representative of platformization  carried out wrong   (often used to frame Big Tech as a creativity-destroying force). However, beneath the various headlines of villainy and victimhood, each narratives revolve around the same protagonist— the   platform — whose role is certainly different in degree, although not necessarily in kind.

In 1965, Doug Stewart published a paper, entitled “ A System with Six Degrees of Freedom, ” which described and diagrammed the mechanics of an aircraft simulator— a glance inside an outward-facing machine .

Doug Stewart, “ A Platform with Six Degrees of Freedom, ”  
Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers , Vol. 180, No . one (1965), 372.

To this day, platform infrastructure is constructed according the particular logics and logistics associated with visibility. As Tarleton Gillespie writes: “ Platforms are usually intricate, algorithmically-managed visibility machines. ” ᵛ In light of the definition,   the demonetized  become yet another casualtyof platformization: creators whose personal platforms— channels, accounts, pages— were not murdered, but maimed.

As entangled phenomena, both rooted in questions associated with visibility, high-profile deplatformings plus demonetizations have become mainstream media objects: what Jean Baudrillard would call  ecstasies of communication , ᵛ ᶦ which tend to focus on the personalities and politics  at hand , as opposed to the back-handed practices and black-boxed processes  at play . For the broader open public, creative and consumptive alike, a handful of high-profile deplatformings and demonetizations have come to establish the perimeter of our platformed world: an outline of  edge cases , whose black-and-white violations do small justice to the  infrastructural grey .

III.   The Margins

For mainstream creators, who constitute the core of platformization, the monochromatic mappings of the infrastructural perimeter are not a clear-and-present risk. For marginal creators, however , the platform has become a steep and unstable foundation on which build, forever subject to the capricious and callousness of GAFAM (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft).

Regarding Alex Jones, who got already built a devoted fanbase out of his multimillion-dollar studio, the consequences of deplatformization were not career-ending: deplatforming simply meant  replatforming , switching to another provider. Pertaining to Logan Paul, on the other hand, in whose Adpocalyptic actions precipitated YouTube’s infamous clampdown, the consequences associated with demonetization were likewise not really career-ending: demonetization simply meant  remonetization , switching to another revenue stream.

Becky Lucas. Jayden Croft. David Hoffman. Juliana Sabo. The direst casualties of deplatformization are  the discounted : the particular working class, the avant-garde, the up-and-coming, the specialized niche, the fringe, the on edge. The thousands (if not really millions) of  marginal  creators, for who policy updates, software glitches, algorithmic biases and every additional aftershock of deplatformization  are   career ending— or, the very least, jeopardize to be so. In extending the frame to encompass the full cast of environmental characters,   deplatformization   becomes a sliding scale of visibility: a good emergent web of (dis)incentives and (mis)behaviours, which materializes between the creators, the consumers and the providers of platformed content.

[Visualization by Necessary Disorder]

Near the beginning of  Systems and Cultural Production , Thomas Poell, David M. Nieberg and Brooke Erin Duffy ask a trio of prescient questions:

What kinds of cultural content are made prominently visible by platforms? How does this affect the horizon of cultural expression— and for whom? And, finally, what are the consequences for the democratic character of cultural production and the distribution of power in the cultural realm? ᵛ ᶦ ᶦ

As the specified battleground for social dialectics— public versus private, guy versus machine, audience vs algorithm— the concept of  deplatformization  is uniquely positioned, not only to elevate such pressing questions, but in order to press for answers. While one can.


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