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Reverse Engineering Social Media

Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism

Robert W Gehl

Publication Year: 2014

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 Media also 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.


Published by: Temple University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

Anyone who takes seriously actor-network theory knows that a book is a punctualization of a large, heterogeneous network of many ingredients. Nonhuman actors who contributed to this book include my dogs, my pet praying mantis, and the mountains outside my window—not to mention Treasure Valley Coffee, Linux Mint (with...

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Introduction: Looking Forward and Backward: Heterogeneous Engineering of Social Media Software

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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...

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1. The Computerized Socialbot Turing Test: Noopower and the Social Media State(s) of Mind

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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...

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2. The Archive and the Processor: The Internal Hardware Logic of Social Media

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pp. 41-70

In 2008, during Mark Zuckerberg’s first profile on CBS’s 60 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...

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3. Architecture and Implementation: Engineering Real (Software) Abstractions in Social Media

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pp. 71-91

On January 12, 2011, Bloomberg News publicly 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...

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4. Standardizing Social Media: Technical Standards, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the Rise of Social Media Templates

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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...

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5. Engineering a Class for Itself: The Case of Wikipedia’s Spanish Fork Labor Strike

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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...

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6. A Manifesto for Socialized Media

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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 the...


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pp. 167-190


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pp. 191-214


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pp. 215-222

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About the Author

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Robert W. Gehl is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. He is co-editor (with Victoria Watts) of The Politics of Cultural Programming in Public Spaces.

E-ISBN-13: 9781439910368
E-ISBN-10: 1439910367
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439910344
Print-ISBN-10: 1439910340

Page Count: 235
Publication Year: 2014