Conference: The Ends of Social Media


CFP: The Ends of Social Media Symposium
November 15, 2019
University of Toronto, Canada
Plenary panel: Mél Hogan, University of Calgary and Rena Bivens, Carleton University
Deadline for proposals: July 15, 2019

“It is time to break up Facebook,” Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate declared in the New York Times. The Cambridge Analytica revelations of 2018 finally changed the collective climate around social media and raised a tide of criticism. Social media is no longer conceived as a neutral platform where people come together to collaborate and build communities. Rather, it allows structural exploitation of different users and the production of their desires and needs. Social media sites are seen as entities whose goal is to make money and the critics argue that reaching this end happens with collateral damages to people, environment, infrastructure, societies, and democracy. Social media platforms have become global powers, and arguments have been made that we need to put an end to this before it is too late; we need to regulate these platforms and even break them apart. The project of the Ends of Social Media symposium is to think what are the current ends of social media; who are end users and to what ends are they useful; what does the wiring of the planet not only metaphorically but also materially from cables to satellites to data centers mean; is there a visible end for the dominance of social media in our lives; and how does social media end and what comes after?

The Ends of Social Media is a one-day event organized on November 15, 2019, at the University of Toronto. The plenary speakers for the event are Mél Hogan, University of Calgary and Rena Bivens, Carleton University.

The idea of this symposium is to bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers, thinkers, and artists to discuss, examine and speculate on the ends of social media. The notion of the end is taken here in its plurality of meanings: the final, furthest, or most extreme part; terminal point; a goal or result that one seeks to achieve; and an ultimate state or condition. Collectively, we are seeking new ways to understand social media by approaching it from these ends rather than its beginnings or focusing on its means.

We invite papers that discuss the theme of the Ends of Social Media from theoretical, empirical, and experimental perspectives. The potential topics for discussion include (but are not limited to):

• Social media criticism
• Social media monopolies
• Social media dystopias/utopias
• Environmental costs of social media
• Burnouts, fadeaways, and disconnections of social media
• Social ends and the ends of the social
• The instrumental and intrinsic value of social media
• Hate, injustice, oppression and other ends of social media
• Social media alternatives and the centers for humane technology
• AI, weapons of math destruction, and social media
• Politics, social media, and the end of democracy
• Breakdowns, failures, accidents, and social media
• War, death, social media, and the end

We invite proposals for individual papers including abstracts (250 words) and a short bio (100 words). Proposals should be sent to by July 15th, 2019.

Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by August 15, 2019. There are on-going negotiations with publishers about an anthology based on the papers presented in this symposium. The symposium is free of charge.

The symposium is sponsored by the Jackman Humanities Institute Program for Arts, University of Toronto.

Contact: Tero Karppi
assistant professor, ICCIT, University of Toronto
tero.karppi (at)

Esker Talk: Sweaty Zuckerberg and Cool Computing


In 2010 Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, was on stage at D8: All things Digital Conference being asked about Facebook’s privacy policies. The topic proved difficult for Zuckerberg, who quickly broke out into a terrible sweat. That image is the focus of this presentation: a drenched Zuckerberg under the media spotlight, espousing the benefits of an open world connected by cool computing. Reception to follow. Presented in collaboration with the Department of Communication, Media and Film at the University of Calgary.


Registration recommended, opens 14 January.

photo by C. Tepperman

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Continue reading “Esker Talk: Sweaty Zuckerberg and Cool Computing”

Publication: Making and Doing

This volume brings together a range of papers that fruitfully engage with the theme of the 2017 Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, held in San Diego, California: Interventions. Here “intervention” points to a range of communication practices that engage with a political event, social phenomena, industrial or socio-cultural practice, in order to alter and disrupt events and the norms and practices that contribute to their occurrence. Interventions prohibit events from proceeding in a “normal” course. Interventions approach or critique practices and phenomenon resulting from tensions or absences occurring in: events, structures, (institutional governmental, media industry), discourses, and socio-cultural and subcultural events. Intervention presents the opportunity to explore boundaries, assumptions and strategies that appear to be different or irreconcilable, viewing them instead as possibilities for productive engagements. Communication interventions-in both research and practice-insert insights from diverse voices, marginal positions, emerging organizational practices and digital technologies, to broaden and enrich dialogue. Interventions bring complex reframings to events and phenomenon. Interventions seek to alter a course and effect changed practices in a range of spheres: governmental and social institutions, cultural and nongovernmental groups; industry and organizational life, new media and digital spaces, socio-cultural environments, subcultural groups, health environments, affective and behavioral life, and in everyday life.

SCMS 2018 Toronto “Everywhere Infrastructure: The Systems, Structures, and Ideologies of Big Tech”

(March 14, 3PM )

D23 Everywhere Infrastructure: The Systems, Structures, and Ideologies of Big Tech

Chair: Andrea Zeffiro, McMaster University

Respondent: Rena Bivens, Carleton University

  • Mél Hogan, University of Calgary, “Templating the Body, from Eugenics to Storing Digital Data onto DNA”
  • Sophie Toupin, McGill University, “Preliminary Thoughts on African Hacking Practices”
  • Sarah Roberts, University of California, Los Angeles, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Commercial Content Moderation (CCM) and Social Media’s Logic of Opacity as Infrastructure”
  • Andrea Zeffiro, McMaster University, “A Methodology of Failure: Decoding the Data Infrastructural Regime”

Data Centers: Investigating Socio-Technological Assemblages of the Cloud (Stockholm Workshop: Nov 30-Dec 1 2017)

Data Centers: Investigating Socio-Technological Assemblages of the Cloud
16-17 November 2017, Stockholm University

Organizer: Dr. Asta Vonderau, Assistant Professor Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University 

“Engines of the cloud,” “brain of the beast,” “archives of digital capitalism,” “factories of the 21st century” – these and similar metaphors are frequently used to describe industrial scale data centers, and the “cloud” itself. Data centers are highly securitized buildings, located out of public sight, that hide a fast growing industry for storing and processing data. While most internet users still might not be aware of the actual significance of data centers, IT infrastructure providers and other experts have come to realize the complex entanglements of the data center industry with social life. After a recent data center failure in the UK, for instance, which grounded hundreds of British Airways flights, even industry representatives urged for transparency and for an independent investigation of the incident, stating that “it’s only a matter of time before a data center failure will be associated with human fatalities.” Within the social sciences and the humanities, scholars have discussed data centers in regard to their architectural form, for instance, which has been read as that of digital control society, or by problematizing their energy consumption, profit orientation and low contribution to the local labor market developments.

The workshop brings together scholars from a broad range of disciplines such as anthropology, architecture, media and communication studies, or interaction design who have engaged with data and cloud infrastructures in their academic or artistic work. Taking data centers – a characteristic technological and aesthetic form of the digital era – as its starting point, the workshop aims to discuss the cloud’s social and environmental impact and maps the diverse socio-technical assemblages which emerge in the course of cloud infrastructuring processes. How do the infrastructures of the cloud integrate into local political contexts and industrial landscapes? How do the cloud’s techno-logics relate to the emergence of specific forms of subjectivity, sociality, and urbanity? How can the barely visible and secret industrial spaces of the cloud be made visible and opened up for the broader public? And what does the study of data centers tell us about our current social moment? An interdisciplinary approach will help to grasp and better understand the cloud’s material/virtual, global/local, or human/technological dynamics. A publication of the workshop’s results is planned.

The workshop will be financed by The Swedish Foundation of Humanities and Social Sciences (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond) and is the concluding event of the research project Farming Data Forming the Cloud. The Environmental Impact and Cultural Production of IT Technology (2014-2017).

Tung-Hui Hu (English Language and Literature, Michigan)
Kazys Varnelis (Architecture, Columbia University)
Matt Parker (Sound artist, London)
Emma Charles (Film maker, London)
Alexander Taylor (Anthropology, Cambidge)
Julia Velkova (Media, Södertorn)
Mél Hogan (CMF, Calgary)

NCA, Dallas 2017: Visibilizing Surveillance and Control Infrastructures

Visibilizing Surveillance and Control Infrastructures

Thu, 11/16: 8:00 AM  – 9:15 AM 
Room: City View 2 – Fourth Floor 

Most forms of technological surveillance evade scrutiny because their operations are hidden from view. Through the integration of algorithmic functions into built form, attention is deflected from pervasive surveillance protocols and the unequal ramifications of control infrastructures. The papers in this session seek ways of rendering such processes and effects visible–of tracking the emergence of new regimes of visibility, challenging their politics, and creating spaces to imagine more just social and cultural configurations.

Chair Torin Monahan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Activism and Social Justice Division
Critical and Cultural Studies Division


Confronting complicity: Surveillance art and the interpellation of viewing subjects

Critical artworks about surveillance introduce compelling possibilities for rethinking the relationship of people to larger systems of control. This paper analyzes a number of art projects that strive to render surveillance visible and cultivate a sense of responsibility on the part of viewers or participants. Some of the projects invite participation as a way of producing discomfort and reflexivity on the part of viewers (Dries Depoorter’s “Sheriff Software”), others use tactics of defamiliarization to draw critical attention to everyday surveillance that has become mundane (Jakub Geltner’s “Nests”), and still others show the human costs of surveillance-facilitated violence and urge viewers to take action (“#NotABugSplat”). By fostering ambiguity and decentering the viewing subject, surveillance art can capitalize on the anxiety of viewers to motivate questions that might lead to greater awareness and open a space for ideological critique. 

Author Torin Monahan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 

Light industry

In the development of the Stanford Industrial Park, one land use report referred to the corporate campus’ design as one that would attract “light industry of a non-nuisance type.” Silicon Valley would go on to attract a whole range of light industry, with the manufacturing that term originally referred to giving way to software, networks, and an industry defined by and contingent on the secure transport of light through strands of glass. 

In the past decade, the distinction between technology of personal computing and traditional “heavy industry” has become harder to distinguish. But Silicon Valley’s industrial history is anything but “light”–the twenty-three federal Superfund sites in Santa Clara County make that abundantly clear. This paper will discuss the use of historical narratives and artworks to challenge the perception that software is itself not a heavy industry, and the political and environmental consequences of that light/heavy distinction. 

Author Ingrid Burrington, Data and Society Research Institute 

Surveillance and the spectrum: The globalization of cell phone interception technologies

This paper explores the emergence and use of a technology known as the IMSI catcher. Also known as a “cell site simulator” “StingRay,” or “dirtbox,” the IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) catcher functions by mimicking a cellphone base station. It locks on to cellphones in a given vicinity and intercepts data from and/or remotely reconfigures or operates the phones. Because of its powerful surveillance capability, the technology has been incorporated into the work of military units, state agencies, law enforcement agencies, and criminal organizations. The IMSI catcher is now part of a lawful interception industry that is expected to be worth $1.3 billion by 2019. After describing multiple use scenarios, the talk will address a series of critical issues elicited by the globalization of cell phone interception technology, including the relationship between surveillance and cynicism, surveillance as a technique of democratic governance, and state and corporate suppression of technical information. 

Author Lisa Parks, MIT 

The aesthetics of state surveillance: From secrecy to publicity

The 2013 Snowden revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) warrantless spying activities seem relatively benign when contrasted against the more overt displays of state surveillance power in recent months. To consider this shift from secrecy to publicity in the NSA’s manifestation of state power, we suggest reading the changing role of the NSA over time from its aesthetics. Specifically, we look at the NSA’s communications through a critical discourse analysis, attuned to the role of aesthetic representation in legitimizing authority. What this analysis reveals is how the agency¹s aesthetic strategies follow useful binaries ­ between public and private, us and them, good and evil ­ that can be mapped onto broader political exigencies. In particular, we focus on how the aesthetics of the NSA are co-articulated with certain ideologies about networked technology in order to rethink the surveillance-privacy nexus as it traverses a path from secrecy to publicity. 

Author Tamara Shepherd, University of Calgary 
Co-Author Mél Hogan, University of Calgary