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Reverse Engineering Social Media
Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism
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.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"Bored with Vice, the Daily Dot, and Reddit? Finally there is a study that leaves aside the depressed user cultures and positions social media as an integral part of computer science instead. Gehl successfully connects cybernetics and European thinking with contemporary Internet culture. Using the theory of abstraction failure, he explains how socialbots emerged, how the rough Myspace was wiped out by the standardized templates of Facebook, and how Wikipedia eventually became a nonprofit. Instead of moralizing about usage or preaching offline romanticism, Gehl concludes that we must team up with emerging social media alternative platforms."-Geert Lovink, media theorist, Internet critic, and director of the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam "In a world dominated by graphic interfaces and slim screens, Robert Gehl implores us to dig deeper into software platforms to rethink the values embedded in their underlying code. Drawing on the work of software designers and engineers, Reverse Engineering Social Media rejects the default settings of software criticism, summoning us to reengineer the past into a more politically engaged future." -Greg Elmer, Ryerson University, author of Profiling Machines: Mapping the Personal Information Economy "Reverse Engineering Social Media is a smart book on a hot topic. Gehl presents original and substantive advances in theoretical approaches that are unique and fruitful and that enable the development of software studies in a useful critical direction. His close reading of the software architecture of social networking sites is distinctive and insightful, as is his combination of critique and solution. This book is an important contribution to the field of digital media studies." -Mark Andrejevic, University of Queensland