Liberation Talk Manchester 2010


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Liberation Talk Manchester 2010

  1. 1. Talk - Perspectives on Online Media and the Power of Social Networking Sites Intimacy without Reciprocity: Facebook/ Facerook – Please do not circulate without permission Candy Chen Shuhui Guest Speaker Goldsmiths, University of London For Liberation at Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester [1] I would like to thank Chinese Arts Centre for inviting me here to speak at today‟s Liberation talk, part of the ongoing Liberation exhibition. I received the invite in an email from Elizabeth Wewiora on the 22nd of June. [2] She told me that my work “seems to touch on very timely and necessary topics” relevant to the Liberation exhibition, a show that “focuses on themes of on-line social media and its liberation but also restrictions, especially within the Chinese government”. [3] She invited me to the Preview and “hope[d] that I would manage to check out” Liberation‟s virtual community and Chinese Arts Centre‟s Facebook page. The 22nd of June was also the final day of my Goldsmiths Degree Show and I thought I had to book a train ticket immediately to Manchester for the Private View on the 24th. [4] Luckily, Liz assured me in the next email that “there are two ways you can attend the Preview – either in person here at Chinese Arts Centre or live online via Brendan Fan‟s Facebook page”. I imagined that there would be a live streaming video on the night and I was so scared that I would be caught on Webcam not attending the Preview. On the 24th at about 5 pm I logged onto Facebook and onto the page and saw that there was nothing going on. I refreshed the page many times and still there was no Webcam. I was so relieved. After about 15 minutes I got so relieved I decided to log out of Facebook and rested. The next day I went back onto the Page [5] and found a million status updates and photos and so went through every single one of them and concluded that I attended the Private View after all. Next, I went through Brendan Fan‟s Facebook page to find that his account was only just created before the Private View. [10] There was not much personal information about him but I found out that he likes Liberation at Chinese Arts Centre. [11] From there, I found that Liberation at Chinese Arts Centre likes my work Facerook from its status update. I then saw Elizabeth Wewiora‟s comment to this status update and I went onto her page. I could see her Profile Pictures, several job descriptions and that The Big Lebowski [12] is one of her favourite films. I couldn‟t see her wall – I deliberated adding her as a friend to find out more about the Private View. Soon however I got caught up looking at her biography on her website. I was impressed by her professional experience. I then saw that she is part of this Facebook Group called artsjobsonline and thought, ok maybe I should find jobs from here and be just like her. [13] There were more than a million advertisements on artsjobsonline. I was too overwhelmed. I then logged out of Facebook and rested.
  2. 2. For the next week everyone was too caught up with the World Cup and forgot all about everything. However, I was still deliberating if I should add Liz on Facebook. This was because I was awaiting her confirmation on the specific topics of online media or social networking I proposed for this talk, and I had not heard anything from her. I was beginning to think that the topics of my talk are not very timely or necessary anymore. Then one day England got mullered by Germany - even though I didn‟t really know who anyone was - I watched all the people getting kicked in the head, falling over and getting red-carded and thought - this is cooler than Facebook. On the 10th of July finally after 2 weeks and at the end of World Cup 2010, she assured me in a timely email [14] that my train fare will be reimbursed. I was so happy but I was still unsure of the amount of time I was allocated for this talk. I didn‟t dare to book any train ticket just in case. I then found on a Google search that I am one of four guest speakers from an Eventbrite link. I figured it should be 30 minutes then for each person – not bad. While I waited for Liz‟s reply to see if my guess is right, I checked on Liberation at Chinese Arts Centre on Facebook to see if there were any updates to confirm my guess. It was at this point that I found that Brendan Fan had befriended the other two speakers - Tom Kinniburgh and Laurence Kaye. [15] Tom even liked one of Brendan‟s photos where he hid overnight at the Tate Modern. I tried looking at their Facebook profiles but couldn‟t find much information. I deliberated if I should add all of them to find out how much time I was allocated for this talk. Their hidden information reminded me of my first e-mail from Liz suggesting that Liberation is about opposing the Chinese blocking of Facebook, even though most of the speakers, including myself, have set our profiles to private, censoring it from public view. I decided to look at some Facebook groups about the blocking of Facebook in China. [16] Under the Group China, please don't block Facebook, 45% of the 150 members of the group set their profiles to complete privacy (meaning no information can be seen). 35% show only Profile Info. 19% show their Profile Info and Wall. And only 1% shows all their information without any censorship. This shows that a majority 80% of the 150 members actually block their profiles from other users on Facebook or the Internet world, [17] while advocating the “belief that people in China are responsible enough to surf an uncensored Internet”, or in other words the liberation of China from the blocking of Facebook. My friend commented that this is the epitomic example of “hypocritical individualism” on the Internet. From here I learnt that people like to say one thing yet do another. Of course this is only one group hence one example, not to forget the original Facebook Privacy settings. [18] So upon further research, I found 38 Groups generated out of approximately 500 Facebook search results under the random combination of the words “China”, “Facebook”, “block” or “ban”. The results from 38 Facebook Groups against the Facebook Ban in China suggest that the majority of these groups come from North and South Americas, consisting 37% of the total of these groups, mostly coming from the USA. The number of these groups created in China was almost half that of those created in the USA, consisting of only 16%. The majority 84% of these 38 groups formed who are not from China, actually consist of people who were going to China and found that they could not have Facebook entertainment.
  3. 3. [19/20] Hence the result of names like “Jeri's 'facebook is banned in China' group...” from Leeds, UK or “Facebook banned in China so send me your emails!” from Brighton, UK. Groups formed against New Facebook Ban Zealand Private China and 21% 16% Australia 5% Other Asia USA and 3% North Europe America 18% 37% [21] The biggest group formed on Facebook against the Facebook Ban in China is 1,000,000 for Internet Freedom in China! from New York, USA, with 5,120 members. If Facebook is the most highly-used social networking website in the world, with its 500 million 1 and rapidly-increasing number of users, it should be safe to say then that this is the most influential group advocating this belief of liberation in China on the Internet. And the most influential group on the Internet against the ban of Facebook in China is from New York, USA. From here I learnt that people outside China, especially in the USA, are really not too happy about China not getting Facebook. I am not very sure what the citizens of China really think about it considering they do not have Facebook to create groups to voice their opinions about not having Facebook. Finally on the 27th of July I received a detailed email about the whole talk and the total number of speakers. [22] This email also stated that “each speaker will have a max of 20 minutes to discuss their work/ interests.” I was shocked as this was different from what I had in mind – I thought my talk was to “focus on themes of on-line social media and its liberation but also restrictions, especially within the Chinese government”. I did not intend to talk about my work Facerook, so I was scared that Liberation at Chinese Arts Centre might un- like me. Also the email described me as a “contemporary artist, who recently created alternative information platform for artists, FaceROOK”. That isn‟t what Facerook is about. It is merely a re-direction of the domain name – I was scared that this other interpretation of my work would result in Liberation at Chinese Arts Centre un-liking FaceROOK. At this point I decided it was essential for me to add Brendan Fan, Elizabeth Wewiora, Tom Kinniburgh, Laurence Kaye, and Matthew Trump on Facebook. I couldn‟t find Matthew Trump – I wasn‟t sure which Matthew Trump he is on Facebook as there are too many of them plus he didn‟t talk at all in that Group chat so I figured it maybe it wouldn‟t be so bad. And so for the next day I waited anxiously for them to accept me as their friend. 1 Statistics 2010 [] Last accessed: 4th August 2010
  4. 4. Sure enough - the next day, Liz accepted me as her friend. I couldn‟t find any further information as to what the talk could be about on her Facebook Profile but I found out that she had only just registered with Facebook since 18th December 2009 and [23] that she only did so “because of all the Sub Club lot in Glasgow, along with miss SONIA KAN pestering [her] far too much about it!”2 [24] Rachel Watts even said that [she] “knew [Liz] would cave!”. I found Liz enjoying her welcome into this “Facebook side of life”3 despite [25] the “Glasgow Girls wear[ing] her down, and getting her drunk enough to do it.”4 I assume Facebook must be growing on Liz, seeing as she was liking Friendship Accepts5,, [26] posting holiday snaps from Crete, and also now creating an Events Page for this Liberation Talk. Soon after, Tom accepted me as his friend. Tom‟s Facebook Profile provided me with more information for the talk. [27] From his status update, I found that he is the “Associate producer for Applications Company, Chillingo ltd - who currently have the world number one selling app for IPhone”. From a status update, I found out also that there is a guy called Rick Owen who would like to attend this Liberation talk as he is “looking for some inspiration for a tattoo”6. Another user, Hayley Smith, doesn‟t seem to think that Tom “has been in the front of knowledge on China”7 but Ben Smith assured her that [Tom] is just “gona freestyle it [if not] prepare a long and invigorating speech 8”. I wasn‟t sure how my speech would work with the rest of my speakers but I assured myself that I now knew a lot about my new Facebook friends. I believe it is this kind of intimacy that has also led to the initiation of Facebook groups such as the above-mentioned, [28] all assuming we are “based around shared interests, activities or anything you like”. [29] “Social spaces materialised by neo-liberal technologies”9 – market-driven or market-defined – have enabled a kind of intimacy on networked environments like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, or Youtube. This brings us to the questions of whether intimacy is different on Facebook (a “social space materialised by neo-liberal technologies”)? If so, does this alter our more general understanding of intimacy (in the „real world‟)? Jürgen Habermas (YER-GEN HEY-BER-MARS) claims that intimacy is actually an assumed idea, and is based on each person being able to “imagine one as the subject of a novel starring himself/herself.”10 [30] According to statistics of activity on Facebook, there are “over 900 million objects that people interact with (pages, groups, events and community pages). An average user is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events. An 2 Elizabeth Wewiora, 3 Kate Austin,, 18th December 2009 at 07:18 4 Elizabeth Wewiora,, 18th December 2009 at 17:49 5 Elizabeth and Chris Kelly are now friends, 6 Rick Owen, 7 Hayley Smith, 8 Ben Smith, 9 Cohen, Kris. (2004) Intimacy without Reciprocity: Suffragists, Internet Trolls, and Sharon Hayes‟ Love Letters, PhD thesis, The University of Chicago. 10 Cohen, Kris quoting Jurgen Habermas in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1989), 43-56.
  5. 5. average user creates 90 pieces of content each month. More than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) shared each month”11. This means that there are over 900 millions novels we are all starring in. True to this word Facebook pries on this intimacy which comes from the assumption that each individual would be understood when talking to another, and that, reciprocally, they could recognise another person‟s sentiments as expressions of a shared human interest. Each individual is therefore entitled to create Facebook groups, pages, events, and community pages, representing a mass-shared interest. Habermas called this an “audience-oriented subjectivity12.” A sort of internalised audience became the predicate for speech, or in the Facebook case - Groups created, beliefs imposed, status updates, photos posted, etc. [31] If one can represent general human interests, one can easily imagine himself/herself starring as a subject of a work of art. People who make art and people who live lives can therefore interact with this formation of imagined intimacy. [32] The next question would be whether this intimacy offered by contemporary art is affected by Facebook or the other online social networks we discuss today, if neoliberal they are, they depend on the market, and rely on the person being a „Star‟ to function. Reciprocally, will there be any effects then made by contemporary art on the intimacy of Facebook? [33] The Internet has created a pillar of support for private intimacy (Facebook/ other social network environments) in the home, public speech („real world‟ interactions or Talks like today), and autonomous criticism. This pillar of support promises not just intimacy but also a technology guarantee. [34] “I wasn‟t stalking you – it was in the news feed.”13 To say that stalking is a betrayal of the ideal of reciprocity on the Internet is to speculate the motto of Facebook, one that predicates itself on a free-for-all response. [35] Arguably, the Internet has become a space where all manner of wireless transmissions break into our fabric of familiarity while both mapping and describing us, translating the sights of the virtual on to which users can scrutinise both as narcissist and voyeur. Everybody loves a blockbuster. Facebook is the best and closest thing to reality TV starring ourselves in this giant reality TV blockbuster - that‟s why we all can‟t stop tuning in. In these normally unnoticed, trivial and repetitive actions comprising the common activity of Facebook is perhaps the crack to hack into what is hidden in a single Facebook frame, so that together not only can we find the keys to unlock its network, but also that which can set us loose. 11 Statistics 2010 [] Last accessed: 4th August 210 12 Cohen, Kris quoting Jurgen Habermas in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1989), 43-56. 13 Quote from Facebook: [] Last accessed: 4 th August 2010