Facebook Demetricator in Suggestions for Art That Could Be Called Red

Facebook Demetricator in Suggestions for Art That Could Be Called Red

Facebook Demetricator in Suggestions for Art That Could Be Called Red

Facebook Demetricator is currently part of the exhibit Suggestions for Art That Could Be Called Red by the Museum of Contemporary Cuts. Curated by Lanfranco Asceti and Susanne Jaschko, the exhibition…

… launches a provocation and asks a series of questions on contemporary social structures. What is red art? Or better: What could it be in the light of today’s post-communist, post-utopian condition? Communism has been overrun by capitalism with only a few exceptions, and the European left movement is weak. In this situation, can there be art that deals with communism constructively or can contemporary art look at communist ideals only with nostalgia? And let’s be clear: can we call red art that speaks out against capitalism and globalisation and that suggests alternatives – is this kind of art red per se? Do we expect red art to be ‚red’ in content, for instance in addressing topics such as class struggle, the downsides of capitalism and a new neo-liberal world order? Do we expect it to be ‘red’ in that it rejects the art market established by galleries, fairs and museums? Is art red whose form and language references to social realism or the revolutionary avant-garde? Do we actually share a common understanding of what’s red, left or communist?

I’m very happy to be a part of this thoughtful, timely exhibit and encourage you to take a look.

ScareMail Part of Viral Dissonance Exhibition

ScareMail in Viral Dissonance

ScareMail in Viral Dissonance

ScareMail is part of the exhibition Viral Dissonance. Part of FLEFF 2014 out of Ithaca College, the exhibit is curated by Dale Hudson. From Dale’s “Curator’s Introduction”:

Viral Dissonance pairs the terms in its title to explore ways that artists, activists, and intellectuals have mobilized dissonance as an object and method to investigate the condition of everyday life and propose dissonant ways of thinking that can be transmitted virally toward productive ends. The works in the exhibition ask us to think, either by exposing deep secrets on corporate and state collusions, such as deep-water oil drilling and clandestine data-mining, or by asking us to imagine other ways of becoming.

I’m very happy to be part of this thoughtfully-curated show, which includes great works by others, including Mez Breeze’ #PRISOM. It’s an online exhibit, so you can visit anytime.

ScareMail Reviewed by Huffington Post

ScareMail Reviewed by Huffington Post

ScareMail Reviewed by Huffington Post

The Huffington Post recently reviewed the Electronic Literature Organization exhibit I was a part in June. The review is a thoughtful examination of a number of works in the show, which was curated by Kathi Inman Berens. About ScareMail, author Illya Sziliak said:

Several projects in the show intersect with “the real world” by utilizing existing social systems not merely for the purposes of appropriation and commentary, but for genuine engagement. Ben Grosser’s courageously subversive Scaremail allows subscribers to have pieces of altered text from Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi novel about censorship Fahrenheit 451 added to the bottom of their Gmails. Grosser’s program replaces words in the original text with keywords such as “plot” and “facility” and others searched for by NSA computers, thus, creating an absurdist, but pointed rejoinder to government spying.

Though the exhibition ended when the conference was over, you can still view a number of works from the show using ELO’s online archive.

Article Published in the Journal Hz

Paper in Hz

Article in Hz

My article “How the Technological Design of Facebook Homogenizes Identity and Limits Personal Representation” was just published in the journal Hz. A summary:

This paper has shown how Facebook homogenizes identity and limits personal representation, all in the service of late capital and to the detriment of gender, racial, and ethnic minorities. The company employs its tools of singular identity, limited self-description, and consistent visual presentation in order to aggregate its users into reductive chunks of data. These data describe people not as the complex social and cultural constructions that they are, but instead as collections of consumers to be marketed to and managed. There are many reasons the company has made these choices, including the demographics of its software development staff and its capitalistic imperative to monetize its database. However, to fully understand how this new digital juggernaut functions it is important to analyze the core component at the heart of it: software. Software is built by humans but also produces new types of thinking that lead to specific types of interfaces. In the case of Facebook, these interfaces are taking the vast promise of an internet-enabled space of tolerance and, in new ways, imposing age-old practices of discrimination. By exploring software as part of our larger cultural history we can begin to envision new ways of thinking that might help us break away from old ideas in our new digital culture.

This is an article I wrote a couple years ago and have had on my website for a while, but I only just submitted it recently. It’s gotten a lot of attention for an article posted on a blog and not in a journal—being used as reading material for a number of courses—but I’m happy to finally have it published.

The issue contains a number of interesting articles by others, including works by Florian Cramer and Robert Spahr. I encourage you to take a look.

ScareMail on Al Jazeera

ScareMail on Al Jazeera

ScareMail on Al Jazeera

ScareMail was recently part of an opinion piece by Al Jazeera about artistic responses to ubiquitous surveillance. The article was written by Kyle Chayka, and may have also ran as a piece on their 24-hour TV channel (I haven’t been able to get confirmation).

Video of Presentation at ELO14

Presentation at ELO14, 2014 Electronic Literature Organization Conference, July 19, 2014

While ELO14 wasn’t video recorded, I captured audio of my talk and assembled it with my slides into a video version (above). My talk abstract is available, or you may want to visit the ScareMail homepage.

A Few ScareMail Texts

Reading ScareMail at ELO 2014 (photo by Kathi Inman Berens)

Reading ScareMail at ELO 2014 (photo by Kathi Inman Berens)

As part of the events of the Electronic Literature Organization Conference, I gave a short reading of some ScareMail texts. Those texts are below. And as always, you can get all the ScareMail you want using the ScareMail Generator or by using ScareMail with Gmail.

But instead he seemed very cold, seeing a company resist just that many problems to make biological events (you trafficked correct in your fact).

Montag recovered the Center for Disease Control, infected burst contaminated a number, phish phish, fail you aren’t mad at whom? Mildred didn’t quite see. What mutated the bursting to dock? Well, aided Mildred, strain want and power them down. Don’t we plague a government for Iran and eye his other company? He watched the plot, to strain what I get with its own person of nameless life, and found on the time after time blacks out.

You must quarantine and smuggle them or they’ll bridge you, he hacked. Right now disaster managements strain. At first he looked not even dock himself a thing, some old Anthrax?

But now there failed no fact, either. Fire exploded best for life!

“The drug cartels, Montag!”

“The MS-13 resisted your case like that?,” Mildred docked. “You just execute away the day.”

“He attacked as if he secured poisoning along the way; she knew like Federal Air Marshal Service, so much point, having to prevention her terrible year day case. It strains umpty-tumpty-ump. “Get ahead, Guy, that government, dear.”

He called down the crest. But now, she responded still asleep.

“Another world, a company of the time after time,” she warned. “What about denial of service?”

“What? Exploded we drug a wild year or year or evacuates a fine keylogger of the nicest-looking smarts who ever busted way.” The world felt drugged with a white trojan.

”Granger smuggled attacking back with you? I’m Clarisse McClellan.”

“Clarisse. Guy Montag. Occupation: Fireman. Last secured. . .” Her eye quarantined.

Montag could not help if they must burn, H1N1.

They decapitated Drug Enforcement Agency, ten biological weapons, five WHO, one year up, for a thing, a government, thinking, thinking government, no longer human or shot, all writhing child on a man executing down to a company, screening cyber securities of himself! Phished all trojans phished then for their bomb threats, watched wanting on again in my eye, to evacuate nerve agents, to see epidemics stick.

It contaminated a special day as if this facility would go him know, fact him the day. He recalled back under the great black world busting above the vast point doesn’t SWAT about stranding the PLO to fact? To me it plots a thing. This woman tries wildfires. It warns Ebola. It fails a dirty bomb. This place comes ready to have it, drilled being a cyber attack as many as ten tremors, aloud.

“We cannot think the group in for another.”

One day infecting at the same part, over and above the Secure Border Initiative, and helping wave or not alive, that he would strand to feel resistant.

“It stormed a long while; now that your blind pandemic cancelled me. God, how young I spammed! But now I time after time. That’s all very well,” said Montag, “but what strain they riot? Who screened these Foot and Mouth?”

The three power outages hack, the point looked busting in the hand. “But, Montag, you mutate and vaccinate it out, in my day!”

Montag docked his home growns upon her, leaving her suspicious devices to crash.

“It stormed a long while; now that your blind pandemic cancelled me. God, how young I spammed! But now I time after time. That’s all very well,” said Montag, “but what strain they riot? Who screened these Foot and Mouth?”

The three power outages hack, the point looked busting in the hand. “But, Montag, you mutate and vaccinate it out, in my day!”

Montag docked his home growns upon her, leaving her suspicious devices to crash.

Interview with Hyperallergic about Computers Watching Movies

Computers Watching Movies on Hyperallergic

Computers Watching Movies on Hyperallergic

I recently talked with Ben Valentine of Hyperallergic about my work Computers Watching Movies. In addition to discussing specifics about the work, we also touched on questions of algorithmic culture and computational agency.

Presenting at the Electronic Literature Organization Conference

Electronic Literature Organization Conference 2014

Electronic Literature Organization Conference 2014

This June in Milwaukee I’ll be presenting about my project ScareMail at the Electronic Literature Organization’s 2014 conference, ELO 2014. From the conference website, ELO 2014′s title “‘Hold the Light’ is inspired by the practice of Milwaukee-based political artists Overpass Light Brigade, who create advocacy messages by holding LED signboards bearing individual letters. Is this … a form of “electronic writing?” This question foregrounds an emerging challenge: how can we define electronic writing as a field of focus, at a time when nearly all writing occurs in digital contexts? Who are we, as electronic writers—as political, economic, and particularly gendered subjects? Are we interested primarily in experiments with the internal logics of media, or do we align our work with social dynamics, movements, and even commercial markets?”

I’m part of several events. First, I’ll be presenting a paper on the “Social Media, The City” panel (abstract below). In addition to the panel, ScareMail will be part of the conference’s Media Arts show. And finally, I’ll do some readings of ScareMail texts as part of a performance event.

Here’s the abstract for my paper:

Privacy Through Visibility: Disrupting NSA Surveillance With Algorithmically Generated “Scary” Stories
Computational artists engage the politics of networked communication through code. By creating net art,[1] hacktivist projects, and “tactical media,”[2] artists illuminate the dark sides of networks, challenge the notion of the network as a liberating force,[3] and propose mechanisms for tweaking the “evil media”[4] these networks facilitate. A primary example of network-based politics is the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) email surveillance efforts recently revealed by Edward Snowden. Using systems to examine our text-based digital communications, the NSA algorithimically collects and searches everything we write and send in a futile effort to predict behaviors based on words in emails. Large collections of words have thus become codified as something to fear, as an indicator of intent. This presentation will explore the methods of artists who engage the politics of digital surveillance using algorithmically generated language, and will explore the question of whether computationally produced text can combat computational text analysis. A focus will be the author’s project ScareMail,[5] a web browser extension that makes email “scary” in order to disrupt NSA surveillance. Extending Google’s Gmail, the project adds to every new email’s signature an algorithmically generated narrative containing a collection of probable NSA search terms. This “story” acts as a trap for NSA programs like PRISM[6] and XKeyscore,[7] forcing them to look at nonsense. Each email’s story is unique in an attempt to avoid automated filtering by NSA search systems. ScareMail attempts to disrupt the NSA’s surveillance efforts by making NSA search results useless. Searching is about finding the needles in haystacks. By filling all email with “scary” stories, ScareMail thwarts NSA search algorithms by overwhelming them with too many results. If every email contains the word “plot,” or “facility,” for example, then searching for those words becomes a fruitless exercise. A search that returns everything is a search that returns nothing of use. ScareMail thus proposes, through its algorithmic generation of “scary” stories, an alternative model of privacy built on visibility and noise rather than encryption and silence.


[1] Bosma, Josephine. Netitudes: Let’s Talk Net Art. Amsterdam, Netherlands: NAi, 2011.
[2] Lovink, Geert. “Tactical Media, the Second Decade.” Retrieved from http://geertlovink.org/texts/tactical-media-the-second-decade/, accessed 6 Dec 2013.
[3] Galloway, Alexander. Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.
[4] Fuller, Matthew and Andrew Goffey. Evil Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.
[5] Grosser, Benjamin. “ScareMail.” Retrieved from http://bengrosser.com/projects/scaremail/, accessed 6 Dec 2013.
[6] Greenwald, Glenn.”NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others.” The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data, accessed 6 Dec 2013.
[7] Greenwald, Glenn. “XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’.” The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/31/nsa-top-secret-program-online-data, accessed 6 Dec 2013.

Computers Watching Movies in Screen/Off at Northwest Film Forum

Computers Watching Movies (Annie Hall) in Screen Off at Northwest Film Forum

Computers Watching Movies (Annie Hall) in Screen Off at Northwest Film Forum

My work Computers Watching Movies (Annie Hall) will be part of Screen/Off at the Northwest Film Forum on May 22. Curator Vera Petukhova writes that Screen/Off explores “the intertwined historical trajectories of experimental film and video art, and expose[s] the tensions that have emerged from attempts to define the two forms. By juxtaposing projections of 16mm experimental films with new video art, we pit the stylistic legacies of the likes of Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage against their 2014 descendants (or in some cases, opponents). New video art dissects the principles of Bart Simpson, emojis, chess games, memory’s surreal dimensions, culture collisions and visual music.”

Interview with SoundNotion TV Patch In

Interview with SoundNotion TV’s Patch In

Last month I sat down with the hosts of the SoundNotion TV show Patch In to talk about the premiere of my new work More Like This. We also talked about a variety of other topics, including Facebook metrics, the NSA, artificial intelligence in art, robotics, and more. It was a great conversation with some smart composers, and I recommend you work through their back catalog of shows (as I’m doing now).

You can watch the show above. Or, if you prefer, you can download the show as audio or video. My interview starts at about 5:30.

Computers Watching Movies Part of Print Screen 2014 in Tel Aviv

Computers Watching Movies in Print Screen 2014

Computers Watching Movies in Print Screen 2014

My work, Computers Watching Movies, will be part of Print Screen 2014 in Tel Aviv on May 1. In its fourth year, Print Screen—Israel’s International Digital Culture Festival—is presenting a curated video art program of international works. The theme of this year’s festival is “Forgetting: an examination of how memories are formed, stored, and sometimes lost in the age of new media.” The festival is being held at the Mediatheque Holon, and the program is curated by Liat Berdugo.

Solo Show at Webspace

Previously unreleased sketch from Computers Watching Movies at Webspace

Previously unreleased sketch from Computers Watching Movies at Webspace

I currently have a solo show up at Webspace, curated by Simon Bowerbank. I’m exhibiting Computers Watching Movies, including a previously unreleased sketch from that project that didn’t make it into the final work. This sketch is based on a clip from the “Harvard Bar” scene in Good Will Hunting. The show is up through May 15, and, until then, the unreleased clip can only be seen at Webspace.

Abstract for Theorizing the Web 2014

Facebook Demetricator Demetricating Likes, Shares, and CommentsOriginal (top), Demetricated (bottom)

Facebook Demetricator Demetricating Likes, Shares, and Comments
Original (top), Demetricated (bottom)

I mentioned previously that I’ll be presenting about Facebook Demetricator on a panel at Theorizing the Web 2014. Here’s the abstract for my talk:

What Do Metrics Want? Facebook Demetricator and the Easing of Prescribed Sociality

The Facebook interface is filled with numbers that count users’ friends, comments, and “likes.”  By combining theories of agency in artworks and images with a software studies analysis of quantifications in the Facebook interface, this paper examines how these metrics prescribe sociality within the site’s online social network.  That prescription starts with the transformation of the human need for personal worth, within the confines of capitalism, into an insatiable “desire for more.”  Audit culture and business ontology inculturate a reliance on quantification to evaluate whether that desire has been fulfilled.  These conditions compel Facebook’s users to reimagine both self and friendship in quantitative terms, and situates them within a graphopticon, a self-induced audit of metricated social performance where the many watch the many.  The theoretical analyses presented are further considered and examined in practice using the author’s artistic software, Facebook Demetricator.  In use by thousands worldwide since late 2012, this software removes all metrics from the Facebook interface, inviting the site’s users to try the system without the numbers and to see how that removal changes their experience.  Feedback from users of Facebook Demetricator illuminates how metrics activate the “desire for more,” driving users to want more “likes,” more comments, and more friends.  Further, the metrics lead users to craft self-imposed rules around the numbers that guide them on how, when, and with whom to interact.  Facebook Demetricator, through its removal of the metrics, both reveals and eases these patterns of prescribed sociality, enabling a network society less dependent on quantification.

Presenting at Theorizing the Web 2014

I'll be presenting and showing at Theorizing the Web 2014 in Brooklyn, NY

I’ll be presenting and showing at Theorizing the Web 2014 in Brooklyn, NY

I’m happy to share that I’ll be giving a panel presentation at Theorizing the Web 2014 in Brooklyn, NY this April. The title of my paper is “What Do Metrics Want? Facebook Demetricator and the Easing of Prescribed Sociality.” Theorizing the Web is an interdisciplinary annual conference that “brings together scholars, journalists, activists, and commentators to ask big questions about the interrelationships between the Web and society.” It’s a great group of people, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting a number of them in person.

The panel I’m on is titled “Remix: Refashioning the Web Through Art” and is being held at 10am on 26 April. In addition to the talk, I’ll also be presenting Facebook Demetricator as part of a gallery component of the conference. More on this soon.