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<nettime> One million American Twitter users exposed to political judgme
Paolo Cirio on Tue, 20 Nov 2012 04:38:51 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> One million American Twitter users exposed to political judgment. PERSECUTING.US

One million U.S. citizens are sorted by political affiliation and
exposed to public persecution in the aftermath of the 2012
presidential election.

For months, Paolo Cirio secretly stole data from Twitter.com on over
one million Americans. Using a sophisticated sifting process, he
determined the political affiliation of those people and scored their
public statements and social connections in terms of the likelihood
that they aligned with a political position.

Persecuting.us offers a platform where everyone can take part in a
participatory model pushed to extremes, engaging people in surveying
and persecuting each other in a form of info-civil-war of political
polarization, which can potentially erupt into defamation,
intimidation and oppression of domestic enemies.

This art project is a massive citizen-sorting database organized along
political lines, much like the private holdings that have amassed
databases of voters in order to influence and monitor the electorate.

During the last election, Twitter was used to track down people’s
opinion, promote candidates by buying trending topics in public
debates and invite citizen participation through tweeting their
political statements. However, Twitter is a private company which
monitors, manipulates and sells data on personal and public trends.

This project breaks boundaries in art transgression with a Social
Sculptural Performance made by a mass of people arranged and involved
in an artwork without their permission. The accidental participants
become part of a transformative spectacle with an unsettling

The offline art installation evokes the activity of wiretapping the
Internet to identify political activities. Through an audio
installation the audience at the exhibition space can listen to an
over-two thousand hour-long track of robotic voices reading selected
statements of US citizens sorted by their political involvement.

Persecuting US is the third project by Paolo commenting on
contemporary privacy issues. Just a month ago, Street Ghosts, a
project about Google Street View, generated media attention and
concern worldwide. In 2011, Face to Facebook hit over one thousand
worldwide media outlets just one week after its publication. Paolo is
currently busy with a new project about global offshore finance that
will be published shortly.

Paolo Cirio. - http://paolocirio.net

Social Sorting:

Political parties have begun to equip themselves with databases of
millions of potential voters’ personal details to target them with
individualized messages and monitor trends in opinion which they can
then manipulate.

An entire new industry of political technology is growing with big,
centralized databases of voters’ information created for profit and
political control. These databases gather massive amounts of
information on voters from several sources and from trawling their
traces left on online platforms like Twitter, which still have poor
privacy protections.

George W. Bush won two presidential elections by targeting voters with
a database called VoterVault, a model later copied by the Democratic
party with their database, Catalist, helping Barack Obama to win the
elections in 2008 [[1]]. In 2011 the Republican party secretly created
a new database [[2]], Themis, with the aim of significantly impacting
the 2012 elections. Huge investments in advertising on traditional
media platforms are shifting to sophisticated digital tools to create
persuasive personalized messages. This shift keeps those with the
economic means [[3]] in control of the political process, while moving
their hegemony to the most influential contemporary media space.

These voters never gave permission to log their data like this, but
that’s not the only concern. The main threat is to the democratic
process itself and malicious use of this data could even lead to
future anti-democratic politics. Profiling citizens politically means
exploiting people’s opinions for political gain; it allows new forms
of effective political manipulation and starts a process of monitoring
every aspect of each person’s life to collect material for political

Persecute.US is an artwork that will show people the extent to which
their political privacy has been compromised for political gain. The
artwork raises concern through press and personal reactions to an
artificial scenario with hundreds and thousands experiencing the
purgatory of being exposed by social profiling.

Social media tool for social change.

Communication tools can amplify social movements, if not outright
revolutions. However, both authorities and fanatics can use the same
tools to crack down on dissidents and opponents. A person’s political
affiliation can be monitored and targeted, not just by the
authorities, but also by any political opponent. The secret ballot is
jeopardized by abuse of the data amassed by these new technologies and
by encouraging people to express their political position on social
media. Consequentially, new frontiers in voter intimidation and
influence are opened.

Everything said publically over social media can be taken as evidence
of a political leaning one way or the other. Mechanized political
judgment is constantly operating through algorithms that score people
and officials looking for opponents. Language and use of words is
monitored through trivial interpretations, subject to mistakes, yet it
can still be incriminatory.

Meanwhile, real-time manipulation of people’s opinion is sold off
through constructed trends like promoted tweets or multimillion dollar
promoted hashtags, a sophisticated and devious utilization of language
and public debate. In addition to these new propaganda techniques,
censorship over social media is sold off to authorities as well. For
instance, Twitter now unveils details of dissidents and censors
messages on a country-by-country basis [[4]], following the
instructions of the local despot. This results in real political
persecution, especially in those countries where Twitter collaborates
with oppressive authorities.

Centralization of the digital information flow expands surveillance
capacity. These are the consequences that everyone has to face when
social media platforms sell out their users and hand over their data
to the authorities, since social communication data isn’t independent
but embedded within privately owned environments. Private social media
platforms expose personal data rather than protect it, in order to
generate more traffic and users so that the platform itself grows in
value. But the larger the platform, the greater the political risk to
each user and therefore, to politics itself.

Social media platforms should be constantly under public scrutiny to
maintain independent, protected and fair communications. Media as
tools that help to build social relations and enhance general
knowledge shouldn’t be left in private hands for commercial and
political exploitation. Rather, it should be in the public domain and
kept autonomous for the sake of all humanity.

Anti-social media.

Social media platforms are proud to claim that they allow social
relations to grow, but they can destroy just as many, or ghettoize
people in the same self-referential networks they were already in.

Without interaction with others, no pacification or constructive
debate can ever take place. Political fractions become fully isolated
groups unable to communicate to anyone outside themselves. Politics
becomes even more polarized as a result of miscommunication and
isolation in a multiplication of micro-communities. And the isolation
facilitates social sorting and subsequent manipulation of the
micro-targets thereby generated.

In social media people mirror the flowing void of present political
discourse. They reproduce the rhetorical language of their political
masters in a sort of auto-demagogy. Lately, internalized political
rhetoric has been driving political subjectivization, and users
influence themselves in a self-defensive manner, forgetting the
discursive aspect of negotiation between opinions that makes up

Encounters with “the Other” happen only through conflict, because of
restricted social connections dictated by the platform itself and a
general low quality of communication mediated by these digital
platforms. We don’t confront others anymore, so we aren’t able to
understand other opinions or ourselves in relation to them.

Social media are often being used to be hateful, and Twitter in
particular can be easily used to publically defame people, since there
are no protections against direct harassment. Hostility is frequently
generated as well because of misunderstandings and generalizations
that easily happen when the medium restrains communication, in this
case restricting each utterance to 140 characters.

The limits and potentials of social interactions on social media are
all about the design of the interface and the social algorithm applied
to them. For this reason democratizing the design of the instruments
can be beneficial for everyone, rather than leaving ownership of the
infrastructure in private hands that can plan social control by
constraining access to and use of information.

Social Sculptural Performance.

Persecuting.US is a deliberate and explicit exploitation of
individuals as material for an artistic social experiment. It’s a
Social Sculptural Performance of people potentially involved in
producing new anti-social networks through active and passive
participation in an artificial environment designed for a sensational
spectacle. The stage of the performance is delineated inside the
website of the Social Sculpture with individuals becoming participants
of a show for spectators watching from outside in the theatre of
popular media.

This sociological exhibition through a coercive approach to forms of
participation simultaneously involves hundreds of thousands of people
in an artistic performance without their authorization [[5]]. It is
the latter transgressive artistic practice that new media provides to
the artist. The notion of spectatorship in art and performance is
pushed through new frontiers with the potential of artworks made of
people using social media.

These sculptures of people have transformative capacity for the
viewers through cathartic performances generated by the social
interactions inside the artful arrangement of people. These sculptures
remind us of the possibilities in constructing new social realities by
reconfiguring the arrangement of information flow. Designing new
social algorithms is a form of sculptural activity, shaping new social
networks that interact and participate in lively performances.

These sculptural performances of informational power aim to unsettle
contemporary social conventions to raise awareness about problematic
situations by engaging randomly-selected crowds in a work of art,
reaching people who usually are excluded by art discourses and
breaking the boredom and passivity of media consumption.

 The hell created by this Social Sculptural Performance is a
reenactment of today’s social reality: participatory surveillance,
isolated and manipulated public debate, manufactured voters through
manipulation of people as micro-targets, public disclosure of their
affinities and commercial exploitation of personal information by
private companies.

The artist can play with this general power of sorting and arranging
huge amounts of personal data and in doing so artistically reprogram
social forms. The social realities generated by web platforms that
collect personal information from people are a set of utilitarian
structures ready for artistic creation. Today artists can model
massive amounts of ready-made informational material and
recontextualize it in new speculative scenarios that comment on the
social condition of the society.

The Time:

The 2012 race for the White House was the most interactive election
yet. The 2012 was the first year in which both political parties
heavily used media such as Twitter to conduct their campaigns, and
filled databases of people by aggregating large amounts of personal

The “Hashtag Election” of 2012 represents a new brand of
hyperconnected electioneering, or the major use of Twitter to generate
polls or statistics which influence political strategy. Voters were
targeted to vote for a particular party in a form of direct
manipulative language, bordering on intimidation.

They were further encouraged to participate by expressing their
political opinion on social media, while political leaders attempted
to target them with their message, engage with key demographics, and
stumble on a genuine political “moment” on the same platforms, fueled
by the same networks.

Some numbers about the 2012 presidential election on Twitter:

- During the conventions, Twitter users generated 14,289 tweets per
minute in the wake of Republican nominee Mitt Romney's speech. When
Michelle Obama finished speaking at the Democratic convention, the
tweets were flying at a rate of 28,000 per minute. After President
Obama's speech, Twitter reported a 52,757 tweet-per-minute pace.

 - The first Presidential TV Debate generated 11.2M related tweets,
the second generated 12.2M and the third debate 7.8M.

 - During the vice presidential debate, women drove the social
conversation by generating 55 percent of the tweets. There were 72,000
tweets (32 percent of the overall Twitter volume) about the economy.
Next came Medicare and entitlements, at 45,000 tweets (20 percent),
and Afghanistan, at 25,000 (11 percent).

 - The Obama Administration purchased Twitter terms trending during
the debate, including Jack Kennedy, Malarkey, Afghanistan in 2014 and

- The Republican National Committee, and the Republican-leaning super
PAC Americans for Prosperity shelled out an estimated $120,000 each
for a Promoted Trend - a phrase or slogan like RomneyRyan2012,
FailingAgenda and 16TrillionFail.

 - In 2010, The Washington Post purchased the hashtag #election

 - In 2012 the presidential campaign set the record for highest
spending ever, with a total of $2 billion.

[1] Democrats Take Republican Database Model to Target Swing Voters

[2] Koch-backed activists use power of data in bid to oust Obama from
White House

[3] Why we must 'follow the money' of 2012's political ad spend

[4] Twitter able to censor tweets in individual countries.

[5] The data on the website is not indexed by search engines, keeping
private (which was publically available) information protected inside
an artistic context, in a way only simulating public exposure.

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