CFP: Alternative Social Media special issue of Social Media + Society

After Social Media: Alternatives, New Beginnings, and Socialized Media
***Call for Proposals***
Editors: Fenwick McKelvey, Sean Lawson, and Robert W. Gehl

The editors seeks 500 word abstracts for proposed articles for a special
issue of Social Media + Society on “alternative social media.” The
editors welcome proposals from scholars, practitioners, and activists
from across disciplinary boundaries so long as the work is critical and
empirically rich.

Our call starts with a question: what comes after social media? It is
hard to imagine something other than the current configuration of social
media – of Facebook and Twitter – but signs of discontent abound. Social
media companies have become deputized to police and moderate whilst
being accused of poisoning civil discourse. Their integration of
advertising and targeting signals a new epoch of promotional culture,
but no one trusts the media anymore. As Brooke Duffy argues in (Not)
Getting Paid to Do What You Love, everyone can create, so long as they
don’t mind growing broke doing so. In sum, today’s social media is
broken… but what’s next?

For the past several years, one answer to “what’s next?” has been
“alternative social media.” Alternative social media encompasses a wide
range of systems, from diaspora* to Ello to Tokumei. In contrast to what
Robert Gehl calls “corporate social media,” such as Facebook, Twitter,
Google+, and Pinterest, alternative social media (ASM) “allows for users
to share content and connect with one another but also denies the
commercialization of speech, allows users more access to shape the
underlying technical infrastructure, and radically experiments with
surveillance regimes” (see

Thus, alternative social media may be understood in relation to larger
histories of alternative media, documented by scholars such as Megan
Boler, Nick Couldry, Chris Atton, and Clemencia Rodriguez, and carried
through into social media alternatives by collectives such as Unlike Us

Earlier instances of ASM included diaspora*, built as a critical
response to the growing dominance of Facebook in the late 2000s, with a
goal of decentralizing social media data and allowing end users more
control over their personal information. Later, decentralized systems,
such as Twister and GNU social, came online as alternatives to Twitter.
The Pinterest alternative Ello gained a lot of attention, especially due
to its manifesto with the opening provocation: “Your social network is
owned by advertisers.” Alternatives to Facebook and Twitter have even
appeared on the Dark Web (see
for examples).

As they have developed over the past several years, alternatives decried
the censorship and manipulation of content found in corporate social
media. Building on this, new alternatives dedicated to “free speech”
arose during and after the contentious elections in Western countries in
2016 and 2017, including the Twitter alternative Gab. Proclaiming its
defense of free speech – especially against the perceived liberal bias
of Silicon Valley-based corporate sites – Gab promises freedom for
everyone, including the “alt right” and white supremacists, to speak.

But other networks, such as the federated system Mastodon, have been
built to allow for powerful moderation of discourse, with Codes of
Conduct that often prohibit hate, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or
racist speech. Indeed, while they are wildly divergent in their
politics, both Gab and Mastodon have positioned themselves as antidotes
to corporate social media. These debates over speech in ASM echo the
longstanding tension identified by alternative media scholars, where
many alternative media developers seek to socialize media and bring it
in line with leftist politics, but see their discourses appropriated by
right-wing media organizations.

Regardless of whether they are right or left, alternative social media
face a simply reality: they just aren’t popular. Compared to the
billions of Twitter and Facebook users, alternative sites’ user bases
are tiny. Whether or not their goal ought to be massive scale, the
powerful network effects of corporate social media – as well as the
bewildering array of alternatives – certainly have stifled the growth of
the alternatives. Still, the alternatives deserve critical attention,
because they force us to rethink what we mean by “social media.” What
tethers so many people to so few corporate sites? And what actual
“alternatives” to corporate social media do the current slate of
alternative social media platforms propose?

Topics that may be explored in this special issue of Social Media +
Society might include:
* ethnographic or participant observation engagements with alternative
social media communities
* software studies analysis of shifts in underlying ASM technologies
* narratives from practitioners who have built, moderated, or
extensively participated in ASM
* comparative analysis of two or more ASM platforms
* studies of ASM as political, technical or cultural discourses or desires
* regulatory and policy discussion regarding controversies involving ASM
* speculative proposals or fictions about new ASM that address existing
* analysis of appropriation of ASM innovations by corporate social media

***Timeline/Important Dates [subject to change]
DECEMBER 20 2017: 500 word abstracts and CVs/resumes may be sent to
JANUARY 20 2018: Acceptance notifications sent to authors
MAY 15 2018: Full drafts due to
JULY 15 2018: Comments sent to authors by editors
SEPTEMBER 15 2018: Final drafts submitted to Social Media + Society for
peer review
FEBRUARY 2019: Special Issue Publication

Questions? Please email

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