Hito Steyerl: Politics of Post-Representation

In her conversation with Marvin Jordon, Hito Steyerl shares her thinking around the corporatization and militarization social media and the art world.  While reading through the conversation, I began to think about the many fallacies around digital content that society has blindly bought into.  The biggest lie we have come to believe is that the content we share on the internet and social networks is ours. Whereas we actually give up ownership and privacy to all of the information (text or visual) that create one we press the “share” button.

I gathered the following key ideas from Steyerl’s conversation with Jordon:

  • Surveillance. The government and our digital devices collect data around our digital usage to gather information and learn about our preferences.
  • Noise (or spam).  Companies and organizations gather this same information to either distort or amplify our discussions for their benefit.
  • Life-Span. The life-span, or large-scale visibility, of an image is determined by our participation in its circulation.  Our participation in the re-post and sharing of the image determines how visible it becomes.

selections from the text:

“We might think that the phone sees what we want, but actually we will see what the phone thinks it knows about us. A complicated relationship — like a very neurotic marriage. I haven’t even mentioned external interference into what your phone is recording. All sorts of applications are able to remotely shut your camera on or off: companies, governments, the military. It could be disabled for whole regions. One could, for example, disable recording functions close to military installations, or conversely, live broadcast whatever you are up to” (Steyerl).

“In your insightful essay, “The Spam of the Earth: Withdrawal from Representation”, you extend your critique of representation by focusing on an irreducible excess at the core of image spam, a residue of unattainability, or the “dark matter” of which it’s composed” (Steyerl).

“Think of Twitter bots for example. Bots are entities supposed to be mistaken for humans on social media web sites. But they have become formidable political armies too — in brilliant examples of how representative politics have mutated nowadays. Bot armies distort discussion on twitter hashtags by spamming them with advertisement, tourist pictures or whatever. Bot armies have been active in Mexico, Syria, Russia and Turkey, where most political parties, above all the ruling AKP are said to control 18,000 fake twitter accounts using photos of Robbie Williams, Megan Fox and gay porn stars”(Steyerl).

“Social media makes the shift from representation to participation very clear: people participate in the launch and life span of images, and indeed their life span, spread and potential is defined by participation” (Steyerl).


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