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Paradoxes of Participation: Open Platforms, Closed Knowledge?

Fri, May 26, 14:00 to 15:15, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 3, Aqua Salon F

Session Submission Type: Panel


More than 10 years after the frenzy around the ‘web 2.0,’ we are witnessing how a handful of platforms such as Google or Facebook have evolved to reached the scale, robustness, and social role typical of traditional information infrastructures. Yet, they retain properties from platforms, such as programmability, modularity, and participation. The platformization of the web (Helmond, 2015) is now followed by the infrastructuralization of some platforms (Plantin et al., 2016).

This panel asks what impact this dual movement has on the creation, dissemination, and access to knowledge in society. First, concerning the evolution of the role and status of participation: as some platforms turn themselves into infrastructures, the participation of users is diversified (direct contribution, crowdsourcing, digital traces, etc.) and channeled to serve a multiplicity of goal, beyond simply providing content. If the web 2.0 bore the promise of making us all content creators, are Google and Facebook turning us all into data janitors (Irani, 2015)? Second, this changing role of participation has consequences for the openness and access to knowledge. Platforms may reach the scale of infrastructures, but they don’t abide by the mandates or regulation that apply to infrastructures in terms of accessibility and dissemination of knowledge. Whereas platforms decentralize typical modes of knowledge production (e.g. Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap), their infrastructuralization operates a recentralization around private interests, channelling user’s participation to reach a position of leader on a specific market. What are the consequences of such dynamics of decentralization/recentralization on knowledge?

This panel brings together researchers that investigate this tension between the diversification of participation and its enclosure through platforms. With the example of Facebook Messenger, David Nieborg and Anne Helmond show how Facebook combines the programmability of platforms with the scale of infrastructures to become the standard for mobile applications development. Jean-Christophe Plantin and Alison Powell demonstrate how citizenship changes when spatial information is produced and accessed through user-centric platforms instead of infrastructures. Mike Ananny and Tarleton Gillespie interrogate the limitations of platform regulations that follow “public shocks” incidents, and Fenwick McKelvey shows how gamers can mobilize to demand public accountability of internet infrastructures. Finally, Lilly Irani analyzes how platforms organize social relations in India’s creative industries, by bringing together the promise of generative, open-ended futures, while eliding the control they have and foregrounding the freedoms of participants.

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