Arts·How To

Too much 'fake news' on Facebook? Build a new social network!

Thanks to Kickstarter, these artists are launching a "dystopian Facebook on drugs." It's called State of Exceptional, and it's set to arrive early next year.

With help from Kickstarter, these artists are launching a 'dystopian Facebook on drugs'

Desearch Repartment. "Organic Likes Power the State of Exceptional," 2016. (Desearch Repartment)

These days, the big news is "fake news."

People have always shared — and liked and flipped out over — made-up garbage on Facebook. If you've ever heard the term "lizard people," that would be why. But as we now know, during the last three months of the U.S. election campaign, users were sharing "fake news" — and liking and flipping out over it — at an explosive rate.

The spread of it overtook the real stuff, according to data from a Buzzfeed News investigation that was published last week. (That is to say, reports from major outlets got buried by fictional clickbait that was labelled as news — some of it generated for fun and profit.)

Why bother living in a place anymore when we could really be permanently functioning online? That's our goal.- Desearch Repartment

When the top election story on Facebook is "Pope Francis endorses Trump" — a total fabrication, by the way — we've got a problem, and not just because you forgot to block updates from some media-illiterate great uncle. (We all have them, apparently.)

Facebook continues to puzzle out a response to the situation. They've taken some action to prevent anyone from making money off misinformation. Display ads for "fake news" are now banned, for example.

In the meantime, there's another possible solution — and it was successfully backed on Kickstarter this week.

Let's build a new "dystopian Facebook on drugs" to replace the old one!

Desearch Repartment. "Starbucks Escalation," 2016. (Photo credit: Mike Tan/Courtesy of Desearch Repartment)

That's the project being led by Desearch Repartment, a satirical artist collective — though for the sake of this project and others, the anonymous group prefers to be called a "global think tank," one that operates from Canada, Germany and the United States.

The name of their new social media platform is State of Exceptional. As far as catchy branding goes, it's no "Snapchat" or "Twitter" or even "MySpace" (R.I.P.), but it'll become a reality early next year.

The project, a deliberately confounding critique of corporate culture and politics and art, reached a Kickstarter goal of $12,000 this past weekend — money which will help launch an actual social network which their small team of developers has been building for the last six months.

When it's ready, anyone can join, and according to Desearch, it'll be open to the public by March. They plan to launch it at a live "activity-based event" and installation at the Western Front artist-run centre in Vancouver.
 


 

"We weren't specifically thinking about fake news when we started the website, but we were thinking about how identity is constructed online through things like Facebook and politics," Desearch Repartment's co-founders told CBC Arts.

"I think in general we're picking up on lots of different things that are happening — and how social media is shaping our understanding of the world and our relationships."

Desearch Repartment. "Welcome to State of Exceptional," 2016. (Courtesy of Desearch Repartment)

"I think because of the way [social media] creates a little bubble out of your personal network — everyone has the same views, or close to the same views — you're not really exposed to what you're participating in, in the bigger picture."

But there's no "echo chamber" on SOE. In fact, Desearch doesn't think an "echo chamber" is even possible, and that's because "there's no room for voices" on their new site.

"Post-truth" might be the word of the year, but SOE is virtually "post-language." The only way to communicate there is through GIFs and emojis. (Kanye West would love it.)

Desearch Repartment. "SOE Self Care Health Care," 2016. (Courtesy of Desearch Repartment)

Their objective is to create a truly global place — a nation without borders that exists entirely on the web.

"Especially in the current climate that we're living in after the U.S. elections, things seem kind of confusing — what does democracy mean?"

Says Desearch: "We're hoping that the future of nations and citizenship will actually be located online."

As for what you can actually do on SOE, you can chat with other users (again, via emojis). You can make — and lose — friends, just like Facebook. You can watch videos, look at memes.

Desearch Repartment. "Institutional Flags," 2015. (Courtesy of Desearch Repartment)

The site will feel more like a game than some other social media sites, Desearch explains. They're currently creating quizzes and other activities which will make up the bulk of the site's content. (All results are shared in a newsfeed called the "Force Feed.")

If you want to be popular on SOE — become an "influencer," to use the marketing speak — you have to play the games. But there are other, more mysterious methods, too. Your status is ultimately decided by an algorithm, and Desearch won't say how it works. You know, just like Facebook.

According to Desearch, being popular on SOE is the only path to true happiness — and they mean that in the heavy, spiritual sense. We're talking about everlasting life here, because according to Desearch, their ideal SOE users aren't just trying to become internet famous — they're competing for a chance at immortality. Desearch breaks down some of the speculative tech that could make it happen:

"In the future, you might actually be able to be a clone or a hologram or a nanobot or a DNA archive, at which point you can live on eternally," they say.

(This would be a good moment to pause and remind you of their satirical intentions.)

"Of course, everyone's already online all the time," says Desearch. "But why bother living in a place anymore when we could really be permanently functioning online? That's our goal."

Desearch Repartment. "YAGA Torture Compassion Calgary," 2016. (Photo credit: Mike Tan/Courtesy of Desearch Repartment)

Learn more about the State of Exceptional project on Kickstarter and at Desearch Repartment's website.

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