YouTube is a new kind of nation-state rooted in, and ruled by, self-aware performances about the rules and truths of its own conditions and practices. Like the internet it is built in and builds, it is a self-aware production about the conditions and experiences of social media labor, affect, ownership, and politics that also teeters on, and sits uncomfortably within, the true/fake divide.

Note to readers: With a heavy heart I link to this video. You need not watch it to understand its astounding connections to and revelations of the internet’s self-aware exposés of labor, politics, economics, the nation-state, and the truth/fiction divide. Its status as real and fake news is definitive of the medium, the message, and the man.

Further Reading on Performance and #100hardtruths-#fakenews:


#100truths-fakenews #9 is taken from John Herman’s “YouTube Monster: PewDiePie and His Populist Revolt,” NYTimes, February 16, 2017:

For now, most of the biggest internet platforms are understood as venues for communication, expression and consumption. YouTube has given us a glimpse at what happens when users start associating social platforms with something more: livelihoods … With more than a billion users, YouTube has become not merely a platform but almost a kind of internet nation-state: the host of a gigantic economy and a set of cultures governed by a new and novel sort of corporation, sometimes at arm’s length and other times up close.

Herman goes on to explain how YouTube’s recent firing of PewDiePie, one of its biggest and top-earning celebrities, for his either real or fake alt-right leanings (does it matter? can we ever know?) exposes a cluster of truths about this platform, truths that I have been documenting since the site’s inception, and which both he and I understand as bellwethers for other “developing” social networks and the internet that has been built by and on them. Namely, that YouTube is a “performatively self-aware” political-economy (Truth #10); that is, a new kind of nation-state rooted in, and ruled by, self-aware performances about the rules and truths of its own conditions and practices; that is, self-aware productions about the conditions and experiences of social media labor, affect, ownership, and politics that also teeter on, or sit uncomfortably in, the true/fake divide.

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Today’s media consumer cannot trust the internet, its news, or networks—fake or otherwise. Given the wretched state of today’s internet, skeptical, self-aware interaction with digital data is a critical foundation for maintaining democracy.

A self-aware attention to the current conditions of the internet must become a most important self-evident truth to move forward. A very serious project of digital media literacy is critical for our democracy, and is a crucial place where scholars and our students, regardless of our fields, can make pivotal contributions. As citizens, we need to understand how the internet works—technologically, financially, legally, socially. We scholars and educators need to teach and learn how to better read digital media, to understand who makes it, owns it, and circulates it. We need to ask how and why it is structured and visualized as it is, and what truths and mistruths it states. We need to learn how and where to demand real and better news. We need to produce context for the rudderless fragments of information that circulate online, as well as the forums where we can share our findings, activities, and practices.

More Reading:

Today’s saccharine hand-wringing and the too-late fixes erupting from the mouthpieces for the corporate, media, and political interests responsible for this mess are as bogus as Lonelygirl15.

Lonelygirl15 was one of the first viral sensations of the early days of YouTube, a very popular video-blogger. Quite late into her fame, she was exposed as a fake produced by a professional production company (the better to please you, my pretty). In writing about the early days of YouTube, I explained that one effect of early viewers knowing that core YouTube fare might be or even was probably faked was a cynical (if “fun”) mode of reception definitive of the medium and its moment: that everything was fake, or at least could be. While a converse response to this universal media skepticism has found itself today in a twee return to the sincere (and even sometimes a sincere return to the sincere), this heartfelt search for trust sits in stark relief against the seedy untruths that litter the internet stage.

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Today’s internet is built on, with, and through an unruly sea of lies, deceptions, and distortions, as well as a few certainties, cables, and algorithms.

At first blush, it may appear that here I am referring to the rather benign oceans of user-generated content forming the meat of today’s internet: the half-truths of tweets, the fix-ups of Photoshop, the embellishments of Facebook updates, our insincere thumbs-up and self-serving re-posts. But this isn’t the half of it. Bots post as tweeters. Corporations pose as consumers. Outright lies might be fact-checked and yet still saturate and linger in virtual space. Propaganda stands in for journalism and YouTube videos become presidential addresses surrounded by ads and suggestions to watch SNL and “Racist White Woman Trump Rant in Chicago Store 11/23/16.”

These very visible manifestations direct our attention to something else we know to be true that remains often harder to see: the internet’s hidden corporate architecture and governmental backbone. The foundational lies of today’s internet—that it is a public good rather than a monetized commodity; that it promotes or is even interested in freedom of expression and civil discourse; that our actions there are activism rather than consumerism—are papered over by facetious platitudes. The fake news, in other words, is not new, and it should not come as a surprise. In reality, the internet is primarily a place of censorship, capitalism, surveillance, distraction, and entertainment: the perfect incubator for fake news and all that might result from it.

See Some Infrastructure: