Society for the Social Study of Mobile Communications

The Society for the Social Study of Mobile Communication (SSSMC) is intended to facilitate the international advancement of cross-disciplinary mobile communication studies. It is intended to serve as a resource and to support a network of scholarly research as to the social consequences of mobile communication.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

CFP: After Social Media: Alternatives, New Beginnings, and Socialized Media

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 problems
  • analysis of appropriation of ASM innovations by corporate social media systems

***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