The Power of Counterpower

as published in  Uncertainty Reloaded, Digicult 74, Winter 2013


Abstract: Social networking sites are networks of asymmetry. An amazing wealth of knowledge, information and affects is exchanged through a small number of powerful social networking sites. With privacy policies that enable data aggregation, and plug ins that allow data access to third parties, social media companies are today among the main holders of what Castells frames as communication power. The power of the networks is a power of protocols and a power of control. Having the ability to program, re-program and connect networks, its actors have the possibility not only to define and control the information flow but also to capitalize its circulation. And while resistance is crucial, its formations are still ephemeral and occasional. The paper will aim to examine power and resistance in the networks taking into consideration the theoretical approaches of Manuel Castells, Alexander Galloway, Eugene Thacker and Giorgio Agamben. It will focus especially on the mechanisms of counterpower, the logic of the exploit and the role of play in order to present and discuss playful and radical forms of resistance introduced by active and conscious creators.

Keywords: art; counterpower; creativity; exploit; play; power; resistance


In “Communication Power”, Manuel Castells argues that today’s culture is developed and structured through systems of communication. It is a culture based not on content but on process; not on the basis of shared values but on the sharing of the value of communication [1]. It is a culture of protocols based on the power of the networks, on the possibility of continuously exchanging information. As messages, ideas and discourses are constantly generated and diffused around a multiplicity of digital communication networks today, power relationships unavoidably are to be found at the points of activation and control.

Users today are not simply exchanging information in the interconnected space of flows; they also shape their thoughts and beliefs within them. They generate content influencing the networks and they allow the networks to partly affect and control their acts; they are dependent on the continuous flow of information, following everyday reality through them, and using the social networking platforms in order to communicate and work on forms of organization and resistance. But, how safe can the contemporary multitude really feel within the networks? How can one escape the forms of data aggregation and control? Can networks be reprogrammed? Can new topologies be found beyond surveillance and fear? And how?

In order to discuss resistance within the networks, their asymmetrical structure needs to be taken into consideration. Different politics of asymmetry develop on different layers and unequal power law distributions can be found among nodes or between the unit of the network and those who influence its architecture and control it. Networks today might be heterogenous, polyphonic and multicultural but hardly could one say that they are rhizomatic. As Galloway and Thacker have argued “this multiplicity of nodes in no way implies an inherently democratic, ecumenical or egalitarian order.” “Quite the opposite” [2]. Some nodes are always stronger than others and front-end dynamics – where users as nodes interact – unavoidably empower back-end dynamics ­­– to which users as nodes have no access – [3]. Asymmetry therefore seems to be the model but it can also become the tactic.

Asymmetry is “the inspiration for the concept of exploit” [4], the basis for intervention, disruption of control and change. It is the ground where resistance, counterpower as Castells names it, derives from. Locating the weak points of strategic significance, blocking central nodes or exiting towards alternatives are examples of such tactics of asymmetry; their effects might be temporary, but the changes brought can still be significant for the future of a networked condition. The paper will aim to discuss the notion of power in the networks and to highlight the necessity of emerging forms of counterpower while examining the possibilities given through exploits and radical alternatives. Play and creativity are suggested as vivid incentives that may encourage new forms of organization and unification for the digital multitude.

Defining power

Power is a relationship and not an attribute Castells clarifies. It is “the relational capacity that enables a social actor to influence asymmetrically the decisions of other social actor(s) in ways that favor the empowered actor’s will, interests, and values” [5] Explaining his statement, he refers to Michael Man’s definition of power as the ability to pursue and attain goals through mastery of one’s environment as well as to Hannah Arendt’s approach on power as the ability to do something always against someone or against the values and interests of someone [6]. Power is therefore always relational. It implies two sides, two actors describing the relationship between them, showing the imposition of the will of the one against the other. But in the case of the networks a controversy appears.

Networks are not hierarchical structures. Neither are they defined by two actors. On the contrary, networks are sets of interconnected nodes, collections of links between elements of a unit [7], relational constancies between components [8]. They are based on multiplicities formed together after common interests and values and their nodes as well as the relationships between them are respectively important. The whole makes the parts and the parts make the whole as Stalder argues [9]; at the same time, they are open-ended and multi-edged with boundaries subject to constant change [10]. At a first sight, power should have no position in the networks; power should be approached as a threat and asymmetry should exist only if it functions complementarily [11]. But networks are infected by power [12]; It looks like no one controls them, but networks are controlled [13]. There might be no authority, no legitimisation of the power of one node against others, but different power dynamics evolve and compete with or within the network structure.

But how perceptible are networks’ power dynamics and who are the main actors involved?

Network making power and counterpower

According to Castells four different forms of power can be identified:

a) The networking power: the power of inclusion and exclusion, or rather the power of the ones included in the network over the ones excluded from it.

b) The network power: the power of the standards of a network, the protocol, over its components, its nodes.

c) the networked power: the power exercised by certain nodes over others.

d) the network making power: the power to constitute and program networks according to the goals assigned and the ability to connect and ensure the cooperation between different networks. The actors holding this form of power are called by Castells respectively programmers and switchers [14].

Castells poses the network and its structure of organization in the center of his study regarding power. The potentialities and constraints of the network model, its protocol and structure as well as the possibility to be programmed and connected with other networks are the elements that influence the formation of power. For this reason, the network making power is the most important form of power. Deciding upon processes of configuration and therefore processes of communication on one hand and controlling the connecting points between networks on the other, the programmers and the switchers have the main control of the networks of communication. These actors do not need to be identified with one particular group or individual. “In many instances the power holders are networks themselves” [15].

Resistance to network making power can only be formed, according to Castells, by turning to the very same mechanisms that constitute power in the networks, by programming and switching. Through collective action, according to Castells, counterpower can be developed, which can mean “introducing new codes in networks’ programs”, “altering the kernel of the program code” or “blocking the switches between networks that allow control” [16]. Disrupting the flow and reconfiguring networks are two processes that are connected, not only for resistance to be formed but also for alternatives to be found.

The protocol and the counter-protocol


Alexander Galloway places the protocol in the centre of the discussion regarding power, describing it as a massive control apparatus that guides distributed networks [17]. Following Deleuze’s thought on society of control, he argues that after the centralised control of the sovereign society and the decentralised control of the disciplinary society of Foucault, “new forms of free-floating control” had to become apparent in accordance to the new distributed diagram [18]. Emphasizing the protocol, Galloway’s approach is close to Castells’s network power. Yet Galloway’s insistence is interesting to note. The protocol is not only a set of recommendations and rules for him, it also proposes the route of the flow for communication and therefore it influences the network nodes [19]. This form of power does not necessarily need to be “bad”, as he mentions, but it can be dangerous [20].

Resistance to this form of protocological power can only be found in asymmetry, in locating the “holes” and exploiting the power differentials existing in the system [21]. Using a term from the hackers community, Galloway and Thacker name this form of resistance “exploit” and describe it as a “resonant flow designed to resist, threaten and ultimately desert the dominant political diagram” [22]. Galloway and Thacker, like Castells, also argue that the introduction of new codings is important in terms of disciplines, methodologies and practices for any counterprotocological practice [23]. However, while Castells, underlines the importance of identifying the actors holding the power and their dynamics, they rather seem to underline the necessity of comprehending the asymmetry and interrelationships found in networks. Galloway and Thacker go through different examples from biology, terrorism, technology and global politics identifying actors, but they don’t generalise or categorise them. They are rather interested in the edges and not the nodes, therefore the connections and not the actors [24].

Understanding power in social networking sites

Social networking sites can be considered networks of asymmetry where network-making power is exercised by companies on users. Millions of users around the world are sharing knowledge, information and affects through a relatively short number of social networking sites. Their interests, beliefs, ideas, fears and desires are circulating in an interconnected social realm where every interaction leaves behind a mark. With privacy policies that allow data aggregation and plug ins that allow data access to third parties, social networking sites succeed in capitalizing relationships and affects, creating profit for the corporations behind them.

Mark Stumpel, an MA graduate student from the University of Amsterdam recently studied the mechanisms of control and resistance on social networking sites focusing especially on Facebook [25]. Using Castells and Galloway’s approaches in correlation with the critical writing of Matteo Pasquinelli and Tiziana Terranova, Stumpel discusses in his thesis different cases of programming, switching and reprogramming based on examples of platforms and plug ins that allowed exploitation and control. As he rightly points out, while reprogramming is achieved after resistance, this might not be necessarily for the benefit of the users; when privacy policies are re-introduced in social networking sites, new forms of appropriation and data enclosure make their appearance in the name of “openness and connectedness” [26]. Stumpel also discusses software applications developed by creators as counterprotocological practices and he looks into alternatives based on open source software as promising alternatives for the networked future.

The last few years the list of open source alternatives for social networking sites has grown. More and more creators develop platforms that liberate users from the mechanisms of exploitation and control while at the same time more and more users are aware of issues concerning their privacy and their data. At the same time, however, resistance seems futile. The percentage of users in alternative platforms remains small and the acts of opposition against the mechanisms of the dominant platforms are ephemeral and often unfruitful.

Which are the reasons for this impasse? Apart from the obvious and often said ‘but everybody is on Facebook’ argument that holds users back what makes networks difficult to comprehend and do not allow counterpower to become powerful enough?

Tiziana Terranova describes the new diagram of power “as an abstract machine of soft control”, which operates by exploiting “the productive capacities of the hyperconnected many” [27]. And “it is not soft because it is less harsh (often it has nothing gentle about it) but because it is an experiment in the control of systems that respond violently and often suicidally to rigid control” [28]. How would social networking sites be if users were obliged to have their profiles public, if they were asked directly to provide data to third parties or if it was apparent how their searches are being tracked and how much value is being generated? Control in networks like Facebook has to be soft in order to work. For this reason, users are given the possibility -or the impression- of being in control of their own data. They can modify their privacy settings choosing among the options offered and decide who has access to their uploaded content; but, they cannot control the use of their data by their parties, nor can they disrupt the switching. Control is not only soft therefore; it is also invisible, enabled through the interconnections of the platform.

A second point that needs to be mentioned following this first argument is that there is of course a certain degree of complexity when discussing networks. Two different types of networks intersect to formulate a social networking site: the social and the informational. The two of them have different topologies and dynamics, but the user has access only to the image of the former and not the latter. For instance a user can imagine or see a visualisation in relation to his friends but not in relation to the flow of her data.  A decentralised network is feeding a centralised one, something that Castells had noted already in 1996, realising the changes brought with the new informational and communication technologies enabling human interaction [29]. The term network is therefore used to describe systems of human interaction that emphasize both individual action and structural patters [30], and these structural patterns rely on an informational centralised layer which is purposefully left unclear.

Thirdly, the social and the informational reflect another dark side of the networked culture; that is the coexistence in networks of both human and nonhuman elements. “[Networks] exercise novel forms of control that operate at a level that is anonymous and non-human” Galloway and Thacker write [31]. Although humans might be the ones that constitute and construct networks, there is always the possibility that the network logic might take over they argue. Is this what is happening today in the world of social media? Are users losing power because non-human mechanisms are used to exercise control? This idea that might also be connected to the Actor Network Theory, brings again to the foreground the question of Bruno Latour regarding human and nonhuman actants: it is important to ask not only who is acting and but also what is acting and to take into consideration the uncertainty of an action [32]. The discussion around the involvement of the nonhuman element has at the same time created a controversy among scholars as there is also the argument that the human element, the role of the individual, is in this case being undermined. Christian Fuchs and Jan van Dijk for instance have criticized Castells as a technological determinist who is leaving aside the importance of the individual, examining networks on an abstract level, using computational language. Society is still “based on humans, who are reflexive and self conscious, that have cultural norms and anticipative thinking” Fuchs characteristically has written [33]; while van Dijk has claimed that Castells is “inclined to reify networks and the network society as clearly demarcated units or actors that overwhelm the rest of social reality instead of analysing them as constantly changing relations of human actors that expand and shrink and overlap with other social structures in a mutual shaping of structure and action” [ 34].

Finally, a last important point that needs to be mentioned is the difficulty of cultivating collective awareness and action. Castells argues in his latest book, that the new notion of mass self-communication is of historical importance, as any user can address a global audience through self-generated, self-directed and self-selected messages [35]. He believes that this can significantly assist in the formation of resistance and social change as it provides autonomous channels of communication. But it needs to be added that this emphasis on the potentiality of the user as a singularity can be ambiguous. It might actually imply a self-centred perception of the network, encouraging an illusionary narcissistic understanding of one’s position within it. Or, it might also embrace phenomena like clicktivism and interpassitivity, where one postpones being affective and active [36], and leaves the responsibility to her online profile and to clicks and shares on information about action [37]. The sad truth is, as Tiziana Terranova has argued, that in today’s interconnected world we might be connected but we are not unified. There is no single signifier or a stable consensus she argues that can assist in forming resistance. What is needed therefore is not a common position, but a common passion, one that would be able to unify the multitude, starting with affects [38].

So how can this impasse be surpassed? It seems that there is an urge for modes and affects that will assist users to understand the different topologies of the social and the informational, to realise the existence of the human with the nonhuman and to ultimately comprehend the functioning of control in networks. But, where could such modes and affects be found?

A call for play: Apparatus and counter-apparatus

The idea of the counterpower framed by Castells, or of counterprotocol expressed by Galloway define different forms of resistance which, along with others expressed especially by philosophers, highlight the importance of the ‘power to’ against the ‘power over’. One for instance could also recall the idea of the counter-actualisation of Gilles Deleuze [39] and the counter-apparatus of Giorgio Agamben. [40] What is common about them is that they all lie on the possibility of change, on the potentiality of the actors who although subject to power, can turn against it. As Foucault has put it “[it] does not mean that we are always trapped, but that we are always free…, that there is always the possibility of changing” [41]. Resistance is therefore rather about the possibility of one becoming the actor of her own events, of the chance of going further than thought possible as Deleuze has framed it. But this emphasis on possibilities and potentialities for a change connects resistance to another field, the field of play. As Apperley and Dieter have argued there is actually something game-like about the way Deleuze explores the potentials; counter-actualisation involves amplifying a disruptive force across an otherwise reiterative structure [42]. Play appears to constitute then the force of change. And it is not only in Deleuze’s writing that we locate this.

This role of play as a source of resistance is particularly underlined in the work of Giorgio Agamben.  In his analysis on the apparatus and the counter-apparatus, Agamben talks about the necessity of fighting mechanisms, which “capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure gestures, behaviors, opinions or discourses”. To succeed in this, to go against the power of the apparatus, resistance can only be found in one act, the act of profanation [43]. And this profanation according to Agamben can greatly be achieved though play. “To profane means not simply to abolish and erase separations but to learn to put them to a new use, to play with them” [44]. Play for Agamben, is thus the force that has the ability to de-activate elements, material or immaterial found in the apparatus and to also assigning a new, different use to them. Play allows the possibility for switch and sudden change, freeing behaviour, and rendering common what before was separated.

But what would it mean to deactivate certain functions within a network and to assign a new use to elements that are being exploited? Agamben’s thought is not far from the counter-mechanisms described by Castells or Galloway. The specification however of the role of play assists in understanding how counter-tactics or forms of exploit can emerge, surpassing to a greater or lower extent the difficulties spotted beforehand.

Play as the disruption of settled expectations [45], as a state of mind where the spirit of play is injected [46], as free movement within rigid structures [47] will be considered for the last section of this paper as the force for transformation, the passage for taking over the control of power. The following elements of play will particularly be taken into consideration:

- Play’s affective character as it is based on one’s own will [48] and on a redundancy of vital energy [49];
- Play as playing with the rules and using degenerate strategies [ 50, 51];
- Play’s openness to possibilities and transformation. [52, 53];
- Play’s connection to anonymity and disguise, protecting and liberating one’s identity [54];
- Play’s emphasis on the social and collaborative, on response-abilities that play and care draw together as part of the emerging play ethic [55].

Play is therefore proposed as the element in-between, the invisible switch that acts to render resistance possible. Play itself is not the resistance, it is the mode, the drive. For this reason, this form of resistance is very close to hacking and to the development of free and open source software and culture. As Raymond was saying “To do the Unix philosophy right, …you need to care. You need to play. You need to be willing to explore  [56]. More than a decade later one could say that this spirit persists and can now be traced in the creative and innovative practices of artists, activists, programmers and skilful users who are working on digital networks. They are the actors of playful, yet serious, resistance. They are, what Jan Rune Holmevick calls, the electrate inventors, the ones that have the skills and competences needed to intervene in a new media-rich world [57]. They are the contemporary bricoleurs, looking back at the term as it was introduced by Levi Strauss and revisited by Derrida [58]; The electrate inventors are both bricoleurs and engineers as they work with ad hoc strategies but they also build a discourse after their actions.

In search of a playful exploit

The playful exploit is a proposal for a new understanding of how resistance might still be possible in the networked reality, activated by play and expressed through creativity. It is an attempt to locate and highlight the playful but yet radical elements that might characterise strategic moves made to regain control.

Taking into consideration the mechanisms of counterpower as described by Castells, the definition of the exploit as framed by Galloway and Thacker and the role of play as pointed out by Agamben, different examples of resistance are being presented and categorised. For every case, the short description of the exploit is followed by a description of the work and a reference to its playful elements.


Form of exploit: Exposure
Example of action/ work: Men In Grey (N/A)
Creator: Men In Grey
Type: intervention – documentation – installation

Men In Grey

“The greater the dependence on a technology the greater the need to study and expose its inner workings, regardless of ownership or legal provision” artists Oliver, Savicic and Vasiliev write in the Critical Engineering Manifesto [59].

Men In Grey[60] uses such a form of an exploit in an intervention for the contemporary cityscape. Two men dressed in smart grey suits, holding screen based briefcases cross public spaces, invade open wifi networks and capture, reconstruct and reveal any transaction of information taking place at the particular place and time. Emails, chats, images, internet web pages, one’s supposed private data suddenly go public. Captured data appear on the screens of the briefcases, creating discomfort and unrest.  When the project is exhibited, the faces and the names of the artists are not revealed. Identities remain invisible, just like network power is. At the same time, the screen based briefcase is glamorously presented in a glass-case, allowing users to interact with it, to test it with their devices and to realize that it really works. Performing acts of ‘switching’, the Men In Grey create a playful set of action which balances between fiction and reality, surprise and fear.


Form of exploit: Obfuscation
Example of action/ work:Cryptoparty
Creator: several around the world
Type: party, workshop

 Obfuscation is a term introduced by Helen Nissenbaum and Finn Brunton, to describe a form of vernacular resistance, which is based on the idea of providing misleading, false, or ambiguous data in order to make data gathering less reliable and therefore less valuable. Obfuscation comes as a response to the asymmetry that the scholars see between power and knowledge within digital networks. “We do not know all that they know about us, how they come to know it, or even who all the significant players might be” [61]. As a counter-logic obfuscation is proposed as an ad hoc strategy, a weapon for the weak, a practice potentially beyond morality with the mission to protect the privacy of the individual [62].

Nissenbaum and Brunton refer to a vast variety of well-known examples such as Tor, TrackMeNot and Facecloack that users can find individually online to protect themselves from surveillance. Recently, however, in August 2012 a new idea was born and spread like a virus in different cities, the organising of Cryptoparties. Cryptoparties are events that invite users to gather and learn how to defend their right to anonymity, pseudonymity and privacy. Providing users with basic knowledge and the necessary tools, the organisers behind them encourage a networked culture that can escape exploitation and control. Recently the organisers of Cryptoparty in Berlin also published a book, which is available on the internet [63]. Furthermore, the logic of obfuscation has been used by members of the Unlike Us network, as part of the Unlike Art project. Such an example is the John Smith Extension, which transforms any users in Facebook and Google+ to “John Smith”, the most common name in these social media [64].

There are, however, some ethical concerns involved in obfuscation. It is an act that misleads the system, directing it to others who are unprotected, polluting it with false information [65]. Obfuscation resembles cheating if one considers how the privacy policies of different social networking sites are violated or ignored. But on the other hand, was the play ever fair? The mechanisms of switching and aggregation the companies use are not made clear. Obfuscation therefore might lie outside morals, but possibly they were no morals anyway in the first place.

Form of exploit: Overidentification
Example of action: Social ID Bureau (2012)

Creator: Tobias Leingruber
Type: intervention, ID item

Tobias Leingruber, Social ID bureau

Overidentification is a form of resistance based on the appropriation of the sovereign ideology in order to criticize it. It is an aesthetic strategy that was initiated first back in the late ‘80s by the band Laibach and the art collective Neue Slowenische Kunst in Ljubljana. Slavoj Zizek has defended the strategy, particularly explaining that it “frustrates” the system precisely insofar as it is not its ironic imitation, but rather over-identifies with it, by bringing to light the obscene superego underside of the system [66].  The danger with this form of resistance is obvious; can it ensure that it does not end up strengthening the ideology and power that it is supposed to criticize [67]?

Nowadays, as Pasquinelli argues, Capital has found ways to use this strategy itself.  Digital networks use, as he explains, the rhetoric of digital collectivism, such as peer production, free culture, creative commons etc, in order to hide the accumulation of value while intensifying production [68]. Networks encourage users to participate more, to share more, to be more open in order to have a greater accumulation of data wealth that can be exploited.

In order to confront this, a re-appropriation is needed while embracing the act of overidentification. A great example to this direction for the networked reality is the work of the F.A.T. Lab. Tobias Leingruber, one of its members, decided to set up in February 2012 in Berlin, a Social ID bureau, which would print Facebook ID cards for the people interested [69]. Pretending to be a Facebook officer, the creator presented this new idea for a card, which of course could contain much more information about a person than a real ID does.  Setting up a fake office, appropriating the aesthetics of Facebook for the production of the card, and playing himself the Facebook person, the artist purposefully identified with the sovereign network, in order to underline the power of control it possesses and imply its connection to any government.

Form of exploit: Desertion / Nonexistence
Example of action/work: a. Seppukoo (2009)
b. Web 2.0 Suicide Machine (2009)
Author: a.Les Liens Invisibles b.Moddr
Type: software application

Les Liens Invisibles, Seppukoo

Desertion, connected to exodus and nomadism, stands for the evacuation of places of power [70]. Hardt and Negri locate desertion as a contemporary form of resistance, which followed sabotage that was an act of opposition for the disciplinary society. Today, as control is distributed, desertion or non-existence as Galloway and Thacker put it, can have a major significance. “The nonexistent is that which can not be cast into any available data types. It is that which can not be parsed by any available algorithms” [71]. In times that everything can be aggregated and measured, an act of desertion signifies leaving this space of control.

Two famous applications related to this act are still today Sepukkoo by Les Liens Invisibles [72] and Web 2.0 Suicide Machine by Moddr [73], which coincidentally developed a similar software at the same time in 2009. Their software enabled users to delete their account from social networking sites permanently, something that was not allowed then in most of them.  The mechanisms and appearance used were playful and humorous in both cases.  Gathering testimonials from the suiciders, creating antagonism and a top rank among them, and using amusing language and aesthetics, the creators of both platforms turned the idea of online suicide into a social experience which could free the user and her data.

Stumpel examining the two projects at his thesis, describes them both as typical cases of counterprotocological resistance, as they succeeded in using the protocol of the platform in order to allow users to de-activate their accounts [74]. But, one needs to point out that these applications did not reach high numbers of participation, just like it happened with the ‘Quit Facebook Day’, a users’ act of desertion in 2010 [75]. Information was shared among thousands of users but only a small percentage would decide for it. On the other hand, one could say that possibly these projects helped in pressuring for the ‘reprogramming’ of Facebook as within 2010 the possibility to actually delete one’s account was added to the network.

Form of exploit: Peer to Peer
Example of action/ work: Netless 2
Creator: Danja Vasiliev
Type: installation/ prototype

Danja Vasiliev, Netless 2

A Peer-to-Peer [P2P] network follows a distributed topology based on the logic that any node can connect to any other node. There is no central node and no hub mediating while exchanging information. For this reason, the logic of Peer-to-Peer networks can be considered as a significant alternative to today’s centralised social networking sites and services. As in P2P systems a node is both a client and a server, power is distributed among nodes and the existence of the network itself greatly depends on the participation of the nodes and their interactions. The disposal, interest and support of the participant nodes can therefore empower or weaken a P2P network. They are networks based on affect as they are energised by the motivation of the participants who wish to contribute, share and produce in common.

Netless 2 is a prototype and a proposal for a grassroots communication network following the P2P topology [76]. Not being dependent on the internet, it takes advantage of the city transportation infrastructure and the movement of the city inhabitants. Communication nodes are attached to the transportation vehicles and users are invited to swap data while being on the move. When the nodes attached to the vehicles meet, a short-range wireless communication session is established and information is exchanged. For this to happen no profiles are needed and no log files are kept. Proposed as a tactical communication platform and not as a social networking service, Netless 2 allows messages to spread as a virus and invites citizens to take action.

Netless 2 like other Peer-to-Peer networks is based on anonymity, free movement, voluntary participation and intrinsic motivation. Inviting users to send messages that need to concern the many rather the one and to seek for other nodes in order to circulate information, this grassroots network is participatory, playful and radical at the same time. And it can go even further as users, according to the creator, can also learn to start building their own nodes and take them along in their everyday life. Netless 2 therefore is a proposal for a topology that not only provides a platform but also encourages users to understand the social and informational technologies and to take the situation in their hands.

Netless 2 might not be an exploit in the sense of exploiting the power differentials of the system but it is still considered as such as it provides knowledge and tools for an exit from the centralised topologies towards distributed, peer to peer paradigms.


In networks such as the social networking sites and services, power equals communication control. As a great wealth of information is constantly circulating within the interconnected space of flows, social media companies are given the opportunity to aggregate and use this wealth, to share it with third parties and to capitalise it, feeding back the market with captured interests, fears, desires and affects.

For the understanding of power in the networks two different approaches were initially discussed in the context of this paper; Castells’ theory on power and counterpower and Galloway and Thacker’s analysis on the protocol and the counter-protocol. In particular, the former work was taken into consideration for the mechanisms of power defined as programming, reprogramming and switching and the latter for the development of the notion of the exploit.

Examining especially the issue of resistance in social networking sites, it was considered important to locate and discuss the reasons that impede the formation and empowerment of resistance today. The exercise of ‘soft’ control, the unclear topologies of the social and the informational layer, the uncanny nonhuman elements and the illusion of a self-centred network were considered as issues that do not encourage the development of collective awareness and unification for action.

As a response to this impasse, a turn to a third theoretical approach was proposed; that is the theory of the counter-apparatus formed through play and profanation, as framed by Giorgio Agamben. The property Agamben attributes to play can be of great interest as the form of resistance he refers to is close to Castells’ disruption of switching as well as to Galloway’s and Thacker’s idea of the exploit. Based on this observation, it was accordingly proposed to identify and discuss as ‘playful exploits’ playful but yet radical modes and ways of intervention that aim to trace vulnerabilities and to impede control. The different examples presented specifically aim to expose how networks function, to empower the right to anonymity, pseudonymity and privacy, to raise awareness about the network constraints and to encourage users towards alternative topologies beyond control. The ‘playful exploits’ could be regarded as a response to Galloway and Thacker’s quest for exceptional topologies and to Paolo Virno’s definition of exceptional situations. “The exception is this high, intense and at the same time empty moment of creativity when we find ourselves in this no-man’s land of that which exists no more and that which does not yet exist” [77]. In this game-like moment, when innovation and transgression may occur, creativity comes to provoke changes.

If, as Tiziana Terranova argues, we are part of a connected but not unified world that needs common desires, fears and passions in order to formulate resistance [78], then possibly the role of creativity and play is specifically to assist in providing unifying moments and experiences [79]. The affective and impulsive nature of art and play is needed to motivate and activate the dispersed creativity of users within networks around the world.

And at the end one needs to remember that “power rules but counterpowers fight”



1. Manuel Castells, Communication Power, (New York: Oxford University Press. 2009), 38
2. Alexander Galloway, and Eugene Thacker, The exploit. A theory of networks. (Minneapolis: University Minnesota Press, 2007), 13
3. Felix Stalder, “Between Democracy and Spectacle: The Front-End and Back-End of the Social Web” in Micheal Mandiberg The Social Media Reader.(New York and Londong: New York University Press, 2012), 242- 256
4. Alexander Galloway, and Eugene Thacker, The exploit. A theory of networks, 21
5. Manuel Castells, Communication Power, 10 – 11
6. ibid
7. Jan van Dijk. The Network Society. (London: Sage Publications, 2006), 24
8. John Urry, Global complexity. (Oxford. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003), 41
9. Felix Stalder, Manuel Castells. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), 177
10. Manuel Castells, Communication Power, (New York: Oxford University Press. 2009), 19
11. . Felix Stalder, Manuel Castells. 178
12. Geert Lovink, Zero Comments. Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. (New York: Routledge, 2008), 240
13. Alexander Galloway, and Eugene Thacker, The exploit. A theory of networks, 39
14. Manuel Castells, Communication Power, 42
15. ibid, 45
16. ibid, 48
17. Alexander Galloway, Protocol. How control exists after decentralisation. (London: The MIT press, 2004)243
18. ibid, 21
19. ibid, 244
20. ibid, 17
21. Alexander Galloway, and Eugene Thacker, The exploit. A theory of networks, 81
22. ibid, 21
23. ibid, 100
24. ibid, 157
25. Michael Stumpel, The politics of social media. Facebook: Control and Resistance. Master Thesis. University of Amsterdam. (2010)
26. ibid, 29
27. Tiziana Terranova, Network Culture. Politics for the Information Age. (London: Pluto Press, 2004), 100
28. ibid. 108
29. Felix Stalder, Manuel Castells. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), 181
30. Yochai Benkler, “Networks of Power, Degrees of Freedom”. International Journal of Communication 5, (2011), 725
31. Alexander Galloway, and Eugene Thacker, The exploit. A theory of networks, 5
32. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social. An introduction to Actor Network Theory. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 60
33. Christian Fuchs, “Some Reflections on Manuel Castells’ Book ‘Communication Power’”. tripleC. 7(1) (2009), 94-108
34. Jan van Dijk, “Review of Manuel Castells (2009), Communication Power.” Retreived August 10, 2012
35. Manuel Castells, Communication Power, 70
36. Slavoj Zizek, The Interpassive Subject.  Retreived September 10, 2012
37. Muhr, S.L., & Pedersten, M. “Faking it on Facebook” in Facebook and Philosophy ed E  Wittkower (Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 2010), 265 -275
38. Tiziana Terranova, Network Culture. Politics for the Information Age, 154, 157
39. Gilles Deleuze, The logic of sense. Trans by Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. Ed by Constantin Boundas. (New York: Columbia University Press1999) 150, 161
40. Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus. And other essays. (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press,  2009)
41. Michel Foucault,. Ethics. Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, vol.1,
edited by Paul Rabinow, trans. Robert Hurley et al. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000), 167
42. Tom Apperley and Michael Dieter, “Editorial”. Counterplay. Fibreculture Journal. Issue 16. Retreived  September 2 2012,
43. Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus. And other essays. (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press,  2009,), 14
44. Giorgio Agamben, Profanations. Trans. Jeff Fort. (New York: Zone Books (2007), 87
45. Brian Sutton Smith, The ambiguity of play. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997), 148
46. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play. Games Design Fundamentals. (Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT press, 2004), 303
47. ibid 306
48. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955)
49. Henri Lefebvre, The production of space. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1992), 202
50. Brian Sutton Smith, The ambiguity of play. 147, 148
51. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play. Games Design Fundamentals. (Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT press, 2004), 271, 272
52. Henri Lefebvre, The production of space, 202, 195
53. Brian Sutton Smith, The ambiguity of play. 187
54. Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press), 130
55. Pat Kane, The Play Ethic. A manifesto for a different way of living. (London: Macmillan, 2004), 175
56. Pekka Hinamen, The Hacker Ethic. (New York: Random House, 2001), 4 – 6
57. Jan Rune Holmevik, Inter/vention. Free Play in the Age of Electracy. (Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2012), 3
58. ibid, 23 – 25
59. Julian Oliver, Gordan Savicic and Danja Vasiliev, “Critical Engineering Manifesto”,
60. “Men In Grey”,
61. Brunton, F, & Nissenbaum, H. (2011) “Vernacular resistance to data collection and analysis: A political theory of obfuscation” First Monday [Online], Volume 16 Number 5 (2011). Retreived September 2. 2012
62. ibid
63. Cryptoparty Hanbook (2012) Retreived October 10, 2012  from
64. Unlike Art project, Unlike Us network,
65. Brunton, F, & Nissenbaum, H. (2011) “Vernacular resistance to data collection and analysis: A political theory of obfuscation” First Monday [Online], Volume 16 Number 5 (2011)
66. Matteo Pasquinelli, Communism of Capital and Cannibalism of the Common: Notes on the Art of Over-Identification.
Abandon Normal Devices Festival, Manchester (2010), 3
67. ibid, 11
68. ibid, 6
69. “Social ID bureau” ,
70. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. Empire. (Cambridge Masachussets: Harvard University Press, 2000), 212
71. Alexander Galloway, and Eugene Thacker, The exploit. A theory of networks, 136, 137
72. “Seppukoo”,
73. “web 2.0 suicide machine”,
74. Michael Stumpel, The politics of social media. Facebook: Control and Resistance, 45 – 4875. Quit Facebook Day,
76. Netless 2,
77. Paolo Virno, “The dismeasure of Art. An Interview with Paolo Virno” in Being an Artist in Post-Fordist Times. Eds Pascal Gielen Paul de Bruyne. (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2012), 19-46
78. Tiziana Terranova, Network Culture. Politics for the Information Age, 154, 157
79. Pat Kane, The Play Ethic. A manifesto for a different way of living., 226
80. Manuel Castells, Communication Power, (New York: Oxford University Press. 2009), 50


This research has been co-financed by the European Union (European Social Fund – ESF) and Greek national funds through the Operational Program “Education and Lifelong Learning” of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) – Research Funding Program: Heracleitus II. Investing in knowledge society through the European Social Fund.


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