“How easy is it to get someone to say something you want them to say online?,” Thrive's Chris Paik asked during his presentation with artist Constant Dullaart. The two began with an open and honest airing of views about Facebook (“It’s bad, and you shouldn't be on it”—Dullaart; “a wonderful company from a venture capital perspective!”—Paik) before sharing a key stat from a recent Facebook earnings call: the dollar value of each US user of Facebook is many times higher than users from “the rest of the world.” To Dullaart, this suggested that US-based users, because they are more valuable, are therefore more likely to be targets of attempts to control their views and behavior.
Drawing on Paik’s business world connections, the two reached out to firms (whose names they could not disclose, because of aggressive NDAs) to ask about campaigns to sway public opinion online. “Do you want to know what users think?” one firm asked. “Or do you want to make them think something?”
Wondering if this strange apparatus could be used for artistic purposes, to perhaps make its functioning more visible, Dullaart and Paik hired a firm to astroturf the Facebook post for the Seven on Seven event itself. Some users left glowing comments about Rhizome and Seven on Seven ("I believe that this is a good event for both overs of the art and all the people in general.#7on7NYC"). Others criticized it in ways that seemed strangely, unsettlingly plausible ("A privately owned museum, hosting tech giants and venture capital to get cultural validation at 7 on 7.. I dont understand why artists support this... #7on7NYC").
From there, the duo moved on to more poetic applications of their new troll armies. They set up an Instagram account, Semiotic.Tears, and used paid accounts to comment, in sequence, a passage from Umberto Eco’s Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. Finally, they set up a Twitter account, @R_O_Y_B_A_T_T_Y, modeled on the eponymous replicant from Blade Runner. The account had published one tweet, and Paik and Dullaart hired tens of thousands of paid Twitter bots to retweet it, spreading it across the Twitterverse.
As their presentation concluded, they brought it up onscreen. “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” They pressed delete, and the audience gasped. And with that, the ninth edition of Seven on Seven came to an end.