A Refusal was a year-long Internet-based performance. The images American Artist would normally share on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram were redacted and replaced with a voided image. These blue placeholder images were tagged and numbered. The images they replaced were reproduced individually and archived. In order to experience Artist's narrative over that year, direct contact was encouraged.
Reading Society of the Spectacle now, it may be more potent than it was in its original context of 1967. It brings an unexpected awareness of what it means to be living in the contemporary moment. Guy Debord was extremely prescient in predicting the ways in which people’s labor, time, identities, and affections would be exploited by the visual and communicative systems they participate in. As if the faces of those they love or admire are being dangled from a string in front of them — plainly out of reach, but close enough to keep them running on a treadmill that fuels the spectacle of society.
Laura Portwood-Stacer describes the power relationship between social media and their users in her essay Care Work and the Stakes of Social Media Refusal, in which she states:
"Social media sites mediate social interaction through an online network such that these transactions have the potential to generate value for the owners of the network. In the profit-driven model of many social networking sites, users receive convenient access to their friends, families, and colleagues who are also in the network, in exchange for users supplying behavioral and demographic data that can be both sold outright and used to induce the investments of advertisers."
In a sense, you pay for access to your friends and family with your tracked and targeted browsing time and "likes." In this power structure, social media users rarely have an opportunity to remove themselves from the system. Portwood-Stacer addresses the difficulty of removing oneself by saying:
"Refusing to be on Facebook can be a powerful move toward distancing oneself from the less-than-wonderful aspects of the contemporary media economy, in which social network users do ever more work for corporations with ever less compensation and self-determination. At the same time, though, this kind of refusing move carries different consequences for different subjects, meaning that opting out is less of an "option" for some than for others. [...] The stakes of withdrawal are higher for those whose offline professional and social success depend on the practices of connection and care that social media enables them to participate in."