In the analog world, if you don’t like something, you can deface it. The practice probably won’t be legal, but the very fact that you can buy some spray paint, tag a building, and maybe even get away with it is a powerful component behind the feeling of freedom. But graffiti is about more than personal liberation. It represents a certain societal capability, one that says governments and corporations can’t speak for us all at every turn. It’s an omnipresent reminder of dissent.
But in the digital realm, very few have this type of freedom. An organized team of hackers (like LulzSec before their arrest) may be able to post a silly image on a corporate site, but the common person can no longer participate in the tradition of visual protest. So websites sit there pristinely in the face of criticism.
Glitchr is a Facebook page that’s dedicated to defacing Facebook. The premise is more than a bit ironic, for sure, but Laimonas Zakas has organized this place where any person can come and glitch the site. He’s forming what’s essentially a collection of digital graffiti. “It excites me how one
can change strict structure of pages like Facebook or Google,” Zakas tells Co.Design. “I’m always searching for new ways of glitching.”
The graffiti itself is created through manipulation of diacritics, those accent marks you see a lot in Arabic or words like exposé. “Diacritics can be combined to get outstanding results,” Zakas tells Co.Design. “An everyday person can do it by writing an html code and converting it to unicode, or by using apps that convert the text automatically.”
Glitchr’s resulting effect is a page that Chrome stutters to render: Piles and piles of symbols burst from the confines of the sterile white boxes of the Facebook Timeline. And Facebook’s greatest asset–sheer legibility–submits to shapes, dots, and smears, many of which block the view of the page altogether.
Zakas doesn’t believe it’s likely for most of these glitches to be patched, as diacritics are a necessary part of language and universal in our written communication. But Zakas has been focusing on a second wave of glitches, those that are specific, not to stacked diacritics, but Facebook itself.
“There are still many ideas in my head. Time will tell how it all will evolve,” he writes. And time will also tell how the institutions of tech respond to the uprising. As of now, Glitchr is a fairly contained idea, a spot where kids are allowed to draw on the walls. (And really, isn’t every Internet comment section the exact same thing?)
But were digital graffiti to affect, say, Facebook’s homepage or Google’s search bar (ideas both well outside the scope of diacritical exploits), well, it could be a lot more poignant. It could be real, subversive graffiti. Yet at the same time, it’d probably just be labeled hacking, leading to punishments far beyond a little destruction of property.