ACTIVIST BROWSER EXTENSIONS AS INTERFACE DÉTOURNEMENT: REMINDING, COPING, AND INFRASTRUCTURAL ALIGNMENT
Keywords:browser extension, activism, interface, affordance, platform, governance
This paper investigates web browser extensions as an under-researched media object for their capacity for activism. “Activist extensions” disrupt a webpage’s intended use and redirect users’ attention to social issues by modifying textual, visual, or auditory elements of the web user interface. The relevance of the study stems from the ubiquity of the web browser as a communication tool and the potential of browser extensions to counter its power in shaping how web content is delivered to users. Based on the notions of transduction and affordance, the critical vocabulary of the Situationist International, and the conceptualization of platform governance through the provision of infrastructural services, this paper asks: Through what mechanism do activist extensions redirect users’ attention to social issues? What are the potential implications for users? And, how can browser platforms affect the creation and distribution of activist extensions? The study adopts a mixed-methods approach that includes discursive interface analysis of the extensions’ modification of the browser interface, critical discourse analysis of user comments on these extensions, and semi-structured interviews with extension developers. Major findings of the study include: 1) the redirection of users’ attention from the webpage to social issues is achieved through the mechanism of, 2) activist extensions function as that provides users with a coping mechanism against certain online rhetoric, and 3) the creation and distribution of activist extensions are conditioned by an imposed by the browser platform on extension developers.