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A Magazine for Sheffield

Spectre at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019

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Part of this year's Alternative Realities programme, Sheffield Doc/Fest's mixed reality offering, Spectre by Bill Posters and Dr Daniel Howe is a monolithic digital installation standing proud at the centre of Site Gallery's exhibition space.

Described as a "cautionary tale of computational propaganda", Spectre guides us through a fictional social media platform, its white-toothed, too-good-to-be-true poster people masking a dystopian data-grab lurking just below the surface. We've got admin powers and we're out to abuse them.

We are encouraged to choose an individual from a list and get to know them through their social media output, with the purpose of designing a tailored advert which appeals to their personality and their political persuasions. Playing heavily on the use of complex algorithms to influence election results, the installation lays bare those platforms' ability to infiltrate, predict and exploit our deepest desires and motivations through daily feedback loops, the foundation of what has become known as the 'digital influence industry'.

The experience concludes with a series of celebrities, including Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Marina Abramović and Mark Zuckerberg, celebrating the all-encompassing and now far more menacing Spectre in 'deepfake' videos which have been very convincingly digitally doctored to lip sync with overdubbed audio, possibly the creepiest part of the experience.

Spectre feels like an excerpt from something much bigger and this tip-of-the-iceberg approach leaves us with a deep and unshakeable anxiety about the elusive Spectre - and the dizzying influence of its real-world counterparts.

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