Sour Dictionary (SD) is a popular humor-based forum-like digital platform in Turkey. SD is not an official dictionary; it is a satire-based platform where users post definitions and re-definitions about daily events and socio-political issues to challenge each other's perception of common-sense judgments. Through a 2-year-long participatory online ethnography and 45 in-depth interviews, I examine the relations of power between users, designers, internal policies, the business structure of the platform, and the government. My study examines how information is turned into action within a participatory culture facilitated by social media platforms.
I discovered that the empowering potentials of Sour Dictionary were silenced by the contradictory flow of affects that rendered the platform as alternative and mainstream at the same time. I argue it is alternative because of the feeling of connectedness formed around challenging normalized practices. Yet, SD is also mainstream because of the interplay between ad-based revenue streams, imposed design and protocols to make it compatible with the globally popular digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s search analytics.
Is “play” empowering? I argue that playful interactions on social media platforms are not always empowering practices as they depend on the arrangement of actors (users, governments, designers, technicalities) that the platform is inscribed in. My findings show that early “playful” activities found on Sour Dictionary predate the trolling practices recently seen on the site and in larger contemporary geek culture. I explain the practices of trolling, disinformation, and misinformation in connection with the technical changes and regulatory issues on platform politics. On SD, trolling was not a betrayal to the geek culture playfulness, it is what that playfulness facilitated through a re-production of hegemonic masculinities and toxic technocultures. Trolling is not an "external force" that finds its way into social media platforms, it is a practice that platform design cultivates in relation to the local and global developments as well as in relation to technical changes.