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Public Dissentiment: Hacktivism in the Age of High-Frequency Traders

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Public Dissentiment (2016), an artwork by this author, is an artistic research project and an online tool that helps protestors negatively impact the price of a publicly traded stock by applying the same sentiment analysis tools used by stock trading algorithms. In contemporary stock markets, high frequency trading bots that continuously buy and sell stocks, increasingly perform the role of market makers. These bots provide the market with liquidity by usually being ready to take the buy or sell end of a stock trade. However, these algorithms are also reading news stories and social media posts at lightning speed, and when they detect uncertainty they will pull out of the market causing a stock, or group of stocks, to drop rapidly in value. This text examines the technical and legal aspects of the contemporary networked stock exchange system that make Public Dissentiment’s intervention possible and provides a context for these factors through an analysis of how they produced a space for artistic intervention. Locating this work in the frames of hacktivism, tactical media, and other historical precedents for both network and financial interventions further contextualizes this project. Public Dissentiment falls into the category of mass action hacktivism, which is closely associated with tactical media and culture jamming, and typically includes a performative element. The application is a prototype for how protestors can leverage technology in the age of networks.
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Keywords: Hacktivism; High-Frequency Trading; Natural Language Processing; Tactical Media

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 3, 2018

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