The social media breaker warps Facebook and Twitter into coded madness.
Laimonas Zakas is the guy behind Glitchr, once described as the "the weirdest thing on Twitter." You may have heard of his Facebook fanpage or Twitter account which are bold statements against the white walls of corporate unity (and standard HTML protocol), filled with coded madness and glitches that looks like a cough or a sneeze on a white canvas. It all began in 2011 when Zakas came across an unusual set of Unicode characters on Facebook. He experimented with it and made it his own, forming a fanpage which has been considered performance art. His Twitter handle @glitchr_is as equally interesting, filled with Unicode characters that infuse, confuse and explode outside of the typical parameters of what is allowed on social media.
As a social media breaker, his work can be flagged and deleted fast, prompting Zakas to exhibit his work in galleries. This May, you can catch his work at Opificio in Rome, where his work will be made into slides, projecting frenzied social media distortions and simultaneously bringing his deleted work back to life.
Zakas, who is currently studying media technology at Leiden University in The Netherlands, spoke to us about his relationship to Facebook employees, glitch graffiti, and what he thinks about having his expired domain taken over by China.
The Creators Project: Can you tell us about your upcoming show at Opificio?
Glitchr: In a few words, the show will be about breaking social media. Documentation of Glitchr interventions in social media: prints, videos, and an installation/performance on which I'm still working out. We're going there together with Lithuanian producer 96wrld, so we'll have a collaboration with him as well (both for the opening and for the after party).
Some of your exhibitions take your online work and bring it offline. How much does your work change when it goes from URL to IRL, in your eyes?
This is what we will also do in Rome as well, since most of the things I did on Facebook are already gone forever. The only way to present them is offline. Since it is part of history now, I was planning to emphasize it by printing most of my archives on dia slides and using a slide projector for the presentation (just like Jon Rafman did for his show at The Future Gallery last year).
How did this all begin?
In summer of 2011, I stumbled upon some crazy unicode characters on Facebook extending up, down and all over the place. At the time, I had no clue what was that (I think most of the people feel the same now when they discover Glitchr for the first time). But after some research and experimentation, I was already able to make it by my own and it was so fun, that I decided to create a page to share it all.
You paint with Unicode, what's the philosophy? Is it performance art?
My initial idea was to explore how far I can go beyond the strict constraints of Facebook's layout. It all started with combinations of unicode, but later I discovered that I could embed site's own graphical elements (chat boxes/search bars/captchas etc.) in the posts and this way distort the whole layout even more. That’s also what grabbed the attention of Facebook developers. It is performance art, as well as net art and site-specific art and even digital graffiti. So many labels.
Has your fanpage been disabled since it was in December 2011? Who helped you reinstate it?
Luckily no, the page only vanished from Facebook once in December 2011. What I did then, was opening the cashed version of Glitchr's Facebook page on Google and surprisingly, it contained all the recent posts with the lists of people who liked/commented on them. So I just filtered the likes of some posts and found at least 10 people apparently working at Facebook (developers, designers, etc.). Then I emailed them and surprisingly most of them replied willing to help. One of them wrote that my page was disabled for having some non-alpha or mixed character sets in the title (it indeed was quite messed up back then). Right after that, Glitchr was back on Facebook only with a changed title and category (it was a ‘Professional sports team’ before). The same guy said I would do well with Facebook's white hate program (where for every vulnerability bug reported, they give you $500). However, I have never reported any of the bugs that I discovered.
How many Facebook employees are fans of your fanpage? Do they “fix” your bugs?
I've seen a few dozens for sure, but it’s quite hard to tell the exact number. And yes they fix the bugs for sure. One of the Facebook developers came to my show in Jonas Mekas visual arts centre in Vilnius in 2012 and we had a nice conversation. He said they were even thinking of inviting me to Menlo Park to glitch the actual walls of Facebook headquarters. And yes, they fix all the bugs on a regular basis. Luckily I have all the previous posts documented.
Has Twitter, more or less, left you alone?
Twitter seems to be fine with what I do there. But probably because it is limited to text and images, so the most hardcore thing I can do there is posting combinations of unicode. I also have Tumblr, but the problem with it is too much freedom. So some of my last posts there were so massive, that for over a year now I can’t access my dashboard, it just freezes. Once I managed to reach it somehow, but it was loading for ages.
The same situation with my 'about' section in Facebook. I glitched it so hard few years ago, that after they changed the admin panel of Facebook pages, I cannot edit any info any more. It just keeps on loading and loading. I once left it loading overnight, hoping in the morning it will be loaded, but it was still loading the other day... Oh and in the same unchangeable 'about' section, the website is set to glitchr.net, which I registered few years ago and it was basically just redirecting to the Glitchr Facebook page, but after I forgot to extend the domain registration last year, it was immediately taken over by some Chinese. I don't even know what are they trying to sell there but it looks hilarious. And I think they should still get quite some hits by Glitchr fans.
You created a limited-edition t-shirt, will there be anything more or similar to be released?
Oh yes, I made 100 white shirts in 2012, then on request another 50 black shirts in 2013. Both times they were sold out in a day or two and I still receive emails asking if I have shirts left, so I think I should make another batch.
What is your latest glitch discovery?
I discovered some nice bugs in Facebook notes. But I'll wait till I get my Macbook Pro back to post and document them properly (I'm using a really crappy computer for a few months already... it does not even load Glitchr properly.
How do you feel about the diacritic mark?
I love it! Maybe not the mark itself, but the fact that one can stack as many of them on top of each other and get huge characters. That’s really fascinating, even three years after I started working with it, I'm still not bored.
Have you been in Lithuania this whole time, glitching away?
I started it in Lithuania, but then moved to the Netherlands where I currently study Media Technology in Leiden University.
You're not Greek, right?
I have nothing to do with Greece. Confusion is probably because of my name (which is a typical Lithuanian name), but may sound like a Greek one for some people.