PhD defence Tim de Winkel: The dynamics between ‘mainstream’ social media and ‘fringe platforms’

Twitter en alternatieve apps ©

On 15 September, Tim de Winkel will defend his PhD thesis entitled ‘Fringe Platforms: An Analysis of Contesting Alternatives to the Mainstream Social Media Platforms in a Platformized Public Sphere’. In this dissertation, De Winkel explores the dynamics between subversive and dominant platforms, in addition to the implications of ‘platformisation’ for the contemporary public sphere.

Fringe platforms

Social media companies are ubiquitous in our social lives and the public debate, De Winkel writes. After the initial euphoria around the democratic potential of social media, the concurring concerns are now equally as prevalent. Among the apprehensions are valid concerns with regards to entrusting important public functions to private companies. Radical alternative platforms present themselves as opponents, critiques, and alternatives to mainstream platforms as well as to the dominance of ‘Big Tech’, seemingly echoing the critiques of oligopolist character of our online public sphere.

The ‘platformisation’ of the public sphere has thus presented us with new challenges but also with a new object of analysis, namely ‘fringe platforms’. Fringe platforms are; alternative platform services that are established as an explicit critique of the ideological premises and practices of mainstream platform services, which strive to cause a shift in the norms of the platform ecology they contest by offering an ideologically different technology.

Subversive vs. dominant platforms

In his dissertation, De Winkel seeks to answer three research questions: what is the role of fringe social media platforms in a platformised public sphere? What hierarchies and shifts in power do they signify? And how can they inform us about the platform ecosystem?

De Winkel explores these questions through radical free speech fringe platform After ‘alt-right Twitter’ Gab was implicated in a white supremacist terrorist attack in 2018, it was pushed offline by Big Tech companies through a process called ‘deplatformisation’. However, Gab resurfaced and erected parallel Web infrastructures. Both the deplatfomisation and the replatforming of Gab present us with analytical moments in which the dynamics and power relations of the platformised public sphere unearth themselves.

Start date and time
End date and time
Hybrid: online (click here) and at the Utrecht University Hall
PhD candidate
T. de Winkel
Fringe Platforms: An Analysis of Contesting Alternatives to the Mainstream Social Media Platforms in a Platformized Public Sphere
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. J.F.T.M. van Dijck
Dr. M.T. Schaefer
Dr. K.F. van Es
More information
Full text via Utrecht University Repository