And…That’s all she wrote

15 Oct

I started this blog with the intention of exploring blogs. (Yes very meta, I know). I was interested in the concept of individual voice and the colonisation of this voice by power elites. In my ‘Freedom of Speech’ post for example, Kerry referenced an excellent article written this year by Fuchs, that looks at emergent media from this standpoint (‘The political economy of privacy on Facebook.’ Television New Media, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 139-159). Fuchs applies a Marxist political economy view to Facebook, discussing privacy, and the ‘prosumer:’ arguing that the prosumer is in fact, exploited by capital in producing free content for a corporation’s economic gain.

My initial thinking was, like Fuchs, rather cynical. Blogs in particular, may offer a voice for the people, but in the case of most blogs, no one is listening. When blogs do start to reach a bigger audience, corporations get in on the game – with a number of PR companies attempting to influence or manipulate the voice for capitalist gain.

This particular blog has evolved to focus less on blogs, and more on current events in emergent media , examining these through a political economy lens. In this last post however, I wanted to touch briefly on blogs, as I initially set out to do.

However, I find I cannot end on as cynical a note as I started.

I attended a talk on the 8th of October run by the Social Media Club, Sydney.  It was called ‘The New Age of Blog Monetisation: Blogging for Cash’ (for the names of the panellists and notes from the discussion click here.) From the title, I thought it would make excellent fodder for the blog, and back up my political economy viewpoint. Instead, I discovered that even with thousands of followers, bloggers cannot make a living from blogging in Australia. I discovered bloggers who produce high-quality material for their blogs out of pure passion for their subject, and for the pleasure of connecting with communities. I also discovered bloggers who did not accept gifts or sponsored posts. Ever.

While some bloggers host advertising, some set up pay-walls, and some accept gifts, corporations may not influence bloggers in Australia as much as I had estimated. The down side of this, is that bloggers may struggle financially, or as Fuchs discusses, could be seen to be exploited in the production of free labour. Yet exploitation wasn’t really the impression I got from this talk. Instead I got the impression there may be a glimmer of hope for the independent voice to be heard.

………………………………….

Thank you so much to everyone who has commented – it has been very appreciated and I’ve learnt so much from your posts and everyone’s blogs/groups.

PJ

Michael Anti: Behind the Great Firewall of China – a game of cat and mouse

12 Oct

In writing a blog that explores social media through a framework of political economy, it is impossible not to mention China. I am so grateful that Panpan posted this TED talk in the LinkedIn group – because it broadened my knowledge of the current situation in China and offered what I think is quite a nuanced view of what both social media, and social media censorship has meant for China. I don’t have expertise in this area, and I would certainly love to hear from those who have lived in China, as to whether they think this is an accurate description of what it’s like.

I do hope you have time to watch the talk at some stage, I thought it was fascinating. Michael Anti (aka Jing Zhao) has been blogging from China for 12 years. In this talk, which was published on TED in July this year, Anti looks at the game of cat (government censors) and mouse (internet users). While the main platforms, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, China has responded by cloning these platforms, though retaining a central server in Beijing with access to all data.

I won’t summarise the entire talk, but there were two key points that I thought were fascinating.

  • Firstly, even with censorship, social media in China is booming. There are for example, around 300 million micro bloggers in China. Social media has provided a public sphere that never existed before, which has changed Chinese mindsets and local government, though not the overall political system.
  • Secondly, ‘freedom’ is currently being used by the political regime as a tool. When there are brief periods of freedom or lack of censorship surrounding particular people or events – they are a result of the regime’s influence and inclination.

I’d love to hear what you think of the talk if you have a chance to watch it. I would also love to hear of any other films, talks etc. on this topic that anyone would recommend. I personally loved the Ai Weiwei documentary, Never Sorry, and would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in China, social media and activism (and art of course).

“Never Retreat, Retweet”Ai Weiwei

Free Speech?

11 Oct

As a rather belated (oops!) follow-up to my last post on media entities, I wanted to think a little more about social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, in relation to both regulation and corporatisation. Our LinkedIn discussion for class of course has raised the issue of regulation, with the recent Advertising Standards Authority ruling that brands are responsible for third-party comments posted on their social media pages. The discussion around that issue has been fascinating, with much of it centring on the grey area between free speech (potential extremism) and regulation – and how (and if) the old rules apply to ‘new’ media.

As discussed in my last post, the offline consequences of such online ‘free speech’ are increasing. The most obvious local example of course is the recent consequences of the social media storm surrounding Alan Jones. The Guardian, however, also published an article a couple of days ago, raising the issue of the increase in arrests in the UK for comments made via social media.  These arrests are, according to the article, made under section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act, which makes it an offense to post ‘grossly offensive’ material online. In an attempt to reduce the number of such cases in the courts, Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, is exploring whether Facebook and Twitter should take more responsibility for abuse and harassment taking place on their sites.

Twitter

Whether Facebook and Twitter are open to taking more responsibility in this area, is another matter.

I was listening to Triple J a few weeks ago, to Sunday Night Safran with John Safran and Father Bob. They commented that the Australian government had attempted to contact Twitter regarding issues around regulation, but had gotten no reply. In not responding or being transparent, Safran argued Twitter was acting against the very ethos of the organisation. He commented that it was harder to get information from organisations such as Twitter and Google, than the Freemasons: “The secrets of the freemasons and the scientology have been revealed, but not the algorithms of Google.”

Clearly this is a highly amusing way of putting it, but it did make me think about social media platforms as media entities. From a political economy perspective, I think this is important. If we’re looking at how media and communication systems and content are shaped by structures ofownership and power, it’s vital to think about our communication ‘providers’.

Also in The Guardian this week, Dan Gilmor writes on ‘Facebook’s New Business Plan: From Utility to Monopoly’. In this, Gilmor paints a disturbing picture of Facebook’s market dominance, and the extent to which it is inserting its presence into our technology systems.

Facebook’s goal is not just to connect people with each other, but also to be the ubiquitous entry point for those connections. It wants to become what amounts to a public utility. The more Facebook makes itself an essential part of our lives – or, more accurately, the more we make it so – the easier it will be for the company to start charging us for using it. Users have been the product until now; advertisers buy access to us and our personal data.

In a similar vein, Matthew Ingram also wrote this year in GigaOM on Twitter’s new expanded content and promoted tweets, cautioning traditional media in its partnership with Twitter. “Twitter will only be providing the enhanced-content option to a select group of providers… Such a deal may increase the distribution of your content, but who ultimately gets the benefit?”

My questions for you? We’ve talked quite a bit about regulation now, but in a more general day-to-day sense, do you ever think about organisations such as Google, Facebook and Twitter in terms of their impact on how they shape your communication? While social media sites aim to give us more of a voice, how much can we say if and when – they choose to change their policies?

Image Courtesy of Andreas Eldh, Flickr

Google and free expression?

17 Sep

In the next couple of posts I wanted to move away from looking at government regulation – or at least, attempts at government regulation, of social media, and into looking more closely at social media platforms and where they stand in the media landscape, in terms of their stance on freedom of speech, and their relationship with other media entities. It’s something I started thinking about because of the trolling issue, with particular regard to Twitter. However, it’s not an issue that one can currently discuss without mention of the Innocence of Muslims movie. Sam (who is posting an impressive wealth of material that I keep seeming to poach from – which I hope is ok Sam!) tweeted a link today to this article on Google’s decision to block the Innocence of the Muslims movie in Libya and Egypt, even though it “is clearly within our [Google’s] guidelines”. The author, Rebecca Rosen, an Associate Editor at The Atlantic, argues that in making this decision, Google is

“…acting like a court, deciding what content it keeps up and what it pulls – all without the sort of democratic accountability or transparency we have come to expect on questions of free expression and censorship. It has gone into uncharted waters, and it has taken us along with it.”

In my last post, thinking about legal ramifications of social media, Tam posted a link to an article on the 17-year old boy who was arrested by police over tweets to Olympic diver Tom Daley, and issued with a harassment warning. I don’t intend to take the ridiculous stance that social media is responsible for all the ills of the world (I’d be in line with the Daily Tele then, wouldn’t I?) but I have to wonder, when it comes to social media, action and consequences, where do social media platforms stand, and when do they step in?

What are your thoughts on Google blocking the youtube video in selected countries?

 

“No one wants a pen that has an opinion on what you write”

10 Sep

Alex Macgillivray, Head lawyer of Twitter, ‘Twitter is a speech loving tech company: the @Amac interview

This quote from Macgillivray comes from an article about Twitter, posted in our LinkedIn group by Sarah (thank you Sarah!) I wanted to use it as a starting point in a discussion on Twitter, since it highlights a number of topical issues – primarily Twitter’s core value of ‘defend and respect the user’s voice’. I’ve been thinking particularly about the user’s voice over the last week or two. Several of your blogs/groups (such as Sarah’s and Consuelo’s) have touched on anonymity and authenticity – and whether authentic identity is non-anonymous – in social media. With the recent focus on twitter trolls, the notorious Charlotte Dawson incident, and most recently Robbie Farah, there have been a number of calls for increased ‘authenticity’ – or at least less anonymity, and importantly, greater regulation of social media content.

Sam has written his latest blog post on a similar theme, and links to this National Times article in which Attorney General Nicola Roxon “says she will talk to her state counterparts about whether there is need for tougher laws on social media”. The thing is, it seems that many people have objections to, or concerns around, Roxon’s data retention proposal. In light of this, can we really be in favour of her wading in to social media – even if it could, or would, rid us of trolls?

I’m not the only one who’s thought there’s some inconsistency in our thoughts around regulation. As Claire Connelly writes in an article today on The Punch:

“It’s pretty contradictory that a time when we are concerned about government encroaching into the online space, that we are also demanding they solve this so-called “trolling problem” overnight.”

I can’t help but agree, and think this takes us into very interesting territory. Connelly, who I’m rapidly developing a wee bit of a crush on, has several suggestions as to ways that social media sites could deal more effectively with cyber bullies. These include bans, and rewarding users with moderating rights.

I would really like to look more at Twitter’s position and its aims as an organisation. I might do that in another post though, as I’d love to get your thoughts on the trolls.

Media response to Roxon and internet surveillance

10 Sep

This is just a very quick post before I move on to a discussion of twitter, trolls, regulation and consequences… I think The Punch and I are examining some very similar issues, though I wanted to point out – Alan R.M. Jones is really one step behind in his analogy….

Image

“The Gillard government wants to conscript private companies to act as its agents prospectively to record and keep tabs on the correspondence and reading activities of millions of innocent Australians. The only difference between Roxon’s proposal and the KGB was it wants the private sector to do the work.” Jones

Yes I will move on from this issue – though I thought I would keep an eye on the media coverage and see how things progress – whether people continue to protest – or whether this is our future.

To read the Alan Jones article click here.

The Thought Police?

4 Sep

As pointed out in a comment on my first post (thank you Consuelo!), issues around surveillance and technology are highly topical at the moment in Australia, with the Cybercrime Bill being passed in the Australian Senate a couple of weeks ago. An article on The Conversation, by Mark Gregory, provides a clear outline of events, and the implications of the bill. Other commentaries have been posted on Crikey and Delimiter.

In essence, and as discussed by Gregory, the purpose of the Bill is to align Australia with the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. It effect, internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to monitor and store digital information, “when requested by certain domestic authorities (such as the Australian Federal Police), or when requested by those authorities acting on behalf of nominated foreign countries.”(Gregory). A warrant would be needed before ISPs would be forced to monitor and store information. Ostensibly, such actions aim to “combat criminal offences relating to forgery, fraud, child pornography, and infringement of copyright and intellectual property” (Attorney General Nicola Roxon.)

Objections were raised regarding the Bill by both the Greens and by Electronic Frontiers Australia. Both groups expressed concerns that the Bill attacks privacy and the rights of the individual, and also that serious criminal charges will now apply to a range of actions – and Australia may be working with countries where the death penalty still exists.

Nicola Roxon of course, is currently pushing for the introduction of a web surveillance plan to Australia – where data on phone and internet use by ALL Australians would be monitored, and information retained by ISPs for two years. Here’s a great link (thanks Lou!) where Roxon, quote, ‘tries to allay fears over data storage’.

I guess what I have to wonder is, where do we draw the line between freedom of speech, and regulation? In implementing surveillance strategies, are we keeping up with technological changes, as the police and Roxon insist, or should we resist at every step of the way in attempting to preserve the freedom and the voice that the digital, and social media, currently gives us?

And of course, while freedom of speech sounds very noble, the other topic of the now – twitter ‘trolls’ – demonstrates perhaps just how far from noble we can get.

For now – how do you feel about your digital information being monitored and retained for two years? Is this a standard and to-be-expected move in broader developments around security, or is it a sign we should be seeking refuge in a foreign embassy?

 

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