Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Dark Side of Facebook

After reading the chapter ‘Facebook Nation’ by Lori Andrews, I was left feeling vulnerable and insecure. In the piece, Andrews exploits the negative aspects of different social networking sites, yet mainly focuses on Facebook and the ramifications that come with being an active user. Andrews writes, “Unlike Vegas, what happens in Facebook doesn’t stay in Facebook” (430). She is referring to the fact that an individual’s private information can easily be made into public domain without their consent. Now, hiring companies and college admissions boards can gain complete access to applicants’ personal information before making any decisions. So essentially an individual is being judged for material submitted on personal profiles. Is it ethically appropriate to be evaluated for information that was not presented in an interview or application?

Andrews also introduces the background-checking service called Social Intelligence Corp., which accumulates files from Facebook and “keeps each person’s files for seven years” (431). This means that if someone publishes “college-like” photos on Facebook, future employers can gain access to them and not hire him or her because of them. After reading this, a person’s automatic solution might be to delete the photos or posts that are deemed inappropriate, but this devious company has already saved that information and will have it archived for seven years. When Facebook was first created, people were drawn to the site because it offered them a space to express and evolve with family and friends. But now, social networks, like Facebook, limit both opportunity and behaviors for individuals.

I also found a comic about Facebook that I wanted to share:

Andrew’s argument is based on the assumption that people are not aware of their situations in the social networks. What he believes is that the economy of Facebook--monetizing personal data--is invisible to Facebook users, so that private rights become a kind of commodities that can be traded between advertisers and marketers. However, do people really stand in a passive position in which Facebook compels them to expose their personal data? Do they really have a choice?

“People came to Facebook Nation for freedom for association, free expression, and the chance to present an evolving self” is similar to the social contract concept that people make when they choose to join a community. They voluntarily give up something for a civic life. In Facebook nation, things are same that people are voluntary in posting personal information for both the views from others and their own satisfaction. It’s their choice to share part of their privacy in order to have a social life. And that's the social contract of being a citizen in the Facebook nation. Besides, on Facebook, users have the option of making their profile private to strangers. The power of making decision really lies on the side of the Facebook citizens. Another point is that it's not only those marketer and advertisers are looking for personal information as commodities, Facebook users themselves are also consuming each other's personal lives. There is a demand in this virtual society of thoughts, photos and videos, thus people create them to meet the supply-demand. And in this system of creating, sharing and receiving information, everyone is better off since everyone gets what they desire from the social networks.
Last, if you are already a citizen of Facebook nation, you are free to quit, or you can choose to leave Facebook to another nation like Twitter. That's what people holding citizenships cannot easily achieve in real life. To me, rather than a nation or a market, each social network is a large workplace. Your labor is the sharing of your own information, and the salary--satisfaction and desire of a social role--is generated in the exchange of personal information.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

     Castells uses several points of reference in his summary dissection of the changes the internet has made on our politics, around the world and at every level. The communications opportunities are endless, and the speed with which social change can build increases. Castells lays out these benefits and warnings by showing the evolution of internet governance.
     The speed of the internet rapidly changed how we arrive at social change. Hundreds of years ago it was either ecclesiastic or secular estates that were more than likely the force behind social change. In the industrial era, labor movements caused tremendous change. With the adoption of the internet people no longer have a need to keep "Formal civic associations" running and politically active all the time. Now that we have this idea of always connected to everyone, it seems like we can just get the word out about problems as they come, a more spontaneous model for response. The labor and capital required to keep most non government organizations running seems like a waste of time, and so they lose support. The effect is that we gather movement that are not always aimed at changing laws, but more intentioned on informing people and starting a discourse to bring about organic change. Organic change becomes necessary when people begin forming societies across national lines because they are using it not only as an information tool, but an ongoing, open dialogue capable of social transformation.
     Amsterdam's Digital City, started in 1994 was an ongoing experiment which allowed people to register as a member of this cyber city, communicate with all of its members and run the system on their own. The city was functional on its own until it was fully linked with the internet and the power structure began to divide. People had not been interested enough to get invested in the city beyond novelty interest, and those that were financially invested did not have enough power to guide the project on to something meaningful.
     The digital city was an attempt at running a completely open information city. Attempts by real, state run societies have failed for different reasons. In Amsterdam's Digital City the power diffusion was too great to maintain order of the project. In 1999 the California Democracy Newtwork (DNET) provided relevant and helpful information to those that visited, but only 4,000 people ever used it. This site's problem was not functionality or control, it was simply that people were passing on the option to get deeply involved in our politics online. Although the DDS project faded, it had a huge following, thousands more than DNET. While the DDS project appealed to people interested in technology and online communication, the DNET was left under used because it was attempting to california voters, and had nothing to offer the early adopters of internet technology. Early users of the internet also had a hand in creating blog news. Used as a money making tool by Ryan Holiday, his book "Trust Me Im Lying" is proof that news companies still have a hard time figuring out which internet rumor should be printed and which should be discarded as a random story created from nothing.
     Aside from news companies needing to protect their product, so do nation-states need to protect themselves. With increasing activity relying on the internet, industrialized nations are at increasing risk of sabotage. Castell does not warn about some hacker nation or group launching our nuclear missles while we stand helpless, but instead causing enough havoc on the periphery of our system that it brings our economy down. Recently America launched its own form of cyber warfare with the Stuxnet virus which was able to infect computers in Iran and destroy nuclear centrifuges. This is the first major attack in the new fast, light wars of the future.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reinventing "The Politics of the Internet"

Since the Internet has technically been around for decades, it's surprising to me to see that people are only now realizing its potential.  In the previous reading, Lessig had described the Internet as the ultimate example of "the commons", where the resources are free for anyone to use.  This is exactly how the Internet is being used: access to information free (at least, mostly free) and the ability to publish content is open to anyone and everyone.  Castell talks a lot about the Internet and its relation in political dynamics.  Some may suggest increased access to information leads to a more democratic society, but Castell argues the Internet is dominated with media politics, thus changing the concept of free information into a messy political scheme controlled by politicians.  This might be a topic of importance, but I think a more interesting use of the Internet lies beyond the itty-gritty details of our American politics.  Many Americans may think the use of the Internet (specifically the World Wide Web) benefits mostly ourselves, seeing how the common belief is that the Internet, along with most modern technology, is a Western innovation.  Little do we know that the Internet allows us to share the same network as people across the globe - people who are using the Internet for some seriously impacted purposes.

Castell touches on this by discussing the rise of "noopolitick" and cyberspace (when combined it's dubbed as  "noosphere"), but even then he's talking about cyberspace's power-making abilities as tools for institutions.  Contrasting with these organized institutions he mentions (governments, international organizations, business firms, NGOs, etc), informal groups and individuals have been using the power of the Internet to accomplish great things.  In 2009, Robert Hansen developed a software called Slowloris, used to block access to specific websites.  Slowloris is unique from other hacking software because it sends a broken request therefore stalling the server which prevents other Internet traffic from being affected, instead of jamming an extreme amount of access requests on a server.  This software was used to shut down the Iranian government website for the Iranian election without interfering with the internet access for Iranian protesters.  Another example is CryptoCat, developed by 21-year old Lebanese hacker Nadim Kobeiss.  CryptoCat is a software that encrypts a chat room making it impossible for unwanted guests to decrypt the conversation - specifically made with the intention of allowing Arab activists to talk online in complete privacy.  The same Internet we use is being used by other people in ways that may facilitate positive change in that time and place. 

Personally, I find these uses of the Internet way more profound than the United States' use of it for political strategy, as Castell discusses.  Maybe Castell wasn't focusing on international uses of the Internet, or maybe its potential uses weren't really quite known at the time the article was published.  I'm really hoping people start looking at how the Internet can really be used to make change, and capitalize on this resource we have in front of us. 

The Internet and Democracy

Although to us it may seem foreign to imagine a world as disconnected from one another as it once was, as media studies students we are well versed in how society has been affected by new media. What really interested me in the Castell reading was his discussion of how democracy and politics have been affected by the Internet. In a presidential campaign year like this one, public political interest has undoubtedly risen. One would think that the interactivity of the internet has allowed people to be more engaged in politics because contacting people in political offices is often easier, and politicians seem even more accessible through facebook and twitter pages. Another argument for the strengthening of democracy through the Internet would be because the wealth of knowledge available online, citizens are more informed and would understand the processes more. In addition, we have talked a lot about the presidential debates in class, and there have been a few blog posts on reactions to the heightened political atmosphere online through memes, Facebook status etc. I would these contributions of the Internet, among others, would help strengthen democracy but Castell argues a different point.

Castell argues “rather than strengthening democracy by fostering knowledge and participation of the citizens, the use of the Internet tends to deepen the crisis of political legitimacy by providing a broader launching platform for the politics of scandal”(158). I think this is an interesting point. There are without a doubt many political scandals of which the Internet only fuels the flame. He brings up the Monica Lewinsky affair, which was first reported on an Internet newsletter. There have been countless political scandals since. However, I think that in this case the good outweighs the bad when it comes to strengthening democracy. There were political scandals long before the Internet, and yes maybe they spread faster and reach more people now, but so do political advertisements and all sorts of campaign propaganda. I think in terms of political awareness, the Internet has actually strengthened democracy by creating a outlet for discussion as well as knowledge gathering.  

Computer Networks, Civil Society and the State

     People now can barely live one day without the Internet. Especially right at this moment, my friends in NY are getting crazy about loosing the Internet service due to Hurricane Sandy on Path, a mobile social network. The Internet becomes indispensible. And it seems to me that the society we live in has already been embedded in the Internet. Castell’s reading proves this view of the interaction between the Internet and civil society by saying “the Internet is not simply a technology; it is a communication medium, and it is the material infrastructure of a given organizational form: the network.” The Internet, as forming the network, is a key part in modern social movements. And these social movements rely on the Internet for disseminating messages and getting people to participate. Castell offers three reasons of why nowadays “social network emerging in the network society.” First, thinking of the nature of social movements, the call for a change in cultural values (to make the public opinion aware of global warming for example) needs the Internet to serve as a medium of organizing, because of the nature of the Internet as exchange of thoughts without geographical boundaries. It provides an efficient way of mobilizing people’s consciousness of society. Second, the Internet can easily fill the gap between the acts of NGOs and the mass. Since, social movements always feature emotional appeals, they need a platform like the Internet to express such information. The dynamics of participatory audience and diversity in the network are capable of arousing debates and discussions about sensitive issues such as moral and religion. Third, given the need of globalizing social movements, the Internet supports this linkage between “local” and “global”. Most social movements root in local societies, but aim to have a global impact. The Internet, by forming interactive networks from local support and legitimacy and bringing them to the global stage, constructs a bottom-to-top system of information world. As Castell says, “the Internet provides the material basis for these movements to engage in the production of a new society.”
       Castell's argument about the Internet and the politics reminds me of the “double-movement” theory by an economist named Polanyi. The “double-movement” is basically a process of while the government liberalizes the market to free competition under the "invisible hand" in order to maximize economic profits, it also builds strong regulations and policies over the free market to prevent the economy from being too liberal so that some sectors in the society that cannot be driven purely by supply and demand such as labor and money will not be put into misuse (for labor and money are not real commodities). In the case of the Internet in Singapore, the government promotes the Internet service for modernization and expansion of freedom, meanwhile it still retains power exercised on the Internet to control the communication networks for the goodness of the nation as a whole. This situation also indirectly proves how powerful the strength of people's voice could be in the public network when bringing positive or negative impacts onto a society.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I don't know if any of you guys know "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" - old school comedy TV variety show with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie doing eclectic comedic skits/pieces - but this one parodic Cockney taxi cab driver interview (starts from about 0:22) was the first thing that I thought of when we discussed violence on television a few weeks ago in class. I just kept forgetting to post this link until now, even though the clip I'm talking about is like 30 seconds long, haha. Just for your amusement!

For some background info for those who aren't familiar with British stereotypes, here's a brief explanation from "Although in America, taxi drivers often have a Funny Foreigner stereotype, it's quite different (in a sense, the antithesis) in England. Often ex-police, the drivers of black cabs (or to be technical, Hackney Carriages) are known for falling into the second type of Political Correctness Gone Mad and liking to share with their customers their views on what's wrong with society today (immigrants, the youth, etc.) and their proposed solutions (public hangings and floggings). Not to be confused with black people who drive cabs, toward whom this character might not be congenial."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Facebook Nation

This time it’s personal virtual

From the Fast Food Nation, to the Facebook Nation, it seems as if our world is slowly but steadily being shaped by a small number of major players. These players act as if they are providing services we, as a modern society, simply cannot live without. From constant photo updates from friends and acquaintances, locations, and statuses, social networking is no longer an accompaniment to traditional socializing, it IS the socializing. More and more people turn to sites such as Facebook to fulfill their social desires. Want to catch up with your high school friends? No need to call to ask them what they've been up to, simply log onto their page and check out their recent pictures. Met a cute boy in class? Check him out on Facebook to see who his friends are, what his interests are and whether he seems available. These social networking sites cut out a whole part of the social process: the getting to know you phase. There's no more intrigue or suspense. As Lori Andrews puts it in Facebook Nation being judged is the price you must pay. 

While being judged is a price most people must pay for living in the type of society we do, the difference on Facebook is WHO you are being judged by. There are two categories of judgers: people who judge you to see if you would be a good fit for them (universities, jobs, potential relationships), and people who judge you in order to sell you things (advertisers, companies). Advertisement is now a unavoidable aspect of Facebook, and as the process gets more and more customized, users should begin to ask themselves when does it cross the line? For many people the line has been crossed already and a demand for a system of control over social networking sites has started. If privacy really is an integral part of our society and our rights as individuals in a democratic nation then it’s time for Government to step up and make sure that our privacy is something they protect. Facebook might appear to be a platform dedicated to strengthening social ties and nations, but in reality computer engineering and data collection (i.e. profit making) are the two forces that dictate Facebook’s policies. Should Facebook be subject to constitutional constraints or would those constraints be unconstitutional?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Internet + Big Business Interest = Lack of Innovation?

After a valiant 2 hour struggle with my router, I have successfully regained access to the Internet! I have to admit, I thought it was pretty funny that I was having so much trouble accessing the Internet to write a blog post about control and ownership of Internet content. Now to the important stuff...

In "The Internet Under Siege," Lessig recaps the creation of the Internet and recent attempts by corporations to maintain control over content through copyright laws. He begins with the idea that the core resources of the Internet were left in a "commons," pointing out that from its beginning the Internet has been decentralized. It is this open structure that has led to innovation, spurred by individuals from all around the world. He describes the Internet as having multiple layers. There is a physical layer (computers, wires, etc.) that is private property. In the middle is the end-to-end design that creates the "core" of the Internet. Then there is the content layer (material dispersed through network) that is often protected by copyright laws. Lessig argues that the code layer is the Internet commons where the network has remained free. This open architecture has led to innovations ranging from web-based email to

Unfortunately, this idea of the "commons" as an equally accessible source for everyone runs counter to a very American idea of property ownership and profiting from one's own products. Old corporations want to protect their powerful pre-Internet positions. They have attempted to do this by putting pressure on the physical and content layers of the Internet, which has consequently affected the freedom of the code layer as well. Perhaps most visible has been the music industry's attempt to control the distribution of music. Ultimately, Lessig argues that a restriction on the code layer is an extreme threat to future innovations. New codes, programs, and technologies will be shut down as other businesses use copyright law to protect their corporate interests.

In the end, Lessig suggests that this decentralized architecture of the Internet provides opportunities for innovation all around the world - innovations that could potentially "foster democracy and economic growth worldwide" (401). Therefore, the limitation of the Internet commons is detrimental, especially for developing countries. I couldn't help but question this technologically deterministic statement. Does the Internet really have the power to democratize countries? It seems that Lessig's statement overemphasizes the power of technology in creating social change. As we saw in the relative ineffectiveness of the One Laptop Per Child campaign, technology on its own cannot be responsible for creating change.

On another note, Lessig's writing reminded me of the recent attempts in Congress to "stop piracy" through PIPA and SOPA. While I am not very knowledgeable about the details of the bills, the continued battle over online piracy shows that old business models will have to continue to shift to correspond to the open architecture of the Internet commons. As public outcry over PIPA and SOPA have revealed, big business will not be simply limit Internet freedom for the sake of their own corporate interests. As we can see, the Internet is a totally new domain, and the relationship between corporate ownership and free speech will continue to be tested in the years to come.

Wikipedia's "Blackout" in protest of PIPA and SOPA earlier this year.