Thursday, August 11, 2011

UK Prime Minister Cameron proposes banning Twitter and Facebook

"This is not about poverty, this is about culture." UK Prime Minister David Cameron speech to Parliament, August 11, 2011.

The connection between uprisings in the UK this week and those across North Africa and the Middle East is social media. As I have noted in earlier blogs, emancipation now seems so close for so many - members of the Tea Party and kids on the street, tribalists in the African desert, and religious fundamentalists everywhere. Social media makes it seem like everything is possible.

David Cameron's suggestion that users of social media who organize riots will be banned, is a major development. His phrase was, "if they are thought to be planning criminal activity" (italics added). What people are thinking when they use social media is another thing altogether.

This will get interesting, especially given that Cameron seemed to detest the idea of "rights" in favor of responsibility. This is the old trope, is it not?

There's nothing quite as perverse as a middle aged white male politician telling people to take responsibility for themselves... in response to riots. Pull yourself together man!

Cameron and UK conservatives, including the Labor Party it seems, have some way to go before they get a full handle on how to manage the relationship between social media and emancipation. Actually, everybody has a long way to go!

Threats to stop Facebook and Twitter use pushes a wedge between digital natives and those making the threats to ban them.

When the question is asked, as I have seen it asked, when will the UK riots happen in the US? The answer is that they are unlikely because of two "solutions:"

1. massive surveillance of networks at every level, amounting to the domestication of Cyber War against the US citizenry;
2. the massive incarceration of young people, the unemployed and the abject. The US has the highest per capita prison population in the world.

As a conservative, Cameron can pursue similar "solutions" in the UK. That is what his suggestions of banning Facebook and Twitter and social media suggests, together with the threatening tone of his speech. A regime of total surveillance will become commonplace in the UK, and following US models, private prisons may well spring up like mushrooms.

By the way, his statement that "This is not about poverty it is about culture,"  is a statement worthy of Cultural Studies. Can someone please tweet him and tel him that poverty is culture... or is that irresponsible?


Monday, August 8, 2011

New Media will not go away

The blindingly obvious is sometimes the most difficult to see. This is the case with the tidal wave of activity and anxiety around News International and the UK phone hacking scandal.

In less than a week it has been pushed underground, below the public radar of concern. This seems to be incredible, on the surface suggesting that concerns about using new media to collect private information will go away. However, it is premature to believe that there is a wind change taking us back to the good old days of media regulation. New media is here to stay, as are the rules that it has established for itself. Just like the Outback Steakhouse in the US, there are "No Rules - Just Right"  Or maybe it was the "Crave On" commercial for the same chain?

Whether it's "No Rules" or "Crave On," the internet meets both expectations. You can do whatever you like in an endless craving for stimulation-information.

(I made the point years ago that there's a major gap between information and knowledge.“Information does not = Knowledge: theorizing the political economy of virtuality,” Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, December,

Pretending or even imagining that the craving for information about other human beings will end is like believing in the tooth fairy. There's just no sense in it after all the evidence is available.

There are two other considerations that make a return to decency and civility within a regulatory framework unlikely: the emergence of new "standards" based on digital native behavior and cyber war. Both of these conditions are here already and should be incorporated into any analysis of phone hacking/ News of the World / UK tabloid newspapers.

Digital natives are the under 20 year old generation who have total facility with digital stuff. In fact, most if not all their social world is built around the internet and will continue to be. In this respect they have access to everything that is on the internet - for example, a young woman can look at pornography alone on her laptop. Her attitude to her body, to sexuality, to relationships, to pleasure will be totally different to the generation before her because she has observed human behavior that was previously quite difficult to get at. To pretend otherwise is to not recognize the cultural shifts changes that are under way among the young.

Cyber War has become part of everyday media coverage because of various computer threats / worms / viruses.

Demonizing enemies has been enhanced by concentrating on Cyber War threats - see for example,

Wikileaks helps confirm these moves: it operates at the point at which digital nativism and cyber war are taken for granted. The authorities who have been up in arms about Wikileaks may simply be talking into the void of the past when they complain.

The standards and ideas about what is permissible have changed dramatically. How the new regime is executed through the network continues the trajectory of change. Why should the everyday activities that define our lives - hacking, surveillance, identity theft, snooping, security - be kept from the media?  

New Media operates in the domain of new proletarianization, where total transparency combines with total information flows, which expose every human activity. To expect a return to old ideas about decency and civility is not the answer. The answer is to understand what the new conditions actually mean and how they impact everyday life.