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Week 8: Big Politics—The Fate of the State

April 23, 2012

This week we began to explore the shifts and challenges occurring to the government, large institutions and corporations and how these might be related to new media, cultural and social change. So how do data and politics affect and rapidly develop government institutions through media platforms and technology? Lawrence Lessig (2009) usefully discusses the notion of transparency in relation to politics online, positing the question of where and when transparency works and the time it leads to confusion. I agree with his suggestion that although the distribution government archives online might facilitate public access to information and liberate data conversely it could also destabilise governments when there is too much information or false information released.

A prime example of the notion of government data being collected, stored and distributed through social media platforms is the recent Wiki-leaks event. The event showed the limitless potential power of new media through its attempts to shape societies relationship to the government, by revealing important private information about the world in which we live. The world – wide governments attempted to shut down these efforts by closing the site down. However as a result of the power of technology and the people who were working within the media networks at play, particular aspects of governance were lost. For instance key websites such as PayPal and banks (Visa and Mastercard) were attacked by the distributive denial of service (DDOS) which was an online scheme created by people online (WikiLeaks, 2012). Within (DDOS) a cyber shutdown was forced by thousands of people logging on and hacking the systems of such websites at the same time. The event caused an economic disaster for governments, and is a prime example of technology enabling the power of the individual. As reiterated by Paul Mason (2011)

“Technology has – in many ways, from the contraceptive pill to the iPod, the blog and the CCTV camera – expanded the space and power of the individual (Mason, 2011).”

Catherine Styles (2009) focuses on the importance of visualisation as a means to expose government functions. She terms this “architecture of participation,” where the users have the ability to determine what issues are put to the people (Styles, 2009).

Considering the ideas brought forth by Lessig (2009) and Styles (2009) I would say that I agree with Lessig’s ideas surrounding the “naked transparency movement” which focuses on the idea that transparency might “push any faith of our political system over the cliff,” however I think that Styles (2009) discussion of the benefits of transparency and visualisation within politics is more applicable.

A prime example of the dominance of online transparency is the success of Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign in 2008. It shows that politics are utilising social media as a means of working across multiple ecologies. It has presented a shift in previous political discourses. Another good example of the role of media in affecting change in governments (and facilitating power and space for individuals in the public) is the current public riots in Egypt. Despite the governments attempts to control and regulate media platforms during the riots, there was a large amount of news, opinions and public thoughts being disseminated through blogs and social media platforms. I think that the main result of such online communication was ease of organisation of groups about a common topic. This example can be compared to the 2005 Cronulla Riots, which displayed the organisation efficiency of social media, as there was a series of random text messages sent to a large amount of people which resulted is a mass street riot based on racial discrimination.

References:

Lessig, Lawrence (2010) ‘Against Transparency: The perils of openness in government.’<http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/against-transparency?page=0,0>

Mason, Paul, 2011, ‘Twenty Reasons why its kicking of everywhere’, idle Scrawls BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2011/02/twenty_reasons_why_its_kicking.html)

Styles, Catherine (2009) ‘A Government 2.0 idea – first, make all the functions visible’ <http://catherinestyles.com/2009/06/28/a-government-2-0-idea/>

WikiLeaks. (2012). Retrieved April 20, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WikiLeaks

The secret word “collaboration”

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