Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Going Viral
October 8, 2010

The television show, The Gruen Transfer, often talks about the ways in which the internet might be used by advertisers in order to market themselves and their products. I’ve touched on this before in my post about how companies can buy space on google. But, this post is really about how marketers can compel capitalistic behaviours (i.e. buying stuff), thereby being useful under a neoliberal framework, through the use of the internet.

In this post, I’m going to be talking about the ‘Old Spice’ ad. Partly because I like it, partly because it really does demonstrates the point that the internet can be used as a powerful tool for advertising. Here it is:

The ad is quite quirky and funny. Importantly though, according to the Gruen Transfer, while pretty much everyone knows about this ad and was all the rage on facebook only some months ago, it never actually went to air on television. Rather, it ‘went viral’. People willingly logged onto Youtube to essentially watch advertising for Old Spice even though when the ads come on TV, that’s something to complain about!

And, in the end, after this ad went viral, sales of Old Spice went up by 107%, showing that it is clear that the internet can support commerce and capitalism.

The Zapatista Effect
October 8, 2010

mexico
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This post will draw primarily from Harry M. Cleaver’s The Zapista Effect: The Internet and the Rise of an Alternative Political Fabric, published in The Journal of International Affairs in 1998. The article contends that the internet actually challenges neoliberalism in Mexico. He writes:

…it is not exaggerated to speak of a “Zapatista Effect” reverberating through social movements around the world; an effect homologous to, but potentially… threatening to the New World Order of neoliberalism… In the case of social movements and the activism which is their hallmark, the danger lies in the impetus given to previously disparate groups to mobilize around the rejection of current policies, to rethink institutions and governance, and to develop alternatives to the status quo.

How is this the case? Well, some background is needed. Firstly, the Zapatista are a revolutionary group based in Chiapas, in the south of Mexico. Despite great wealth, there are huge income inequalities and large amounts of poverty in this region. As a result, this group is ‘at war’ (albeit largely non-violent) with the Mexican state. The group takes on an anti-global and anti-neoliberal ideology (neoliberalism is currently dominant in Mexico). Their political models are very much grassroots, bottom-up. They are trying to gain support for their movement primarily through the internet.

Here is a list of ways in which the Zapatista have used the internet to undermine or challenge neoliberalism:

  • Early on, it was used to share information and to organise themselves amongst people in pre-existing networks.
  • Commentary on events was available on the internet and the events were analysed by group members – available for all to see.
  • Specialised lists, conferences, and webpages by and for the group became available on the internet.
  • Discussion groups and email lists were available for group members to talk about issues, and other people were able to join.
  • For the group to correct possible misinformation, because they were able to search online for the source material, it became very quick through the use of the internet.
  • Communications could easily be given to the media, or to the general public through uploading documents.
  • Detailed information about Chiapas could be available to anyone in the world, and easily translated into a range of languages by users of the internet.
  • More recently, they are able to strengthen ties with other like-minded groups – they regularly communicate with ‘others around the world, e.g., to a European-wide demonstration in Amsterdam against Maastricht and unemployment, to an Italian gathering in Venice against regional separatism, to a conference of media activists in New York and so on. In these communications they make their position on various issues known and seek to create or strengthen ties with other, far-flung groups.’
  • Internet users who may be far away from the region are able to ‘participate’ in organised events through the internet. Further, people can be informed of the events taking place through the internet. ‘The results were stunning: thousands came to the continental meetings, 3,000 to the intercontinental in Chiapas and 4,000 to the intercontinental in Spain. The significance of these continental and intercontinental meetings includes the very fact of their existence.’

In all these cases, the Zapatista use these online avenues to further their anti-neoliberal cause. Thus, it is clear that obviously, via the internet, it is possible to spread an anti-neoliberal cause.

However, as a kind of postscript, it is worth remembering that many of the world’s poorest have no access to a computer, much less an internet connection.

Buying a Bass: Perfect Markets and the Internet
October 6, 2010

bass
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I’m thinking of buying a bass guitar. I could go to a music store where I could try out a few different basses and get the recommendations of the salesperson. Trouble is, there is only one music store in the entirety of Canberra, so I might be told an inflated price because there is virtually no competition. Further, I suspect the salespeople may be paid on commission, so the information they might give me could be biased towards getting a higher profit margin or a free gift from a specific guitar manufacturer. I don’t have very good information on what would suit me, and since I don’t really know any bass guitar plays, I don’t think I could ask a friend for advice.

So, I’m going to the internet! The internet has hundreds of review websites where a range of people write reviews on every aspect of any bass guitar which is widely manufactured.

There are many more instances where the internet has helped me in buying stuff. When I went to the USA, I based my decisions about which hotels to stay at from website reviews. I choose which ebay seller to buy from based on internet feedback. I bought my computer after looking at a range of review websites. Suddenly, I have very good knowledge of pricing and quality.

One of the things that neoliberalism strives for is what’s known as a perfect market. A perfect market has the following features:
– little/no government intervention such as tariffs and subsidies.
– little product differentiation (for instance, if two products are exactly the same, in a perfect market brand names will not make a difference as to which product someone will buy).
– Lots of competition, lots of people selling the same things at competitive prices.
– Ease of exit and entry (e.g. if a market is unprofitable, someone can just start selling something else and likewise, if a market becomes profitable, it’s easy to start selling something)
– And, as this post concentrates on, perfect information – buyers know all about price and quality of different products.

In this way, the internet is a vehicle for neoliberalism to achieve parts of its aim. That is to say, because the internet has so much product information, much of which is completely independent, it allows people to enter markets with perfect information and therefore acts in the interests of a neoliberal ideology.

In the hands of very few?
October 6, 2010

In his essay, Global media, neoliberalism & imperialism, McChesney explores how the internet may just be another media system controlled by the very few, as is the case in offline media (explored in this post). He writes:

a word should be said about the Internet, the two-ton gorilla of global media and communication. The Internet is increasingly becoming a part of our media and telecommunication systems, and a genuine technological convergence is taking place. Accordingly, there has been a wave of mergers between traditional media and telecom firms, and by each of these with Internet and computer firms. Already companies like Microsoft, AOL, AT&T and Telefonica have become media players in their own right. It is possible that the global media system is in the process of converging with the telecommunications and computer industries to form an integrated global communication system, where anywhere from six to a dozen supercompanies will rule the roost. The notion that the Internet would “set us free,” and permit anyone to communicate effectively, hence undermining the monopoly power of the corporate media giants, has not transpired. Although the Internet offers extraordinary promise in many regards, it alone cannot slay the power of the media giants. Indeed, no commercially viable media content site has been launched on the Internet, and it would be difficult to find an investor willing to bankroll any additional attempts. To the extent the Internet becomes part of the commercially viable media system, it looks to be under the thumb of the usual corporate suspects.

If McChensy’s analysis holds, if the internet in effect undermines freedom in the pursuit of corporate interests, can it then be said to be neoliberal?

The answer, as always, is complex. Certainly, if independent online media cannot profit then, according to the market-driven principles of neoliberalism, it should not exist. However, many independent online media websites DO exist. Blogs provide numerous examples of this, but many more exist as well. Many of these websites do not profit. What does this show though? Well, firstly it shows that money is not at the bottom line for everyone on the internet, that it isn’t just about making money or commercial viability, going against the grain against neoliberal ideology. But, alongside that, the ability to talk freely is actually open to anybody who is willing to put time and effort into doing so. This self-determination is neoliberal. Nonetheless, what forces this contradiction into certainty is that commercially driven websites are more popular as they have the profits of a corporation behind them to encourage people to visit through advertising and through their market presence.

There is a tension within the ideals of neoliberalism between freedom of speech and a market-driven media system. In effect, it is assumed that if articles are good, they will be read, if not the media outlet in charge of its production can be easily boycotted. Therefore, the best news sources will be read the most and will make the most money. As my earlier post indicated, this assumption is rife with flaws. However, in terms of gathering news on the internet, it is a lot easier to ‘google’, to find other websites to go to if you don’t like the content of one or the other. However, when the media is driven by profits and the bottom line, finding alternatives can be time consuming and difficult. True power to determine what information one reads and the kind of information one gets in terms of bias is very diffiult in the world of offline media. Online, it is much easier to find those alternatives, by doing so you are living to the ideal standards of neoliberalism, you are determining which choice is the best in a wide range of choices you have available to you. But, because alternative websites are usually not comerically viable, you are at the same time evading the market system, thereby undermining neoliberalism. Like I said, it’s complicated.

Problems with Neoliberalism as a Theoretical Framework
September 22, 2010

Taking my analysis back a little bit, here are some problems with using the frame of neoliberalism to analyse what is happening on the internet:

These are just a few problems my project encounters. However, it still can work for the following reasons:

  • Thinking in neoliberal ways doesn’t necessarily mean that one must behave in neoliberal ways. And certainly, it is not practical to feel that there should be no government intervention in the economy at all. ‘Neoliberalism’ is more of an ideal than something that plays out perfectly in real life, and as such the way people might take on the ideal is still interesting for the purposes of analysis.
  • Even people who argue against neoliberalism can still hold some of its values quite closely. For instance, this link shows that someone who believes that public school should have greater funding in order to ‘even the playing field’ might not agree to the government interfering to put affirmative action in place because they feel people should earn their place irrespective of the certain things that may have disadvantaged them in the past. This idea of personal responsibility is still pervasive.
  • As I’ve explored in this post, given that North Americans have a very high presence on the internet, they can equally convince others around the world that neoliberalism is a good thing.

Internet Censorship: The Great Firewall of China and the Great Australian Clean Feed
September 21, 2010

censorship
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The Great Firewall of China

As I have earlier alluded to in this post, the internet practically enshrines freedom of speech for people of many nations. For some other nations, such as China, content is blocked, though there are a myriad of ways to transgress these blocks. So while many Chinese people can realistically freely access any opinions they want, content is still technically restricted.

Additionally, one may not go to jail for accessing certain material, but one can certainly go to jail in different parts of the world for producing certain material. The Washington Post feature an article on a university student who went to jail for writing and publishing politically controversial material:

Soliman, 22, was expelled from Al-Azhar University last spring for sharply criticizing the university’s rigid curriculum and faulting religious extremism on his blog. He was ordered to appear before a public prosecutor on Nov. 7 on charges of “spreading information disruptive of public order,” “incitement to hate Muslims” and “insulting the President.” Soliman was detained pending an investigation, and the detention has been renewed four times. He has not had consistent access to lawyers or to his family.

Reports of this nature are not uncommon in certain parts of the world. One blogger writes of how he ended up in a Chinese prison:

So let’s recap for a moment, to understand what I had done that would later lead to my arrest. I was milling around in a public place, and when an illegal demonstration occurred, I, like many other civilians as well as credentialed press, began capturing video of the event to show “friends and family” later. Although I was later told that this type of activity is illegal to film, there were no Chinese citizens or anyone else, media or otherwise, arrested at the event aside from one solitary journalist of ITV, who was inside the park at the time of the banner hang.

It becomes easy to see then how easy it might be to get jailed for blogging in China. This post talks about one such incident:

He was one of as many as seven bloggers who were detained after writing about a 25-year-old woman, Yan Xiaoling, who had allegedly been gang-raped and murdered by someone connected to local authorities in Fujian. Guo’s crime: reposting something that had already been put on a BBS in Fujian Province, titled “Yan Xiaoling (嚴曉玲) much more miserable than Deng Yujiao (鄧玉嬌).” Deng Yujiao is a waitress turned national heroine who became famous for stabbing an official who may have sexually assaulted her. He then posted a video he had found, completely unedited, in which Yan Xiaoling’s mother accused local authorities of trying to cover up the case.
Five police came to arrest him the day after, on July 15.

But there is another side to this story. For instance, we know about the incidents where people are jailed for posting critical material on the internet, usually because of the internet. Indeed, in this last case, Twitter was what got the man out of jail. He writes on his blog that he told the police that his iPhone was actually just an ordinary MP3 player, and so, was allowed to take it into prison, then:

I successfully made the whole world know where I was hours later. It was about 5:00am of July 16 and they had interrogated for several hours, so the police were quite tired. The police sitting opposite me felt asleep and the other one sitting behind me played games on computer so engrossed that he was unable to pay attention on me. I quickly and quietly took my phone and sent messages announcing that I had been arrested by Mawei police to Twitter in English via a twitter’s mobile web interface (www.dabr.co.uk). The messages were quickly translated back to Chinese by a Chinese user dupola and crazily retweeted by other users, and this drive also attracted international attention. With a certain popularity in Chinese blogger sphere and Twitter, the news that I was detained was quickly spread to everywhere on the Internet. Interestingly, I also had enough time to read paragraphs of an e-book with my phone until a police realized that the phone was in my hands. He grabbed the phone from my hands, but it was useless, too late.

This man was obviously quite lucky, but without the internet we wouldn’t know that this happens regularly. And now, various Human Rights groups do put pressure on governments to allow for internet freedom of speech. And thus, the internet, making us more aware of what’s happening in the world, also allows for the spread of neoliberal values.

The Clean Feed
Some governments are scrutinising the internet and suggest that censoring certain content is a good idea, to act within the public safety. Australia currently provides an excellent example of this, as the Labor government suggested that filtering internet content would be a good thing. The idea is that websites which cannot be classified under Australian regulations (so, anything with content more ‘offensve’ than an R18+ rating) would be banned completely, as is the case in Australia for media such as movies, television and video games. The aim of it is to stop online exploitation of children such as child pornography, though the logistics of how the government intends to do this is quite unclear. As the ‘No Clean Feed’ website states:

The proposed filter will only filter unencrypted web (HTTP) traffic. Not only will it be trivial to circumvent by those who want to, but it will not be able to stop the distribution of illegal child sexual abuse material on encrypted peer-to-peer networks, where the greatest majority such material is traded.

In order to address concerns about the sexual exploitation of children, greater investment is required in police investigations who are able to infiltrate the secretive groups where this child sexual abuse material is distributed and charge those who are creating and sharing this material.

Some individuals would actually like the filter to be stronger than this, blocking pornography and gambling websites, though certainly most of the criticism of the filter has come from the other side of the spectrum – people feel that any clean feed would be both ineffectual and would infringe on people’s freedoms. This paper (opens in pdf) talks a bit about these issues and this website features some of the negative reactions to the proposed scheme.

From the case of the clean filter, it seems that the internet is open to scrutiny and its ‘free’ status is a precarious one. While one may be able to quite easily circumvent filters, the internet may not always be categorically ‘free’. And thus, the influence of government in deciding what content people should and should not be able to access is not reflective of an inherently neoliberal stance.

To Summarise:
In many countries, the internet is not completely free at all, there is a great deal of government interference and regulation. Thus, it would seem that on this point, the internet is not inherently for small-government, neoliberal policies. However, through the existence of the internet as a globalising force, the internet can act as a way to put pressure on governments to take on more neoliberal policies.

Buying the Internet
September 20, 2010

One way in which we might see the internet as embodying neoliberal ideas is in the fact that it operates in a commercial context whereby money can give one the attention necessary to communicate what one has to say. Sociological Images has a post on how companies buy advertising space on Google. When you search a term, say, ‘tree’ for example,  while a tree company cannot give google money to have its website be the first resulting search term, it can give them money so that they are the first website you see when you search a specific term.

Most notably, BP has done this recently. If you seach ‘gulf oil spill’ or ‘gulf disaster’, the first page Google links you to is the BP website:
google

In this way, companies can manipulate search terms. The fact that supposedly independent website searches can yield results like this because of paid advertising suggests that the internet operates under market forces, just as mainstream newspapers, magazines and television networks do.

Is this important though? Sociological Images has received a number of comments about this phenomenon. The fact that the BP link is clearly advertising, to some, means that the independence of the google search engine is not compromised. Furthermore, people do not have to ‘trust’ that the google search engine will yield politically neutral results, they can read the top results for themselves and come to their own conclusion about whatever biases the individual pages have. Nonetheless, with money, one can buy a certain degree of control over what information others are easily exposed to, which suggests that there is a neoliberal presence on the internet.

Neopets and Neoliberalism
September 20, 2010


via Neopets
Neopets is a website where people (usually children and adolescents – according to Bray & Konsynski (2007), the median age of a neopets user is 14) keep virtual pets and earn money (neopoints) to feed and customise the pets and give them toys and accessories. The neopoints are earned through playing the games online, clicking on the websites of sponsors, and by investing in the neopian stock exchange.

Aside from being a popular website amongst children, neopets is a high-earning website and was bought in 2005 for $160 million. It is included on this blog because it serves an example of how certain websites are able to embody neoliberalism.

In this case, there are two levels of anlysis: the game and the website itself. On both these levels, neopets is very much reflective of neoliberalism.

The Game

Neopets is really a kind of game, the point is to earn money, make investments, play in the arcade, adopt virtual pets and take care of them. Money is awarded to you if you do these things particularly well. If not, your pets basically go hungry (alas, there is no social safety net on neopets). The game doesn’t make any sense without its economy – just like work, the games are not particularly fun on their own for most children, but the end result of ‘earning’ the money (i.e. consumerism) is what makes the work worthwhile.

Wealth is not a zero-sum game, all you need to do is play the game and you will not be taking anyone else’s money, the neopets economy will simply expand. This reflects neoliberal beliefs that the wealthy do not harm or take away money from the poor, but that the wealthy in fact earned their money and the poor can do the same simply by playing arcade games working hard.

The trade of items is fully liberalised. Given that the products one buys on neopets is essentially made by nobody (i.e. it is a virtual product), there are no problems in the production process such as employment needs which would give rise to taxes, tariffs or subsidies. The realities of product supply are not complicated which makes embodying a neoliberal perspective much easier.

The simplified economy of neopets effectively works to undermine any economic system other than neoliberalism. Supply-side factors in producing items simply don’t exist – it’s as easy to produce one item than any other, and therefore how much the item is worth is merely dependent on demand. Additionally, because it is relatively easy to earn money – all you have to do is play a game – it does not address the idea that poverty can arise due to a number of factors other than merely not working hard enough.

The Website

While neopets is a free game, there is a lot of revenue surrounding it. Other than the website’s worth, it is one of the first websites to use what is known as ‘immersive advertising’. This is where players can earn neopoints by completing advertiser surveys and playing games that are company specific. When I was about 12, I played neopets a lot and I was so interested in earning neopoints that I took part in subscribing to advertising content. Over 8 years later, my inbox is still filled with junk mail from advertisers I subscribed to on neopets. The amount of commerce going into this website is huge, and this business model is neoliberal in its motive for profits.

Time magazine featured a story on this in 2004:

Chirita isn’t feeling well. A furry green creature with four legs and a pair of wings, she has come down with a case of the Neomites, a common affliction in the mythical online world of Neopia. The Neopian pharmacy sometimes stocks a cure, but it’s pricey, costing about 330 Neopoints. What’s Chirita’s owner, Wendy Mendoza, 10, of Atlanta, to do? One way to rack up the points would be to play any of the 110 free games on Neopets.com trying activities like bumper cars or chemistry for beginners. Then again, Wendy could also score by hunting for secret images in the site’s virtual McDonald’s, trying her hand at the Lucky Charms Super Search game or watching cereal ads in the General Mills theater–earning 150 points a commercial. Wendy visits the site several days a week.

In essence, website users (usually young people) are rewarded for their participation in advertising and consumerism, which is reflective of a neoliberal system.

Chomsky and Herman’s Propaganda Model
September 19, 2010

In this post, I will be referring to a book chapter by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky called “A Propaganda Model” which appears in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.

By and large, the internet is quite ‘free’ in that content isn’t really regulated. Some websites, such as Facebook, will block certain content, usually content that people find ‘offensive’ and endeavours to remove any content that is ‘harmful’. For instance, recently someone from an all girls private school in Perth posted a school social event. They did not use privacy settings when listing the event. Soon, many people from around Perth and Australia said that they were ‘attending’ the event and posted vulgar comments about private school girls and threatened to damage the school property on the night of the event. When school officials were made aware of this, they requested that facebook remove the event announcement. It was taken down soon after.

Freedom of speech on the internet does exist to a large extent for individuals who live in countries without internet filters (the topic of internet filters will be discussed in another post in the future). While websites maintain control over content that users might generate and are likely to ban content that features child pornography or terrorist-related planning, the nature of the internet itself is characterised by an inability to block any information, as Internet Freedom of Speech details:

“The Net interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it.” Because of the Internet’s robust design, it is impossible to completely block access to information except in very limited and controlled circumstances, such as when blocking access to a specific site from a home computer, or when using a firewall to block certain sites from employees on a workplace network.

Even filters can be ineffectual in censorship as well. For instance, when I was in Vietnam, I was annoyed because Facebook had been blocked. But, it was very easy to go around the censorship, indeed, there are many available avenues to get around the various blocks.

Freedom of speech/expression is realistically a part of the internet. But, as Herman and Chomsky point out, freedom of speech does not remove the existence of propaganda. There are various ‘filters’ that the authors talk about which stop us from truly getting ‘free speech’. I’m going to describing and discussing their filters, and then, keeping in mind that the paper was not written about the press during the 1980s, see how the filters might apply to the internet. Overall though, the authors suggest that, through these filters, the media essentially endorses the status quo, which for many places would mean that the media ultimately supports neoliberalism.

Filter one: Size, ownership and money.
money

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The authors talk about how expensive media ownership is. Start-up costs are huge and it costs a lot to print newspapers or bring television shows to air, and thus initial outlays are very high. As a result, mainstream media is owned by very few individuals and the situation is fairly centralised. To get an idea of how this works in Australia, looking at who owns the major daily newspapers is quite telling.

Owned by Newscorp are the following publications:

Daily Telegraph
Gold Coast Bulletin
Herald Sun
NT News
Post-Courier
Sunday Herald Sun
Sunday Mail
Sunday Tasmanian
Sunday Territorian
Sunday Times
The Advertiser
The Australian
The Courier-Mail
The Mercury

Fairfax owns the following newspapers:

The Age
The Sydney Morning Herald
Brisbane Times
WA Today
The Australian Financial Review
Illawarra Mercury
The Newcastle Herald
The Border Mail
The Warranbul Standard
The Canberra Times

While there are independent newspapers in Australia, the numbers are quite low and they are not usually daily papers. Additionally, centralisation doesn’t just exist for newspapers, Australia actually has one of the highest media centralisation in the world. Information on Media Ownership Policy can be read here.

When the media is controlled by so few people, it is ultimately those two stakeholders that can so easily control the content of all the major news sources within a nation. While editors are likely to make editorial decisions, it is possible that certain articles could never go to print due to the stakeholders interests. Furthermore, stakeholders make a lot of money out of their media ownership and as such are less likely to be disenfranchised by the workings of neoliberalism.

But does this apply to the internet? Well, on first thought, no, not really. Anyone can make a blog or website, set-up costs are extremely low (this blog has cost $0 to set up, it only costs in time to add content), anyone can make a website and share their opinions.

But, while independent websites exist, so do independent publications. What characterises both is that they are seldom visited or read. Aside from bank websites, email, pornography, real estate and matchmaking services, the top sites visited by Australians are ninemsn and yahoo, two very much non-independent websites affiliated with two of the top rating TV stations which primarily feature news stories. You can see the top visited websites by Australians here. What I suggest from this is that there is a lot of diversity available on the internet, but hierarchies exist as well – simply put, some websites are visited more often than others. And when we look at where our online news is coming from, it’s largely from the same media companies. This is true world-wide too – on the world top visited websites, most visited include yahoo, the BBC website and the New York Times.

I think ultimately, a sensible way to look at these points is to understand that the internet frees up the exchange of information in that it’s possible for anyone to say what they like. But at the same time one has to acknowledge that some websites are simply going to have more influence than others.

Filter two: advertising.
advertising

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Mainstream media relies on advertising in order to get the funds required to keep going. Not only is advertising helpful in terms of subsiding the costs involved in making the newspapers, it helps keep the cover prices down, which means that consumers are more likely to buy it than if the cover price was very high. There are two ways this might reinforce the status quo. Firstly, advertisers want to reinforce neoliberalism so then you can buy their things – if the newspaper promoted saving money or communism or anything that meant that companies would expect a decreased revenue, this model of producing media isn’t going to work. Secondly, the content of the newspapers cannot be anti-whatever corporation is sponsoring them, otherwise the impact of advertising would be nullified altogether. There are certain incentives to be therefore uncritical of corporations.

This is less of a problem on the internet. While advertising seems to be an integral part of the internet, not all websites even have advertising, and it is not necessarily true that an independent website would need to include advertising in order to offset costs. That’s the thing though, because if there are any perceived costs whatsoever pertaining to running a website, or if the maker of the website feels like earning some money, advertising is an obvious option. However, online publications probably do rely less on advertising than print media generally, unless the website is specifically for profit.

Filter three: sourcing.
journo

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News sources are also centralised. Often one or a couple of news sources are relied upon for reporting certain stories, this is because there are large costs associated with having reporters go all over the world to wherever the action is. Also, ‘official views’ are usually shaped by very few people. For instance, if interest rates rise, a news programme may interview an economist, they’ll say their opinion on the matter, and that’ll be all. Thus, news can sometimes be shaped by very few sources. Usually, these sources are non-radical and say whatever it is the media source wants them to say.

The internet paints a very different picture. Most blogs, for instance, give naturally quite personal accounts. After Hurricane Katrina in the US, around the world we were being informed about it and this information may have been coming from relatively few sources (although, that said, as the story was such a big event, it is likely that news companies set journalists out to report from there, thereby adding sources). However, on the internet, I can get first hand accounts of the event. As this website details, the amount of people blogging about Hurricane Katrina is huge, and while is has dwindled, it is certainly possible to access many sources about this event. More than one could possibly read!

Raw source material can also be easily accessed via the internet. For instance, political speeches and election results are all published online and people can directly see them before they have been interpreted by media outlets. For instance, after the recent Australian election, one can access the exact number of voters and votes in each electorate, data which may be ‘too boring’ to feature in a newspaper or on the news, but is nonetheless a source that people would have otherwise not been able to access and would have had to rely on media analysis, which is never perfect. For instance, there are a host of articles on how voters were moving away from labour, but very few on the fact that there had actually been swings against the liberal party in several states.

Additionally, anyone can give their opinion on the internet. As I mentioned earlier, some opinions are more likely to be read than others, however those opinions are not lacking, they can be sought. People can say things that are very much anti-status-quo.

Filter four: ‘flak’
critic
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Certain media outlets can fear ‘flak’, which is negative feedback from others such as regular readers/listeners/viewers, the government, etc. In some cases, it is much easier to not ‘rock the boat’ to cause a great deal of upset, depending on the situation at hand. Alternatively, content generators on the internet may be less concerned about this. Their articles may not be read by people who would critique them, but otherwise criticism becomes part of a discussion, rather than a part of public condemnation – it really depends on the situation.


Filter five: anti-Communism
communist
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This may no longer be relevant compared to the time the authors were writing, but it is an issue worth addressing here anyway. They write:

The anti-Communist mechanism reaches through the system to exercise profound influence on the mass media. In normal times as well as in periods of Red scares, issues tend to be framed in terms of a dichotomised world of Communist and anti-Communist powers, with gains and losses on both sides, and rooting for “our side” considered an entirely legitimate news practice.

Communism acted as this force that was unquestionably bad and not a concept that could be taken on. It’s probably true that communism is now a less potent filter because it no longer seems to be much of a ‘threat’ with the fall of the USSR and the days of McCarthyism long over. However, filters like Communism also come up. For instance, the motives of ‘terrorists’ are not to be explored and they are considered to be unquestionably bad. At the same time, democracy is an unquestionably good system and is not really critiqued at all in mainstream media.

The internet does carve a different path for itself. Issues like terrorism and democracy are addressed on the internet. Daniel Pipes discusses how terrorists may be motivated:

…the reasons for the violence go unexplained. Analysts, including myself, are left speculating about motives. These can relate to terrorists’ personal grievances based in poverty, prejudice, or cultural alienation. Alternately, an intention to change international policy can be seen as a motive: pulling “a Madrid” and getting governments to withdraw their troops from Iraq; convincing Americans to leave Saudi Arabia; ending American support for Israel; pressuring New Delhi to cede control of all Kashmir.

One can still ask though, do people really read websites like this?

Summary

It seems that many of Chomsky and Herman’s observations on the media can potentially hold true for internet, however the internet is still a unique form of mediation, and certainly far more diversity and far more content that challenges the status quo or which can be used to challenge the status quo exists. Much more is accessible, however one must go looking for it. Is it possible that putting the onus on the individual to look up particular content in fact supportive of neoliberal values? All of a sudden, we’re responsible for sourcing our own news, which can be quite a daunting task for those who are time poor! Additionally, given the vastness of the internet, unless a website is popular it can be difficult to find, which may mean that the diversity of its content may be offset by the many pictures of lolcats one has to avoid in order to get to them. In any case, the situation is complex and the question of my wider project is not solved here.

What is ‘The Internet’?
September 17, 2010

before internet
via weheartit

It seems like a strange question to ask. We kind of know what the internet is, we’re using it right now to write/view this blog. The internet, for many people is pervasive and ubiquitous. We need emails to function at work as well as in our social life, the use of the internet is an important research tool, for many, the internet is a place for commerce – people work for internet-based companies and buy many of their household products online. Activities on the internet can also take up a great deal of our time.

In this post, I will be talking about who uses the internet, and the role it plays in the life of these users. This is to get an idea of the way in which the internet functions. Throughout, I will also briefly talk about how this might reflect my wider project –  does the internet and its functions embody neoliberalism?

Who uses the internet?

internet stats

Internet World Statistics

This graphic shows us a little bit about who uses the internet and where. As we can see, most North Americans, people from Oceania/Australia and Europeans use the internet. After that, there’s quite a bit of a drop-off, percentage-wise. This is interesting data, but there is some problems with it. After all, it doesn’t tell us how people are using the internet. Do they check their emails once every few days? Are they active on social networking websites?

Additionally, what defines an ‘internet user’? This is important because a lot of different agencies do actually dispute this definition. One agency defines it as someone who has gone online in the last 30 days, other define a user as someone who is online at least one hour a week. For the above IWS statistics though according to their definitions, an internet user is anyone who fits the following two criteria:

(1) The person must have available access to an Internet connection point, and
(2) The person must have the basic knowledge required to use web technology.

That’s it. No need to make complex something that is really quite simple. In many Third World countries one same Internet connection may be shared by many individual users. Due to this reason, Internet users generally outnumber the amount of Internet access subscribers and also outnumber the telephone lines available in each country.

This is difficult territory because we neither want a definition that is too lenient (e.g. someone is an ‘internet user’ because they saw a computer once) nor too harsh (e.g. someone is an ‘internet user’ because they use it for an hour every day). Also, in relation to the IWS’s definition, just because someone has access to the internet, doesn’t mean they use it. Anecdotally speaking, for instance, my grandparents are connected to the internet and they have the basic knowledge necessary to use it (e.g. they can turn on the computer, double-click on an email client or web-browser icon, and can type albeit slowly) but they’ve only used it when a family member was over to show them a website and usually only guests use their computer.

Nonetheless, it seems that North America, Oceania and Europe have a large domination over the internet percentage-wise. But, given the relatively small populations of these areas, that doesn’t mean that overall internet users are from these regions, as this next graphic shows:
users

Internet World Statistics

As we can see, the internet is actually dominated by users in Asia.

It seems to me, the limitations of this statistical data is pretty obvious when it comes to figuring out the level of presence one geographical region might have on the internet.

The reason why knowing this could be useful refers to my wider project – Neoliberalism, as earlier explored, is a dominant ideology in ‘Western nations’. One might hypothesise that if the internet is dominated by Western nations, then the dominant ideology present in the internet might be neoliberalism. However, if it were possible to approach my project in this way, it wouldn’t be without a lot of problems. The first one being is just because someone is from a Western country, doesn’t mean that they necessarily support neoliberalism. The question I’m trying to answer is a little more complicated than ‘who uses the internet?’

How is the Internet used?

This question will also fail to get to the heart of my wider project, but it does gives us a context for which we can talk about the ways in which the internet may or may not embody neoliberalism. Looking at the kinds of interactions that takes place on the internet will allow us to see how the internet may or may not actually be able to embody an ideology. It should be remembered that the internet itself, as something that connects people is a neutral tool – it’s rather the content of the interactions that take place on the internet that has the potential to embody neoliberalism. Nothring about the internet in itself can embody neoliberalism but for the fact that the internet was invented in part in a neoliberal context (this will be discussed in a different post).

For some, the internet is not particularly pervasive and they do not use it often, or think to use it. For others, the internet is part of their work, their leisure time, and for some even a part of their identity. Some people form friendships on the internet, and people can react emotionally to the content of the internet . For some, the dichotomy of real life/the internet is a false one.

A survey done at Stanford university involving 4000 participants showed that internet users used the internet in the following ways, the top being email, gathering information and general surfing, reading and hobbies:
chart

The link to the study’s press release is available here.

They found that younger people tended to use the internet differently to their older counterparts – they were more likely to use chat rooms. One thing the survey did not ask about was the use of online forums, which are made by people of all different ages and interests. Some of the most popular forums for Australian young people include the Vogue Australia Forum and The Bored of Studies forum, where individuals talk about life, fashion, school and university, their opinions on media issues, what troubles they’ve been having, or really about anything they feel the urge to start a topic about. Many users seek advice and understanding. For some, they feel that, although they haven’t met the people they took to online, they are amongst friends. The internet can therefore be a place for socialisation, especially among younger people.

hi5
via weheartit

On the Vogue forum, there many threads, many of which are related to real life or resemble conversations one might have with friends. Topics are diverse and include tips for job interviews, where to go to get a haircut, ‘venting’ about people who talk on their phones while on public transport, and wedding advice. Bored of Studies has similar topics of conversation such as asking for advice on choosing subjects, discussing particular books, and relationships advice.

For some, the internet is certainly a basic and pervasive facet of ‘life’, Alexandra Samuel writes:

If we still refer to the offline world as “real life,” it’s only a sign of deep denial — or unwarranted shame — about what reality looks like in the 21st century.

The Internet’s impact on our daily lives, experiences and relationships is real. Our world is deeply affected by networks. From the moment you wake up to news that was gathered online to the minute you fall asleep listening to a podcast, the Internet shapes how you experience the world around you. From the lunch date you make with your BFF (“r u free 4 lunch 2day?”) to the colleagues your company recruited online, the Internet shapes who you interact with. And from the boss who fills you in on a Twitter rumor to the kid who fills you in on her Facebook activities, the Internet shapes how you interact with them.

This picture, via weheartit, is also informative on how certain people use the internet:
my life

The relationship between life and the internet is important for my wider project, because it shows that people can put content into the internet which aligns with their everyday experiences. If they hold opinions which accord to neoliberal values, for example, the content one might create on the internet and the types of things one might look for on the internet may reflect this. Obviously this is a difficult thing to study, it’s difficult to know how many internet users have neoliberal values, but I think this is a red herring anyway. There is more to the internet than just its users, there are certain power brokers and content generators which inform a lot of what the internet might be about. Therefore, my next post will be approaching this topic on a different angle, through trying to apply some of Chomsky’s ideas on the media to the internet, to study who might have power in setting the tone for the internet.