With friends like these … Why Facebook is not just a pretty face

January 19, 2008

With friends like these … Tom Hodgkinson on the politics of the people behind Facebook | Technology | The Guardian

This is a rather scathing and quite scary attack on Facebook. The argument that it is harmless and merely helps people connect is a myth says the author, Tom Hodgkinson. The real motivation of those who set it up (apparently a small group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists) is to promote the consume, be silent and die, ethos of neo-liberalism. Harsh? Maybe, but Hodgkinson is convincing.

Here’s a taste:

Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries – and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.

And another, that sets out the neo-con and anti-worker philosophy behind the hugely successful site. Facebook has over 60 million members and counting.

The internet is immensely appealing to neocons such as Thiel because it promises a certain sort of freedom in human relations and in business, freedom from pesky national laws, national boundaries and suchlike. The internet opens up a world of free trade and laissez-faire expansion. Thiel also seems to approve of offshore tax havens, and claims that 40% of the world’s wealth resides in places such as Vanuatu, the Cayman Islands, Monaco and Barbados. I think it’s fair to say that Thiel, like Rupert Murdoch, is against tax. He also likes the globalisation of digital culture because it makes the banking overlords hard to attack: “You can’t have a workers’ revolution to take over a bank if the bank is in Vanuatu,” he says.

but what then of the arguments that social networking increases democracy and opens up a new virtual, digital public sphere? My experience of other social networking sites, particularly American-based ones are a happy home to gun-nuts, pro-war social conservatives and wierdos.

Cruise into somewhere like Fubar (only open to members) to see what I mean. Fubar operates like an online pub, which is interesting as one of Hodgkinson’s arguments is why not just go a real pub if you want to meet people and chat. In the Fubar you can meet all kinds of rednecks who proudly support the troops in Iraq. I joined for a short time to check it out; I couldn’t find any anti-war ideas displayed. There’s lots up pumped up soldierly-looking guys and even some pornstars pimping their wares with links from their profiles to commercial sites where you can buy their DVDs etc.

Sure, there are some ordinary folk among the 1.5 million Fubar users, but it’s really a place for show-offs and voyeurs. Facebook claims to be different for sure, but how different is it really? I’m not sure, but there are plenty of wannabe pornstars there and on MySpace.

You don’t have to look for them, or interact, but it’s interesting how the adult industry colonises such places rather quickly.

The Myspace President

May 4, 2007

Obama in website battle with blogger

Well at least the phony American presidential election campaign period promises to be interesting. Last week I mentioned how Republican candidate John McCain had become a reluctant download star on the YouTube website. Now it seems that Democratic hopeful Barak Obama has got himself into a fight with a former fan.
Joe Anthony had set up a ‘tribute’ page for Barak on MySpace, but now the candidate has wrestled control away, with the help of the MySpace spat-sorters.
Mr Anthony was demanding tens of millions of dollars to hand over the site, but Barak’s team got it for free.
Nice one Mr Presidential-hopeful. You need the votes of the young and black Americans who hate George Bush, but you can’t keep your hands of the kids’ toys. Shame on you. A bit of trust would be a useful character trait for a controversial candidate. Now you just look like a suit from Sony.
Seriously though, if the US presidential campaign was based on popularity, in the same way as MySpace page rankings, some 12-year-old from Butte, Montana would be the perfect choice. She couldn’t do a worse job than the incumbent and the candidates are all looking greedy and ungrateful, just like in every other presidential election since… When? Well, way before the Vietnam war anyway.
Who was the last American president who wasn’t a rich, white and almost-dead male? Yep, tough question.

Ok, ok, I know you want to check out Barak’s pages. Just how cool can this guy get, click through here to find out.

Social Networks making news

April 25, 2007

Press Gazette: How should journalists use social media material?

It’s interesting this discussion is starting now. I told my students in a lecture yesterday that there’s going to be more of this – using MySpace, Facebook, etc as news sources. Reporters are now routinely checking MySpace pages for personal information about people who are in the news.
I think we should all be careful about what kind of trails we leave in cyberspace, nothing is really private anymore.
Martin Stabe’s blog (above) gives more details on a recent British case and of course it has become a staple of the Virginia Tech coverage.

Meanwhile, MySpace is also launching a news aggregation service. Of course its links with the Murdoch empire – MySpace is owned by Fox Interactive – will mean it is never short of a good story, particularly if it favours Mr Murdoch’s viewpoints. Is this a sneaky way of turning young Americans into Republicans, and the rest of the world is just collateral damage?