Societal Power In The Information Age

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Contemporary digital technologies and the practices related to them are fundamental components of contemporary power in our society. Innovations in ICTs and C3Is have been at the forefront of how societal power specifically in politics, the military and police, and the notion of utopian discourses. Those three aspects all tie into the notion of governmentality. This idea will be further supported using various readings used during the course as well as Dr. Bradley’s lecture notes.

As ICT and C3I continued to develop, they began to be incorporated into politics with social media and other internet platforms being a driving force during multiple political campaigns. Prior to the incorporation of the Internet, it was argued by scholars that individuals used technologies such as newsprint, television and radio as a way to receive a sufficient amount of information to make an informed decision, (Chadwick 41).

Chadwick also says that the internet is a, “platform for political discourse,” (Chadwick 40), and by using the political web, the collective intelligence is emergent. Chadwick also said, “although citizens usually reported some basic awareness of political events, most devoted more energy and attention to non- political information, particularly entertainment,” (Chadwick 41).

The use of the internet in politics dates back to the 1990s when then President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were major advocates for it, even going as far as to set up an email that many civilians could use as a form of contact between them and the White House (Hassan 201). While Clinton and Gore were very content with integrating the internet into politics, many critics were less warm to the idea, even going as far as to deem the email as a “digital Town Hall,” (Hassan 201).

Despite having its detractors, the Clinton/Gore email laid the foundation for many internet projects in politics. Many politicians began to launch their own websites with time and money being funneled into them in order to provide a sense of connection between themselves and potential voters. What was different from the Clinton/Gore email was that politicians would allot a section of their websites to a blog or a personal diary where they could leave what they were thinking, politically speaking, for the general public who viewed the website to decide on how or if the politician should procced with their idea, (Hassan 203).

As the Internet advanced into the 2000s there was a shift from online text to online videos, specifically the incorporation of YouTube into politics. Hassan gives an example of Hillary Clinton announcing her 2008 presidential campaign by posting a video on YouTube, (Hassan 204). It is also noted that many candidates used YouTube to announce their campaigns in order to show how eager they were to run. “The emergence of visual communication genres online presents challenges to understandings of e-democracy,” (Chadwick 53).

Eventually, YouTube went from being a source of individual support to that in which it can be used as a platform for debates between political parties. CNN took note of this growing trend and organized the CNN/YouTube Debates in an effort to appeal more towards bloggers and those who primarily watch videos or consult the Internet for their information as opposed to television. The difference between this format of debates and the Clinton/ Gore email was that CNN refused to allow a free flow of questions from the audience in order to prevent any inappropriate questions during the live debate, instead opting to ask the candidates questions from a pre-approved list of non-problematic questions submitted by the public prior to the debate, (Hassan 204-205).

Finally, as noted by Dr. Bradley in lecture, it was mentioned that campaigns that came after Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign use a style similar in vein to his, in that Obama and his team used social media to send out team produced messages that targeted specific demographics. Diana Owen of Georgetown University wrote about this for OpenMind BBVA saying that Obama’s campaign was a good example of campaign that had strong digital grassroots which also allowed the campaign to present characteristics of a social movement, (Owen 2018). Dr. Bradley also noted that campaigns shifted from taking an ‘Obama’ approach to social media, to that of Donald Trump.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump was notable for “routing around” traditional news sources by generating “info- bubbles” via selective redirects among niche sources of information. Trump’s use of social media, primarily Twitter caused a shift in the public’s perception of what is credible news source, usually calling networks such as CNN as ‘fake news,’ presenting propaganda that slanders both Trump and the Republican party while being more warm towards Fox News as it tends to lean more in Trump’s favour. Trump’s use of social media has been very controversial in recent years, especially with the announcement that Trump is collusion with the Russian government used bots that presented content on Facebook that heavily swayed the decisions of the voters, leading to him winning the 2016 election.

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The effects of which have now led to the arrest of several figures close to Trump and the launch of an impeachment investigation into Trump. The repercussions of these events were so bad that it led to Twitter and Facebook announcing that they would no longer present political content on their websites during the 2020 election, thereby making them automatically nonbiased towards the political campaigns, which could have an effect on how this election will play out ICT & C3I systems have also been seen as essential ‘weapons’ in military and police. The most notable of which was the telegraph. Andrew Barry notes how the telegraph was used as an, “instrument of administrative surveillance and internal political security,” (Barry 129). A notable example was when the Home Secretary had the ability and reserved the right to take control of the telegraph at any moment that they felt like the telegraph would become an instrument of political agitation, especially during a time of internal unrest, (Mather 1953:49 as referenced in Barry 129). This practice of abruptly taking control of the telegraph was in effect prior to 1870 when the companies that produced the telegraph became nationalised and a clear separation between the management and the ownership of the telegraph was created, as well as its utilization by the police and armed forces, (Barry 129).

 When a secure telegraphic network was created, it was originally seen as an essential factor to imperial security. “Internally, the telegraph was thought to be important for maintaining the civic unity of a geographically dispersed, and socially and culturally fractured community” (Bright 1914: 134, Marx 1973: 320, as referenced in Barry 131). Imperial governments were able to optimize any signs of crisis as well as its response to any signs of crisis, while effectively economizing their use of scarce military resources thanks to enabling of the telegraph, (Barry 131). “In terms of external threats to nation and empire, the imperial communication networks came to have a central role in maintaining political and military order, ensuring that any threat could be responded to immediately, (Barry 131). Information technologies can also measure and control societal processes which in turn, allows them to track and scrutinize these processes as well.

Hassan mentions the work of the social philosopher Jeremy Bentham who came up with this new concept of a prison: The Panopticon, which was described as a, “series of cells built around a circular observation tower,” (Hassan 64). It provided this sense of being watched and facilitated without knowing if you’re actually being watched. In turned, it forced the prisoners to discipline and regulate themselves at all times in order to minimize that feeling of being watched without knowing where they’re being watched at all times or even if they are being watched at all. Hassan also mentions the use of a ‘cookie’ on the web and how it can used as a way to track your browsing history, which in turn can also be used in two ways: either as a method of commercial interest or as a method of highlighting and reporting any suspicious behaviour to the authorities, (Hassan 65). Again, forcing a user to self-regulate when using the Internet at all times even when they are not being watched specifically. Governments in particular use cookies and other software applications in order to monitor and in some cases block content that could be seen as offensive. This is more prominent in the Chinese and Iranian where sites like the BBC and CNN are seen as detrimental or threatening to the political prerogatives of their respective countries, (Hassan 65).

The Chinese government is seen as the strictest when it pertains to the Internet. “The Chinese government devotes many resources in its efforts to filter out information it considers dangerous and attempts to track down those who either read such materials or post their own,” (Hassan 195).

Finally, utopian discourse can legitimize and promote technological solutions to social problems. Utopias are notable for fostering faith in ICT’s and C3I, which causes there to be less criticism towards tech-related policies and spending, while also providing a map of the future. Before proceeding it is important to note that Thomas More says utopia usually equates to no place. This history of the ideal of utopias dates back to the Various World Fairs and Expositions that took place during the 1800s and 1900s, where they exhibit a “utopian view” of how social goals and political enlightenment are achieved through the power of technology. These fairs presented new innovations in ICTs and C3Is. “Like space rockets and nuclear reactions, computers also existed in two-time frames at once. On the one hand, the current models displayed at the IBM pavilion were prototypes of the sentient machines of the future,” (Barbrook Elzien 21). A more contemporary version of these fairs would be Tomorrowland at the various Walt Disney resorts and theme parks.

Lefebvre and Jameson also presented two forms of utopian thought and writing. The first being true utopia: imagined realities that counter the present by revealing flaws. The second is false utopia, the legitimation of present reality by imaging its idealized version. It has also been noted in lecture how most utopian discourses concerning ICTs are seen as false as they seek to legitimize current power relations instead of imaging new social scenarios and practices. In terms of utopian discourses, there are two types both again mentioned in lecture.

The first is technological utopianism which is the promotion of technocracy Market utopianism which in turn of that focuses on the consolidation of capitalist relations.

The second is Social and Political utopianism which focuses on the maintenance of political relations. These discourses can only be countered by the understanding of the participation of cyberspace in the production, deployment, diffusion, and transformation of power relations, social space, and the temporal rhythms of everyday life.

ICTs and C3Is have continued to grow and develop with the times, while continuing to strengthen their connections to governmentality, however in the case of politics, society could see the connection between governmentality and politics being weakened.

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