Social Networks: Democratic or Downright Devious?
Andrew Leonard at Salon provides an intriguing preview of Georgetown historian Bryan McCann's forthcoming history of modern Brazil:
"The Orkut Rule," writes McCann..."holds that, wherever possible, Brazilians will avail themselves of the possibilities of digital media to create subcultural niches and cross cultural networks in ways that defy traditional social hierarchies and the existing national cultural canon." ... McCann's fascinating exploration of how culture circulates in Brazil places the Orkut phenomenon, with all its anarchic energy, in the context of a nation in which mainstream cultural production is predominantly subsidized by state largesse. Petrobras, the huge state-owned oil company, alone spent over 100 million dollars on cultural programs in 2006. "Brazilian cinema," writes McCann, "is state cinema, funded by Petrobras," and tends to monotonously reflect the cultural predispositions of the ruling government.
Hooray for social networks, harbingers of freedom of expression! Oh, wait...then there's this piece from yesterday's Guardian, in which Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler, offers an ominous assessment of the goals of a few of Facebook's backers:
Facebook is a well-funded project, and the people behind the funding, a group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, have a clearly thought out ideology that they are hoping to spread around the world. Facebook is one manifestation of this ideology. Like PayPal before it, it is a social experiment, an expression of a particular kind of neoconservative libertarianism. On Facebook, you can be free to be who you want to be, as long as you don't mind being bombarded by adverts for the world's biggest brands.
Government control of media vs. hypercommercialism, freedom of expression vs. loss of privacy--just these two articles from the past few days reveal central themes threading through discussions of how social networks might function as platforms for public media. Long past serving as just a way for friends to keep in touch, these sites have become powerful tools for distributing digital media of all sorts, creative arenas for niche publishing, and conduits for advocacy and political campaigning. As social networks become more central to their lives, users are starting to advocate for control over their own identities, the data they compile, and the information that they share (or is shared about them). The Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web is one example of organizing around these new questions; AU's Kathryn Montgomery notes that consumer groups in the U.S. and Europe have begun calling for government inquiries into the sites' marketing practices.
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