Publication Project II: Censorship, Online Media, and Digital Culture

As stated in an earlier post, I am currently working on a number of research projects alongside my PhD. In the first of these ventures I collaborate with Tomi Oladepo from Warwick University for an analysis of transnational online public spheres in Africa and Europe. A second one will deal with forms of and conditions for censorship in digital culture.  This second project will be conducted in cooperation with my colleague Jennifer Eickelmann from the Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany). She is also a PhD student (as well as lecturer) and currently works on (postmodern) modes and techniques of content production on the Internet. Before that, she finished her MA in 2010 with a high quality thesis on performance, resistance, and Youtube. You can read one of her articles here (in German).

We will discuss in our article contemporary forms of censorship in cyberspace –  i.e. the multidimensional practice of information control that often combines social, cultural, and political modes of sanctioning content production as well as -distribution. It will focus on the disciplining of the expression of utterances as a mode of power, so to say. Forms of ‘censorship’ need thereby to be assessed against their specific cultural and historical (i.e. discursive) background since they emerge in various different contexts and are subject to constant change; the same goes of course for the definition of concepts like ‘classified information’ or ‘political correctness’. As Wikileaks and the follow-up discussion it caused have shown, the issue of controlling what can be made publicly available and what not is an urgent matter today – not only as regards criticism on totalitarian regimes but especially when it comes to assess the extents of freedom in liberal democracies. However, one has not necessarily to discuss extraordinary political events to address and discuss the issue. In fact, censorship is an inherent part of our everyday live and determines our communicative behaviour both off- and online in multiple ways. Each culture displays it own laws and rules to control what an individual can say and which utterances have to be sanctioned. The historical background and actual context of a statement (as an umbrella term for any sort of text) is in this respect often the determining factor for the implementation/non-implementation of censorship. Regarding contemporary practices of postmodern content production, censorship -as an instrument of monopolising ideas- can also thwart and impede the creation of the “new” by artists, users etc. To create something new, the practice of quoting and reassembling the already available is indispensable (Mathy/Dietrich 1998). Yet many professional content producers try to protect their ‘intellectual property’, sometimes with relatively harsh measures. Hence,  censorship is also a powerful tool for established hegemonies to diminish the creative (subversive) potential of the “networked information economy” (Benkler 2006).

We will provide a taxonomy of modes of censorship and discuss to what extent the Web actually provides the means for genuine social, cultural, and political resistance. Some of the main questions we have to address are: Who does exert control on the Web? What technological and what cultural sanctions exist? What legitimations and justifications do governments (or corporations) refer to when they attempt to apply forms of censorship (i.e. under what circumstances does it emerge)? What factors determine the current notion of ‘political correctness’ in societal discourses? The project is still in a very early stage and the theoretical framework, methodology, as well as actual subject-matter-of-consideration still need to be defined.

Literature:

Benkler, Yochai (2006): The Wealth of Networks. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Mathy, Dietrich (1998): “Vorab ergänzend”, in: Hilmes, Carola/Mathy, Dientrich (eds.): Dasselbe noch einmal: Die Ästehtik der Wiederholung. Westdeutscher Verlag.

Wikileaks and the (alleged) “Diplomacy-Crisis”

Though I should actually be working on an oral presentation on Maoism, I cannot restrain myself from commenting on the latest “Wikileaks-Coup”. Once more, the (allegedly) “subversive” website attracted an incredibly intense media coverage. I will spare you an elaborate recap of what has happened – you can read, watch or listen to the story on each and every media channel.  All major newspapers, news websites, and broadcasters have put the story on the publication of 250.000 “sensitive” diplomatic documents on the top of their agendas; you can find background information on the issue almost everywhere. Sensational headlines  speak of a “real” diplomacy crisis. Another catchy term is “cablegate”, an allegory to the infamous Watergate-scandal of the Nixon administration in the 1970s. Well, I have my doubts here.

Especially the last comparison seems to be far from being appropriate. In the original scandal, the then government was directly involved in illegal surveillance and monitoring activities; of course, similar things happen today all the time (in partly much more sophisticated manner), too. However, today’s “cablegate” documents have not shown yet, that the US administration did anything particularly “deceptive” or “evil”. Even if some notes on certain politicians are rather embarrassing. But are they really that surprising? Would secret, diplomatic notes from other countries look any different? Let’s see: Arabia has a problem with a possible Iranian hegemony – tell me something new. Putin is Batman, Medwedew resembles his sidekick Robin and Ahmadinedschad reminds people of Hitler – well, I kinda knew that before Wikileaks told us. And to realise that Berlusconi loves parties you do not have to be a diplomat. Moreover, when I read what the US diplomats think of Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle, I literally had to laugh out loud – because the characterizations are simply true (well, at least from my political perspective); nothing “sensitive” here. As regards spying on the UN, history has shown that diplomats had always been involved in rather shady forms of information gathering. That’s scandalous to very naive people only.

The whole issue appears to be a bit overblown and serious consequences for the diplomatic relationships between the involved nations remain to be seen. This has already been proven all day, when the different involved statesmen and -women downplayed the impact of this “revealment”. There is no real diplomacy crisis, just a few blushing faces (and some flattery damage containment). However, I am only mocking about today’s “over-emotional” coverage of the issue – I am not thinking that there is nothing truly surprising or maybe even shocking in this 250.000 documents. All I am saying is: It’s a bit too early to draw any hasty conclusions. We have to wait – and contemplate advantages over disadvantages of a force like Wikileaks in our current information environment. This applies to various dimensions of the issue:

1. The most basic question is of course: When does the monopoly on information of a (democratic) state end – and when do activities of organizations like Wikileaks violate  a government’s right on secrecy? I am far from being an enemy of a “free” information flow and I do not believe that contemporary democracies are the most perfect political system to live in (though, and here I agree with Churchill, all others are still much worse). But I am also convinced that too much transparency can be harmful for a collective, i.e. a nation-state in certain truly sensitive respects.

2. Wikileaks fulfills an important function by keeping debates on information, censorship, the media and the role of the Internet alive. In the case of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, it confirmed what critical observers already assumed: That there is a another, far more complex and difficult reality to both wars. It has also shown that online media can truly circumvent and stimulate traditional media. Hence, there is a moral and political justification for a platform like Wikileaks  – to break established hegemonies. However, in the very moment an “independent” organisation accumulates the strength to challenge the establishment, it is not far from becoming a hegemonic factor within a certain power discourse itself. It is today the no. 1 source for classified information; there are no other notable Wikis for political leaks. In order to hold its position, it actually needs to “produce” constantly new breaking stories. It needs the media and vice versa. This encompasses certain demerits. Therefore, I sometimes doubt that Wikileaks always remembers its enormous responsibility every time it publishes masses of governmental documents – I simply cannot believe that its staff reads and evaluates every single piece appropriately before pushing it over to the media and the public, respectively. So how does who in Wikileaks actually decide which information goes out? I am not the first who questions the organization’s inner and outer transparency. One should never trust 100% in what a government is announcing – the same applies to its antagonists.

3. There is also the question of the actual political impact – I have already touched the problem above. For instance, though there had been a loud and vital discussion on the war logs, the number of anti-war protests did not really increase. As so often, the “scandal” arose broad attention for a relatively brief moment. The new media, the mass media, governments and the public – all factors influence each other, but the actual outcome of each debate needs to be evaluated and scrutinized anew. However, some rather unwelcomed effects of this one are already tangible: Restrictive governments can misuse the whole issue to justify their strict information policies, less restrictive ones will revise their information security policies.

To make one thing clear: Being critical towards Wikileaks here does not mean that I am fully supporting the different official governments’ stands in this debate; I would define my position as a neutral, extremely sceptical one. What I wanted to point out is: It is important that such events are accompanied  by sober, balanced discussions which consider all positive and negative factors; and that it is not enough to throw out a stack of controversial documents and then see what happens.

Afghanistan War Logs Leaked – at least 92.000 classified documents now online

The subversive homepage Wikileaks scored last night its biggest coup this far: The website’s organizers obtained at least 92.ooo classified, secret military documents on the war in Afghanistan and put them online. This flood of information draws a quite different picture of the conflict – and reveals the true nature of the war. The documents, covering the whole operation from its beginnings in 2004 until December 2009, include for instance facts and figures regarding civilian casualties caused by NATO troops and corroborate the assertion that the Pakistani as well as Iranian secret services are supporting insurgents, i.e. the Taliban. Wikileaks forwarded the material to the Guardian, The New York Times, and the German Spiegel. Thus, the growing influence of the Internet on traditional mass media seems to prove true once more; this very important example consolidates the WWW as a source of unique information for professionals in journalism – and challenges governmental hegemony on information control. However, the whole issue needs a critical examination as benefits and disadvantages have to be measured.

Update: Julian Assange of Wikileaks on the Afghanistan War Logs (Guardian/youtube)

To get all information, click the link above or here.

Furthermore, here’s an impression of the broad media response to the information leak – almost all major newspapers and broadcasters worldwide reacted instantly to the incident:

Guardian: “Massive leak of secret files exposes the real war in Afghanistan”

New York Time: “The War Logs – A six-year archive of classified military documents
offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war”

Washington Post: “Leaked files lay bare war in Afghanistan”

The Times: “Afghanistan files leak lifts lid on realities of war”

BBC: “US condemns Wikileaks revelations”

Al-Jazeera:”US condemns leaked Afghan ‘secrets'”

Tagesschau: “75.000 Afghanistan-Geheimakten im Netz”

Spiegel: “Die Afghanistan-Protokolle”

Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Geheime Afghanistan-Protokolle offengelegt”

Le Monde: “Afghanistan: des rapports secrets explosifs publiés”

El Mundo: “La verdad sobre la Guerra de Afganistán, desvelada en una filtración histórica”

However, various important newspapers have not covered the story, yet – at least on their official homepages. Among those publications are for instance the German FAZ and TAZ, China Daily, Japan Times, Jerusalem Post.

TED Talk on Anonymity in Cyberspace

A current videoclip on the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) focuses the “case for anonymity online”. Interlocutor  Christopher “moot” Poole, founder of 4chan – an online imageboard subsisting from the contributions of its anonymous users – explains thereby the structure and customs of the subculture he created. Watch the video here:

From the perspective of a new media practitioner, Poole talks about the potential and power of anonymity as well as the limits and prices to pay for it. Quite interesting in regards of the digitalized information society and the way it denizens can present (or not present) themselves in new and different public spheres.

Afghanistan War: Media Attention Drops Significantly

America’s longest military engagement has drastically lost the mass media’s attention – at least according to a study on journalism.org. Even though the conflict is far from being solved and NATO troops suffered relatively severe casualties this June (29 soldiers lost their lives).

Last year, signs were still pointing in a different direction: After attention peaked to an all-time high during 2009  (caused for instance by President Obama’s disputed decision to send more troops to Afghanistan), the possibility arose that the war would become a “major ongoing story“. However, the findings imply now quite the opposite. The authors conclude:

[…] this year’s coverage trajectory seems to suggest that the longest-running conflict in U.S. history is still having a difficult time getting into the headlines. (ibid.)

Unfortunately, the researchers do not explain the applied methodology for this study. Thus, their findings are not traceable in full detail. Nevertheless, the presented chart hints to a certain imbalance concerning the war’s ‘news-worthiness’. The Afghanistan Conflict surpassed  the Vietnam War by now as the longest American military involvement – in a foreign country and in general. It is remarkable that despite this fact and a wide range of economical, social, military, and political problems, which remain to be resolved (if they can ever be), media coverage is apparently subsiding.

An exploratory examination of the biggest UK news media websites might indicate certain differences to the U.S. – here, news stories on the Afghanistan Conflict seem to remain on top of the news agenda. Especially news items on fallen soldiers are regularly published or broadcasted, respectively. Prime-Minister David Cameron is currently visiting the country, talking about plans for a withdrawal of British troops. Thus, it is not unlikely that the issue remains on the front pages – at least for a while.

In Germany, the war in Afghanistan remains a contentious issue, the intensity of its media coverage thereby varies. The ‘news-worthiness’  seems to depend on highly controversial incidents involving German troops and – very often emerging from such events – domestic discussions on the justification and actual purposes of the engagement. A recent example would be the infamous airstrike on two tanker trucksordered by a German general back in 2009, which led to various heated debates on the conflict.

A research project on media outlets from different NATO countries on the war might highlight some important as well as interesting differences in the depiction and perception of the conflict among the participating nations. The industrialized as well as digitalized nations of the Western hemisphere may share the infrastructure of interconnected information societies but significant differences still exist on the content level.

List of References

Journalism.org, http://www.journalism.org/numbers_report/Americas_longest_war_fights_for_attention 10/06/2010

Times Online, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7147223.ece 10/06/2010

Spiegel.de, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,648925,00.html 10/06/2010

The Metaphors of the Internet

Spam, surfing, Netizen, Blogosphere, Twitterverse – the World Wide Web is interspersed with metaphorical expressions, which most of us use quite unquestioned and self-evidently. These and many other vocables became inherent part of our contemporary lexicon. But where exactly do all this terms come/derive from? What is their precise meaning and what is the motivation to use them? Those of you who have at least a bit of linguistic curiosity will find answers to such questions on Metaphor Lookout. Written from the academic perspective of an postgraduate linguist (English and French), this blog collects and examines Internet-/computer metaphors – and gives elaborate yet comprehensible explanations for each word. Very interesting and quite entertaining to read. Recommendable for all those, who want to know more about the language of online information societies.

Click the link above or here, to get there.

The Modern (Inter-)Face of War

Many texts have been written about the influence of technology on the shape and nature of modern warfare (for example Baudrillard). Some authors like Kittler or Virilio identified war and military research as the main engine behind technological progress. How war is perceived through the eyes of real combatants can now be seen in a video uploaded on WikiLeaks on “Collateral Murder”. The clip shows how an Apache helicopter attacks a group of people in Iraq – though some of the victims carried weapons, there is no provocation detectable. Especially disputable are the cynical comments made by the Apache pilots. The incident happened three years ago. According to different sources between eight and fourteen people had been killed, among them two Iraqi Reuters journalists. Find more background information on nytimes.com. You can find the Video in a shortened 17 minute and a longer version, which is 39 minutes, on youtube, too.

This video highlights several important aspects: 1. How technology changes the perception of war, 2. How forms of censorship delay the publication of certain video material, 3. How the internet provides information classic mass media would not transport / deliver.

Information Societies- A Highly Vulnerable ‘Body’?

The Information Society – A Highly Vulnerable ‘Body’?

Cyber-Battlefields and Digital Crime Scenes

1. Introduction

The continuing technological process of late Western capitalistic-democratic societies led to the creation of new social, governmental and economic spaces in the World Wide Web. Since its beginning, people populate the many spaces of the Internet with digital effigies or ‘cyber-identities’[1], respectively and institutions as well as all kinds of organizations established online presences. Today, individuals, collectives and even whole systems connect their data bases to create a new, digital environment (e.g. Lister et al. 2009: 163 et seq.) or ‘body’. A dynamic, unstable body, consisting of innumerable ‘cells’. Not all of its parts are  equally connected; access to some areas is restricted and safety measures are taken.

Information thereby became the most valuable resource: Its commodification is to some (postmodern) media-philosophers the most significant feature of our current economical and social system (Lyotard 1984). The vast spaces of the Internet are filled with information. A lot of it might be regarded as useless, but concerning the context and the intention of use, information can become very valuable. Getting access to information / knowledge is often the main purpose of belligerent or criminal activities in cyberspace.

Along with the Internet, new forms of warfare and criminality evolved. The shape of these conflicts and the used weapons are thereby largely determined by the very same technological factors as our new environment (Coker 2004: 84). This is also applicable on cyber criminality, another phenomenon which arose with the constant progress of computer- and communication technology. There are various forms and a wide range of possible targets of both cyber/information warfare and crime. Individuals as well as institutions or even whole systems can be focused by hostile actions. Whether hacking, spying, stealing: cyber attacks developed multiple appearances during the last fifteen years and challenges governments, corporations and users everyday (e.g. IWS). The Internet can be a battlefield as well as a digital crime scene.

This essay examines the different forms of information and cyber warfare in the Internet, attempts to highlight its techniques as well as targets and provides some ideas for further research. The main aim is to approach the overall question whether the information society is a highly vulnerable ‘body’ or not. Due to the limits of this assignment several aspects can be ascertained only cursorily; a in-depth analysis cannot be provided. However, basic observations and some prospects on this issue will be highlighted. First of all, the most important terms in this context have to be defined.

2. Defining the Subjects: Cyber / Information Warfare, Cyberterrorism and Cybercrime

The definitions of important terms in the discourse(s) on cyber warfare are not always clear, and certain buzzwords are relatively ambiguous. In context of the New Media, Cyberwarfare describes a wide range of aggressive actions using and simultaneously targeting New Media. Possible targets can be mere websites as well as computers managing sensitive data, stock exchange, controlling traffic or the like (PCMAG; Psycom; IWS). Techniques of choice would be destructive programs like viruses, ‘hacking’ or ‘spyware’. Cyberterrorism and Cybercrime use the same techniques and strategies, but there is a distinction to be made in regards of the protagonists and aims / goals in each case; the (political-)context seems thereby to define the form of ‘cyber aggression’.

Cyber- or information war is very often used as an umbrella term for more specific variations. However, observing media discourses on the topic leads to the assumption that the term more specifically refers to digital conflicts between two or more nation states / political entities (e.g. Times Online). Cyberterrorism origins from insurgent groups and has very often a certain ideological or social background (PBS.org; Georgetown University). Discourses on the issue deal with fears of devastating terroristic attacks on essential technological networks such as telecommunication, energy or banking systems.  Cybercrimes are mostly conducted by individuals or criminal organizations; they often try to make economical profit with ‘stolen’ or faked information (e.g USDJ)[2]. These classifications are not fixed and the lines between the different forms of cyber aggression can blurry. Thus, it is assumable that in the context of a cyber conflict – whether war, terrorism or crime – the levels of aggression can overlap, i.e. a cyber war between states can for instance entail forms of cyberterrorism and crime.

In every case knowledge / information can be identified as a key factor in multiple ways: 1. Knowledge of successful strategies to achieve a certain (military or criminal) goal, i.e. how to use the proper ‘weapons’; 2. Knowledge of ‘defense-strategies’, i.e. protecting databases against unauthorized access or destructive programs; 3. Knowledge itself as the ‘prey’ of offensive actions, whether to obtain or to erase it – with the long term aim to enrich own knowledge or to cause severe damage to the opponent. Stealing, spying, processing and interpreting information can be regarded as the main tasks of the ‘cyber-soldier’ and digital criminals in times of World Wide Web. Therefore, they have to learn a new “cybernetic language” (Coker 2004: 84) which allows them to move and ‘fight’ in the new spaces, i.e. they must be capable to understand and use new technologies.

3. Levels of ‘Cyber-Aggression’

There are manifold targets of hostile/criminal activities in cyberspace. These actions are not limited to institutional homepages or data bases containing valuable information; individuals can become victims, too. One could speak of different “levels” on which acts of cyber warfare and crime occur. These can be defined as attacks on personal websites (personal context), the sabotage of governmental computers (political context) and the deprivation or destruction of information on corporation data bases (economical context). The different forms of cyber aggression can aim for all these contexts/levels at the same time.

Again, digital attacks on a specific object can focus different aspects. In the case of an individual, the activities can range from stealing and/or destroying sensitive details, spying (e.g. e-mail, chats etc.) or, if a digital effigy exists, the attempt to perish reputation (KBS World). Depending on the context and the target of cyber aggression, the scale of such actions varies. During the Georgian-Russian War in 2008, Moscow (allegedly) used cyber warfare as one component of its overall war strategy:

Here, cyber warfare could be observed and analyzed in an almost ‘classic’ sense. Nevertheless, there is one major problem: the aggressors are not clearly identifiable as there are strategies to maintain anonymity in the Internet. Furthermore, cyber wars can break out between countries even though the involved governments live in peace with each other ‘offline’. A popular case would be the cyber-conflict between China and the USA: Despite the fact that both nations have tight economical bonds to each other, the US government  alleged several times that China would constantly  ‘attack’ the USA in cyberspace, with the aim to deprive valuable information or intelligence, respectively. US media sources regularly covered this story[3]:

Apparently, the same applies to European media sources (e.g  Telegraph 21/11/08). Besides, it seems that Russia is also perceived as a ‘cyber-villain’ (e.g. BBC 17/05/07; BBC 03/02/09). However, these countries accused the USA for cyber warfare in other contexts, too (e.g.  The Guardian 24/01/10). Though taken quite seriously, the conflicts still happen in a ‘remote’ space as diplomatic relations in neither case stopped.

Defining the sources of cyber crime is even more difficult, as actually every individual with access to the Internet can possibly conduct unlawful operations. Preconditioned, he/she knows how to use the digital code for such purposes. To sum up: Despite all their advantages, digitalized information societies can suffer attacks in several dimensions; our new environment / the digital body can be penetrated in various ways. Hence, technological progress and computerization entail another dualism.

4. Conclusion

Is the information society a vulnerable ‘body’ now? At first glance, the answer seems to be yes.  There are many dangers to the ‘netizen’ and his habitat, multiple ways to harm the network exist.  But simultaneously new defense mechanisms emerge continuously. A critical observer may ask in how far certain forms of cyber crime and terrorism are actually welcomed by a whole industry of anti-virus, anti-spyware etc. Questions of observation/surveillance (e.g. Webster 1995: 52 et seq.) must be considered, too. In case of the average user, the individual itself determines largely the level of its own vulnerability by controlling how much information he/she puts online. The digital connection of corporations, social and political organizations is a logical consequence  of the technological progress, as the fast exchange of information embraces numerous advantages – despite certain threats. Approaching the discourses on cyber war, -terrorism and crime challenges the observer to deal with very complex and highly dynamic concepts. Discussing these issues leads to numerous interesting as well as crucial (media-)philosophical, ethical, economical and judicial questions.

For instance, how intense will  the influence of cyber war on the shape of contemporary and future conflicts be? Its importance will surely increase and it will remain a crucial factor in military strategies. However, it is unlikely that it will somehow replace conventional warfare in the near future. Attacks in cyberspace  mostly still have a purpose or impact in/on the ‘real’ offline world; the crimes committed and battles fought in the World Wide Web are not completely detached from it. They are not exclusively restricted to what Baudrillard (1983) described as the Simulation but lead to perceptible consequences. Another important aspect in this context: The concept of information societies is not applicable to all countries on the globe as many regions still lack of a proper technological infrastructure. This margins the limits of cyber warfare to a certain extent.

Furthermore, ascertaining the discourses on cyber warfare and terrorism – especially in the mass media – might reveal certain imbalances in the coverage of the issue. By using methods like content analysis and/or critical discourse analysis ideologies, stereotypes, myths etc. might be identified.

5. List of References:

ABC News, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRGHGb5axK4&feature=related (07/03/10)

Baudrillard, J. (1983) Simulations. New York: Semiotext.

BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6665145.stm (07/03/10)

BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7851292.stm (07/03/10)

BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/in_depth/uk/2001/life_of_crime/cybercrime.stm (09/03/10)

CNN, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlJvNy3cqUo (07/03/10)

CNN, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BHvtQGarUg&feature=related (07/03/10)

Coker, Christopher (2004) The Future of War. The Re-Enchantement of War in the Twenty-First Century.Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Georgetown University, http://www.cs.georgetown.edu/~denning/infosec/cyberterror.html (09/03/10)

IWS, http://www.iwar.org.uk/ (07/03/10)

KBSWorld, http://world.kbs.co.kr/english/news/news_newissue_detail.htm?No=1676 (09/03/10)

Lister, Martin / Dovey, Jon / Giddings, Seth / Grant, Ian / Kelly, Kieran (eds.) (2009) New Media. A Critical Introduction. Second Edition. Oxon and New York: Routledge.

Lyotard, J. F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cyberwar/etc/faqs.html (09/03/10)

PCMAG, http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t=cyberwar&i=44971,00.asp (07/03/10)

Psycom, http://www.psycom.net/iwar.2.html (07/03/10)

The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/24/china-us-iran-online-warfare (07/03/10)

The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/6592750/Cyber-warfare-now-a-reality-with-United-States-and-Russia-armed.html (07/03/10)

The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/3495181/China-using-cyberwarfare-to-challenge-US-power.html (07/03/10)

Times Online, http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article7053254.ece (09/03/10)

Webster, Frank (1995) Theories of the Information Society. London: Routledge.

USDJ, http://www.justice.gov/criminal/cybercrime/ (09/03/10)


[1] Another term would be ‘netizens’, a compound consisting of net and citizen.

[2] Cybercrime can also contain trafficking illegal media content such as child porn but this aspect is less important for this essay. See for mor on this issue  BBC (09/03/10)

[3] See also ABC News, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRGHGb5axK4&feature=related (07/03/10)

Interesting and Helpful Reading

During the last weeks I had the chance to read / skim some interesting books – some of them might become handy for you as well. Here I briefly digest the most important ones to me:

Bruhn Jensen, Klaus (2002) A Handbook of Media and Communication Research. Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies. London and New York: Routledge.

This book provides a comprehensive collection of essays on scientific methodologies in media and communication studies. It is structured in three main parts, each consisting of at least two articles. Part one gives an historical introduction into research methods in media and communication studies. The focus is put on the humanities in media / communication research and sociological approaches. Part two deals with systematics and processes of mediated communication. The articles in this chapter are subdivided into four categories: texts on media organizations, media texts, media audiences and media contexts. The third and last part focuses scientific approaches and social applications; the articles of this chapter describe quantitative and qualitative research processes as well as the complementary use of both approaches in one project. Regarding our own MA projects, this book can be very helpful to develop an appropriate scientific method.

Lister, Martin / Dovey, Jon / Giddings, Seth / Grant, Ian / Kelly, Kieran (eds.) (2009) New Media. A Critical Introduction. Second Edition. Oxon and New York: Routledge.

This work subsumes the current state of research on the New Media. It provides a comprehensive and elaborate conjunction of theoretical approaches and practical examples. Topics are New Media and New Technologies, New Media and Visual Culture, Networks, Users and Economics, New Media in Everyday Life and Cyberculture. Therefore, the book deals with a wide range of issues we discussed in Information Societies so far. The reader gets an widespread overview of the topic(s) and can use this as a basis for further research.

Webster, Frank (1995) Theories of the Information Society. London: Routledge.

Despite the fact that Webster’s book is a bit older than other, similar publications, it still gives a good introduction into the discussion on information societies. He focuses the ‘shape’ of information in modern, post-industrial societies, especially in a capitalistic context. Though the huge changes caused by the internet were at the time of publication only at the beginning, some of Webster’s basic observations, assessments and thoughts are applicable to current issues. A highly theoretical work, which postulates some knowledge in postmodernism and epistemology.

Rice, Ronald E. / Atkin, Charles K. (eds.)(2001) Public Communication Campaigns. Third Edition. Thousand Oaks, Cal.: Sage Publications.

PR-campaigns are one of the countless sources which feed information into the continuously flowing data-stream of today’s media-/ information society. How to approach, assess, identify and finally create such PR information products? This book provides therefore a comprehensive, (academic) examination of this kind of media artefacts. It consists of five chapters, ranging from historical and theoretical foundations, campaign design and evaluation,  several case studies to new approaches and current challenges. The chosen articles set value on the combination of theoretical approaches and practical examples.

Reflections on Cyber-Culture and Information Societies

The documentary we watched last Wednesday gave an broad overview of the debate on cyber-culture and information societies. Different academic discourses problematized the impact of new information technology on society and culture, respectively: cybernetics, cultural studies and philosophy. During the film and the following discussion some interesting aspects of the issue were highlighted. I want to focus two, from my point of view, more important points mentioned last week: the problem of determinism and the evaluation of trends towards an so-called information society and cyber culture.

The statements of the “cybernetic fraction” made it clear: Those, who are involved in the process of creating new forms of media, technological devices etc., seem to see in technological progress the determining variable in social and cultural development. However, this techno-determinism has been criticized as a rather unreflective perspective: It is highly debatable if technology alone shapes our social and cultural environment. This sort of mono-causality simplifies far more complex correlations. The step towards a kind of cultural determinism should thereby be avoided, too. It seems to be more appropriate to speak of a complex interaction of several factors in society, culture and science, influencing each other. There is no teleological development and it is impossible to predict the future course of mankind – especially not by focusing on a single aspect exclusively. Sir Karl Raimund Popper demonstrated this in his book  The Poverty of Historicism over 50 years ago.

As long as the technological infrastructure is based on limited resources, we cannot speak of one information society in general – access is restricted and the term is applicable only to developed capitalistic(-democratic) states. However, some of us are constantly surrounded by technology and information products. Thus living in a kind of information society is for certain parts of world`s population a simple fact – if this is “good” or “bad” should not be the question. It is more important to accept the changes in everyday life,  to face the challenges and to find orientation. The individual decides for which purposes he or she uses the possibilities of new media. A key term is here, I think, “media competence (or capacity)”. This means: learning to understand the possibilities, limits, merits and demerits of new communication and information technologies; to be able to evaluate and use new media effectively and to avoid possible dangers concerning privacy / sensible data.  The right education might provide an appropriate preparation, before one enters the ever-flowing data stream of the internet.

Concerning “Cyborgs”: Actually, we are all to a certain extent connected with machines – this discourse for instance is constituted by the usage of computers to express our thoughts and exchange opinions. We connect, chat, discuss, fight, praise, shop, date and play online. Some have a one or more online identities. Others even live their sexuality in cyberspace. Our eyes, ears, (mouths) and minds are extended by computers and the internet. Effects of cyber identities on the “real-life”-existence have appeared already – and some of them are rather negative: 70% of U.S. human-ressources officers admitted, that they have rejected job applications due to inappropriate info material they have found on social networking sites (Time Magazine) . One can find plenty of examples in the web:

Girl Sacked Afte Boss Sees Ranting Facebook Status Update (The London Paper 14/08/09)

Worker Sacked over Facebook Comments on ‘Boring’ Job (Personnel Today 27/02/09)

FACEBOOK FIRED: 8% of US Companies Have Sacked Social Media Miscreants (Mashabel The Social Media Guide)

Therefore, actions of a digital effigy can cause consequences in “real life”.

Another important question deals with the aspect of hegemony: Who has the power in the world wide web? Who controls access? Which sources are independent? Where are hidden agendas? How “free” is information really? Who evaluates and defines the reliability, i.e. the worth of information? What shapes the virtual reality? People seem sometimes to forget, that the first page showing hits on google reveals only a very small part of the vast spaces we call the internet.