Media technologies that utilize network theory to become successful gain a network power or authority. Forget everything you read in my last post about the role of the individual in these technologies, this time we're talking about the powerhouse organizations themselves and what they can have influence over.
Sangeet Kumar gave a fantastic example of this in his article about Google Earth. To briefly summarize his work, he asserts that Google's international use of its Maps and Earth features have had heavy hands in international conflicts, serving as a tool of warfare in both India and Israel-Palestine. The 2008 bombings in Mumbai were strategically placed with the help of these Google tools, according to an article in The Telegraph. And we thought it was worrisome that Google may be peeping on us in the shower (although that has its fair share of concern too). This is on another level entirely.
While reading this piece I cannot help but think back to the Public Diplomacy Forum at George Washington University that our class attended. In particular, I recall hearing former Foreign Service Officers in Bahrain and Iraq speaking of media technologies and their use in these still hostile areas. These workers operated Facebook pages that became vital sources of information for locals, who could then interact with one another. However, they could not control the arguments and slurs that would eventually develop between parties and were displayed publicly for all to see. Even if the embassies did decide to exercise their power to remove certain rabble-rousers, what is to stop more from flooding in?
I think these two instances are connected in that Google and Facebook are what could be considered new, supra-national entities that sometimes can function like another form of nation-state, as Kumar notes. These technologies can pull significant and self-sustaining profits, organize a digitally connected citizenry and employ the ability to spur political debate and action...it certainly seems like a recipe for its own nation. This becomes troublesome because these "nation-states" are governed under the principles of business, not democracy or any other system we've discussed in a sixth-grade civics course. Regulation of these bodies is becoming less and less rigid, especially when governments themselves are relying upon these technologies to do international outreach and development. I can recall the conference mentioning the use of everything from iPads to mobile devices to spread diplomacy around the world.
As these technologies become the bread and butter of connecting our world, are we even going to think of regulating it?
I hate to ruminate on this positively, but I think there is something to be said when a nation-state does reaffirm its authority over some of these supra-national technologies, if anything to keep them from monopolizing. China has opted out of using Google. Yes, China is poor example because of its restrictive media policies and government authoritarianism, but regardless, it is a state exercising power over a supra-national entity, which I think is important to note. This struggle is more evident in the Kumar article. He mentions a host of countries that protested the invasion of Google's satellites and cameras into their cities. Not too long ago, Germany opted out of Google Maps for pure privacy reasons, with many other countries thinking the same way.
I think it will be interesting to see where this power struggle will head. As these technologies become more important and even alluded to as nation-states in their own right, I'd like to see how sovereign states respond. It is very much a conflict of interest because these corporations are so widely used and are quite useful, but with these high rewards come high costs. You can't censor a street map for a terrorist and un-censor it for a traveling couple. In this all-or-nothing battle, there truly is not clear winner as of yet.