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Towards a New Communism to Fix the World

The second plenary speaker at ECREA 2014 today is Christian Fuchs, who takes us back to Hegel and Marx. He introduces Hegel's relational concept of the world, where everything exists only in relationship with other things, and through this relationship development becomes possible. Marx built on this by examining the interrelationships between societal forces, and used it to explore the internal contradictions of capitalism.

Modern technologies, for example, become tools for improving life, but also for the further domination of workers. The rate of surplus value, and the organic composition of the production process (the technological intensity of production) have both been rising consistently, while wage share has decreased substantially over time as capital share has risen. Further, corporate taxation is virtually inexistent in Western countries.

From Media Logic to a Logic of the Public

The final plenary on this somewhat eccentrically scheduled Saturday at ECREA 2014 begins with Kees Brants, who says his intention today is to debunk himself. There is a dominant discourse of mediatisation at present, and politicians have to respond to this – we may therefore be seeing a shift from a political to a media logic, as Kees has suggested in previous work. But is that perspective correct, or may it be challenged?

Historically, the concept of media logic emerged in 1979, twenty years later, mediatisation emerged properly as a concept. However, mediatisation must necessarily precede media logic: the increased shaping and domination of society by the media makes only possible the emergence of media logics. Witho mediatisation, we would not see European football competitions, Ebola panics, or the global response to the downing of MH17.

Models for Facilitating Social Engagement through Online Media

The final speaker in this ECREA 2014 session is Nico Carpentier, whose interest is in how civil society uses online media to facilitate social engagement. This addresses the problems with much current debate, which is either outright utopian or speaks forever in potentialities. A solution to this is to focus on a discourse based on the diversity of possible models.

Online media, civil society, and social engagement are the defining concepts for this inquiry. The project began with a conceptual map, identified good practices in international and Belgian civil society organisations, and engaged with Belgian CSOs to gather what they thought was good practice. This resulted in some 176 possible concepts.

Political Action in Non-Political Online Fora

The next speakers at ECREA 2014 are Daniel Jackson and Todd Graham, who are interested in the use of online third spaces for political action. This is especially important at a time of austerity which tends to let citizens fend for themselves rather than providing government support. To what extent does political talk in these spaces lead to political action, then?

The study looked at the discussion fora of Money Saving Expert, Digital Spy, and Netmums to explore the presence of political talk in these otherwise non-political spaces and identify the presence of commitments or calls to further political action.

Commenting on UK News Organisations' Facebook Pages

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Iñaki Garcia-Blanco, whose focus is on discussing the news on social media, and specifically on Facebook. This is important given the perceived crisis of democracy, which requires greater levels of deliberation. Social media bring together access to the news and facilities for discussing it, and Facebook is increasingly important in this.

The research examined the news stories published by leading UK news sources on their official Facebook pages over the course of a single working week (some 1650 articles in total). Human interest and lifestyle stories were strongest in numbers, while commenting on international politics was disproportionately strong.

Patterns of News Sharing across Europe

The next panel on this marathon day at ECREA 2014 starts with Sascha Hölig, whose interest is in patterns of online political engagement in Europe. Democracy depends on structures that enable finding information, exchanging opinions, and negotiating decisions; the news is one key source of such information.

The Reuters Digital News Survey studies news consumption patterns across 10 European nations, drawing on surveys with some 19,000 users. There is a high interest in news, and frequent access to news, across Europe; more than 80% of users access the news at least once a day, especially from television.

The Impact of Algorithms on Public Opinion Formation

The next speaker in is ECREA 2014 session is Arjen van Dalen, whose interest is in the impact of algorithms on public opinion formation at the micro (individual), meso (discussion) and macro (social networks) level; his focus here is on the latter.

Algorithms transform such public opinion formation: some 30% of users read news on social media, and that number is likely to increase. The business strategies of news media are increasingly adjusted to this trend, and the number of social media engagements with news (likes, shares, etc.) are increasingly being used by journalists as an indicator of public opinion, too.

Regulatory Approaches to Algorithmic Markets

The next ECREA 2014 speaker is Natascha Just, who highlights the high level of concentration to a handful of leading players in many markets where algorithms play a key role (e.g. search engines, social media, news aggregators); this also creates challenges for competition policy. Should law interfere in such fast-moving, innovative markets – for example in the search engine markets?

Market dominance alone is no reason to intervene in a market – only if the company exploits its position through anticompetitive behaviour a trigger for intervention emerges. The challenge, then, is to understand how these markets operate and where the focus of competition analysis should be.

Democracy versus Transparency?

The second plenary speaker at ECREA 2014 today is Diogo Pires de Aurélio, whose interest is in the status of state secrets in the current media and communication context. A tacit agreement between governments and media to protect state secrets which – despite occasional leaks – has held for centuries is now increasingly being challenged; while leading mainstream media may still hold to it, the idea that there may be state secrets that the public has no access to has become increasingly comprehensible to the public.

BP's Nasty Strategies for Silencing Criticism Online and Offline

The final paper in this ECREA 2014 session is by Julie Uldam, whose focus is on the silencing of critical voices in the online public sphere; this is an argument for an agonistic perspective of the public sphere. Antagonism tends to be anticipated and silenced by corporations monitoring social media, often using user profiling strategies.

Her example here is the UK climate justice movement, which reacted to BP's unlikely role as a 'sustainability partner' in the 2012 London Olympics; one of its protests was the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, which riffed off BP's sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company during the Olympics festivities, invading the stage before the official performance and circulating the footage via social media. Leaked emails from BP show the company's tracking of protestors and anticipation of further actions.

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