David and Goliath: A battle between social media giants and its users

I’d like you to think about some statistics, collected by DMR in 2015:

With number like these, it is clear Facebook is not just a fad. Facebook is evident in almost every country in the entire world. Its power exceeds that of just connecting people. “Social networks have become ubiquitous, necessary, and addictive. Social networking is no longer just a pastime, it’s a way of life” (Andrews, 2012).

Most people see terms and conditions as a small hurdle before reaching your destination. Most of us are unaware of what Facebook can actually do with the information it receives off its users. Of course we are all reassured by the fact that we can modify and change our privacy settings to our likings, but maybe its not other users we should be hiding from. Maybe the real problem is Facebook itself.


Essentially, people are handing over their rights of control to others the moment they sign up to Facebook. Most of us presume that Mark Zuckerberg has our best interest at heart but does he? Of course we would be naive to think the success of his company is not his foremost concern. It is reasonable that we may disagree with the control such companies have over our personal content, but do we act on this? We have the ability to opt out and delete our accounts. However, our reliability on social media and its dramatic influence in our lives, results in most of us not choosing this option.

Nevertheless, as more people become aware of Facebook capabilities, their priorities are realigning, placing privacy and control above social interaction. The idea that Facebook basically “owns” our online identities and they can do with them as they please is no longer deemed acceptable. Similarly, many countries are becoming aware of the power of Facebook and are seeing a need to monitor and create laws to control its power and protect its people.

Early this year, Facebook blocked Frenchman Frédéric Durand-Baissas’s account after he posted an 1866 painting by Gustave Courbet that hangs in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. The image depicts female genitalia was deemed “too offensive” for Facebook. Durand-Baissas believed this action was a violation of his freedom of speech and thus filed a legal complaint against Facebook. Facebook however argued French justice was not competent to handle the case as the man had signed the social media group’s terms that stipulate only American courts can handle disputes, but the court found Facebook’s compulsory clause on jurisdiction, in which only a California court can handle disputes, to be “abusive” (Samuel, 2015). Durand-Baissas’ lawyer Mr Cottineau said, “Given the Paris High Court’s aura, this decision will set a legal precedent for other social media networks and other giants of the net that use the location of their headquarters, mainly in the United States, to try and escape French law.” 

Two hauliers prepare to install the Gustave Courbet's canvas 'L'origine du monde' (The origin of the world) at the Courbet museum (AFP)

Two hauliers prepare to install the Gustave Courbet’s canvas ‘L’origine du monde’ (The origin of the world) at the Courbet museum (AFP)

It is examples like the above that place a precedent for issues regarding privacy and our rights on the Internet. While we may place the social media platform on a pedestal, it is clear countries are no longer turning their heads away from its issues and are cracking down on these social giants.

References

Andrews, Lori 2012, ‘Facebook nation’, I know who you are and I saw what you did: social networks and the death of privacy, 1st Free Press hardcover ed., Free Press, New York, pp. 1-15

Samual, H 2015, ‘Facebook can be sued if it tries to censor content, says French court’, The Telegraph, 5 March, viewed 17 April 2015, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11453537/Facebook-can-be-sued-if-it-tries-to-censor-content-says-French-court.html&gt;.

Smith, C 2015, By the Numbers: 200+ Amazing Facebook User Statistics (February 2015), DMR, viewed 17 April 2015, <http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/by-the-numbers-17-amazing-facebook-stats/10/&gt;.

The Great Firewall of China: You can’t go over it, under it, or through it

For many people in living in the twenty-first century, Park and Recs Tom Haverford, speaks the truth. Our time revolves around checking social media, it can dictate what we wear, where we eat, the news we see and the people we interact with. But for some, the use of social media is not an option, as governments are blocking their right to access the Internet.

While there are over 1.3 billion people using Facebook around the world, those living in North Korea, Iran, China, Syria, and a number of other countries are not included in these statistics. Their governments place firewalls on website such as Facebook as they believe social media will be used as a tool to fight against politics. These countries however all have something else in common. They are all run under dictatorships that care about power and money, rather than supporting its people, who have no voice against their rulers.

The Chinese Communist party has been in power for over 60 years. In 2003 the Ministry of Public Security, initiated a censorship and surveillance project called Golden Shield Project, otherwise known as the Great Firewall of China. The Chinese government believes that to remain in power they must regulate what information is given to its people, something they could not do with its people using the Internet. The Great Firewall of China gave the government their control back. Any website on the Internet that discredits the Chinese government or highlights its brutality is blocked to anyone in the country. While this is the most basic understanding of the firewall, The Hungry Beast explains the project well.

“The Chinese effort to censor the Internet is a feat of technology, legislation and manpower. According to the BBC, which is almost completely blocked within the “great firewall of China”, 50,000 different Chinese authorities “do nothing but monitor traffic on the internet”. No single law exists to permit this mass invasion of privacy and proscription of free speech. Rather, hundreds of articles in dozens of pieces of legislation work to obfuscate the mandate of the government to maintain political order through censorship.”(Hogge, 2005).

While China has its own forms of social media, YouKu instead of Youtube and RenRen to replace Facebook, the issue is not so much that China is missing out on the wonders of popular social media sites but that their rights to access content and free speech are being suppressed. “Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimates in its 2006 World Report that at least sixty political prisoners are now in Chinese jails because they revealed information on the Internet that the government wanted kept quiet” (Thatcher, 2006). If the Chinese government are willing to condemn their people for telling the truth, then they have a much bigger issue than not being able to let the world know what they’re having for lunch.

References

Hogge, B 2005, ‘The Great Firewall of China’, Intermedia, vol. 33, no. 5 pp. 16-17.

Osborne, C 2015, ‘China reinforces its Great Fireway’, CENet, 30 January, viewed 16 April 2015, <http://www.cnet.com/news/china-reinforces-its-firewall-doubles-down-on-socia-media/&gt;.

Thatcher, W 2006, ‘The Internet, Censorship, and China’, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, vol. 7 no. 2, pp. 111-119.

Torfox 2011, The Great Firewall of China: Background, Torfox: A Stanford Project, viewed 16 April 2015, <http://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/2010-11/FreedomOfInformationChina/the-great-firewall-of-china-background/index.html&gt;.

You’re From China! How old were you when you got your black belt?

Orientalism is the theory of how Western cultures perceive Asian cultures, thus give their own definition of ‘the East’. These characteristics are often stereotypes of the culture and people. It is the fascination of the West with the East where “issue of ‘otherness, of outsider-culture and of the threat of ‘alien belief systems ” (Turner, 1989), lead to a divide between the two cultures. Many believe orientalism is a form of racism as this ‘division’ is a form of white supremacy, where the limitations placed on the representation of the East, allows Western cultures to remain in control and ultimately superior.

“Orientalism refers not just to the cultural appropriation, but to the impact this appropriation has on our perception of Asia and Asian-ness. Orientalism is more fundamentally the positioning of Asian people as the proverbial “Other”, always serving as a counter-point to the normative West, forever an orbiting satellite, never able to define itself for itself within the Western cannon.” (Jenn, 2010)

These Asian stereotypes are so imprinted in our culture that they often go unrecognised as an issue. In the video below Mike Bow looks at the fact that as an Asian American child who was told he had to dress as an Asian character for Halloween his choices made it clear how the West see’s the East.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a beloved animation television series. Combining styles of Anime and American cartoons it explores an Asiatic-like world where the characters have the ability to control the elements through supernatural abilities and variations of Chinese martial arts. The images are based off a variety of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Inuit cultures, whilst incorporating a fantasy and new world element. The show is widely acclaimed and praised for its unique storylines, racial representation and accuracy, and creative scripts. In 2010, the series was adapted into a live-action film. Fans couldn’t be more excited with the prospect of bringing their favourite story to life. This is until they found out who would be portraying the main characters. The roles of Aang, Katara and Sokka were all given to white actors. These are characters that are portrayed as Asian in the television series so the fans weren’t disappointed…they were angry. Not only were the three main characters were white, but so were the majority of the “good guys”. Coincidence? I think not. Why was it so easy for the filmmakers to cast ethnically appropriate actors to portray the bad guys?

White actors representing those of colour is not uncommon or a new concept to Hollywood. Whilst the idea to physically appropriate Asian-ness in films is becoming infrequent, Asian actors are rather excluded altogether from “main-stream media through the less overt practice of whitewashing” (Lopez, 2012). This practice is threatening as it reiterates the idea that whiteness can replace ethnicities, that whiteness is “invisible and dominant” (Lopez, 2012).

“While we may not know the reasons behind Paramount’s casting decisions in The Last Airbender, it is nonetheless clear that the film participates in maintaining the cultural hegemony of whiteness – perhaps even to the extent that film studios assume that minority audiences prefer to watch white actors rather than actors who share their own racial background. The impact of conveying primary narratives through the bodies of white actors while engaging with only extraneous people of colour and their culture cannot be underestimated” (Lopez, 2012).

Like many others Mike Bow couldn’t wait to watch The Last Airbender. Mike and his brother made a review of the film highlighting the good and the bad, oh wait…I mean the bad and the even worse parts of the film in the hilariously accurate video below.

References:

Airbender 2010, WordPress, viewed 7 April 2015, <https://abagond.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/airbender.jpg&gt;.

Crouchley, M 2010, Why The Last Airbender Fails, Tiny Heroes, weblog post, 4 July, viewed 7 April 2015, <http://tinyheroes.net/2010/07/04/why-the-last-airbender-fails/&gt;.

Jenn 2014, What is Orientalism, and how is it also racism?, Reappropriate, weblog post, 17 April, viewed 7 April 2015, <http://reappropriate.co/2014/04/hey-air-france-your-orientalism-is-in-the-air/air-france-beijing/&gt;.

Lopez, L. K. 2012, ‘Fan activists and the politics of race in The Last Airbender’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 431-445.

Turner, B. S. 1989, ‘From Orientalism to Global Sociology’, Sociology, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 629-638.

2014, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Wikipedia, viewed 7 April 2015, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar:_The_Last_Airbender#cite_note-NickMagInterview1-2&gt;.