Editorial - The Corporate Network

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Online social networking has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been hailed as revolutionising the way we share information and have been credited with causing everything from the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East to David Hasselhoff's comeback.

Less discussed has been the corporate backdrop to all this. The most popular social networking websites are the property of massive corporations. Initially funded by venture capitalists, they exist, above all, to make money for their owners and shareholders. In this issue of the Corporate Watch Magazine we look at the various claims made for social networking and how the corporate agenda behind much of it is affecting the way we interact, both on- and off-line.

In November last year, after a somewhat tortuous discussion, we decided to set up a Corporate Watch Twitter account (@corpwatchuk, since you ask). By not using social media, we felt that we were 'missing out' on an opportunity to reach out to a much wider audience and connect to others users who might interested in our work. To make ourselves feel a bit better about this decision, we decided to devote a whole Magazine issue to the subject of social networking.

On the next page we give a satirical, tweeted overview of the key events in the development of online social networking. Then, in The Networked Society?, Chris Kitchen looks at how social networking is affecting society. Starting with an explanation of social and communication networks, the article goes on to describe how these are affecting the way people interact. This leads to a discussion of the political significance of online social networks, how they are affecting political movements, and how they relate to theories of power in society. The article then looks at the corporate capture of social networking and how this is affecting the flow of information across the web.

The third article on Security and Social Networking, written by a member of the Activist Security Collective, describes the use of social networking tools by the activist community and explains the security implications of this. The creation of fake grassroots movements is also an increasingly widespread phenomenon on the web. In Online Astroturfing, we provide example of companies manipulating social networks to promote corporate interests.

In Tinker, Tailor, Cyber Spy, Rebecca Fisher investigates the booming online surveillance industry, showing how companies develop technologies to trawl the web for vast amounts of private data and sell them to all manner of clients, from marketing firms and multinational corporations to security agencies, both in liberal 'democracies' and dictatorships.

During 2011, media outlets around the world hailed the arrival of a new era of political protests: the 'Twitter revolutions'. Based on a series of interviews with researchers and activists involved in the Egyptian and Syrian uprisings and the Occupy movement, Shiar Youssef takes a critical look at the role that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook played in these movements and the interactions between off- and on-line protest.

In What's the alternative?, we ask Marc Stumpel from the UnlikeUS research network how the corporate domination of social networking is affecting the structure of the web, how this is being resisted and what the alternatives are. Finally, Tom Anderson and Rebecca Fisher explore the mysterious, cat-obsessed, Guy Fawkes-masked world of Anonymous in the Campaign Spotlight, describing how a mass hacking community emerged from the murky realms of online chat rooms, developed a social conscience, and began taking things offline and onto the streets.

Some of the graphics in the magazine are inspired by Twitter's announcement of its recently re-designed logo, which was accompanied by some stringent rules about how the Twitter bird could and couldn't be used. Describing it as “the ultimate representation of freedom, hope and limitless possibility,” Twitter HQ went on to outline how users should not ”Use speech bubbles or words around the bird; Rotate or change the direction of the bird; Animate the bird; Duplicate the bird; Change the colour of the bird; Use any other marks or logos to represent our brand.” Not to be outdone, Facebook has its own logo rulebook, including instructions to users not to “use trademarks, logos or other content that is confusingly similar to the brand assets.” In the spirit of freedom and limitless possibility, so dear to the owners of these companies, Corporate Watch has included a few examples of the many ways in which their respective logos should not be used throughout this magazine.

Thanks are due to Marc Stumpel, a new media researcher from the UnlikeUS research network.

Social what?       

Strictly speaking, the term 'social networking' does not only refer to online activity. In recent years, however, it has been used most commonly to refer to the social connections formed on the web, using sites specifically intended for this purpose. 'Social media' is a more general term referring to the creation and sharing of user-generated content on the web (such as YouTube videos or photos on Flicker), which includes social networking. Throughout the magazine, we have tried to use terminology appropriately but it is not possible to always be completely accurate as there are overlapping definitions and some terms still have ambiguous meanings due to their originality.

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