The idea of advertisers playing the role of God is around a century old. In The Great Gatsby, written in 1925, the ‘blue and gigantic’ eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg, a billboard for an oculist, watch over the ‘valley of ashes’. At one stage Wilson, mourning the death of his wife, looks ‘at the eyes’ of Doctor T.J Eckleburg and says ‘You may fool me but you can’t fool God…. God see’s everything’.
Today, the internet is the most omnipresent tool mankind has created. The advertising industry provides Facebook and Google with 90% of its profits. In return they are given the power to wield the all seeing eye of the internet. Like all Gods the advertising industry is decorated in myth. One of the most commonly told tales is that people’s phones are listening to them. These days, we fear that Doctor T.J Eckleburg hears everything we say.
People with power and authority have started to believe that advertising companies are listening to their phones. I asked a room of ten business experts and PHD researchers how many thought that companies were listening to their phones to maximise targeted advertisements. 70% believed that they were.
On the 30th of October Zeynep Tufceki, a leading thinker on Social Media surveillance, publically challenged the myth on Twitter. She highlighted that ‘Facebook has lost so much trust that I’m constantly explaining to strangers that no, it’s not listening to you through your phone’, however, this resolution lasted just 6 days. On November 5th she declared that she had gotten so many targeted ads that she was leaning towards the view that ‘Facebook is listening’ through your phone.
The reaction from both the Virt-Eu seminar and Tufceki demonstrates the overwhelming cloud of distrust. Through not only speculating but accepting that their phones are being listened to, there is a resignation towards the omnipotence of technology companies.
While technically the collective may be ignorant, communication is one tool we can use to defend ourselves. Interviews and conversations paint a picture of how we believe advertisers are using technology to target us.
Emma, described how the CEO of the company Klook was going to speak at her company. After long conversations with work colleagues about the CEO, she went on to her Facebook and found an advert for them. At first it seems that this may be a result of cookies tracking her website searches, alas, she claims not to have searched the work Klook on Google nor sent it through an email.
Katie, gave the example of talking on the phone to a friend about some trainers that she wanted to buy. After the conversation, the very trainers she had mentioned started to be advertised on her friend’s homepage. This could suggest the language from dialogue was being recorded by the phone and then translated by machine learning.
Cece, detailed how she had been speaking about ‘Hygge’ with her family, and lo and behold, an hour later the following advert was on her Instagram.
The online advertising industry is big business with approximately half a trillion dollars being spent every year. As, the technology gets more complex, it is likely that adventurous ways of targeting users will be deployed.
One anonymous source claimed that he worked for a start up that ‘if you downloaded an app with their code, they could see the users web history, what apps they owned and for how long they’re on them’. This company acted as the middle man doing technological dirty work. When working for Nike they would make sure to send adverts to people who viewed the Adidas homepage.
The companies machine learning would continually analyse online reactions to adverts and modulate the way adverts were targeted. The method was hugely successful, as they received an astonishing 30% engagement with all their adverts.
This article does not reveal the methods of Doctor T.J Eckleburg. Instead, it is a witness to the miracles that people claim to have seen. Without drawing any firm methodological conclusions, it seems we are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the surveillance economy. As Doctor T.J Eckleburg looks on in silence, it is up to activists, journalists and academics to meet his gaze.
Across Facebook and WhatsApp I am part of six group chats. As long as I am accompanied by a suitable phone and app these avenues know no spatial barriers. These communal networks can pervade my daily existence, at work, on the tube, or in a nightclub. These group chats exchange information that will organise my day and construct my imagination; instructions may be given over what to do on the weekend, or alternatively, someone may link my new favourite song. While Facebook profiles and Instagram pages are too public, WhatsApp and Facebook group chats combine effective tools of sharing information with the informality and intimacy of conversation and thus have created one of the most important communal spaces on the internet.
Matt Houlbrook’s seminal text Queer London demonstrates the significant impact spaces have on the establishment of networks. Houlbrook argues that spaces, such as the WhatsApp or Facebook group chats, are ‘not simply a passive backdrop against which social and cultural processes are enacted but constitutive of the cultural and social formation’ of the spaces themselves suggesting that these groups and chats are culturing the networks we form. Writing about Soho in the 1960’s, Houlbrook argues that ‘at home, men could be isolated from wider social networks. In certain venues, by contrast, they could make friends, find sex or socialise’. While in the 1960s nightclubs may have provided the space for socialising, in the 21st century the group chat is the space that builds social networks.
For better or worse, our phone makes us both involved and vulnerable to a series of different group networks at any given time of the day. For some, this increased networking may provide a transcendence from a tricky home life. For others, this may constitute an extreme disturbance from a deserved moment of privacy. The group chat is the concrete paving the avenues of cyberspace and regardless of where you go, you must walk on the pavement.
The Cultural Transformations of the Group Chat
I am part of six group chats constantly. Of these six tribes, one is for my family chat, three are from school and two are from University. Each group relays different information. One chat from school constitutes a group where music and only music is shared. The University chat allows people to organise events as well as share job opportunities, while my family chat allows my parents to update their children on their hourly location. Each group constructs a network where different forms of information can be transferred instantly towards one another. The platforms of WhatsApp and Facebook provide the tools to easily transfer text, photos and videos. Depending on the group the style of language differs. Niall Ferguson forecasts that ‘literacy will ultimately cease to be a barrier to connectedness’ as we transition from text speech towards the language of the image, video and microphone. I can draw two conclusions from the groups that I have been part of. Firstly, group chats have allowed me to be ever present in a multitude of groups at the same time. Secondly, oral and textual language are increasingly being replaced by the sharing of photos and videos. The space of the groups chat is helping us organise our lives and in doing so conditioning the way people communicate.
While the previous paragraph demonstrates how the tools of the group chat shape our own cultural practices, a comparative study by UCL has demonstrated how national cultures are subsequently conditioning the way different nations interact with group networks. Anthropologists, for instance, found that in Trinidad the group chat had worked to reinforce familial connections. With high levels of migration, group chats were imperative for sustained and continual familial contact.
Contrastingly, research suggested that in Europe people tend to ‘live together with the people with whom they socialise online’ suggesting the group chat was replacing the family group with collectives of friends or collectives from work. While people in Europe may share more stories with friends or work groups this does not suggest that the family is being displaced. Instead, this could imply that group chats are merely strengthening our bonds towards collective groups, including the family.
Hierarchy and The Networked World
Niall Ferguson’s new book The Square and the Tower gives warning to the troubles of the hyper-networked world we have built. Ferguson’s diagnoses that ‘the lesson in history is that trusting in networks to run the world is a recipe for anarchy’, adding that ‘those who lived through the wars of 1790 and 1800s learned an important lesson… unless one wishes to reap one revolutionary whirlwind after another, it is better to impose some… hierarchical order on the world and give it some legitimacy’. Applying this thesis to social media networks Ferguson argues that ‘the world today frequently resembles a giant network on the verge of a cataclysmic outage’. Thus, for Ferguson, the networks constructed on spaces like Facebook and WhatsApp are argued to be a destabilising force in society as these networks offer little or no legitimacy. Our mass connection to large numbers of groups allows memes to be ‘spread even more rapidly than natural viruses’.
Efforts to legitimise networks have been forwarded by Anne Marie Slaughter who has argued that the networks of NATO must turn into ‘hubs of network security partnerships’ and thus be ‘flatter, faster, more flexible’ incorporating ‘good web actors, corporate, civic and public’. Similar efforts at legitimising networks have been highlighted by Labour MP Lucy Powell who admits that she is a member of eight parliamentary WhatsApp groups, such as a Women’s PLP group including heavyweights Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry. Therefore, the group chat may well provide the networking tools to support legitimate bodies through strengthening ties of communication between relevant groups and thus leading to a more efficient organisation. Just as the WhatsApp groups have restructured parliamentary factions, they may well reconstruct the machinery of NATO.
On the other hand, while the group chat can be used to strengthen and weaken existing hierarchies, Ferguson suggests that Silicon Valley’s control of these networks is the most toxic societal impact in our cyber-world. The small area of California contains the most important WhatsApp collectives in the world. Due to these company’s ability to design our networks they are creating the most profound cultural, social and political changes without any social, cultural or political legitimacy. In other words, Silicon Valley is paving the stones of cyberspace without a building permit.
The group chat is one of the world’s most effective tools for organising the collective. WhatsApp allows us to be present and active in 5 different conversations at the same time. In turn, these tools are transforming the way people communicate lending heavily on the use of photography and video, be they memes or vines. At the same time, the cultures of different nations are leading to different cultural applications of group chats. In Trinidad family members who migrate remain in touch through WhatsApp, whereas in England, teenagers form strong bonds with their peers through continually conversing in collectives on Facebook and WhatsApp. Either way, the roads between networks are being paved by the group chat. Ferguson demonstrates how these powerful networks have no hierarchy and thus lack legitimacy – something he argues has historically led to societal instability, nevertheless, politicians like Lucy Powell demonstrate how group chats can be used to support those in positions of hierarchy. Through flagging the societal changes caused by the group chat we are concurrently inspecting Silicon Valleys extraordinary power in building Cyberspace. If Ferguson’s forecast of revolution and instability are accurate it is time attempts were made to survey and check the powers of Silicon Valley.
‘So I’m Emperor, am I? What nonsense! But at least I’ll be able to make people read my books now’ – Claudius (I Claudius Robert Graves)
‘What we wish, we readily believe and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also’ – Julius Caesar
Along the coast of Swansea Bay lies a major Silicon Valley settlement. The Amazon depot is a kilometer long. On the busiest day of the year, around the beginning of December, trucks arrive every three minutes to pick up packages. The depot in Swansea is one of the ten Amazon barrack’s guarding the trade routes of Britain providing next day delivery on everything from Alexa to Beetroot to everywhere from John O’Groats to Lands End.
In June 2017 Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, became for a brief moment became the richest man in the world with an estimated worth of $89 billion pounds. Bezos’s imperial outposts include Amazon storehouses around the world, the running of the Washington Post and the launch of the space travel company called Blue Origin.
Where Caesar had slaves, armies and chariots, Bezos has AI robots, drones and Spaceships.
Jeff Bezos was born on January 12th, 1964. Like Steve Jobs, he grew up without his biological parents. In 1986 Bezos graduated from Princeton with a degree in Computer Science. He then moved to Wall Street where he was wildly successful. At 26 years old he became the youngest vice president at Bankers Trust, at 28 he then became the youngest vice president of DE Shaw and Co. Having seen internet companies expand at rates of 2300%, something unheard of in Wall Street, Bezos decided to leave New York in order to start his own internet business from a garage in Seattle.
Having drawn up a list of 20 different products that could be sold on the internet, Bezos decided that he would sell books online. Bezos played with various different names such as ‘cadabra’ and ‘makeitso.com’ before settling with the world renowned ‘Amazon’. Bezos’s gamble paid off. By 1999, just five years after Amazon had been created, Bezos had made $10 billion dollars and was named the Time Man of the Year. Today Amazon dominates the book market selling over 40% of all books and 65% of all e-books. In turn, Amazon also controls the e-commerce market with 55% of all shoppers claiming Amazon is there first port of call for any shopping.
By 2000, having already conquered earth, Bezos set his sights on space establishing the space travel company Blue Origin. In an interview in 2016, Bezos asserted his desire to colonize space taking his Empire places no Emperor has ever been before.
In 2013 Bezos bought the Washington Post. Bezos immediately applied his internet expertise towards journalism applying A/B testing to strategize what articles were gaining popularity online. In response, the Washington Post began to publish 1200 articles a day, a strategy that was hugely successful as in 2015 the post became even more popular than the New York Times. In the words of one former managing director of the Washington Post, the arrival of Bezos was the equivalent of having ‘Michael Jordan play for your team’.
In June 2017 the internet emperor Jeff Bezos became the richest man in the world at the age of 53.
How does a man become the richest person in the world? What philosophy or faith does one invest in to become one of the most powerful animals on earth?
When asked if Bezos had forecast his success he replied saying ‘god no’, however, following the success of Amazon and the acquisition of companies like the Washington Post it is undeniable that Bezos has total belief in himself.
Boer argues that Bezos assumes himself to be revolutionary leading the ‘revolution in the means of production’. Bezos’s faith in the application of technology whether it be towards selling newspapers or books has provided great benefits for him. In turn, Bezos is said to ‘regard devoted institutionalism as lazy, timid and self-destructive’.
Most explicitly this disregard for institutionalism has been demonstrated by Bezos’s attitude towards traditional publishing companies. Not only has Bezos outmuscled bookselling companies through Amazon, but he has also challenged publishing industries through his publication of e-books. Amazon has provided a new means of production for selling books. People can now become successful writers through publishing directly onto Amazon. The magnitude of this change was demonstrated in 2014 when the Telegraph reported that one-third of all e-books sold on Amazon were self-published. Therefore, Bezos’s empire is helping overthrow traditional institutions in commerce, journalism and publishing.
The first commandment of Bezos’s Amazon Empire remains that the ‘customer comes first’. Bezos distils the sustained success of his company to two different philosophies. Firstly, he boasts of Amazon having a ‘customer obsession’ rather than a ‘competition obsession’. This means that Amazon is continually attempted to improve the customer’s experience, leading Bezos to continually reinvest profits back into Amazon.
Secondly, he is continually looking to strengthen three aspects of Amazon: to establish low prices, provide fast delivery and offer a vast selection of products. Bezos’s skill in boiling Amazon’s business plan to three basic principles help the cohesion of his workforce, as all 95,000 of his employees can understand and act towards improving Bezos’s business strategy.
According to the Financial Times in 2017 Bezos also plays a leading philanthropic role amongst tech companies. Despite Bezos’s preoccupation for planning for the future, he believes in regards to charity philanthropy is all about ‘helping in the here and now’, giving around $100 million dollars in the past, and asking Twitter for philanthropic recommendations.
Bezos is driving a commercial revolution. Armed with a fleet of spaceships, millions of books and Amazon barracks around the world Bezos has built one of the humanity’s strongest and most comprehensive business Empire. He is a Cecil Rhodes for the 21st century, dominating almost every industry that he goes into. Bezos can predict the future because he has the power to build the future. Pay close attention to the Emperor’s orders.
‘One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war – propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting’ George Orwell – Homage to Catalonia
‘The Spaniards are good at many things, but not at making war. All foreigners alike are appalled by their inefficiency, above all their maddening unpunctuality’ George Orwell – Homage to Catalonia
On the 27th of October Puigdemont declared Catalonian independence over the Spanish government. The Spanish government responded by sacking Puigdemont and the Catalan government’s cabinet establishing Spain’s greatest civil unrest since the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
The previous Civil War led to a battle between the Republicans and the Nationalists in the centre of Barcelona. George Orwell fought and wrote about his experiences on the side of the Republicans who fought for the cause of socialism, opposing the Fascist nationalists led by Franco. Following Fascist victory and the establishment of a Franco dictatorship, Catalonia became fertile soil for anti-Fascist resistance and thus became heavily policed by Franco. Some 4000 Catalans were executed between 1938 and 1953, whilst the Catalan language was banned from public life and ‘confined to private spaces’.
Today Spain’s Civil War fails to resemble the one Orwell described in Homage to Catalonia. There is almost no violence. Instead, the current Civil War looks more like a carnival, with Unionist and Separatist movements competing over who holds the best street procession. Rather than arming the Separatists with guns, Catalonian independence is being fought as a cultural war through the utilisation and manipulation of online media.
The translation of the Separatist movement onto the Internet provide evidence of the profound changes in political competition and contest. The resistance methods of the Separatist movement know no historical parallel. Whilst the streets of Barcelona remain peaceful, Twitter has become a media battlefield with different movements fighting over the most seductive and persuasive narrative for and against Catalan independence.
The media games played by the Separatists and Unionists demonstrate the impact of technology on the social sphere, providing unrehearsed and unparalleled scenes of political theatre.
Both Separatist and Unionist groups have exercised their support for and against Catalan independence through marching in the streets of Barcelona.
On Friday the 27th of October, following Puigdemont’s declaration of Catalan independence, Separatist supporters celebrated on the streets of Barcelona filling Las Ramblas as well as the surrounding squares. Scenes of celebration were published by the media representing a Barcelona united in support of Catalan independence.
The images broadcast throughout the world showed thousands of Catalonians sporting Catalan flags, the Estelades and Semyera, like Barcelona players who had just won the Champions League. Separatists wished the flags would now be the new national flag and thus were proud signs of independence. The carnival atmosphere was amplified by a concert taking place in Placa Sant Jaume, where Catalan’s danced and sang to the song of independence and to the outsider it looked as though the whole of Barcelona were singing in harmony.
Just two days later, on Sunday the 29th of October, almost identical scenes were broadcast from the streets of Barcelona. Once again thousands of people filled the Las Ramblas, only this time they carried the Spanish national flags and sang ‘viva Espana’. Had you not seen the scenes just two days prior it would have appeared that Barcelona was united in support for the Unionists.
In the world of 24-hour media both processions created powerful events of political protest and argument. Following the marches on the 27th and the 29th symbols of Separatist’s and Unionist’s were broadcast around the world. In the 1960’s the New Left referred to this political tactic as a pseudo-event – an event in which you grab media attention, for bad or good reasons, in order to gain publicity for your political cause. This tactic gained prominence during the 1960’s where Televised media began to grow. In the world of 24-hour news channels, social media streams, and websites the media’s appetite has grown exponentially, thus making pseudo events such as the marches on the 27th and 29th extraordinarily popular due to the culture of 24-hour media.
The power of dictating the media narrative is so profound that narratives and counternarratives are spun almost at an hourly rate. While the streets of Barcelona remain peaceful, Twitter has become the bloody battleground for cultural civil war. On the 30th of October, the hashtags trending round Barcelona were all related to the independence struggle such as #155AplicadoARV, #DUIDespuESP and #LesMossos. The revolutionary tags that once may have painted the walls of Barcelona now cake the walls of Twitter.
Following the pro-Unionist march on the 29th Separatists took to Twitter to write a counter-narrative to the events. Following the march on the 29th @ericcatalunya published videos on his Twitter page of people shouting pro-franco chants at the Mossos as well as a video of people sporting the Spain flag beating up a man wearing a turban. @ericcatalunya published videos aligning Franco Fascism with the march on the 29th to puncture and deflate images of Unionist unity and strength.
Despite having no affiliation to a major media corporation, @ericcatalunya has, through Twitter, been provided with a media platform that can help spin a narrative of Catalan independence to a large number of readers. With 19,000 followers and 74,000 tweets, his Twitter page has become a pro-Separatist Newspaper weaving a narrative that can, in turn, be posted and liked by other Separatist supporters on their respective pages, spinning Unionist media representations and arguing for the Separatist cause.
Following Puigdemont’s declaration of Catalan independence, on Friday the 27th the Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy, fired both Puigdemont and his cabinet, thus making it illegal for them to take up their positions in government.
In response to this action, the Separatist movements utilisation of Social Media demonstrates the sites centrality to their political strategy. Josep Rull, Catalan minister for territory and sustainability, took to Twitter to protest this sacking, posting a photo of himself at his desk on Monday 30th of October. Rather than making a statement, or talking to the local Newspaper, Rull chose to inform the public of his position through Twitter. The photo demonstrates Rull defying the laws of Madrid, in turn, encouraging his Separatist followers to do the same.
Support for this political move was met with 29,000 likes and 3700 retweets as supporters of the Separatist movement stitched Rull’s rebellion into their own social media narratives. Like @ericcatalan, Rull was using Twitter in order to influence a volatile political situation.
In response to Rull’s photo, Unionists on Social Media immediately began to spin a counter-narrative. Beatriz Becara, a vice-president on the Human Rights Subcommittee at the European Parliament, tweeted claiming that immediately after the photo had been taken the Mossos had, through legal force, removed Rull from his office thus undermining the authority of Rull’s tweet. According to the New York Times Rull was not removed by the Mossos, but instead left an hour later to go to a party meeting, suggesting that Becara, an authoritative political representative, knowingly retweeted a lie in order to undermine Rull’s protest, providing insight into the severity of the propaganda wars taking place over the narrative of Social Media.
Similarly, Puigdemont used Instagram to attract media attention. Rather less threateningly the ex-Catalan Prime Minister posted a picture of the sky under the caption ‘bon dia’ meaning good day in Catalan. Puigdemont’s inoffensive post caused a media stir, with one Spanish Newspaper even posting an article called ‘in search of Puigdemont’ as journalists wrongly identified and travelled to the building where they believed the Separatist leader had taken the photo from. Rather than demonstrating a politically tactical post, Puigdemont’s Instagram exemplifies the leading role social media is playing, as both Rull and Puigdemont’s social media posts became mainstream media stories.
Politicians like Rull and Becara battle over the grand narratives of Twitter, because Twitter feeds into both the narratives of politically sympathetic followers and also mainstream media corporations, reaching large numbers of the population and thus acting as an effective weapon to enforce Wittgensteinian language games.
Through translating Spain’s Civil War into internet terms it is clear that the political strategy of both sides focuses on establishing an online presence. Media representations are continually published due to platforms like Twitter and 24-hour news channels. Through communicating a robust narrative each political side can hope to provide momentum for their respective cause, as shown in the global medias reactions to the marches on the 27th, supporting Separatism, and on the 29th, opposing Separatism. Twitter has become a battleground where competing political views fight to undermine their rivals, generate further sympathetic media representations and win language games. As a result, the carnival atmosphere on the streets of Barcelona translates to a pantomime show online and whilst this Civil War has been peaceful it has not been boring, providing some of the greatest theatre seen in 21st-century European politics.
At Harvard University Mark Zuckerberg took an Art History module on the art of Emperor Augustus. Zuckerberg had failed to revise for the module’s exam and appeared destined to fail. Rather than taking the undergraduate strategy of putting in an ‘all-nighter’ he had a bigger idea. He built an online platform, similar to Google Docs, where all of his course members could pool their ideas. Not only did Zuckerberg succeed in the exam, but all his classmates achieved the highest marks the tutor had ever seen. Following this instance, Zuckerberg continued to use technology to build an image of an emperor – an emperor for the 21st century.
Zuckerberg created a company called Facebook. This company is worth over $300 billion dollars. Through his acquisition of both Instagram and Whatsapp Zuckerberg has become the most powerful individual in the world of Social Media. While fellow modern emperor’s, Bezos and Musk, choose to portray themselves as superheroes, Zuckerberg aims to retain the youthful optimism of an undergraduate, dressed for every occasion in a t-shirt and jeans. Do not be fooled by this portrait. The man is a genius with a razor-sharp vision of Facebook’s role in the future.
Mark Zuckerberg was born a prince. Raised in White Plains New York he was the object of adoration for both his Mother and Father. During his 2017 speech at Harvard, Zuckerberg claimed his upbringing was key to the founding of Facebook because he was given the support to teach himself C plus plus code. Zuckerberg was a coding prodigy. At home, he created a programme called Zucknet an early group messenger platform that allowed the family to communicate online. At Exeter Academy, he built a programme called Synapse which predicted people’s music tastes based on certain data.
Having gone to Harvard to study Psychology and Computer Science Zuckerberg’s career was almost short-lived. The programming prodigy got into trouble for creating a website called Facemash which allowed people to rank their fellow students based on their good looks. The University took action against Zuckerberg, who in turn called his parents to ‘pack away my things’ fearing immediate expulsion. No charges were pressed against Zuckerberg, however, the pressure forced him to ask out his now wife Priscilla Chan, which the Facebook founder claims was the ‘most important thing I built in my time’ at Harvard.
In 2004 he was recruited by the Winklevoss twins, two Olympian rowers, looking to build a site called Harvard Connection; an online space, similar to Facebook, where Harvard alumni could stay in touch. Neither of the Twins knew how to code and it was up to Zuckerberg to do all the building. During the project, Zuckerberg continued to delay the project whilst secretly working on his own social network called The Facebook. Later the Winklevoss Twins would sue over plagiarism winning some $300 million dollars.
Facebook’s rise to fame was meteoric. After Harvard, Zuckerberg met Sean Parker, a co-founder of Napster, who then introduced him to the circles of Silicon Valley who were already making revolutionary changes on the internet. Parker taught Zuckerberg how to run a business. He showed him how to talk, how to lead and how to party. Parker believed that Zuckerberg had to both run and become the face of Facebook. Facebook was immediately popular amongst students around America and soon became popular with the masses on the web. The addition of photo tagging made Facebook the dominant online format to connect and share photos.
2006 provided the greatest directive energy towards Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of Facebook. Following a rejected bid of $1 billion dollars from Yahoo, many people at Facebook left the company questioning Zuckerberg’s leadership. According to the Facebook founder, he felt that he had not yet ‘built Facebook to what he wanted it to be’. From this moment on he began to claim that Facebook’s purpose was to ‘connect the world’. A month after turning down the bid Facebook launched the Newsfeed, allowing different Facebook members to view their friend’s activities on a live homepage, creating, in essence, a newspaper for people’s social network connections.
In 2006 there were some 12 million people on Facebook. By 2010 Facebook had around 140 million users and a Golden Globe-winning film based on the life of Mark Zuckerberg called the Social Network. In 2012 Zuckerberg monopolised his control over social media photos, through purchasing the rival photography-based social media site for $1 billion dollars. Today in 2017 there are over a billion people on Facebook. Zuckerberg says his next mission is to make turn that number into two billion.
Mark Zuckerberg’s Dream
Talking about the beginnings of Facebook Zuckerberg said ‘when we began this idea it was not controversial’. Today Facebook is hugely volatile subject. The social media platform is possibly the world’s most powerful vehicle for change. Today Facebook has been accredited with the election of Barack Obama, the rise of Far Right nationalism, and a rising mental health epidemic – all at the same time. Such is the power of Facebook that the philosophy of the company is of the utmost importance to all societies around the world. Facebook has become what Foucault would describe as a ‘discursive instrument’ constructing the unconscious views of wider society. Facebook’s philosophy demonstrates how far the company feel responsible for the happenings online.
Within the company Facebook used to adhere to the experimental method of ‘move fast break things’, a phrase Zuckerberg has since Facebook’s success changed to ‘move fast within stable infrastructure’. This philosophy adheres to the experimental method of science. A/B testing is applied by the company’s computer scientists to devise the website’s most successful formulas. This constitutes intermittently testing different online versions with different Facebook users recording and analysing how different online versions change people’s experience of Facebook. These computer scientists are experimenting with ways to seduce their customers to spend longer and longer amounts of time on Facebook. Zuckerberg has also been known to encourage creativity through all night hackathons, in which employees will hack to the early hours of the morning on a project totally unrelated to what they are working on. Facebook has the DNA of Zuckerberg’s post-Harvard experiences in Silicon Valley pumping through its veins, and in many respects seems totally focussed on it’s role as a technology company.
To the wider public, Zuckerberg preaches how Facebook represents a reflection of our community, or in other words ‘connecting the world’. The Facebook founder frames Social Media in the same photo as the Church, arguing that while the ‘purpose that came from your job or church… has been disconnected’ Facebook will reconnect this sense of purpose. Zuckerberg therefore suggests that ‘connecting’ with people establishes a community. This community in turn creates a sense of purpose, and therefore, through connecting the whole world Facebook can create a global community and thus a global purpose.
Zuckerberg’s philosophy can also be summed up by the following formula:
Connecting with people on Facebook = community, community = sense of purpose, thus Facebook = sense of purpose in the world.
Writing in the Financial Times Shrimsley accuses Zuckerberg of conning people, claiming ‘one of the best signifiers of a phoney religion is where its commercial interests seem a little too well aligned with its moral mission’. Rather than creating a community Shrimsley believes that Zuckerberg’s goals are largely financial claiming the company, worth $300 billion dollars, has a ‘sole ambition’ of ‘seeing you organising your life on the platform’.
In February 2017 Zuckerberg wrote a statement explaining how Facebook could help safeguard communities. He gave five reasons Facebook could help. Firstly, it helped support communities. Secondly, it helped the safety of the community, allowing people to check in as safe following terrorist attacks. Thirdly, it helped educate communities with online learning resources. Fourthly, increasing political engagement, through encouraging people online to vote on polling day and also lobbying for online voting. Fifthly, creating a space that is inclusive for everybody, allowing people to find people with sympathetic outlooks. Therefore Zuckerberg has set himself targets he hopes to meet in order to justify the communitarian value of Facebook.
Confronting Political Issues
Facebook has been criticised for failing to take responsibility for what happens on the Website. While the company has been run like a Silicon Valley startup its impact has impacted the world durchdringen. Zuckerberg’s Empire continues to expand. Yet from Scotland to Syria pockets of people are voicing dissent at the platform.
Facebook has been criticised for the dissemination of fake news stories. Following recent shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, conspiracy theories gained huge momentum on the social media platform. In response to similar criticisms Zuckerberg gave a statement of extraordinary naivety claiming:
‘if you become less likely to share a story after reading it that’s a good sign the headline was sensational. If you’re more likely to share a story after reading it, that’s often a sign of good in-depth content.’
In this statement, Zuckerberg immediately assumes that because he himself is not attracted to sensationalist news, neither are the 1 billion people on Facebook. Two examples demonstrate that ‘sensationalist news’ aside from Facebook is extraordinarily popular and continually subject to ‘reposting’.
Firstly, The Daily Mail is the most popular UK media site in Britain, with much of its success based on an array of sensational title’s accompanied with sensational photos, such as ‘Charlotte Crosby flaunts her peachy derriere’. Secondly, Trump’s Twitter page is popular because of the sensationalist style it is written in. For instance, on the topic of North Korea, Trump posted a tweet saying ‘Anyone who doubts the strength or determination of the U.S should look to our past….and you will doubt it no longer’. This assertion demonstrates how Trump uses sensationalist statements to both draw attention towards his Twitter as well as threaten North Korean foreign policy.
Sensationalism is one of the most popular styles on the internet and feels native to Social Media. Consequently, Zuckerberg’s correlation between reposting and the authority of news stories is completely unfounded and wrong, suggesting that Facebook is either choosing to mislead or ignore that the platform is fertile soil for sensationalism. This highlights the most serious criticism volleyed at the emperor, that he fails to take responsibility for the fact that his company is no longer just a tech company, and in turn, his dream for Facebook fails to meet realities pressing requirements.
Mark Zuckerberg has built the world’s largest Social Media empire. He owns the most powerful machinery in the digital world. While he claims he is driving the machine towards ‘connecting the world’ and strengthening communities, there are still severe problems with the Social Media platform that Facebook are taking little or no responsibility for. When Zuckerberg created the Facebook his idea was to build a tech company. Today Facebook is its own ecosystem and whether Facebook like it or not they will be held responsible for what goes on on the website.
Facebook allows us access to all the data we have ever created on their website. I have lived half of my life on Facebook. For my generation, known as the millennials, social media offers the largest collection of photo’s, conversations and events that we own. Whilst diaries used to be treasured objects of the private sphere, Facebook has created a public diary where we continually mould ourselves through our photo collections and ever-growing connections.
Downloading my Facebook data was like unearthing hidden gold. Whilst my photo’s remained public, I thought my Facebook messages had been lost. Instead, in a mixture of excitement and shock, I found out that I had access to every message I’d ever sent on Facebook. I got my Facebook in 2008. From 2012 to 2017 there are over 1482 pages of messages, thus creating the most comprehensive record of my development as a human being.
In total my best friend and I have shared 16,000 messages together. My second best friend has reached 11,000 messages, and my girlfriend is currently on 8,200 which is impressive considering I have known the two former my whole Facebook career.
We have shared 179 “hello’s”, 191 “hey man’s” 61 “how are you’s” and 29 “good thanks”.
There have been many moments of laughter with 11,147 “haha’s”, 525 “jokes” and 17 “pranks”. In a particularly British way this laughter has been coupled with outright negativity, with 35,910 “no’s” contrasted to just 1840 “yes’s”, however, this negativity must also be weighed against the memorable instance that someone wrote “looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool”. In simpler English that’s lol with 112 zero’s.
Football and music have been the main sources of entertainment. The word “football” has been mentioned 461 times with particular mention to “Chelsea” (250), “Fulham” (126), and “Man United” (47). “Music” has been mentioned 489 times. On this subject there have been 402 “tunes”, 607 “songs”, 129 “guitars”, 67 “Hip Hop’s” and 250 “festivals”. The makers of these “tunes” are hugely varied. On the subject of Grime “Skepta” won with 29 mentions, whilst both “Kano” and “Wiley” were tied with 16. The linking of these “tunes” has been met with 899 “safe’s”.
Even amongst someone with a keen interest in politics, social media has not precipitated political discussion. There have been just 29 “labour’s”, 10 “conservatives”, 14 “politicians” 6 “David Cameron’s” and 13 “Obama’s”.
On the subject of the internet, YouTube is the social media’s champion, with 1922 “youtube’s”, possibly a result of the words correlation with Youtube links. “Facebook” also provides a good showing being mentioned some 1237 times, once again a reflection of things being linked with the URL “facebook.com”, by contrast, “Twitter” has played a small part in my network being mentioned just 47 times.
Encouragingly Love has also played a prominent part in my Facebook career. My friends have had 1866 “love’s” (they wish…) and 64 “love you’s”, however, it appears I am from a clan who prioritise the head over the heart, with 444 “minds” and just 86 “hearts”.
For now, these language datasets will continue to grow. The Facebook ecosystem remains lively and I foresee I will still be on Facebook for the next decade. In the future I cannot imagine the subjects of music and football will cease to be the main topics of entertainment, and, I still cannot envisage Facebook becoming an Athenian forum housing expansive discussions on “Labour” and “David Cameron”.
In certain corners of the internet, the Alt-Right are using violent strategies to build space for their political ideologies. According to Der Spiegel in 2017, ‘they are conducting a hybrid war, with disinformation, fake news, hateful memes and bots, automated accounts that spend their message across the internet’. Utilisation of ‘fake news, hateful memes, and bots’ are evidence of the internet strategies that are shaping political ideologies. Following Trump’s election victory in 2016 one prominent Alt-Right hacker claimed that the Alt-Right are establishing the new political norms claiming ‘never again will there be an election in which trolling, hacking, and extreme right politics’ don’t play a part. After the AFD received some 13% of the popular vote in Germany the same spokesperson asserted with eerie ambition ‘are you sick of winning yet?’.
The Internet has created a new world where the civic landscape is being rebuilt and reimagined. Politics is lagging behind the new methods and language of the internet, however, utilisation of such methods can lead to political gains. Trump’s use of memes and Twitter were strong factors behind his election victory. Similarly, the AfD, a populist far-right party in Germany, successfully utilised social media to become the country’s third biggest party in the September 2017 election.
The landscape of the internet has allowed the rise in Alt-Right views to swell without notice. Gillian Tett has claimed that the liberal media ‘were trapped in such an intellectual echo chamber’ until the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville Virginia. This implies that the liberal media have been in splendid isolation, in contrast, The rising of the Alt-Right has in Foroohar’s view spilt into ‘cultural war’, with Twitter and Google making up the modern battlefield. Whether in conflict or isolation it is clear that the Alt-Right has strengthened both in online and political culture.
On the 9th of November 2016, Donald Trump won the US presidential election. Trump became the first president since Hoover to win the election without military nor political experience. Trump aligned himself strongly with the online Alt-Right, helping disseminate his ideology through internet culture. The Alt-Right’s strong positions online are accompanied by two trends. Firstly, the construction of online space. Secondly, the ideologies use of language and symbolism.
Websites have become the ideological forums of the Alt-Right. In July 2016 Breitbart became the 11th most popular website on Facebook, attracting fervent Trump supporters with the polemic articles that offered huge support to the President.
Currently, they are selling T-Shirts with the words ‘STAND’, implicitly criticising the NFL players who refused to stand for the national anthem and then subsequently were criticised by the President. The strength of the relationship between Bannon, the man who set up Breitbart, and Trump, was demonstrated as the former was originally made the president’s Chief Strategist. After he lost his job last August he returned to Breitbart, pledging his support to the Trump administration.
The significance of Breitbart is part of a wider trend, as white nationalist accounts increased some 600% according to the 2016 George Washington forum. These websites have created online spaces were Alt-Right ideas are shaped and formed, often providing counter-narratives to right-wing mainstream media outlets like Fox News. Trump’s election further proved how potent these Alternative media sources could be, with the President receiving no media support from any of the major American news outlets.
The language of the Alt-Right also offers a significant insight towards the strategies of new political culture. Firstly, the Alt-Right online is strongly associated with violent intimidating language. For instance, The Daily Stormer, a far-right American media sight, described Heather Heyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville, as a ‘fat childless 32-year-old’.
This has been recognised amongst media figures in Britain. Owen Jones, a prominent Guardian journalist, claimed that he would stop commenting on social media, due in part to the ‘far-right extremists sending ever more creative descriptions of how they’re going to torture and murder me’. Jones also argued that social media no longer appeared a ‘useful tool’ for political debate. This comment suggests that the violent language of far-right media is successfully suppressing informative debate and discussion online. The comments made on Heather Heyer demonstrate how far removed the civic language of Alt-Right media contrasts to the traditional culture of the political system.
Trump has bought the language and symbolism of the Alt-Right to the masses through his Twitter page where he got into trouble for encouraging violence against CNN journalists after retweeting the following GIF:
Clip’s such as the above and memes of Trump as Pepe the frog create politically symbolic representations and resemblances that can easily be disseminated and consumed through mainstream social media avenues like, Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan. Amelia Tait from the New Statesman goes as far as claiming ‘we actually elected a meme as a president’. Thus while the language of violence actively suppresses opposition views, the utilisation of memes provides light-hearted satirical support for Alt-Right ideologues. The use of violent language has become the Alt-Right’s artillery; the meme has become their propaganda poster.
On the 25th of November 2017 Angela Merkel was reinstated as the German Chancellor, however, the most sensational result was the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) becoming Germany’s third biggest party with 13% of the vote. The AfD is a strongly anti-Islamic party who attracted support due to their populist nationalist ideology. Once again the utilisation of, firstly internet space and secondly the deployment of Alt-Right symbolism have played vital roles in the party’s success.
The AfD specifically targeted social media in order to make huge gains. According to Stanley-Becker ‘the party’s most useful ally in this effort is the internet’, similarly, Schwarz claimed that ‘the AfD has harnessed the internet as a modern marketplace, where they have given voice to the idea that the political elite of Germany has guided the country in the wrong direction’. There is evidence that the party has channelled the global Alt-Right ideology, as the party employed Harris Media the internet group who aided Trump to victory in 2016. This suggests that the Alt-Right ideology is transnational; an echo chamber of political ideas that can cross languages and borders. This ideology is also strategically dedicated to targeting online space in order to disseminate their views.
Similar linguistic trends are found amongst the Alt-Right nationalist groups in Germany. The AfD labelled Merkel as a ‘perjurer’ and ‘accomplice to torture’, reiterating the Alt-Right technique of personally attacking political rivals. During a presidential debate efforts were made to undermine the political discussion between Merkel and Schulz, leader of the SPD, with the hashtag ‘verraeterduell’meaning ‘traitor debate’. The aggressive counter-narratives are continually spun in attempts to undermine the centrist political leadership and in turn, give rise to a far-right alternative. Sometimes these narratives lead to rank intimidation, as a group called Reconquista Germanica threatened to slaughter members of the Green Party. Such threats are explicitly violent and disgustingly thuggish.
The Alt-Right are shaping the civic landscape of the internet. Violent language is their artillery and memes are their propaganda posters. The Alt-Right are like football hooligans with an increasingly large firm. They are feared and rightly so, yet they are nevertheless thugs who ruin the game of football. At the moment, the AfD are Germany’s third largest party, there is mainstream support for Marine Le Pen in France and Donald Trump is the president of the United States. Whilst it is important that centrist politicians learn from the internet strategy of the Alt-Right it is also imperative that such violent methods are condemned. The Internet has created a new World and it is up to us to create the world we want.
Having lived with Facebook for 9 years it is fair to say we know each other well. I always supposed I enjoyed Facebook as a fun and practical way to speak to my friends, nevertheless, a Times article on the 22nd August 2016 blamed the social media platform for a depression ‘epidemic’ amongst people of my generation. It appeared that Facebook could have a far more serious impact than I ever would’ve thought.
To the individual, Facebook feels very personal. We define our identities through the way we present ourselves and express ourselves by the statuses we update. Yet (unbeknown to me) Facebook has transformed the way people understand and market the world. In advertising, Facebook and Google dominate marketing strategies with some 85 cents of every dollar in the US being advertised through Google and Facebook. The vast investment suggests that Facebook has a major impact on our behavioural patterns.
How are we responding to these mass marketing campaigns? Well, the language surrounding media analysists is terrifyingly serious. Instead of talking about ‘friends’ and ‘posts’ journalists analyse social media as having a ‘brand’ and an ‘audience’. I chose my profile picture because I thought I looked nice but psychologists have found out that a) people will judge this photo in under a second to decide their opinion of me and b) it is the most important staple of my ‘brand’. To me, the use of words such as ‘brand’ and ‘audience’ does not sound at all personal, yet the platform evidently plays a significant role on the individual.
The way in which we ‘brand’ ourselves is becoming increasingly intertwined with our sense of self. On average I will monitor my ‘brand’ once a day. Give yourself a moment to think through your social media activity – you will be surprised at how vast your knowledge is. For instance, my memory of this year’s Notting Hill Carnival is now unfortunately intertwined with a photo of me blowing a Jamaica whistle with my shirt half unbuttoned. Through Facebook, I will always associate this photo with Carnival. Facebook photo’s help construct our memory and may even have greater significance due to the immediate pressure of publishing such photos. These are the memories that construct both my thoughts of the past and thus my own perceptions of myself.
Psychologically, this ‘brand’ has proved to be very impactful. When we receive likes dopamine is released making us feel energised and content. The lack of predictability over the fortunes of a post leads to a sense of excitement. More maliciously Walther argues that when we are feeling bad about ourselves we like to make downward social comparisons against those who we view as less successful or attractive as ourselves. Therefore, Facebook excites us into investing our time on it. Whilst it can harvest excitement, it can also absorb anger helping people to regain a sense of esteem.
Despite the fact I rarely post on Facebook I sometimes feel addicted. In the past, I have found myself on Facebook not quite knowing how I got there. It takes me seconds to press Ctrl-T and type in my password and about a minute to log myself off and get back to work. For a generation that has lived almost entirely on Facebook (and in certain ways lived through Facebook), it is about time we start questioning and thinking about the medium’s impact.