Our second blog series will focus on the relationship between the politics and the digital. The overarching thesis to be explored can be found at the conclusion of Langdon Winner’s famous essay ‘Do Artefacts Have Politics?’: “people are often willing to make drastic changes in the way they live to accord with technological innovation at the same time they would resist similar kinds of changes justified on political grounds”.

There has been an explosion in multidisciplinary interest in the political implications of the Internet, social media, and the increasing normalizing of processes of datafication, surveillance and platform models in contemporary capitalist society. These new technologies have been sites of ideological, geopolitical, and cultural contestation, with many theorists attributing the return of political polarisation and increasing divides within societies to the invective and counter-productive discursive styles of social media bleeding into everyday life.

New social movements that would otherwise need to book public meetings rooms find themselves cultivating political communities online. Politicians can both exploit and be exploited by the whims of the algorithm. There are both opportunities and dangers in the implementation of contemporary technologies in all aspects of political and social life. There are issues of cybersecurity and cyber- conflict. How have different states, parties, political actors, and institutions adopted certain technological approaches – from surveillance, datafication, social media marketing strategies, etc.) – and what has been the impact? How should political theory understand the relationship between power and technology, between analogue and digital democracy, between networks and discourse, and between algorithms and authority? To what extent does digital technology compel us to change to suit its needs, and does this conflict with our ideas about freedom and authenticity? Is our contemporary situation worthy of being considered a “new Information Age” or merely the latest iteration of modernity?

 

I have had a laminated image pinned, stuck, or otherwise attached to various office walls for many years, since 2003 indeed, as I’ve moved between roles and institutions this has been one constant. The image is from the cover of Mute Magazine, Issue 26. It is a line drawing depicting a desk, on it a Macintosh PowerBook G4, Apple’s then state of the art portable computer – around it are drawn scenes from the global anti-capitalist struggles of the period. There is a picture of Sub-Commandant Marcos of the Mexican Zapatistas, in iconic balaclava, smoking a pipe and looking away into the mid-distance. There is another picture of workers in a field of GM crops, and one of a high-tech …

YouTube is a prime space for the communication of the hundreds, if not thousands, protests that have taken place around the world since mandatory measures were introduced by governments to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. From New York to Tokyo and from London to Sydney, protesting social distancing, face coverings, lockdowns and vaccines is caught up in hours of video footage by protesters themselves, passersby, and reporters, featuring as content for the YouTube channels of major international news agencies. According to a recent publication in Harvard’s Misinformation Review, such videos often serve as a backdrop for commentary out which emerge “participatory cultures of conspiracy theory knowledge production and circulation”. Here, I would like to shed light on a …

How useful is it to think about politics and power in terms of a patriarchy? What if we think about the US celebrity founders who own monopoly tech companies as a racialized patriarchal network? Patriarchy can be a blunt instrument if we don’t investigate what is particular about a patriarchal system. But if we try to understand who the patriarchs might be, what is specific about their formation, and how they legitimate and wield dominance, then this could be part of forging a resistance. In our book The New Patriarchs of Digital Capitalism: Celebrity Tech Founders and Networks of Power we look at the powerful celebrity men that founded US monopoly tech companies: Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Larry …

While the idea of platform governance is not new, the complex nature of its functioning and the reasons for its emergence and entrenchment still lack holistic conceptualisation. While it is impossible to develop such a perspective in a single blog post, the considerations below are intended as a sensitising tool and a call to think about platform governance as simultaneously premised upon societal developments from which it has emerged and a pervasive force shaping contemporary societies. In order to better understand the how and why of platform governance, at least two arguments are possible, although they are by no means mutually exclusive: a historico-political and an economic one. On the historico-political side – and for perhaps the most eloquent account, …

Visual campaigning is not new to the social media era. In the US, the first political cartoon was published by Benjamin Franklin in political pamphlets in 1747. Visual symbols such as the bald eagle, stars and stripes, and the colours of red, white and blue have been used in campaign posters going back to 1828. Visual campaigning only intensified from the 1960s onwards with the proliferation of television, with the first televised debate between Nixon and Kennedy in 1964 widely hailed as being a turning point. A young and charismatic Kennedy contrasted sharply with an older Nixon, who appeared sweaty and pale (Messaris 2019), and the appearance and personalities of party leaders has played an increasingly important role in political …

Early criticisms of clicktivism lamenting the end of real activism have poisoned the well to the extent that the image conjured is one of someone sprawled lazily in an armchair scrolling through their mobile phone, liking and sharing, but not making much difference to politics. However, clicktivism is one of the most prevalent forms of contemporary political participation that is quick, easy and can be incredibly powerful when performed individually or as a collective. It is also a means of lowering the barriers to politics that dominant power structures and processes have put in place to restrict what politics is, and where it can be performed. Political participation has various definitions and contexts of use that concentrate on traditional processes …