Author of critical theory of social media exposes 'surveillance-industrial complex' to open new programme of events

15 October 2014

Last week the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society opened our events programme for the new academic year with a book colloquium, held at Wolfson College on 9 October, at which the author of a critical theory of social media discussed his latest work with a group of internet and media experts.
 
Christian Fuchs, Professor of Social Media at the University of Westminster, opened the discussion by assessing the pernicious effects of the commodification of personal user data that has become integral to the business models of multinational social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
 
Turning from private to state manipulation of personal data harvested through social media platforms, he argued that Edward Snowden’s revelations of global surveillance programmes was evidence of a new phenomenon emerging out of the military-industrial complex, which he coined the ‘surveillance-industrial complex’.
 
He critiqued the ideological rhetoric adopted by governments to justify such surveillance measures in a post 9/11 world, including exaggerated claims regarding the need for powers to enhance security in the face of global terrorism, quoting President Obama’s comment that, “you can’t have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience”. In the UK, similar measures have been implemented, such as the controversial surveillance law the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was rushed through Parliament with little or no public debate in July this year.  
 
Professor Fuchs questioned both the legitimacy and the effectiveness of such legislation, arguing that terrorists are unlikely to conduct their activities in such a way as to be susceptible to state surveillance of the internet. He went on to show that any legislation intended to regulate the internet and safeguard privacy is by its very nature doomed to failure, since such laws would have a national or, at best, regional jurisdiction, and therefore be inadequate to protect citizens against global online threats.

Any legislation to safeguard privacy is doomed to failure, since such laws would have a national or, at best, regional jurisdiction, and therefore be inadequate to protect citizens against global online threats

Professor Fuchs was joined in discussion by Professor Denis Galligan of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Bernie Hogan of the Oxford Internet Institute, Iginio Gagliadone of the Oxford Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, and Monika Magyar, a media lawyer from Budapest. Following responses from the panellists, questions were opened to the packed audience of over sixty people, which saw the debate focus on some of the more positive aspects of social media, including its use in communist as well as capitalist countries, and the benefits of non-profit online platforms of user-generated content such as Wikipedia.
 
The colloquium was held as part of our new programme investigating the the socio-legal implications of the rise of social media in the digital age. The next event in this series will be a free film screening of We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks on Tuesday 21 October.
 
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