In this class, we discussed Rebecca MacKinnon’s valuable new book, Consent of the Networked. In particular, we looked at China’s “networked authoritarianism,” Russia’s “digital Bonapartism,” and the tension between public discourse and private commercial platforms in the US.
As MacKinnon points out, “No commercially operated service is required to uphold the First Amendment for American users or Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to free expression, for its global users.”
“Nobody is forcing anybody to use Facebook. Yet for political activists–or anyone trying to convince a large and diverse audience of anything–abandoning Facebook is easier said than done. In 2010, Americans spent more time on Facebook than on Google. If the largest pool of people your political or social movement most needs to reach is most easily and effectively reachable through Facebook’s vast social network, leaving Facebook is a blow to the movement’s overall impact.”
We finished the class with a spirited discussion of whether private platforms like Facebook have become so central to public discourse that perhaps they need to relate to their users not as customers but as citizens. If they don’t, I suggested, citizens may turn to government to regulate these platforms as public utilities. Or as MacKinnon suggests, perhaps we are at a “Magna Carta” moment.