Friday 29 October 2010

Topic 2.2 - Community and Identity

Shafi, Can a Virtual Community be any different from the experience of a Real Community?” Incoherent Thoughts, December 13, 2005. Archived by WebCite.

This blog post expresses the author's initial reservations about virtual community, and then moves on to a more positive stance on their possibilities. This highlights the normative use of the word community, that is, beyond being a way of describing a set of social relations, 'community' often implies certain values and expectations. What do you associate with the term, 'community,' and are these things available in both online and face to face types of community?

Don Slater. (2002). Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline. In Leah A. Lievrouw, Sonia M. Livingstone & Sonia M. Livingstone (Eds.), Handbook of New Media (pp. 533-546). In E-Reserve.

This chapter in a student textbook on new media interrogates the distinctions between offline and online and provides examples of the changes in the way social relationships are formed and maintained, and identity is constructed.

  1. Discuss, in relation to an online community of your choice:
    1. How is this a 'community' (and what is a community)?
    2. Connections and gaps between the world of this community and face to face life.
    3. Who are the 'powerful' in this community, and how was this power acquired?
    4. Is there a difference between 'virtual' and 'real' life? What do these terms mean, nowadays?
  2. Pick 1 topic (e.g. dating) and list examples of the way the Internet has, in terms of your topic, become part of our everyday in terms of community, power, economy and identity.
Shafi defines a community as “a group of people having common interests” (Shafi, 2005) and Zhang defines a virtual community as "communities formed through computer-mediated communications" (Zhang & Tanniru, 2005).  I've chosen to examine Facebook, which is the second-largest website in the world (Facebook, 2010) with currently over 500 million users across the globe (, 2010).  Facebook allows "communications between people who are spatially dispersed", or "disembedded" (Slater, 2002); that is, it enables friends and family in different geographic locations to communicate with each other online.
There are some similarities between "real life" and an online community such as Facebook.  Facebook demands that you use your real name when joining, which removes some of the anonymity, or "disembodiment" (Slater, 2002), of earlier Internet-based communications such as IRC and ICQ and arguably makes it less detached and more "real" than those earlier communication platforms.  It allows you to control who can and can't view your personal profile, which is similar to you controlling who you do and don't tell things to in the real world. and you can also control what you actually say.  Some may argue that you only see what people want you to see on Facebook, but I think that's true in real life too - if I'm having a bad day then I'm just as unlikely to wander around the streets telling people as I am to post it on my Facebook page.

There are also some obvious differences.  After many years of travelling I have many friends scattered across the globe, who previously I would only hear from a few times a year via a lengthy email.  Now that they are Facebook friends I can keep up with them on a far more immediate basis.  In some cases too, I've learned more about individuals via their Facebook pages than I ever knew about them from real life.  The biggest problem I have nowadays is if a friend ISN'T on Facebook - it has become so easy to post an update about something in my life on my Facebook profile and letting 100+ know something simultaneously, that I sometimes forget to then contact those individuals who aren't on Facebook.

I think the power behind Facebook lies equally between Facebook themselves, and also users.  Facebook has access to the personal information of over 500 million people and, as was discussed in last week's iLecture (Kent, 2010), the fact that Facebook is free to use only means that they aren't selling Facebook to individuals but are instead collecting our data as a way of selling Facebook advertising to us.  However, Facebook itself is of no value if nobody uses it, and the public outcry (Swan, 2010) last year over the way they handled user privacy resulted in changes to privacy controls (Zuckerberg, 2010).

I think that the terms "virtual and "real life" nowadays really refer to what Slater calls “face-to-face embodied interaction” and "disembodiement" (Slater, 2002).  Traditional ideas of community have changed - community is now less about geographic location and much more about common interest (Shafi, 2005). (2010). Top Sites - The top 500 sites on the web.  Retrieved November 1, 2010, from
Facebook. (2010). Facebook Statistics, from
Kent, M. (2010). The Internet and Everyday Life: Power and Economy.  Retrieved from
Shafi. (2005, December 13). Can a Virtual Community be any different from the experience of a Real Community?  Retrieved from
Slater, D. (2002). Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline. In L. Lievrouw & S. Livingstone (Eds.),In Handbook of New Media (pp. 533-546): Sage Publications Ltd.
Swan, D. (2010). Facebook backs down  Retrieved May 27, 2010, from
Zhang, Y., & Tanniru, M. (2005). An agent-based approach to study virtual learning communities, pp. 11c.
Zuckerberg, M. (2010, May 27). Making Control Simple.  Retrieved from

Thursday 28 October 2010

Topic 2.1 - Power and Economy

Brendan Gilbert et al., Web Content/Social Networking, Blog, Corporate Power in New Media, May 14, 2008. Archived by WebCite.

This student blog states, "People's barriers are down and they fail to realize the extent to which corporations affect their online behavior". How true is this statement?

Mansell, R. (2004). Political Economy, Power and New Media. New Media & Society, 6(1), 96-105. In E-Reserve.

This scholarly article makes the case for analysis and research into the political and economical aspects of the Internet. Note down the reasons Mansell gives and think of examples to illustrate.

  1. Power operates in many ways on the Internet, let's take one example, that of Internet access, to discuss power (no more than half a page):
    1. Are there limits to when, what (sites), how much, and where you access the Internet?
    2. How can you transgress those limits and what are the possible consequences?
    3. Is it possible to lose your access and what are the ways this might happen?
  2. How do economic relationships conflict with or support existing power structures through the Internet? Choose an example from your first module and discuss on the discussion boards.
Author: Nicole Veitch
Posted date: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 2:27:29 PM WST
Last modified date: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 2:27:29 PM WST
Total views: 3  Your views: 3

The corporation that bothers me the most is Google.  The best example I've seen that demonstrates just how far they've wormed their way into our lives via the Internet, is this video:

At the time I came across this (it may have been part of an earlier subject, I can't remember now!), it was labelled "Google is Skynet" (for anyone who has watched the Terminator movies or TV series).

While everything Google offer is "free", there are so many strings attached that a lot of people never think about.  I use Gmail, I have an Android phone with a bunch of Google apps on it, and I've used Adwords and Adsense for business, Maps, Earth... the list goes on and on.  All of them are "free" and once you've got a Google login then you can use it for everything so it's easy, no need to remember a bunch of different passwords.  But the other side of that is, everything you do is under a single login, which means that they can read your emails, see your Contacts, see copies of any online shopping you've done, see all the documents or photos that you store, see what you search for in Maps and Earth, they can even see a StreetView picture of your house (and hopefully you're not IN that photo!).  It's really quite creepy once you start thinking about just how much information they are storing about YOU on their servers.  And they are using your information to target advertising at you.  So from the perspective of this week's topic - I would say that Google hold a massive amount of power online, because they own so much information about so many people.


Author: Nicole Veitch
Posted date: Thursday, October 28, 2010 6:03:26 PM WST
Last modified date: Thursday, October 28, 2010 6:03:26 PM WST
Total views: 4  Your views: 4

I too found the Mansell reading to be horribly longwinded and confusing and frankly, that was an hour of my life I'll never get back.  However, the key points that I finally wrung out of it were:

- While there is now far more new media available than ever before, the actual supply of much of this media is controlled by a small number of large media companies.

- Scarcity is being created by these companies, via things like copyright and paywalls, to control the media and therefore control consumers use of it.

- Additionally, information is gathered about consumers by these companies, which is then sold on for advertising purposes.

- This results in changes to the social and cultural behaviour and values of consumers - ie. they only consume media produced by a small cross-section of the media, and therefore can have their views and opinions "shaped" by that media.

- There has thus far been little attempt to research the consequences of these changes.

It basically all comes down to power and money which, if I've got it right, is what Political Economy is all about - these processes give these huge companies great power, from which they can make great profits from.

You only have to look at the current state of Australian media ownership (  Virtually all of the media in Australia is owned by either News Ltd, PBL, Fairfax, Telstra, Seven, Ten and a couple of others.  I don't see any stories that any of them are going broke!

1. I personally don't encounter many limits with regard to my own Internet access because I pay for a good plan and have the technical know-how to get around most issues, but I can think of quite a few limits that are currently imposed on a good percentage of the population, including:

  • Media corporations imposing limits via the use of paywalls - Rupert Murdoch recently made the website versions of UK-based "The Times" and "The Sunday Times" newspapers subscription based, and sites like which have a portion of their site behind a paywall.  While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of this for news (, I see Jenny gave a good example of this affecting access in an academic sense.
  • Media corporations blocking access to certain media on a country-basis - ever tried to watch an episode of your favourite TV series directly off the US-based website?  Chances are good that you'll get a "sorry you need to live in the US or Canada to view this" message.
  • Many corporations impose limits for their employees via corporate firewalls, blocking sites such as Hotmail, Facebook, etc.
  • The Government, via departments such as the ACMA - although there currently isn't a mandatory content filtering system despite Senator Conroy's best efforts, the ACMA can and do issue takedown notices against ISPs who host certain material (as detailed here  If the mandatory Internet filter is ever allowed into existence, the government will have the right to block information that is not illegal to own, our very own government-endorsed censorship regime.
  • Schools - many government primary schools take the approach of blocking everything and only allowing a specific list of sites to be accessed.
  • ISPs, particularly in Australia, enforce download limits and shape access speeds for certain accounts at certain times of day.
 While it's not easy to get around a paywall without actually paying, it IS fairly simple to bypass most technical blocks via the use of anonymous proxy sites and as far as I'm aware, there aren't a lot of consequences for doing this.  However, in some instances it would be possible to lose Internet access altogether - for instance, if your ISP chooses to block your access due to excessive downloading, or hosting inappropriate adult content or for breaching copyright.

2.  I've been using the Internet since the early 90's, before it was such a money-oriented beast, and I have to say that while the constant money-driven aspect of it nowadays annoys me, with sites covered in advertising and having to pay for things that once you could download for free, the fact is that back then there just wasn't a lot of good content available, and not as much choice.  So it's sort of a catch-22 - finding ways to make money from the Internet has ultimately given consumers greater choice and variety and greater quality to choose from (if you know where to look!), but it also means putting up with all the advertising and paywalls and other economic "barriers" along the way.  I've used the example of Google in another post - free email accounts come with more and more "added extras" every day.  At the end of the day I think you generally get what you pay for.


Friday 15 October 2010

Happy Meal Project (gross)

NYC artist Sally Davies photographs a McDonald's Happy Meal every day. The project has been going on for 137 days, and the Mickey D's hamburger and fries look exactly the same. Talk about one weird McDonald's art project.

Monday 11 October 2010

Sesame Street's "Old Spice" parody - love it! :-)