Wednesday, October 31, 2007

e-citizenship and alternate allegiences

I'm really interested in the intersection of internet and government suggested in The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Invidualism – without doubt, our notions of nationality are being greatly transformed in the wake of the glocalized ties that have begun to unite people from disperate and otherwise unrelated social networks. It's particularly interesting to see ways in which Democratic governments have fully embraced networks as a means of incorporating the citizenry in the political process, as in the Scottish parliament's acceptance of e-petitions (3). Even more intriguing than such positive fostering of network use by governments is the flip side of that coin, the use of such networks to mobilize resistance within a citizenry – as in the case of the sms-incited demonstrations in the Philippines (18).

This kind of electronically mediated protest on the part of a citizenry reminds me of the immense backlash in the facebook network following the introduction of the “feeds” feature. A quick overview for those not active on the network at the time : Before the introduction of feeds, profiles were relatively static representations of ones online identity – recent alterations to interests would perhaps be highlighted, but no other information regarding the user's habit was on display. Feeds changed all that though by providing a realtime rss-style “feed” announcing a user's activity (including not only additions to his or her own profile, but as well exchanges which took place elsewhere on the site with other users).

These feeds were turned on by default, and within a few hours a huge number of facebook users began to raise a fuss. Complaints were aired and within a few days, groups like “Students Against Facebook Feeds (which is still alive here) saw their memberships soar into the six figure range. An interesting account of the feature's introduction, written concurrent with all the fuss that followed, can be found here, as well as news covereage here.

What interests me about all the outcry over feeds is that most arguments relied on a sense of citizenry within the facebook network – users felt entitled to certain rights to privacy, much like those expected in the real world, and petitioned the facebook ownership to address these grievances. Many groups even pledged that their members would revoke their citizenship in the facebook world and delete their accounts of demands weren't met by a certain date. Of course, facebook isn't a democratic nation, it's commercially owned network – and the company chose to leave feeds in place (adding privacy filtering functions to calm big-brother fears). But the intensity of the mobilization, and its implicit assumption of a sense of entitlement, still makes clear the degree to which our allegiances have become splintered among disparate networks and identifications in ways not addressed within the article.

Yes, the internet affords the citizenry of a geographic nation another field in which to participate ; but it simultaneously creates new networks of allegiance, new citizenries vying for the attention of the individual. I can't help but wonder if, as in snowcrash, such allegiance to a corporately controlled network could eventually supplant that to traditional geographically determined national government.

No comments: