Society must redesign social networks architecture
Jan 19, 2012
Society's reliance on social networks as a new form of governance questions the balance of power and guarantees of freedom in virtual public spaces.
Social networks and other digital communication mechanisms are increasingly transitioning from playgrounds of social entertainment to what Nicholas Negroponte refers to as "the new DNA of society". Without feeling a connection and response from national governments, the new generations are beginning to virtually create structures that, if not intended to replace governments in the near future, will occupy spheres of power that governments do not occupy or occupy poorly. And if Facebook and Twitter are becoming the new agora, what is being done now?
This may not yet be a pertinent question, as it seems safe to say that there is still time until the structures of social networks can accumulate power to the point of confronting governments. At most, they can already cause disruptions (as Muammar Gaddafi could certainly testify), but in the future, important organizations will be built on top of properties of companies like Facebook and Twitter (besides the concrete economy that these virtual environments already generate, see the revenue of countless companies that is based on actions in the sphere of networks).
Two issues here: first, it is clear that, even in traditional democracies, the disconnect between public opinion and government is only increasing. Always, economic power has bridled the government, but especially in the first decade of this millennium, no limit was left. Corporations began to do absolutely anything to increase their revenues from colossal to unimaginable, ignoring anything from the environment to the devastation of the economy, where global thefts like those of Lehman Brothers helped to disappear a considerable part of an economy that did not exist, but on which the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people were based. After 35% of the American economy ceased to exist thanks to the spree of rotten securities that generated astronomical profits for banks and zero people were punished, the American population, always proud of its "democracy", realized that they could not count on the government and began to mobilize - as Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Iranians had already done and now the Syrians are doing.
The second observation is: would it be possible to entrust the replacement of an important part of civil society, like this DNA mentioned by Negroponte, to half a dozen (if that) companies? Will Facebook guarantee that the space it offers will maintain the social order that a society needs? And will Google guarantee the integrity of markets determined by its search algorithm? Will Twitter ensure that it will not censor movements that are not in tune with its shareholders (especially these shareholders being from the "cradle of democracy", Saudi Arabia)?
National governments seem to have worn out as models of democratic representation for a number of reasons. The need for campaign financing, the appointment of state machines, susceptibility to the million-dollar temptations of lobbyists and corruptors, and a pure vocation for corruption are some of them. Today, virtual environments, in some cases, offer more guarantees for the citizen to get their rights than official mechanisms (anyone who has tried to complain about the telephone operator to the consumer protection agency and on social networks knows that the chance of being attended on the networks is considerably higher). The movement of society to recreate the public space in this virtual sphere is a consequence of the failure of the State to perform the functions it should perform.
But until when will the balance tip to this side? The money-making machine of Internet companies is the sale of details of their users. Knowing when the terms of service of these companies will or will not be changed to meet the needs of society is very difficult. And the design of the DNA of this new society is still in a more than embryonic stage and whose end may include a series of crises and convulsions like others that history has already shown. These virtual public spaces are not public, they are private. If society really wants to establish institutions in them, it needs to have guarantees that their freedoms will not be taken away from one moment to another.