ICE blogs

April 28, 2016

Media’s role in challenging ‘criminal state’

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, politics, new books — news_editor @ 1:07 pm

A call for publics to use social media technologies to assert themselves against established authority is made by Dan Hind in his latest publication, The public and the mass.

Hind, author of the acclaimed The return of the public, argues: ‘The public forming platforms would need to have a very different character from, say, Facebook. Rather than monetising their consumers from panoramic surveillance they would generate defined data outputs that would be shared among those who create them. The design would enable us to learn more about what people think, to change minds and have our own minds changed. The emphasis would be on meaningful privacy, public transparency and equality in speech.’

To help inspire a new movement promoting constitutional liberties, Hind looks back to the colonies in the period leading up to the American Revolution. ‘They did so through a discussion of constitutional forms using public meetings and cheap and easily pirated pamphlets. It was a matter of forming new publics for the purpose of creating a new political order.’ Their activities were centred on the publishing industry and epitomised by Thomas Paine’s donation of his royalties from Common sense (1776) to the cause of ending royalty on the continent.
‘Is it so far-fetched to imagine that another wave of public formation, drawing on the capabilities of the software sector and intent on securing individual liberty might develop and distribute the powers needed in a new constitutional order?’

Hind begins by highlighting the distinction made by the celebrated American sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916-1962) between the mass society and the public: ‘The idea of a mass society suggests the idea of an elite of power. The idea of the public, in contrast, suggests the liberal tradition of a society without any power elite, or at any rate with shifting elites of no sovereign consequence.’ Elites play down the constitutional significance of their effective control over the communications system. And they panic when ‘the nature of the relationship between elite rule and the communications system threatens to become visible’ as happened following the Chelsea Manning/WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden/Guardian revelations.

The files did not reveal isolated examples of state criminality. ‘They set out the substantial integration of the state and the corporate sector, including the major media, around a project encompassing aggressive war, torture, and the indiscriminate seizure of private information.’
But in the end, Hind is hopeful: ‘The same technologies that permit both mass surveillance and the massive infiltration of the citizen body can be used both to clarify public opinion and establish its superiority over private interests and secret bureaucracies.’

• The public and the mass, Commonwealth; see http://commonwealth-publishing.com/shop/the-public-and-the-mass/.

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