Freedom & Digital Media
Of course the Statue of Liberty is a powerful image which is strongly linked with the United States of America, Ellis Island, ‘Huddled Masses’ from the old world seeking new opportunities and new lives in the ‘New World’. However, the concept of Libertas, from which the original French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi derived the inspiration for his work, which was carried out by Gustav Eiffel in 1886, is very much a universal idea, I think this is why it has resonated so powerfully through the decades across the entire globe.
This remarkable project has impressed the world, moved people to seek to define just what is meant by this lofty, incredibly attractive idea of freedom, of liberty.
We can speak of liberty, and claim to uphold and promote it, but what actually does liberty consist of?
The big problem with large ideas, and ideal positions is that of definition, and relative contexts. In other words, one man’s liberty is another man’s restriction. To the man used to being confined in a small room, an hour of sunshine and walking in an enclosed yard is his idea of freedom for that moment.
We have emerged from a time where publishing and mass media were highly restricted. If we look at the period of time from 1900 we can easily see that access to public domain broadcasting, and publishing was tightly controlled.
The emergence of radio, and then television, of newspapers, magazines, book publishing were each very tightly restricted. Only very wealthy and socially powerful people were able to effectively operate as broadcasters, as publishers. The control and access to mass media was in effect the ability to manage the discourse, and narratives that our western society dealt with.
We became so used to this state of affairs, of being passive consumers of produced content, that it seemed ‘natural’.
The identity of who was behind the T.V networks, the Newspapers, Magazines, Radio stations, became a secondary consideration, we were only interested with the front end; we became hypnotized with the nature of what was presented, we had little interest with the little man behind the curtain pulling the levers.
The Wizard of Oz is a remarkable metaphor, it describes mass media all too well.
With the development of public access to the internet, and the growth of independent media, of the sharing of alternative information, the spread of ideas not included in the curriculum of mainstream education, we have seen a gradual shift in the base-line attitudes of ‘The Public’.
Compound interest, this is another interesting idea, which when applied to the public domain accounts for many of today’s social struggles, of the challenge being brought to the powerful established social groups which had their genesis in the broadcast days of mass media. While compound interest refers to a financial sleight of hand, where small numbers can be seen to grow exponentially over time, the same steady growth of social and political ideas can also be described in this way.
Liberty, it has a resonance, an immediate gravitas that invites us to agree with its claims, or be seen to be an oppressor. As I suggested, the nature of liberty needs to be clearly articulated, otherwise it becomes just another cloudy ideal, a general objective that takes on a kind of obscure tendency towards good will, but assures us of nothing, much like a sales promise from a merchant verbally delivered, but not backed up with anything tangible.
This is why the remarkable document that became the ‘Constitution of the United States’ has such weight. By declaring the full scope of what you intend, you dispense with vagueness and woolly headed generalities.
We can see that the shift of the public’s attention towards social media, towards digital media has resulted in some changes, and we can also see that there are established players who are very threatened by this.
In particular the role of Facebook as being a media platform, a deliverer of a ‘Newsfeed’ has upset some people. Also the emergence of what are loosely termed ‘Conservative media companies’, we have among them ‘Infowars’ ‘Rebel Radio’ ‘Brietbart’ ‘The Drudge Report’, we have a collection of pundits, independent commentators, bloggers, personalities and media analysts on other social media, YouTube, other projects.
Prior to the outcomes of 2016 many of these independent media projects, and alternative offerings were ignored, laughed at, and mostly deemed ‘crackpot’ extremists by the mainstream media groups, and those who underwrite and fund them.
It was a global shock, a visceral and total surprise when the biggest outcome of them all, the Presidency of the United States swung towards an outsider, when the media machine had primed its audiences to vote for Hillary, when the media club had determined the outcome many months before-and this has resulted in the largest reaction, damage control ever witnessed.
You see, it was not just the ‘Democrats’ who wanted that outcome, it was not just feminists and American concerns, it was a western world thing. That is why every news story presented in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, The UK, Germany, France all looked and sounded pretty much the same.
You can see how the established players think, the hauling up of Zuckerberg in front of Congress to account for his media power, the fabrication of ‘malicious third parties’ and the role of Cambridge Analytica in stacking the odds, the entire Russia paranoia, it is not just confined to the USA, this is a global venture, a world-wide affiliation.
The nature of liberty, as far as the mass media and public narratives is concerned, is contained in the very nature of the internet.
As much as they would like to think, Google, Facebook, and any of the giant players cannot control the internet, it has grown too vast and distributed, there is too much private ownership, we have an open-ended world-wide-web which Tim Berners-Lee gifted us that just cannot be forced into a censorship bottle. The genie is out.
The very same technical conditions which allowed the giant players to arrive at their position today, are the same conditions which enable you, me, your next door neighbor to present something on the open market and have millions of people give their nod of approval to, or not.
Liberty, free speech, freedom of movement, education freedom, political combat, social ideas, community building, these are all a central part of the internet, it is quite unintended, the same way 2016 was unintended; the same way the release of the internet into the public domain itself was officially un-in-ten-ded.
This little article, if you happen to read it and you are on the bus in Prague, or downtown Copenhagen, or New York on the underground, or somewhere else in the world, you will know of what I speak, here I am in my office and I am delivering my version of ‘Liberty’ on my media company, you have the ability to build yours, and this is true freedom and unless they want to tear it all down they can’t prevent us from talking anymore.