Order the spring issue here

Digital Media: Democratic or Suppressive Political Fighting Instruments?

Digital, Political, Radical
Forfatter: Natalie Fenton
Forlag: Polity Press (Storbritannia)
English media theorist Natalie Fenton warns against equating social media with democracy.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

The discussion of the relationship between symbolic production apparatus and political transformations is well known. We find it exemplary of Walter Benjamin, who in the middle of the 1930 tries to maintain an analysis of the emancipatory potential of new technological reproduction technologies at a time when it is primarily the German Nazi Party that manages to apply them in creation by a staged fascist public. Benjamin, as you know, writes that Nazism aesthetizes politics and lets the masses see themselves in front of the driver. Despite Nazism's ability to use new technologies such as film and radio, Benjamin argues for the revolutionary potential of the new media. They allow for the transcendence of a contemplative and passive art and produce mass as a political subject, as a class.

If we need to formulate Benjamin's analysis, we can say that the film can create solidarity and class awareness. That's Benjamin's hope. But, of course, he has to acknowledge that it can also maintain mass as mass, as petty-bourgeois mobs that are in disarray for Hitler's twisted pseudo-anti-capitalist anti-Semitism. That was what took place in German fascism.

[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type = ”show” ihc_mb_who = ”1,2,4,7,9,10,11,12,13 ″ ihc_mb_template =” 1 ″]

Digital media. Benjamin locates a potential in the new reproduction technologies, but also sees a risk that right-wing political state formation will use the new technologies oppressively. In his new book, Digital, Political, Radical, English media theorist Natalie Fenton discusses this duality and emphasizes the need to contextualize the use of new digital media. New digital media can be used progressively, as a tool in political protests, but are more often the state's instrument to suppress, derail or entertain. The Cambridge Analytica case is just the latest example of how digital media enables political mass surveillance on a whole new scale, using personal information about 50 millions of Facebook users to target political messages in order to get Trump elected President of the United States.

Dialectical analysis. Fenton's analysis is dialectical; Digital media has both a subversive and a controlling side. Thus, digital media does not necessarily have an inherently progressive quality.

There is a need for a far more radical technology critique that analyzes how digital media produces subjectivity on what we might today call big-data capitalism.

All too often, media analysts, politologists, and journalists lend new media with a progressive potential of their own and fail to critically analyze the social and political context in which the media is used. Fenton, among others, mentions Manuel Castells and his analysis of the use of new social media in the Arab revolts in 2011. Fenton agrees with Castells that social media played an important role in the so-called Arab Spring and facilitated interaction between participants in the protests. Facebook made it possible to organize the protests and spread communication around the official national media and thus also communicate with protesters in other countries.

But Castells is very positive, arguing that the internet and Facebook and Twitter simply enabled the popular protests. The protest movements were able to organize and act thanks to the new media; in other words, a Twitter revolution was taking place. Fenton is somewhat more skeptical and warns against equating social media with democracy. As she writes, social media was undoubtedly important in mobilizing the protests in Tunisia and Egypt (and less important in Yemen and Syria), but they cannot be said to have played a crucial role – the bodies in the square, the fire of police stations and the fighting against the military, on the other hand, was decisive in the overthrow of the local squatters, Ben Ali and Mubarak.

Natalie Fenton

The need for technology criticism. Fenton's book is thus, first and foremost, a criticism of the hypostasis of the democratic potential of digital media. In doing so, she continues the criticism of the widespread technology determinism that characterizes media science and the late capitalist communities in general, a criticism we know from, among others, Bernard Stiegler and Jodi Dean. Fenton warns against isolating the Internet and its various social platforms from the social and political context in which they exist. She calls this isolation "radical politics without basis or substance", which equates new social media with political change for the better. . There is a tendency to take for granted that access to and participation through social media is the same as or triggers political freedom. Fenton upholds this simplistic idea of ​​political action, which tends to hypothesize the individual's use of social media and is unable to account at all for the ideological-technological way in which media condones social interaction and "political" action. As she writes, a much more radical technology critique is needed that analyzes how digital media produces subjectivity on what we might today call big data capitalism. Politics is not to sign one signature collection after another, tweeting and retweeting an endless series of "political" messages. It's just clicktivism, a pseudo-political fool, where digital infrastructure is fetishized as democratic progress, but in reality it's the exact opposite: a new round in the seizure of human communicative features.

[/ ihc-hide-content]

avatar photos
Mikkel Bolt
Professor of political aesthetics at the University of Copenhagen.

You may also like