From Socialist Voice, August 2010


New technology, but the same old story

Since the passing of the Lisbon Treaty there have been a number of sinister rumblings emanating from Brussels. There has been talk of countries’ voting rights being withheld if budgets don’t meet EU criteria. So much for democracy!
     This helps explain why the Government is intent on slashing budgetary spending, with total disregard for the effect on services, communities, or social repercussions. Lenihan has even sent his budget to Brussels to get approval, which managed to get fine Gael in a flap; and there’s still no sign of those “Lisbon jobs.”
     While all this has been going on at the heart of the European Union, one interest­ing story appeared to slip under the radar. Nessa Childers, a Labour Party MEP and a psychotherapist by profession, has called for new EU laws to protect people from the dangers of addiction to popular “social networking” sites, such as Face­book. Childers believes that, following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, the Euro­pean Union has increased powers to legislate when there is a threat to public health, and that social networking sites fall into this category, because of the threat they present to mental health.
     With frequent use of Facebook, “notifi­cations, messages and invites [invi­tations] reward you with an un­predictable high, much like gambling. That anticipation can get dangerously addic­tive. Visiting Facebook rewards you with virtual connections and friends. These connections then expand to fill an increasingly empty internal world, creating a vicious circle.”
     In other words, people are living virtual lives instead of real ones, using social networks to escape the pains and struggles of everyday life. A strange view: after all, most if not all contacts on Facebook tend to be “real-life” friends: this isn’t the Matrix. Childers herself admits using it “frequently” to keep in touch with constituents. One can only surmise that her constituents and supporters are of superior mental strength and prowess so as not to be at risk from the dangers she describes.
     While this stance is most probably a gimmick, some people do use these sites rather a lot; but it’s part of the interactive age we live in, with mobile phones, interactive television, and a raft of others.
     This attitude is nothing new: a few years ago the Independent (London) “exposed” the dangers of the now defunct social networking site Bebo, warning of similar dangers as well as those posed by paedophiles. It claimed that children would be safer in traditional play areas, such as parks and playgrounds, none of which are at all synonymous with dangers or paedophiles.
     What action Childers proposes is not clear. A simple warning such as “over­use may cause X, Y, or Z” wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Similar warnings exist with computer games, recommending breaks from play etc., but have little effect except in preventing legal actions. It is an unwelcome departure following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. Will it now be used to guide and justify almost every action by hapless politicians?
     This is one small cog in a larger machine aimed at controlling “acceptable” everyday internet access, use, and content. The internet has opened up vast possibilities for effectively and cheaply bypassing (in a small way at present) the mainstream media, censorship and biased news through blogs, news sites such as Indymedia, and, yes, social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
     These very people claim to be the promoters of free speech and democracy when denouncing other countries, such as Venezuela refusing to renew broadcasting licences. And let’s not forget the uproar when Iran blocked Twitter during the receNew technology, but the same old storynt unrest following the presidential election there, or when China blocked certain searches with Google. There wasn’t a whim­per when the data retention laws were introduced in Ireland allowing the retention of our e-mail messages, phone calls and text messages for a number of years by the state. Hypocrisy?
     This carte-blanche presumption of guilt is worryingly on the rise in this part of the world. The internet has proved to be the sticking point for many of the old vestiges of power, wealth, and control. It’s blamed for dwindling newspaper circulation, falling record sales, and decreasing income for record companies and the music industry. These claims are greatly exaggerated. The internet provides as many opportunities as it does challenges if they were embraced.
     The reaction is the interesting part. Following pressure from the Irish Recorded Music Association, Eircom and then Vodafone decided to introduce the “three strikes” rule for subscribers who illegally share files, resulting in disconnection from the internet after three infringements. It’s not surprising that IRMA has lobbied for such an agreement; but how is it that the same level of effort is not placed on pornography and paedophiles on the internet. On numerous occasions it has been said to be impossible to police. Obviously not.
     This saga is no different from almost everything else that happens in our society: a battle for control, power, and wealth, with those on top intent on maintaining the status quo. It’s yet another case of fear of the unknown and what they don’t know or don’t want to understand. The Labour Party would be better served by addressing the “pains and struggles of everyday life” and fighting back against corporations that think it’s their right to prohibit someone accessing the internet.

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