Web 2.0, Facebook, Government, and Business

For the past couple of months I’ve been thinking about a post Sean Yo made about Facebook. The post was entitled Facebook and the Man, and looked at how law enforcement uses Facebook to preemptively dissuade illegal activities. In light of these ‘positive’ uses Yo questions whether or not the city of Toronto was justified in banning the social networking service from their networks without considering the technology’s possible beneficial uses. While not asserting that Facebook is necessarily suited towards governmental activities, without critically reflecting on the technology the city has lost a potentially helpful communicative medium that would let officials connect with the public.

Generally, I think that the privacy risks and challenges in establishing appropriate communications policies with Facebook are reason enough to avoid using the service for governmental activities. That said, the question of governments using Facebook has been lurking in my brain for the past little while and I’ve recently come across some posts that help to clarify some of my thoughts surrounding Facebook.

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Review of “In the national interest” by Allen Buchanan

Buchanan’s intent is to demonstrate that it is contradictory to simultaneously hold human rights and the “Permissible Exclusivity Thesis” in mutually high regard. In this review I jaunt through the article, first explicating the Obligatory Exclusivity Thesis (OET), then the Permissible Exclusivity Thesis (PET), and then the several ways of justifying the latter thesis. I finalize the explication by discussing how, having demonstrated the inconsistency of holding PET and human rights, that this can lead to a reconceptualization of domestic politics – they must become cosmopolitan, they must the millennium’s shared plurality into account.

Obligatory exclusivity thesis: A state’s foreign policy always ought to be determined exclusively by the national interest. (110)

Based on OET, national policy guides all foreign actions – this means that human rights are of no consequence to a nation that does regard human rights as an element of their national interest. That said, such an extreme position would commit anyone holding it to a pretty tight corner. In light of this, Buchanan suggests another formulation of the OET that allows us to at least consider rights. The weakened thesis is called the Permissible Exclusivity Test:

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Review of “Making Technology Democratic” by Richard E. Scolve

One of the central issues facing democratic societies is that technology is outpacing the regulatory powers of politics and ethics. Ethicists are involved towards the end of product design – they are used to evaluate how to ‘spin’ ethical implications rather than developing normative frameworks that ensure that only ethical technologies are developed. Ethics, in this situation, identify something that is good, rather than something that is right. Politics act as a terminal regulatory point – while they legislate laws that are intended to guide the kinds of technological research, as politics are subjugated to money their ability to legitimately influence research diminishes

Scolve, writing in the mid-90s, recognized that a series of challenges stood before technologically inclined societies. In particular, he was concerned that if new technologies’ social effectswere not taken accounted for productivity would likely increase and be supplemented with corresponding declines in “political engagement, attenuation of community bonds, experiential divorce from nature, individuals purposelessness, and expanding disparities of wealth” (87). In the face of these damaging political effects we must broaden technological agendas to account for technologies’ possible effects on social and political fields – we must ultimately situate long-term democratic publicity ahead of fulfilling short-term economic objectives.

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“Blogging Democracy: The contribution of political blogs to democracy” by Gareth Lewis

The essay that I am discussing was one of the two that won The Dalton Camp Award this year. You can read the full version of the essay at the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting website.

Generally, Lewis’s argument can be summed up in his line “thanks to weblogs, any civic-minded citizen with a computer, a modem and the moxie to express their opinions can contribute to the media and the public dialogue.” Blogs provide a way for citizens to break through the increasing corporate control of media outlets – only 1% of newspapers are independently owned today,and in this environment blogs offer a way to expand the number of news sources because its low cost of entry. Free services such as Blogger and Livejournal, where all of the hard work is done by a company behind the scenes, are perfect for citizen-journalists to quickly begin publishing.

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