Too often the discourse around media convergence is about utilising cutting-edge, networked computing technologies to deliver, produce and consume media content. We are constantly being reminded that we will be prosuming media on connected multiple platforms, sharing and remixing content and information, interacting with authors and celebrities on the social web, being recommended / directed / given access to quality media content that meets our tastes and preferences. These seemingly rosy pictures, however, are accompanied by some socio-technical, legal and ethical challenges. A technology-determined view sometimes over-celebrates what technologies can do and ignores other crucial elements that make media convergence possible (or difficult).
My STS background constantly guides me to think critically when approaching the phenomenon of media convergence. Despite my continuing effort of engaging with technologies actively myself, I would also like to bring that critical thinking into the teaching, and indeed everyday practice of ‘media convergence’.
I was grateful that Loz Kaye from Pirate Party UK came to give a guest lecture on social and legal challenges in the age of media convergence to my Creative Media Analysis students on 29 November. Splitting his talk into three areas: namely freedom of access, freedom of expression, and freedom from intrusion (rights to privacy), Loz effortlessly linked the important topics of digital freedoms and digital rights with current affairs.
Loz opened his talk by emphasising the difference between the production and consumption of tangible goods and that of intangible goods (such as music) to highlight why some regulations, laws, and policies are inadequate in a digital age. In terms of freedom of access, the controversial Digital Economy Act, passed in 2010, has created unwanted risk of violating human rights because it allows disconnection of internet users. Loz urged us to ponder whether “disconnection” in Digital Economy Act is proportionate? Is the means justifiable? Is it censorship or protecting innovation? Is it cost-effective to do?
That said, when talking about media convergence, we should not assume that we will always be in an always-on state. These days, there are still many occasions where we are not always connected: slow broadband connection, weak or no mobile phone signals, forced to disconnect either because of the restrictions intentionally created by hardware or software manufacturers (for example, Apple has been working on how to wirelessly disable the camera on iPhones in certain locations, which “could be used to prevent citizens from 2communicating with each other or taking video during protests or events such as political conventions and gatherings“) or because of governmental policies or law (e.g., the 2010 Digital Economy Act).
Loz used Paul Chambers’s Twitter Joke Trial and Lord McAlpine’s intention of suing Twitter users who falsely linked his name to false allegations of child abuse to exemplify how to balance the enforcement of the existing law (in this case, Section 27 Communications Act 2003, Malicious Communications Act 1988) and freedom of expressions. When the communications on social media are constantly monitored nowadays (by service providers, governments or other organisations or parties), how do we keep up with the changing nature of social media? How do we define or position ‘freedom of expressions’? Where does the boundary go? How to draw a line? When the government applies data mining and text mining technologies to detect “threats” on the internet, are the results always trustworthy (can we trust the machine) or it depends on the contexts?
Last but not least, the freedom from intrusion (rights to privacy), Loz raised our awareness of the draft Communications Data Bill. Just because technologies can afford, does it mean that it is right to implement blanketed surveillance? Loz also emphatically said that he has never subscribed to the view that site blocking is morally equivalent to the kind of great-firewall censorship in China. But, we need to think about those questions: is the means justifiable and proportionate?
I am in debt to Loz, and indeed many other guests who have delivered interesting talks to my students in TV and Radio, Computer and Video Games, Social Media in the past months. Without them, the courses would not have been that colourful. A big “thank you” to everyone and wish us all an excellent year to come.