THE DISRUPTIVE NATURE OF NEW MEDIA
"Noise is the most impertinent of all disruptions" (Arthur Schopenhauer)
The concept of "new media" refers to instant, on-demand consumption and production of news content at any time. It is similar to the concept of "social media" such as Facebook and Twitter, but more generally involves what is often meant when people talk about the digital age, the information revolution, or globalization. There are two trends driving it: technology (smaller, faster, cheaper digital devices); and democratization (interactivity through amateur self-publishing). New media can be distinguished from mainstream media (MSM) or traditional media (for this, see the Lecture Note entitled Terrorist Use of the Media). New media does NOT consist of anything in print, but only in the form of digital bits which can be compressed, stored, and/or manipulated. Examples of new media include blogs, discussion boards, Internet chat websites, amateur video websites, and certain computer games or DVDs which automatically connect to the Internet for multi-user interactivity. Colleges and universities which offer online classes are a form of new media. Wikipedia, an online, collaborative encyclopedia, is another example of new media. Experts have commented on the following characteristics of new media:
One, it is not the same as cyberculture (Manovich 2001) or those various punk movements associated with hackers, cyberterrorists, or pornography purveyors since the elitism associated with those movements is not present in the mass-media oriented new media
Two, it enables transnational relationships and a sense of global belonging (Flew 2005) which foment grassroots globalization for a variety of activist causes as well as connecting like-minded others worldwide
Three, it blurs the distinction between interpersonal and mass communication (Croteau & Hoynes 2003) so that a radical shift occurs about who is in control of information and who is up-to-speed on the latest buzz or "viral" aspect of some idea or news
Four, it is avant-garde and postmodernist (Rushkoff 2011), inspiring collective dissent or activism in the form of smart mobs or flash mobs, which are postmodern or intelligent in the sense of just being new ways of doing old things, but in any event have the characteristics of being the latest fad or fashion
Five, it threatens the sovereignty of the state (Perritt 1998) by facilitating virtual communities of alternative politics, unregulated financial and commodity trading, and lots of other kinds of transactions which escape the control and taxation capabilities of old-fashioned governments
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
The voyeurism that new media panders to is not only creating a "viewer society" (Jewkes 2011), but a a new panoptic or surveillance society. A panopticon refers to an 18th century prison design that Jeremy Bentham proposed for use in places where authorities would need to keep an eye on people. A panoptic society is one where the watchers are able to see the watched without the latter being able to see the former. All around the world, Internet consumption has outpaced the development of consumer privacy laws, such as PIPEDA (in Canada) and the expectation of privacy in the United States (through Patriot Act erosion of the 4th amendment and continued reliance on flawed tort law). The security vs. privacy tradeoff, of course, has enormous implications for trust in government, and the surveillant assemblage many governments have created do little to alleviate the breakdown in trust. For example, most major cities in the world now have 24-hour, real-time, CCTV monitoring of public spaces. This development is obvious in places like Great Britain where the TV monitors regularly run facial recognition software (Norris & Armstrong 1999), but it is also fairly well established places like New York, Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta where both public AND private cameras are integrated into a central police station feed, these systems being called Video Integration Systems. In addition, cell phones and smartphones are regular targets of interception and have the added feature of GPS tracking. Several websites and new media apps install "cookies" which log keyboard strokes. Identify theft is the largest and fastest-growing computer crime. Consumer profiling is all the rage in the business world. Smart cards and certain ID cards have biometric identifiers which have not, as of yet, been hacked, manipulated, or otherwise reverse-engineered. The examples could go on and on, but the point is clear that monitoring technology and cybermedia have dramatically altered the landscape.
In addition, the intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security communities are heavily involved in OSINT (Open Source Intelligence), and have been most heavily involved since 2008 when DNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) started holding Open Source Conferences where hackers, gamers, wikimasters, blogwalkers, journalists, online educators, and various Internet security pundits get together and discuss things like how being a Level 12 wizard at some game like Angry Birds is akin to the kind of Internet skills needed by geospatial intelligence analysts. The FBI has been doing similar things with Infragard since 1996, and in all fairness, the military has known since WWII that pretty much anything that needs to be known for intelligence purposes can be obtained from open sources like foreign magazines, newspapers, radio broadcasts, press releases, conference symposia, and "media monitoring" in general. The Internet has quite simply made intelligence collection on a global scale much easier. The Intellipedia wiki awards its highest honors to open source "data miners" from 21 different intelligence agencies; the way the Library of Congress conducts research and produces publications is by open source; the way Homeland Security monitors domestic extremism is by open source; the way Scotland Yard and the RCMP investigate crime is by open source; and information brokerage, competitive intelligence, and private intelligence outsourcing are the fastest-growing areas of employment in private security. Advanced software is constantly being developed for "deep Web" (or Web 2.0) monitoring and analysis, and this includes Facebook accounts, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, RSS feeds, Adobe documents, cloud computing, and just about every kind of social networking or Web publishing application and/or platform. If you thought "watching" all that was on the Internet was beyond anyone's capability, think again, because technology and software (like Ajax, ROSIDS, ViTAP, and TIDES) has long since broken the retrieval and storage problems that were once barriers to Admiral Poindexter's 2001 idea of Total Information Awareness.
THE FLASH MOB PHENOMENA
The first flash mob occurred in 2003 when an anonymous cellphone message managed to get 130 people to assemble (for some pointless reason) in the rug section of Macy's department store in New York City. Smith & Rush et al. (2011) have analyzed the phenomena in some depth, so the following discussion mainly owes to their analysis.
Flash mob activity has no apparent leader, no recognizable agenda, and appears out of nowhere in seemingly random and spontaneous fashion. Participants usually perform some specific action and then disperse. Most of the time, flash mob action is harmless, but starting around 2010, criminal gangs and political demonstrators started doing it. Flash mob protests played a major role in the so-called Arab Spring uprisings during 2010-2011 (Cottle 2011), and before that, Rheingold (2002) points out that the 2001 presidential election in the Philippines were disrupted by mobile phone users who came together to overthrow President Joseph Estrada. Starting around 2011, flash gang robberies (flashgangbanging) began to show up in America's major cities. Most of these involved street gangs engaging in some smash-and-grab action at some jewelry store, convenience store, or auto dealership, . Impromptu block parties (arranged by telecommunication) are also a common event in cities like Los Angeles. The police often respond by calling out the SWAT teams for what looks like a mini-riot. Clearly, better police response tactics are needed, as Smith, Rush et al. (2011) suggest.
Criminological attention to the phenomena is warranted because the behavior seems to seduce and attract normally law-abiding people into disorderly conduct. It is fairly easy for law enforcement to identify and (later) arrest the main perpetrators from cellphone records or Twitter feeds, but perhaps a more proactive response can be used. Authorities could, for example, intercept or hijack flashmob messages and send participants to a different location or instruct them to engage in some other kind of behavior. Are digital SWAT teams something we will see in the future?
SOPA AND INTERNET CENSORSHIP
Not surprisingly, the aspect of new media that has most brought down the heavy hand of censorship has to do with intellectual property. Intellectual property is one of America's chief job creators and competitive advantages in the global marketplace, and it includes musical, literary, and artistic works, discoveries and inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Old-fashioned laws have, of course, always protected the copyrights of trademarks and logos, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1996 has helped cut down on online DVD piracy, but today's world is different, and the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) of 2011 contains some harsh control measures, like:
ban certain websites from receiving ad revenue and/or Paypal payments
bar search engines from linking to certain sites
require Internet Service Providers to block access to certain sites
make streaming of copyrighted content a felony
allow easier civil liability charges for cases of infringement
Battle ensues between SOPA advocates and Internet Freedom lovers. Chances are that proxy servers and redirectors (like MAFIAAFire) will be heavily used to get around any government blocking since the American version of Internet censorship will be less severe than the DNS poisoning technique the Chinese government uses to block offensive websites (the Great Firewall of China). YouTube, in particular, may lose some of its safe harbor protections under DMCA, as voluntary takedown procedures get supplemented by government-ordered takedowns. Certain entrepreneurial enterprises may be subjected to business-crushing legal liabilities, or worse yet, "knowledge blackouts" may occur with important future events.
On the other hand, the Justice Department, DHS, FBI, ICE, and CBP, in conjunction with the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2), have only made a limited number of prosecutions since 2010. At least two torrent stream and other "release group" providers who deal in illegal content have been brought to justice. Rampant MP3 warez and counterfeit imports are at least being investigated, albeit from an organized crime control perspective. What is abundantly clear is that a war is brewing between new media and the forces of control. It should be interesting to see who and what turns out.
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Last updated: Dec. 17, 2011
Not an official webpage of APSU, copyright restrictions apply, see Megalinks in Criminal Justice
O'Connor, T. (2011). "New Media Disruption," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www.drtomoconnor.com/4230/4230lect08.htm.