How Facebook uses real name systems

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When nearly half of all Internet users are on Facebook, it presents an interesting contrast to state based real name systems as a transnational network that has been able to implement their identity verification policy successfully, particularly given their massive scope.

According to research on American usage, “the ability to create and maintain relationships is the main benefit of Facebook” (Caralingo, 2013, para. 40). To build trust and preserve a network based on these relationships, Facebook has to ensure that private information is secure and that online identities are genuine, so as not to leave people open to fraud, abuse, extortion or any of the other risks that are heightened by losing the security of face-to-face communication.

Users of Facebook have to give their name as it appears on their identity documents e.g. credit card or birth certificate. The success they have had with naturalizing this process, as opposed to the difficulty South Korea has faced in doing it is partly because “socially driven media like Facebook will generally have an easier time getting users to comply with real name policies than content-driven platforms like micro blogs” (Caralingo, 2013, para. 42). As I explored in my previous post, those concerned with social applications less highly prize their anonymity as it is less likely to be relevant to their activities, where as on micro blogs “weeding out anonymity can negatively affect content in the eyes of netizens” (Caralingo, 2013, para. 44)

 Its real name requirement sometimes puts Facebook at odds with activists who want to maintain their anonymity and mostly Facebook responds by removing pages to ensure the authority of its own rules are not undermined. Service providers help citizens avoid government surveillance by resisting influence on censorship and other sensitive issues to avoid losing market share. But what Facebook shows us is that these companies implement the same policies as governments and are more successful at doing it.

 And like governments, social media service providers do not employ these methods only to restrict libel and other types of proscribed speech they use it to enhance their business model. The information amassed by Facebook gives the company the ability to micro target advertising and is the way in which the can monetize their service (Caralingo, 2013, para. 41).

Even so as Caralingo argues, it hasn’t changed the fact that Facebook remains a forum for activism in political contexts across the globe” and is a space for “social interaction, personal identity, and network building” (para. 49).

 As Caralingo argues: “Information spreads faster and farther then ever before due to the global expansion of online social media. An online mirror of social interaction, personal identity, and network building”  has created more opportunities for expression (Caralingo, 2013, para. 50).

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Social roles held by Weibo

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I’ve chosen to focus my second blog on the social roles held by Weibo using a case study of a significant news item that occurred in 2011 on the Weibo platform.

Microblogging is a social communication based on weak relationships. Weibo’s objective is not to reflect real relationships that exit in real society, but better promote the connection between users by posting interesting news and information to followers who might be interested in a particular topic.

2009 saw a nationwide police crackdown on human trafficking. Yu Jianrong, a prominent Chinese scholar, initiated a Weibo campaign in 2011 which brought the social issue of human trafficking back into the public eye. This campaign was called ‘Taking pictures to save child beggars in the street’ and involved Yu posting photographs of child beggars who may have been trafficked in the hope of reaching a wide audience, and thus an effective way to raise awareness of child begging and might even assist in reuniting families. This added immense social pressure against the trafficking of children and citizens were called upon to take pictures of children they saw begging on the street and share them on Weibo so they could be matched with a police database or recognised by parents. The campaign reached its peak when it helped a father find his son who’d been abducted three years earlier. This case shows the power an individual can exert through microblogging sites like Weibo, and demonstrates how these platforms can be a launch pad for opinion leaders when using media technology to set social agendas. In this case, words and ideas was put into practice and with the engagement and cooperation of citizens and government bodies such as the police, this resulted in reaching worthy goal for society.

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The development of Weibo has been supported by many socially significant events through its participation in different social issues. Weibo is the most active medium in China due to the large amount of support from citizens who join in on the conversation and have a chance to see society as a whole and the changes that take place. Weibo has allowed Chinese citizens to expand the dialogue and content boundary and provides an avenue of being involved in civic journalist.

Adoption of Weibo by Chinese journalists

 

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The opening up of the new public sphere has allowed internet users to gain freedom of expression and enabled opinion leaders to discuss public issues which also puts pressure on the authorities to become more accountable. Journalists in China have become empowered by the microblogs of millions of users to investigate societal conflicts, protests and corruption, whilst battling for information control.

The use of Weibo by journalists has played an important role in both news reporting and society. It has transformed the news reporting model, changed investigative methods, and helped to build journalists credibility and resist Communist Party controls. Media coverage with the help of Weibo has also improved government transparency and accountability, helping users become better informed about social and political issues.

Through Weibo’s faster and freer flow of information, it’s rivalling professional journalism even under government restrictions.  Professional journalists have changed their investigative methods as they now receive new leads through public or private messages, follow newsmakers for news developments, contact news sources for reporting tips and importantly, to disseminate news developments and therefore attracting attention from the public. 

 

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The collaboration of Weibo and traditional media has also assisted journalists in unpacking social issues and unrest and in many ways, has help to empower journalists in their coverage of news stories around corruption and other contentious issues. These issues most likely wouldn’t have garnered much media noise without the feedback and amplification through Weibo. Weibo has allowed these investigative journalists to transition to citizen journalism by posting editorial thoughts which would have been censored which allows them to get their message across despite political control. Journalists have much more freedom in voicing their opinions on social media as opposed to traditional media platforms.

A case study I found looks into the impact of Weibo on investigative journalism and makes reference to the case of village chief Qian Yunhui, who died under suspicious circumstances after petitioning against local corruption and land grabs. This case looks at three journalists who gained influence through tweeting real-time developments that couldn’t be published on news sites due to its sensitivity. The tweets of one journalist, Liu Ziqian, approached the issue with the intention of maintaining a cool and objective account of the events and avoiding any inflammatory or subjective comments. His reasoning was that he ‘didn’t want to promote a news event.  I just wanted to simply let people know what had truly happened’.

Weibo is extremely powerful when traditional investigative journalists come across politically sensitive stories like illegal detentions or violent beatings. These issues and the discussions that follow would have no effect on investigative journalism if not for Weibo and other micro blogging sites as traditional media outlets are strictly forbidden to write their own stories., only carrying statements form the state-owned Xinhua News Agency. 

The future of Social Media in India

Around 65% of India’s population is between the ages of 16 and 44 years old with majority of them being active users on the Internet and social networking sites. Many predictions have been made that social networking sites and their usage will continue to grow in the future.

The growth of these sites are now coming from rural areas of India but urban areas will still continue to grow with more users now jumping on board Facebook and Twitter.

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As for election campaigns, India has really set the tone for the rest of the world to embrace social media for connecting with their audiences. India being a young country meant that social media was extremely important in getting across the campaign messages into the minds of the voters.

With many countries similar to India, younger audiences are the future of our countries, and what better way to reach out to them and let them have a voice then through sites like Facebook and Twitter.

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Through my research on this topic, a common theme that has come up is the rise of social networks during elections and how it has encouraged the younger generations to get involved. It also raised some issues, specifically in India, and whether the use of social networking sites during election time will be allowed in future elections. I think the main issue was it gave people this uplifting feeling that they had a voice and that they were able to speak up and share their views on their country and what they felt needed to be changed.

As this election was the first one where the younger generation were able to vote, what are your thoughts on social media as a freedom of speech during election time? In Australia we are able to write whatever we want on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, should it be different in other countries like India?

Modi VS The Others

We know that Naerendra Modi was the one who came out on top, in the election and in the social media stakes. But how did the other politicians utilise social media and how did it work for them?

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Back in 2009 when social media was just beginning in India, Shashi Tharoor was the only politician in India to have a Twitter account. He had 6,000 followers. Now, 5 years on, there isn’t a political leader who doesn’t have a Facebook account.

2014 and social media is booming. Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi were all chasing each other to the top of the leader board for popularity among the public through followers on social media site Twitter. Modi had an astounding 14.3 million twitter followers compared to the 5.4 million of Kejriwal and Ghandi only scraping the barrel with just over 359k.

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Modi saw social media as an advantage to win over the Indian public especially the younger voters; unfortunately for his competitors they were unsure of the best way to execute a social media campaign as good as Modi’s. Encouraging discussions around jobs, education and corruption, Modi was able to grab the attention of voters contributing to his success in the election.

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Social Media’s influence on the Indian Election

The last election was in India was in 2009 and the use of social media throughout the country wasn’t a regular occurrence. India today boasts 93 million Facebook users and 33 million Twitter accounts, which are some of the highest through Asia.

Since the rise of social media over the past 4 years, many political parties have pushed forward their online presence had haven taken their campaigns online engaging their audiences through different social media platforms.

The 2014 election saw a revolution in the way political parties rolled out their campaigns and it was interesting to see how each of the different candidates utilised the power of social media to boost their popularity throughout the country.

When you search anything related to the Indian election, the thing that stands out the most is that Narendra Modi won the social media war throughout the election campaign. It was reported that Modi was mentioned on Twitter an estimated 33,000 times a day and the announcement of Modi’s victory and his tweet promising a better India after the election was retweeted 69,872 times.

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Power, the Internet and real name systems

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Much of the focus on social networks and the Internet is in their emancipatory potentials. The argument goes that as we have new and abundant ways of connecting we are more empowered through the global reach and amplification of our voice. But is this really the case?

Surveillance poses a big threat to civil liberties, particularly in terms of speech. While DCTs give us power, the power arrangement is being fundamentally transformed by another force: big government. This is an issue that affects everyone, but today I will be exploring real name registration in South Korea as a case study into methods of control.

Lee argues that there has been a shift from a disciplinary society in authoritarian regimes to a control society of the civilian government, as in the case of South Korea. The main difference being that the former used the “physical presence of the observer or controller, while the civilian administration has been normalizing the regulatory control by means of more de-centered and modulated techniques of control.” (see Lee, p.2)

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Control societies have emerged with the digitization of information as new technologies enhance the ability of governments to “digitize collect sort and control the activities of citizens (see Lee, p.3). And just as we have been able to escape the trappings of analogue days, modern power has a new means “to escape from the confinement of barriers, fences and borders into the free floating control of flow, speed and mobility.” (See Lee, p.3)

South Korea in some respects is a different case because methods of control have been historically implemented, through legislation for example. There, every citizen is identified through a national ID system, which collects a vast range of data from everyday purchases and comments on the Internet through to education, health and personal records. This system had been linked with a real name system on the Internet requiring users to enter their national ID number to use websites, only amplifying the old disciplinary technique. But this has not been the only type of control the South Korean Government has over DCTs, outlined in the table below is more:

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From Lee, p.10.

Caralingo finds that the enforcement of “the “real name system” prevents anonymity of expression, which can be considered as a form of pre-censorship” (see p.11). He also argues that while very few netizens are directly affected by the need for anonymity such as whistleblowers or political activists, real name registration affects the atmosphere of the web and it mostly affects the “creative, scholarly, and technically innovative population.” The policy also alientates web users and degrades the appeal of content-driven social media. (See From the Perspectives of Citizens, in Caralingo).

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Content driven social media refers to micro blogs such as Twitter, Weibo and they are more concerned with the what is posted rather then the who is posting, as opposed to a services to facilitate personal relationships such as WhatsApp or WeChat which are less affected by this because they already collect more personal data, such as phone numbers. Content driven networks are more likely to be affected because their content can be more politically sensitive or topical and have a dual use as an organizational tool for rallies etc. (See Social-Driven vs. Content Driven, in Caralingo)

At the same time, providers are the enforcers of such system and content driven networks are also more likely to resist implementing real name systems. In part because they will be more affected, and also because they face the threat of losing market share to other providers if they are the first mover causing a general reluctance.

The response of many service providers in Korea to the real name system, including Google, was to redirect web users to circumvent registration. This meant that more Koreans used foreign web services and Korean companies created foreign domains, eventually, as Caralingo argues, “the threat of losing market share to foreign companies unified an influential domestic constituency.” (See the “First Mover problem, in Caralingo)

In August 2012, the Korean Constitutional Court overturned the law that links the real name system with the national ID system determining that it was an infringement on free speech of the individual and an impost on the service provider. The court also found that the use of real names didn’t evidence any changes in encouraging responsible speech and therefore could not be justified.

This was a great victory for Internet freedom but what it highlights more then anything else is the difficultly of enforcing such a system and the cost. Compliance was a big problem across the board and it was resisted by most providers as an administrative burden in identity verification and a costly exercise in cyber security in protecting their personal data treasure-troves.

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Perhaps what is helping us resist big government is the dentralised nature of the Internet and its secondary organizational layer with private service providers. Brown and Szeman (see p.13 in Lee), argue the digital network is “simultaneously a description of the material of contemporary power, and the necessary form of counter-insurgencies opposed to this power.”

But while the real name registration system is an obvious warning that you are being watched, this type of surveillance goes on to a greater or lesser extent in every country around the world. The scary thing is it has become naturalized to the point where we don’t give our privacy a second thought. Should we be more worried about our privacy and our freedom to speak? Take the poll below.