THE NEED FOR A TECHNO-SOCIAL POLICY ON NEW MEDIA LITERACY

by Prof.Dr. Mutlu Binark
Hacettepe University Faculty of Communication  Department of Radio, Television and Cinema, Faculty of Communication Faculty Member binark@hacettepe.edu.tr

by Gözde Çoklu

by Gözde Çoklu

It is now evident that new media have become an inseparable part of our daily routines. We are living in a new social eco-system. It is possible to say that in this new social eco-system, the boundaries between online and offline worlds have become blurred. In fact, media applications have been affecting our offline relations and experiences in different ways. New media have even changed the way we socialize and social relations have become more within a certain flow running through the interface. As danah boyd puts it, we are experiencing life within a networked public (2014: 8-9) formed by new media. Following boyd, we can explain the features of networked public as follows: First, interconnected technologies form a space. This space makes it possible for people to spend time together. Today it is hardly news that many people sit in a café, lobby or park using their smart phones or tablets to get in touch, spend time and chat with their friends in their networks. They socialize through networks. They announce that they are going to join an event. They like their friends’ sharing. They retweet posts. What these people are doing is, in fact, to share a moment they experience through an interface. Second, an imaginary community is constructed as an intersection of people, technologies and practices. This imaginary community connects people through loose or tight links in not only online but also offline worlds. As Bruce Hood emphasizes in his eye-opening work, social networks play an important role in an individual’s self-construction (2014). Therefore, it can be stated that existing and creating a profile on social networks are the practices that satisfy our needs to be liked and to have our ego approved.

We can understand that new media are an “integral” part of our daily routines and practices also when we consider our need to be constantly online and join the network even while we are in action (Hinton & Hjörth, 2013). In the new social eco-system, we experience our existence by producing contents in a continuous flow, being visible in case of possible viewers/users, sharing and disseminating the content we produce and the content we receive from others and looking for a content we like…In this new social eco-system, users are enabled and encouraged to customize their content. Thus, they increasingly produce their own content. As Manuel Castells puts it, there is self mass-communication, which means that individuals share content among each other and with the masses (2013). Such phenomena make us discuss and conceptualize topics such as participatory culture (Behmann & Lomborg 2012; Jenkins & Couldry, 2014), citizen journalism, trolls, hate speech (Binark & Bayraktutan 2013), the role of users in informational capitalism as intangible labor (Fuchs, 2014), data mining and the content produced by users for the big data. It is important to think about and analyze our existence and experiences on new media through various conceptual and theoretical sets and instruments. Otherwise, either some epic techno-deterministic polices would be produced or moral panic would be started through discourse demonizing new media by especially political actors and mainstream media…

by Gözde Çoklu

by Gözde Çoklu

2014 Information Society Statistics of Turkish Statistics Institute show that individuals are using computers and the Internet more and more. Based on these statistics, it is now easier to make statements such as “Turkey is evolving into an information and network society” and “We provide each and every child with a tablet”. However, if we consider the concept of digital gap, which shows us the inequalities in using ICT among people of different geographies, genders, social statuses and ethnic origins, we can see that there is nearly a 20% difference between the use of the Internet in Istanbul and Marmara region and the Southeastern Anatolia. It is possible to observe the gender inequalities in Turkey in the use of information technologies, too. For instance, one of the table of these statistics shows that there is a difference of 20% between women and men in the use of computer and the Internet and this difference is to the detriment of women. Similarly, there is a digital gap between different generations. All these inequalities once more prove that new media literacy should cover all individuals in the society.

As it can be seen in the table, digital gap has not disappeared. On the contrary, as long as the current economic, social and cultural inequalities remain, the inequalities in the use of ICT will continue to exist, too. There is no doubt that the inequalities in ICT usage are fed by neo-liberal economic policies dominating all spheres of social life including business, education, health as well as cultural and political participation. Such inequalities are also related to conservative public administration practices. Therefore, it is not possible to discuss or solve these inequalities without considering such practices.

Accordingly, we can outline the chronic problems of new media in Turkey as follows: First, an amendment was made in the Internet Act numbered 5651 in February 2014. With this amendment, Telecommunication Directorate is now authorized to block access to any web site – without any verdict- within 4 hours on the grounds that the website in question violates personal rights and dignity. Second, Internet Service Providers are obliged to enforce the URL or IP based bans on websites as stipulated by Telecommunication Directorate. Thus, a panoptic Internet infrastructure is being established. In other words, deep package inspection is justified and normalized. It is obvious the way the right to information and freedom of expression is currently exercised on the Internet is in conflict with an ideal society and ideal policies (https://yenimedya.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/turkeys-new-internet-law-is-the-first-step-toward-surveillance-society-says-cyberlaw-expert/).
As it is known, United Nations had the Rapporteur Frank La Rue prepare a report on the protection of the freedom of opinion and expression on May 16, 2011 (1). Both this report and the agenda 69 (b) presented in the 68th General Assembly Meeting of United Nations on September 4, 2013 underline the public’s right to information and open governance. In these reports, it is stated that not only does the Internet improve individuals’ freedom of opinion and expression through its specific and transformative structure but it also contributes to the development of an entire society. In this context, the right to access the Internet is seen as a fundamental human right. However, the government of Justice and Development Party (shortened as AKP in Turkish) and its opinion leaders demonized the citizens who shared posts and enjoyed their right to obtain and disseminate information during and after Gezi Park protests in June 2013. They tried to explain and trivialize citizens’ use of the Internet during this process through conspiracy theories. During the Corruption Operation targeting AKP government on December 17, 2013, some illegal video tapes were shared on Twitter and YouTube. In response to this, Erdoğan, the Prime Minister of the time labelled social networks as a “pain in the neck” and pointed them as a target. After that, Telecommunication Directorate working under the Ministry of Transport, Maritime and Communications banned access to Twitter and YouTube respectively (2). As it can be seen, citizens’ existence on social networks is “under surveillance” and the judicial system and public administration are actively involved in this surveillance. This techno-political policy is also supported by AKP government and its opinion leaders who target the Internet and social media with their demonizing discourse (Binark and Bayraktutan, 2014)(3). This demonizing discourse unfortunately ignores our society’s need for an educational campaign which would be based on lifelong learning and supported by many stakeholders to ensure qualified use of new media. Other chronic problems in new media can be listed as follows: There is a monopoly in the network infrastructure of TürkTelekom, which is a problem of political economy. In parallel with the security/securitization discourse, which positions each and every single individual as a usual suspect, all domains of daily life are put to various surveillance technologies and data twinning by commercial organizations such as NetClean and Phorm (https://yenimedya.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/alternative-informatics-associations-censorship-and-digital-surveillance-in-tuekey-country-report-september-2014/). Data twins are constantly being created in digital data bases. As a result, we are unable to claim our right to our digital bodies (Ball et al.2012, 2014). On top of this, there is no law on the protection of personal data in Turkey.
Briefly, there are problems about freedom of expression and the right to information resulting from legal and political practices. There are problems about the objectivity of networks because of the ownership of network infrastructures. There are also problems about our rights to use and protect our personal data, which result from the new governance policy. Apart from these problems, citizens also create problems in their capacity as users. One of the most significant problems related to user-driven content production in Turkey is that on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, there is a hate speech against different sexual identity orientations, minorities, sectarian associations, Kurds, politicians of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and Syrian refugees . For instance, on Twitter, the hate speech targeting Syrian refugees(4) can clearly be seen with the hashtag “#wedontwantanysyrians”. The hate speech against politicians working for HDP and Kurdish citizens can be seen in any search with the “#kobani” hashtag.
Another problem about quality content production is that new media are fed unidimensionally. When one says new media, what comes to the mind of children and young people is generally the same: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, What’s App, Instagram and vine. That there is a uniformed approach to social media among the youth proves that there is a deprivation in new media literacy. When someone wants to search something, they simply “google” it. What they miss is that Google, which is a search engine, lists the results which “fit our profile” the best based on out input. In doing so, Google uses our digital free labor to create its own value. On the other hand, Wikipedia is a crowdsource, the content of which is produced by us (5). Internet users should be aware of this distinction:Google uses us… Otherwise, we will continue to obtain information unidimensionally. In fact, accessing or owning new media tools does not suffice to remove the digital gap in the society. As Eszter Hargittai underlines it, there are sharp inequalities among citizens in terms of digital skills (2010). Hargittai suggests that the term “digital natives” should be given up because such a definition prevents us from seeing the inequalities between children and young people in terms of digital skills. Similarly, boyd argues that there are digital naives not digital natives among children and young people (2014:196-198). Thus, boyd proposes that basic education about new media practices be combined with life-long learning. Given the digital gap between men and women, among different regions and people at different ages in Turkey, it is possible to argue that there is an urgent need for a new techno-social policy to improve new media literacy skills of the aging population and women and to include these people in the new eco-system.
Digital skills that must be acquired within new media literacy include knowledge and strategic skills about production, writing, participation, security of personal accounts, privacy and ethical behavior on social networks. For example, the Final Report of EU Kids Online has revealed that European children use the Internet as passive consumers. They generally play games and use the Internet for entertainment (EU Kids Online Final Recommendations for Policy, September 2014). It is possible to say that this finding is also applicable to Turkish children and the young.

Following the chronic problems, it would finally be promising to list some positive developments in new media literacy for policy-making: There has been an increase in the user-driven content since Gezi Park protests. There is also an increase in alternative media applications and citizen journalism with websites such as 140 Journos, Dokuz Sekiz Haber, Çapul TV, Seyri Sokak, and Ankara Eylem Vakti. After the bans on Twitter and YouTube, citizens learned how to use VPN, TOR and Torrent and how to change DNS settings. Alternative Informatics Association organized a workshop on “New Media Literacy Curriculum Development” with the support of Unicef Turkey on April 11, 2014 in Ankara. Curriculum development units were created for children, adolescents and adults. During IGF 2014, Alternative Informatics Association organized Internet Ungovernance Forum with diverse non-governmental organizations from Turkey and the world (https://iuf.alternatifbilisim.org/). During this forum, participants discussed the freedom of governance of the Internet around the globe, objectivity of networks, digital gap and digital surveillance. On February 26-27, 2015, there was a 2nd National Conference of New Media Studies on the main theme of organized by Alternative Informatics Association and Kadir Has University. The Declaration of the Conference was published in: https://wordpress.com/post/8481561/3869/.

Based on these problems and following UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a techno-social policy about new media literacy which handles inequalities among people of different ages, social statuses and genders and which targets the children, young and adults in Turkey must immediately be developed and this policy must be carried into effect with the contribution of many stakeholders including but not limited to academy, public institutions and non-governmental organizations. To this end, there should be a stronger cooperation among non-governmental organizations. The opinions of children and young people should be taken into consideration in planning how to improve new media literacy skills because they are the active subjects in this field. Interactive trainings must be developed to help citizens enjoy online opportunities and protect themselves from online threats. Transparency of all actors to be involved in policy-making should be guaranteed. Life-long learning policies should be developed to make sure that all citizens can become a part of this new social eco-system. There should be more micro and macro interdisciplinary field studies that can comparatively reveal the differences between generations, genders and regions.
Bibliography:
Ball, K., K.D.Haggerty and D.Lyon (2012, 2014) (Eds.) Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies. London: Routledge.
Bechmann, A. and S.Lomborg (2012) “Mapping actor roles in social media: Different perspectives on value creation in theories of user participation”, New Media & Society, 1-17.
Binark, M. and G. Bayraktutan (2013) Ayın Karanlık Yüzü:Yeni Medya ve Etik. İstanbul:Kalkedon.
Binark, M. and G.Bayraktutan (2014) “Twitter as a new battlefield”, a paper presented at XVIII WORLD CONGRESS OF SOCIOLOGY, RC 47 Session “Social Media And Collective Identities In The New Activisms”. 13-19 July 2014 Yokohama-Japan.
boyd, d. (2014) It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Castells, M. (2013) Umut ve İsyan Ağları:İnternet Çağında Toplumsal Hareketler. İstanbul: Koç Ünv.Yayınları.
Declaration of the 2nd National New Media Studies Conference February 27th 2015 https://wordpress.com/post/8481561/3869/
EU Kids Online Project (2014) EU Kids Online Final Recommendations for Policy, September 2014 .
Fuchs, C. (2014). Social Media. A Critical Introduction.London: Sage.
Hargittai, E. (2010) “Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses Among Members of the ‘Net Generaton’”, Sociological Inquiry, 80: 92-113.
Hinton, S. and L. Hjorth (2013). Understanding Social Media. London: Sage. 1,2,3,4,7 ve 8. Bölümler.
Hood, B. (2014) Benlik Yanılsaması: Sosyal Beyin, Kimliği Nasıl Oluşturur? İstanbul: Ayrıntı. 282-323.
Livingstone, S. (2014) “Digital Media and Children’s Right” http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mediapolicyproject/2014/09/12/sonia-livingstone-digital-media-and-childrens-rights/. Access November 2, 2014.
Jenkins, H. and N. Couldry (204) “Participations: Dialogues on the Participatory Promise of Contemporary Culture and Politics”, International Journal of Communication, 8, 1107-1112.

Endnotes:

1. UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank La Rue, in his annual report to UN Human Rights Council in 2011 (A/HRC/17/27 Geneva:OHCHR, 16 May, 2011).
2. After Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altıparmak used their right to apply to the Constitutional Court, the ban on Twitter and YouTube was removed by the Court on the grounds that ’banning the access to such networks is a violation of the right to information and freedom of expression. https://yenimedya.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/eu-welcomes-end-of-twitter-ban-but-worries-persist/
3. For example, Prime Minister Erdoğan himself labelled social media as “a pain in the neck” in a TV program he attended in June 2nd 2013. He said that “There is a pain in the neck called Twitter. You can find all the lies and exaggeration here. To me, social media is a pain in the neck”. Similarly, Ali Şahin, AKP’s Vice President in charge of Social Media made the following statement: “Social media is a tool full of lies and slander. It is much more dangerous than a bomb-laden vehicle. The latest developments have proven that there is a need to regulate social media”. See:

by Gözde Çoklu

http://www.radikal.com.tr/politika/basbakan_erdogan_twitter_denen_bir_bela_var-1135952, Access Date: 14.06.2014.

4.For hate speech and its types on social networks in Turkey, please see: https://yenimedya.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/using-social-media-for-hate-speech-is-not-freedom-of-expression.
5. Regarding this, Siva Vaidhyanathan concludes that “we are not Google’s customers:we are its product” in her work titled The Googlization of Everything (2011:3). This shows that such free software is the main source of users’ value creation.

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