Reading Sangeet Kumar’s article, “Google Earth and the nation state : Sovereignty in the age of new media” for class last week was really interesting. I feel as though I’m from a generation where the Internet and networks online are have nearly always been apart of my life. Reading about Google and other social networks and the threat they are posing to nation-states and governments actually surprised me.
It never actually registered to me that the networks (referring here to social networks like twitter and facebook) that were being built would interfere with the sovereignty of a government. To illustrate his point, Kumar brings up examples of social media that have allowed the connection of people who were oppressed and how that would allow for upheaval of governments “from the bottom up” (Kumar, 2010, p. 157). Examples like Iran, Ukraine and even more recently Egypt, and “the Arab Spring” show very clearly what Kumar is trying to say with social media threatening government sovereignty. “These empowering associations equally subvert the nation state by becoming an alternative repository of identity, affect and culture. They allow alternative avenues of ascription to citizens marginalized from the dominant constructions of a homogenous national identity”, he says (Kumar, 2010, p. 157).
But, how much damage do social networks and Google actually do? Some would argue that they threaten government sovereignty quite a bit as illustrated above. But, at the same time, social networks are allowing sovereign governments the ability to interact with people on a much more personal level. During a conference last Thursday at George Washington University, entitled The Last Three Feet, which looked at public diplomacy in other countries, social media was one of the many techniques used to connect to the local audience in foreign countries.
Could it be possible that social networking can be used by sovereign governments and at the same time be used to take down sovereign governments? The answer to me seems to be yes. Whereas in Kumar’s article, Google is sort of referred to as a new type of authority figure in the international world of influence, to me Google and social media are just tools. They can be used by governments and people to create change and connection.
Kumar, S. (2010). Google earth and the nation state : Sovereignty in the age of new media. Global Media and Communication, 154-176. doi: 10.1177/1742766510373716