New media new governance

In our focus on networks and politics I found the article “Google Earth and the nation-state: Sovereignty in the age of new media” by Sangeet Kumar particularly interesting.  The power of large MNCs is nothing new, but the rules seem to be changing with the rise of large global companies that are information-based and networked, operating without regard to national physical boundaries in the interest of delivering a global public good.

As Kumar describes  “Google has 450,000 servers located in about 25 locations, is available in 112 languages and provides 159 country-specific portals….Its might arises not from military capabilities, such as standing armies or physical power, but intellectual capital – a crucial arbiter of power in the information age.” (Kumar, 2010)

The networked structure of these companies makes them increasingly difficult to govern since they are less identifiable with any one nation, any material goods and their products flow freely across national boundaries among the nodes of their network.  Whereas the large retail MNCs had a clear identification with the nation they were based in and a tangible product, companies such as Google are more difficult to challenge because they don’t seem representative of any one nation’s interest but rather are in the interest of making the world better, and producing a global public good, information.  As a result they are more difficult to challenge.  Can we even imagine a world now without Google?

There seemed to be more backlash against the power of retail MNCs because it was perceived that they were using their power to their advantage and bending the rules to further their interest.  However, it is interesting that the same fear doesn’t seem to be as prevalent with these large media companies.  Yet they are also using their power to their benefit because after all they are companies, with an interest in making their company grow.

For example, Kumar discusses Google’s concession to the Indian government in the Google Earth-India controversy as essentially good PR.  “The timing [of the concession] showed that the company sought to capitalize on the controversy, and use it to send out a positive message in order to further its commercial interests… This voluntary concession on its part was more an attempted gesture of goodwill than acquiescence to pressure from the Indian government.” (Kumar, 2010)

It seems that these large media entities actually wield some power over nation-states and only succumb to their demands in order to mitigate bad press, in the interest of the good of their company, hiding under the guise of doing the world a good service.  As Kumar argues, Google did not have to heed the Indian governments’ complaints, it decided to make changes, and arguably for its own interest.

There is a culture around these companies that they are admirable and making our world a better place, and so we don’t seem to worry as much about the scope of their power.  However, maybe this is changing.  On top of US complaints about Facebook privacy policies, Germany is also bringing a lawsuit against the company related to privacy issues that don’t comply with the regulations inside its sovereign territory.   It will be interesting to see how these battles play out as an answer to the future of global governance.  Is there any way to regulate these large companies or is this just our changing global landscape and nation-states must step aside and invite them in to global governance?

It also begs the question, is it ok to let these companies, like Google, have this much power because they are positively impacting our world or do we need to find a way to better regulate them?

-Z’leste 

 


Sangeet Kumar, “Google Earth and the nation-state: Sovereignty in the age of new media” Global Media and Communication 2010 6: 154.

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