The convergence of innovations in information science, telecommunications and audiovisual techniques has brought global firms onto the scene which have captured the majority of markets and control the information society. For media companies and journalists, this situation is both an opportunity and a limitation. With fact-checking, data journalism, and global editing networks, new ways of working have emerged.
The convergence of innovations in information technology, telecommunications, and audiovisual media has fostered the concentration of previously separate industrial sectors (public utilities, computers, software, telecommunication operators, access suppliers, satellite and cable infrastructures, service platforms, and content producers). This revolutionary change continues today with the development of artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and big data. The initial utopia represented by the internet, and subsequently by the democratic, shared, and decentralized web, has not proved resistant to competition/cooperation between multinational corporations with exceptionally high fundraising powers and dividends, which capture the lion’s share of usage and markets and control the information society.
Comment: These diagrams show when the major Internet giants entered the market according to the United States economic magazine Forbes (Facebook and the two Chinese companies Tencent and Alibaba being the most recent), together with the spectacular growth of their stock market capitalization, and their very different weights in terms of profits, with Apple alone representing 40% of the total.
The commodification of the internet, begun in the 1990s, rapidly grew and now puts web giants at the top of international rankings. The capitalist logic of this oligopoly has caused rival and incompatible networks and services to be created that destroy the initial purpose of the web. The golden legend of Silicon Valley pioneer start-ups is losing its luster in the face of analyses by internet founders, researchers, experts, civil societies, and NGOs, who condemn the behavior of these companies in fiscal, salary, social, environmental, security, privacy, and copyright matters.
In spring 2018, the scandal caused by the questionable activities of the strategic communications company Cambridge Analytica reinforced anxieties about the way companies handle internet users’ personal data (in this case, the data of 87 million Facebook users served to influence voters’ choices in the United States presidential election and the United Kingdom Brexit vote). The closure of Cambridge Analytica, in May 2018, the plummeting of Facebook shares on the stock market, the creation of parliamentary commissions of enquiry, public excuses by Facebook’s CEO, and the removal of 200 applications have done nothing to ensure noticeable progress in internet governance. Concurrently with all this, however, a general regulation on personal data protection (GDPR) came into force in the European Union. It applies to all companies and has been granted considerable powers of sanction.
Continuous global flow of information as a commodity
Since the 1980s, about ten international 24-hour news channels have come into being. Although they can be distinguished in terms of number of languages and broadcasting zones, market share, and autonomy from states, they all contribute to diversifying the ways people look at the world. During the same period, dematerialization has turned information into a commodity that is independent of its medium. Media products (information in the strict sense, together with publicity), disseminated by the different types of mass media (written press, television, radio and the web), belong to different actors and markets, which maintain highly complex and shifting interdependent relationships.
Since the 2000s, the companies controlling internet traffic and social networks (Google, Facebook, Twitter) represent both an opportunity and a constraint for the media. Although they enable the means of dissemination to be diversified, they also represent a heavy burden because they suck up advertising revenues and impose a ranking on information via their algorithms. The delinearization of radio and television programming, on-line editions of books, and the development of the mobile internet stimulate diffusion but increase dependence. The contributions of internet users, particularly of direct-broadcast videos, produced by new, low-priced smartphone apps and with no mediation, give global visibility to social events of all types, accompanied by the most varied interpretations.
In this vast and sudden movement in which sources have multiplied, and where news agencies and journalists no longer play the same roles, individuals remain very unequal. In contrast to the hitherto unknown enrichment and opening up of the world to a minority of well-informed, critical citizens is the growing vulnerability of those who do not possess the means to sort, decode and verify, and the tension continues to rise between desires for neutrality and openness of information, and the desire to manipulate.
Governance and citizenship
This context has altered the work of journalists, who are faced with multiple constraints. These include financial pressures (from owners, shareholders, advertisers, platforms, etc.), their lack of job security within newspaper companies, and political threats and repression, added to the massive increase in fake news (post-truth), indoctrination, and conspiracy theories. Forced to innovate, they engage in explicating and fact-checking, as well as in data journalism, self-financed collaborative work supported by readers’ contributions (crowdfunding) or the sharing of investigative work within international editorial networks.
Comment: The map showing which media belong to the ICIJ reveals the global nature of this network of journalists (more than 220 in 83 countries and territories and over 100 different media), which, by investigating tens of millions of files originating from leaks, then following up and disseminating them, reveals the identity of international financial delinquents and precisely how they work.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has thus revealed the workings and actors behind international financial wrongdoing (Luxembourg Leaks, Swiss Leaks, Panama Papers, Paradise Papers).
Despite these efforts, obstacles to the freedom to inform and be informed, like the obstacles to the protection of information as a global public good, continue to accumulate. States that perform censorship and others that delegate functional sovereignty for processing and controlling information to the employees and robots of internet multinationals are now complemented by abandonment of the principle of neutrality on the internet (2017 in the United States), all of which has political and democratic implications on a global scale.
- internet of things
- Global interconnection of local IT networks facilitating the exchange of texts, images, sound and video by means of a standard protocol (TCP/IP). Invented by researchers and the military in the US in the 1960s, the network has been steadily growing, spreading and innovating ever since. At the start of the 1990s, browsers made the internet accessible to the general public. High-speed connections have permitted increasingly large data transfers, driving a proliferation of online activities and the transition from an information storage approach to a logic of continuous flows. The community-based and interactive Web 2.0 stimulates interactions between users, changes social behaviors and alters forms of engagement by giving them instant visibility. Internet censorship is regularly practiced by non-democratic states. The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the connection between this network and connected objects of various kinds.
- big data
- A corpus that is constantly being supplied with highly varied digital data in such large quantities that the tools currently available are only partly able to process them. They represent scientific and commercial challenges, as well as problems for security, democracy, and basic human rights. The data are stored in data centers spread all around the globe and processed by algorithms or sets of instructions programed to resolve problems.
- multinational corporations
- Company that has undertaken foreign direct investment (FDI) giving it access to facilities that it owns fully or in part (subsidiaries). The first MNCs date from the late 19th century; corporations of this kind have become widespread in the early 21st century. The majority of FDI takes place between industrialized nations. Such companies are now transnational rather than multinational, the largest among them tending to evolve into global corporate networks.
- Classical geography tended to place too much importance on surface areas, territories, countries and soil, but network analysis has now become central to its approach. Networks are defined as spaces in which distance is discontinuous and consists of nodes linked by lines. Some are physical (networks for the transportation of people, goods and energy, IT cables and information super highways), others not. When they are partly virtual (such as the internet), they also involve individuals and organizations. Philosophers (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari), sociologists (Manuel Castells), political scientists (James Rosenau), and economists use this concept to analyze the interconnected functioning of individuals.
- civil societies
- At the national level, civil society refers to a social body that is separate from the state and greater than the individuals and groups of which it is formed (social classes, socio-professional categories, generations, etc.). The notion of a global civil society emerged in the 1970s (John Burton, World Society) and refers to social relations formed in the international arena and beyond the control of states, when citizens of all countries take concerted action to demand regulations that may be supranational or infranational. However, the term conceals a great diversity. The notion of world society emerged among geographers in the 1990s and refers to the more all-encompassing process of creating a social space at the planetary level.
- personal data
- All information relating to a physical person who is identified or identifiable, directly or indirectly: civil status and photograph, postal address, telephone number, computer IP address, medical file, biometric data, movements, origin, opinions, and so on. Gathering methods (from questionnaires to the footprints left by internet or social network navigation) and their types of use (for advertising or publicity purposes or to gain influence; social control by the state, etc.) are obscure as far as individuals are concerned, but they form the basis of the economic model of web-based multinational corporations and telecommunications. These data represent a challenge for world governance, democracy, and individual freedom, but they are protected by various legal tools, either state or regional. However, these have proved inadequate and are tending to be reinforced (obligation to declare, retention period, consent, security guarantee, ability to control and sanction).
- Inspired by management and entrepreneurship, the expression global governance refers to the formal and informal institutions, mechanisms and processes through which international relations between states, citizens, markets and international and non-governmental organizations are established and structured. The global governance system aims to articulate collective interests, to establish rights and duties, to arbitrate disputes and to determine the appropriate regulatory mechanisms for the issues and actors in question. Governance takes various forms: global multilateral governance, club-based governance (restricted to members, e.g. G7/8/20), polycentric governance (juxtaposition of regulatory and management mechanisms operating at various levels), and so on.
- Sanctions, which can be negative or positive, are a means by which one or more states or international organizations employ coercive measures (embargo, recall of an ambassador, visa refusal, freezing of foreign bank accounts) or incentives (economic aid) to persuade another state, or particular individuals within it, to end a current course of action, return to the status quo, or to take a particular course of action. Sanctions may exert direct coercion by targeting political leaders, or they may act more indirectly by fostering public discontent with the regime. Their efficacy is disputed. Those in favor regard them as a tool for exerting pressure without recourse to military intervention, those against emphasize their social and human cost for the most disadvantaged groups.
- Faced with audience erosion and a concomitant reduction in earnings from advertising, television channels are encouraging replay, a type of delinearized program consumption (as opposed to direct consumption), which can be carried out on demand, via the internet, thus guaranteeing new sources of revenue for TV channels.
- Peaceful mode of resolving disputes involving the use of an intermediary, the mediator, to help the conflicting parties find an outcome negotiated through mutual concessions. Mediators are expected to operate impartially and with complete independence. Regulated internationally by the Hague Convention of 1907, mediation was used by the League of Nations (LoN) and has since been deployed, in particular, by the UN. Mediation is also practiced within democratic states in order to resolve minor disputes (i.e. family mediation, judicial mediation, etc.). Cultural mediation is used, for instance, in providing support to migrants.
- The individual, as a basic social actor, is playing an increasingly important role in the processes of globalization for multiple reasons, including the ever-faster circulation of ideas, values and information; the ability to build networks for sharing and solidarity without physical proximity; the networking of international expertise; and human rights movements and demands for democracy.
- The origin of citizenship goes back to Antiquity, and it denotes the enjoyment of civic and political rights within democratic regimes (right to vote, right of eligibility, exercise of public freedoms). By granting rights and obligations to citizens, popular sovereignty provides the foundation for the state’s legitimacy. Citizenship is an element of social cohesion, with citizens forming a political community (theory of the social contract) to which they owe primary allegiance. Depending on the period and country, it has been refused to some sections of the population: women, slaves, the poor, the illiterate, soldiers, foreigners, or minors. The Maastricht Treaty (1992) created a European citizenship within the European Union.
- global public good
- These are material and symbolic goods which are under the guardianship of each one of us for the survival of all. Their functions are threatened by shared sovereignty (ozone layer, biological diversity, the cultural heritage of humanity, cultural diversity, scientific knowledge, health, food, financial security, and so on). This concept was set out in the report of the 1999 United Nations Development Program and has since been widely adopted by many international organizations. The term “club goods” is used when administering and consuming these goods is limited to a small number of participants.
- A political system based on sovereignty of the people, in which the right to govern depends on acceptance by the people. Inspired by the model set up in Ancient Greece and the individual liberties promoted by liberalism, democracy today is mainly representative and based on the principle of citizens’ equality (elections by universal suffrage). It cannot be dissociated from respect for fundamental human rights, which include freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of information, and so on. While it has gradually become universalized and is tending to become the norm, it does not refer to a single model since it always depends on the social and cultural context in which it is implemented, which varies from one place to another and according to time period.