Its well known by now that European Commission is involved in an anti-trust struggle/investigation with Google. The threat of a $6 billion fine hanging over the search company may hurt, just a bit, but in the end it will be little more than a pin-prick given the mountain of cash and power that Google is sitting on.
The larger question is how to move to a more generative place than the pleasurable but futile pastime of ritualised google bashing? The more interesting question is whether there is the political will to build new spaces for the social media era, capable of conjuring something like a genuine public sphere. Meaning what? Meaning a place, with critical mass, where we participate as citizens not customers.
Its not always an easy distinction to draw. Habermass made a good job of explaining why the distinction can be so tricky “Because private enterprise evoke in their customers the idea that in their consumption decisions they act in their capacity as citizens the state has to address its citizens as consumers”
During the campaign of the Scottish independence referendum, a police launched an investigation into eBay after a man claiming to be a resident of Glasgow posted a listing offering his vote for sale. If even the most ardent advocates of a free market would draw the line at the buying and selling of votes then a reasonable corollary would be that public discourse – to be truly public – can not plausibly operate in spaces that are founded on profit optimising filters and algorithms.
Even though it feels like history, just a few weeks ago in the Scottish Referendum, British politicians suddenly awoke -briefly- from their neo-liberal slumber, to discover that financial arguments within which they had sought to couch the debate were not enough. They realised, with a collective jolt, that large numbers of people had re-discovered the language of politics and how, at key historical moments, the language of politics trumps the language of money. The terms of the debate were hurriedly reconfigured. The level of participation in that political moment speaks volumes for the importance of rediscovering this language.
Developing alluring spaces to rival with the behemoths (with their serendipity engines and happiness experiments) that are secure and ad free will be very hard. Particularly given the great vaults of data their head-start has given them. Its hard to imagine any crowd funded DIY tactical solution will suffice. Maybe its time to admit that sometimes we need a top-down properly resourced, funded through general taxation, public service model. Judging by the the level of discussion taking place in the European Commission this is a most unlikely outcome but it doesn’t make the need any less urgent.
Is this a deeply unimaginative narrowly statist solution quite out of tune with Deleuzian space of rhizomatic networks ? Probably. But if not this then a natively net Wikipedia or Linux or (whisper it) Move On/Avaz like venture is required as a step in the direction of reconstituting the public sphere.