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The political character of Social Media: How do Greek Internet users perceive and use social networks?

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Mass media, due to their symbolic character as well as their level of penetration into every aspect of social life, play a significant role in the formation of identity. According to Mezek (2011, p. 7), they have a triple role: “an information broker, arena for ideas and a community sustainer”, or in other words, they act as a forum for “public influence, identity and solidarity” (Alexander and Jacobs, 1998, p. 26). Thompson underlines the importance of media, as means of “acculturalisation”, that partly formulate our perceptions of belonging in groups and communities, creating a so-called, “mediated sociality” (Thompson, 1995, p. 35).

Social media in particular, appear to have taken – intentionally or not – a fundamental role in the awakening of citizens, especially the young ones that are keen internet users. Posting a statement on our personal Facebook page or updating our tweets has been gradually integrated to our everyday lives, at a level that we can no longer easily recall our previous ways of self-expression. To what extent, though, is it normal to adjust our life moments to a social platform that will afterwards do the hard job to securely mediate our ideas, anguishes or feelings to our internet companions? Is that kind of semi-protected exposure – as we don’t confront face to face any possible contradictions or disapprovals – a step forward to human communication, and even more, could that have real effects on the re-politicization of citizens?

When I first joined Facebook, back in 2007, no one really could imagine how this communicative tool could work. It was just funny to find your past acquaintances, take a look at their personal information and photos sometimes without them even knowing it and feed our need of curiosity about how their lives are progressing. Real, pure, on real time information has escaped the strict limits of professional journalism and has now passed into the hands of ordinary citizens, who testify the events they experience, thus leaving no room for any kind of misrepresentation or falsification, by the  government oriented  Media organizations.

As a matter of fact, we should consider social media not only as multitasking, communicative platforms, but also as rapidly developing, coordinating tools for joined actions, new initiatives, even protests and new political movements.   It is of high importance to focus on the symbolic character of a new, digital community that was born from its citizens’ deep need for expression, contribution, sharing and participation. In fact, it is what we call “shared awareness,” the ability of each member of a group to not only understand the situation at hand but also understand that everyone else does, too. Social media increase shared awareness by propagating messages through social networks. (Shirky,C., 2011, p 7)
On the other hand, there is a lot of skepticism towards social media and their possible political effects that are according to them, more or less a form of a ‘couch-potato democracy’. In particular, its critics are describing these alternative kinds of political engagement as an easy and low-cost method to virtually participate in a protest, without actually contributing to social or political change –  ‘‘committed actors cannot click their way to a better world ’’. (Shirky,C., 2011 p 9).  Though, a possible answer here could be that social media’s effectiveness doesn’t derive from a kind of an exclusive ability to change the world, but on the contrary, from their contribution to a new system of coordinated social movements that aim to totally utilize the benefits of digital, information society.

But still, to what extent could we rely on social media for the development of our social presence in the world, and after all, is it really a progress to participate and contribute to both interpersonal and social actions, securely hidden behind our laptop or cell phone? The voices against the level of social media’s penetration have strengthened, somehow doubting the maintenance of human integrity through these processes. As Prof. Anis Bajrektarevic characteristically puts it, ‘’Human integrity is self-molested (brutalized) and self-reduced (trivialized) to a lame shop-window commodity, which is purchasable 24/7 by ‘poking’ on the photo of someone’s personal profile. And, likies are available to give a rating for ‘displayed commodities’.(Bajrektarevic, A. 2011). Additionally, when it comes to politics, part of the scientific community underlines the necessity to perceive social networks only as supportive tools to more fundamental freedoms (public speech, free press, interpersonal communication, free and fair elections etc.) and not as a panacea to every socio-political uprise. After all, seen from a historical point of view, media have always played a fundamental role in social change but other more determinant factors led the road to change. According to German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, the printing press helped in Europe’s democratization process by providing free space for discussion and political interaction among citizens (in Shirky, C. 2011, p 6)  .

However, the main aim of this article is to present and discuss the findings of a short survey, which tried to examine how Greek internet and social media users, perceive social networks, how exactly do they utilize them and even question the level of  engagement of the latter ones with current socio-political affairs.

Methodological Issues

The conduction of this survey (which started on June 10th and was finalized on June 29th 2014) was based on the method of Simple Random Sampling, which is the most widely-used probability sampling method and was considered as the most suitable one for the limited audience of 100 respondents, as it was both easy to implement and analyze. After the target group was clearly specified, all possible respondents were equally likely to participate. The link to this online survey – written in Greek as it was specifically addressed to Greek citizens, indigenous or expatriates – was repeatedly posted on my personal accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, My space, on different social groups of Universities of Political Science/Communication/International Studies, students’ fora of University Departments (MBA Program – Athens Open University, Department of Social Work -Technological Institute of Crete),  Associations of Young Scientists (i.e. Scientific Association of Young Political Scientists – EONEPE) and other research groups, profile pages of online journals (Apopseis.gr, Politicsonline.gr) etc. and was also sent via e-mail to all my corresponding contacts.

Target Group

In this short survey, we have focused on the age category of 18-35 years old (even though we have very few responses that exceed this age limit). The reason why we have selected this particular target group is that it represents a number of citizens that are both politically active and digitally literate at a significant level, compared to citizens of other age groups. According to Eurostat (2009), in 2008, more than 70 % of those aged 16–24 used a computer daily and 66 % used the internet every day or almost every day, mostly from home and from the place of education. Especially young generations (aged 16–24) have integrated the Internet into their day-to-day life as a communication tool, e.g. using search engines to find information (86 %), sending emails with attached files (77 %) or posting messages on chat rooms (61 %) (European Commission, Youth in Europe, 2009).

Despite a few expected deviations, the homogeneity of this target group could be explained through its main distinguishing features:
    Political and social activity.
    Deep diffusion of new technology and digital means of communication.
    Common social interests (future employment prospects, socio-economic stability, environmental issues etc.)
    Less entrenched social perceptions. (Karantzeni, D., and Gouscos, Dimitris G. 2013, pp 485)

Although, we have chosen to include the citizens of between 25-35 years old as well, as they are, in most cases, more politically mature with the comparative advantage of multiple, previous voting experiences as well as of a consequent greater engagement with politics in general.

Findings

One of the first questions aimed to investigate which are the most popular social networks between Greek internet users. Facebook is a great winner, gathering a 42% of the total of responses.

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Furthermore, the majority of respondents appear to have got engaged with social networking services between 2007 (19.4%) and 2008 (27.6%). This appears to be strongly related with the gradual growth of Internet users in Greece, after 2007. According to Mecometer’s online statistics , Greece’s Internet users had a positive growth of 31.5% during the Great Recession, as well as another positive growth of 32.1% since the end of it. From 24% of active users back in 2005, we have 32.25% in 2006, 35.88% in 2007, 44.40% in 2010, reaching a total of 57.85% in nowadays (2014).  

When did you start joining these (or one of these) social networks for the first time?

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An interesting, though predictable finding is that the majority of users prefer portable devices to stay connected on social networks (cell phones, laptops etc.). The level of penetration of social media in people’s everyday lives is more than profound, as they feel the necessity to embed this usage in every particular aspect of their day, from a simple comment about the weather or the traffic, to the uploading of photos, usually on real time, from their night out, trip, or any other kind of excursion. Of course, the attraction of numerous likes/retweets etc., is more than essential.

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Another important issue is the considerable differentiation of users’ attitude towards social media’s character/role when they first joined these networks compared to nowadays. To be more specific, the majority of users, when they first joined social media – between 2007 and 2008 – thought that they had to deal with another platform of indirect, mediated communication, or a free space for entertainment (funny games/applications etc.).  Additionally, some of them focused on the opportunity of finding friends and other acquaintances that would probably be connected in the same network, whereas only very few perceived social media as new sites for information on news and events all around the world. Furthermore, there was a minority of respondents who stated that they hadn’t been totally aware of the extent of its/their uses in the first place. On the contrary, today most of the respondents argue that they consider social media as an open environment for information with the capability of interactivity or an open environment for self-expression with multiple possible receivers. The third most popular answer is that social media are means of frequent, general information. That proves that there has been a gradual transformation on how Greek citizens – internet users perceive social networks. From a typical, communicative use of these platforms they have eventually found a new, alternative field of self-expression, that is though completely different from keeping a personal blog or journal, as in the case of social media, there is the opportunity of numerous receivers in a direct and on real time way, that could even lead to the incitement of new trends, actions and initiatives with unforeseen consequences. (see i.e. the Arab Spring).  The distance is somehow eliminated and the citizens feel a new, almost provocative sense of freedom of thought that, for the first time in the digital world, it counts.

So, beyond this positive theoretical approach, how do Greek citizens prefer to use social networks? Unfortunately, there is not any coherence between the ways respondents characterize or perceive these networks and the ways they actually use them. A notable idea that seems to be prevailing among the respondents is that they use social media as informative platforms. Reading the timeline, with all their friends/followers updates as well as the groups that they’ve joined (e-journals and news sites, companies’ profiles, institutions’ accounts, celebrities etc.) is obviously the most common use.

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Furthermore, the respondents seem to pay attention on the opportunity to read, upload or reproduce different news or articles concerning less popular topics and interests, that are probably hidden in the chaotic environment of the internet and the anonymity it offers  – numerous blogs and sites with articles and news of controversial credibility – . So, instead of individually searching through the internet to find news that have been excluded from the agenda of the predominant means of communication, internet users can now use social platforms as an alternative environment that massively gathers such information. Of course, the danger of exchanging unverified, doubtful information still exists.  
The second most popular use is the communication between friends/followers. After all, there is always the need to take advantage of the opportunity to directly communicate with everyone for free and also with the enhanced ability to choose between multiple options (instant messaging, exchanging of photos and other archives, video calls, group chat etc.)

Only a minor percentage of respondents – around 3.3% – states that their most common use of social media is to write and upload personal statements/tweets or links on their personal page/account.
Now when they do write a personal statement, how often do they feel this need for public self-expression and what is it about? Well they are interested in expressing their thoughts and feelings by writing statements in their personal account’s walls or timelines, but only occasionally as only a 13.4% uploads a fresh new statement every day. Most of them choose to post a statement very rarely (35.1%), and the responses that follow record a usage that ranges between one or two times a week and one or two times a month. What about their favourite topics? Comments and uploads just for fun (33.3%), comments on personal moments of their lives or their friends’ lives (28.1%), general comments on current issues or the news agenda (15.6%), comments related to social problems that aim to sensitize others (6.3%), comments related to sports (1%), other topics – unfortunately not specified – (6.3%).

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 So, have Greek internet users chosen a more passive attitude towards social networking? They seem to almost silently participate in everything, giving priority to leisure and fun, hiding their thoughts and ideas behind a like, a share or a retweet but still, they avoid the direct way of self-expression that would of course be exposed to criticism. The irony here is that they do not feel the same reluctance when exposing their personal moments in public (photos, videos etc.), which probably seems to them more harmless and carefree.
When it comes to politics, it appears that there is a considerable hesitation of citizens to recognize a possible political character in social media and even more to have corresponding prospects from their regular use.
First of all, there is an interesting tie between the two prevalent responses, that are very different to each other, as a percentage of (15.31%) totally disagrees with the idea that social media are a secure environment for open political debates, resulting to a sum of 55.12% of respondents, that have chosen between the first 4 points (1-4) of the scaled responses), actually meaning that the majority vividly disagree with the statement, whereas another 15.31% has selected the option 7, showing that they somehow agree with the statement, even if they have some second thoughts  or doubts.  Perhaps results would be different if there were just a few, particular responses available (like totally disagree, disagree, agree and totally agree), but now that respondents had to choose from a wider range of responses and were given the opportunity to self-evaluate the degree of their agreement/disagreement, the findings reflect some kind of division among the Greek social networkers.
Additionally, most of the respondents don’t believe that these platforms create a new sense of proximity between the citizens and the politicians that use them. Here we have a clear disagreement of 61.22%, with the most popular answers ranging from 1-4 points, expressing total disagreement with the statement.
At the same time though, they strongly disagree with the idea that social media are entertainment platforms (the most popular answer is point 1 – standing for complete disagreement with a percentage of 20.41% and the second most popular is point 3, reflecting a strong disagreement for the 12.4% of respondents), and should only considered as such, which is by the way, proportional to the ways the majority of them chooses to use these networks, as outlined above.  

Moreover, there is an intense fear expressed, that could partly explain this negative attitude, and that is that social media gradually lead to a limitless, uncontrolled exposure of personal political beliefs/orientation etc. (18.37% of respondents chose option 8, considerably agreeing with the statement, and another 14.29% gave 10 points, completely agreeing with this idea.) So here, we are in front of an interesting outcome; people feel free to express themselves on everyday affairs, to make comments or statements, even to participate in short dialogues that criticize the ongoing issues. Sometimes, just a news update on the timeline is more than enough to offer all the necessary incentives to the users, through its reproduction or the placement of a simple commentary. Nevertheless, they are unwilling to step outside these borders and expose themselves to a clear political debate, as they feel that this free space hardly offers a secure and controlled environment for a serious, argument-based, depolarized dialogue between the citizens and the politicians.
At the same time though, a great number of respondents strongly accepts the idea that social media provide people with new accessibility opportunities on political affairs and recognize -although very reluctantly-  that social networks raise fruitful debates and arguments on major socio-political affairs. (answers from 7-10 are the most popular between the respondents, with the majority of them showing their highest agreement with the statement – 16.33% voted with 10 points).

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Statement 1: Social media are a secure environment for open political debates
Statement 2: Social media provide people with new accessibility opportunities on political affairs
Statement 3: Social media create a new sense of proximity between the citizens and the politicians that use them
Statement 4: Social media are entertainment platforms and should only considered this way
Statement 5: Social media gradually lead to a limitless, uncontrolled exposure of personal political beliefs/orientation etc.
Statement 6: Social media raise fruitful debates and arguments on major socio-political affairs
Statement 7: I don’t know

Consequently, they realize the potential of these networks as means of enhancing citizens’ political participation but they don’t feel convinced yet that it is safe or worth getting engaged with these alternative methods. That is also crystal clear in a particular point of the survey: in the question ‘’Do you consider social media as a suitable environment for self-expression or open discussions/debates on major political affairs?’’, 44.4% of the respondents answered probably yes and another said 15.2% surely yes. Only a question below, the same respondents denied that social media are a secure environment for open political debates. (as analyzed above).. So, according to them, social media are suitable for self-expression and open discussions on political affairs but not for an open political debate that is significantly more organized and requires awareness of the ongoing matters, clear political position, active and responsible participation, confrontation with politicians  as well as willingness to express opposition if necessary.
Another possible reason might be that social media, due to their extremely diverse nature, from funny games and pastime applications to the transfer of important political, socio-economic etc. information, do not seem to have a stable, trustful profile that will predetermine its audience for the necessary accuracy, appropriateness or even seriousness they should involve.  
However, it’s almost a unanimous point of view that Greek politicians do not have a satisfactory presence on social media. Particularly, 40.8% of respondents state that Greek politicians have not realized the political potential of social media yet, 15.3% argue that politicians have rejected social media as an alternative means of political influence or interaction with citizens and another 30.6% admits that the latter have a limited presence but they also believe that they wish to intensify it in the future. Only a 13.3% considers Greek politicians’ engagement to social networks satisfactory.  That is probably a good explanation of citizens’ skepticism towards a future political potential of these networks. In fact, Greek politicians have lately embedded their social media presence in their political attitude, mainly by using Twitter, where they upload their tweets – comments related to ongoing political and economic affairs, inter-party issues, and they sometimes answer to press reviews or even argue against the opposition parties. Their tweets are at times, a ‘hot topic’ for some TV news programs, but that’s probably the media organizations’ struggle for more spicy and scandalous news events. Their presence on Facebook, the most popular social network at the moment, is limited to the existence of a profile account, with official announcements, press releases etc. Although, they still face social networks as – more or less – announcement boards, where they can earn temporary popularity or display their TV presence and electoral campaign. They maintain an indirect way of semi-participation, ignoring the important power of direct communication and enhanced proximity that these platforms could offer. Greek political communication analysts, Ms Maria Katsikovordou and Mr. Stathis Haikalis, seem to agree with this statement, by supporting it with particular examples.  

Although, all this hesitation illustrated above, does not actually reflect a negative attitude of Greek social networkers towards the future political potential of social media use. On the contrary, the prevalent future expectations underline the importance of focusing on social problems that are traditionally less featured by the predominant mass media institutions (25.5%), as well as the transformation of these networks into reliable, up-to-date, general information (19.70%). In addition to the above, 15.40% of respondents envision a greater participation of citizens on major socio-political affairs via social media, whereas a percentage of 12.70% thinks that social networks use should be expanded to the field of conducting open political debates. Only a 10.4% of respondents has voted for the further enhancement of indirect, mediated communication features (chat, personal messaging, video calls, etc. ) and a minor percentage of 6.9% hopes that social platforms be limited on the fields of leisure/entertainment (games, pictures, applications, videos etc. ).

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Concluding Remarks
Greek internet users are highly engaged to social networks, whereas their most frequent occupation is reading the timeline, the posts and the news and in general, keeping themselves informed on both the personal aspects of their friends/followers lives and the current news agenda. The most popular social networks are Facebook (42%), LinkedIn (18%) and Twitter (15%). The majority of respondents joined at least one social network between 2007 and 2008, a fact that could highly attributed to the great diffusion of Internet usage in Greece, after 2007. The most preferable devices so to stay connected are the portable ones (portable personal computer 36.50%, cell phone (35.50%), revealing an attitude that notably embodies social media presence to physical, everyday social presence.
When they first joined social networks, Greek internet users perceived them – more or less – as on-line communicative platforms or chatrooms (36.4%), a useful application to find old friends and acquaintances (19.2%), accompanied with some funny, pastime applications and games (25.3%). There was also a minor percentage of respondents, that hadn’t been totally aware of their actual use (8.1%). Nowadays, they focus on the free access of real-time general information with the added value – compared to other blogs or news sites – of being able to interactively participate, bring issues forward, start a conversation on a hot topic, criticize or express disapproval and await for immediate feedbacks or responses.
 They like to express their thoughts and feelings but not every day. They update their statements once/twice a week or once/twice a month and even more rarely, and they prefer to talk about their lives or make comments on their friends posts, keeping all this basically to an amusing level. Furthermore, they share, post or re-tweet news on their own or their friends’ timeline and in this way they place their opinion on what is going on in the world, by texting or just ‘like-ing’.
If we could somehow illustrate the social image of these networks – at least for the questioned target group – we might present it as a new field of multidimensional interaction, a new alternative opportunity for ordinary citizens to speak for their selves, to be heard, to be followed by a familiar or unknown audience, bring important social problems in the limelight and other less featured aspects of everyday life, the way they feel it and not the way others demonstrate it.
They don’t see social media just as entertaining platforms, they recognize the numerous opportunities they offer as tools of enhancing citizens’ awareness and participation but they don’t trust social media as mediated platforms on serious ongoing political affairs i.e. open political debates etc.
Greek internet users appear to feel the intriguing power that these networks offer in the political arena, by opening closed doors, by gaining access to a previously strict, top-down approach on the application of political power, as they have the sense that their word could count, if added to a massive, rapid movement of politically active citizens. At the same time though, a great number of respondents questions the reliability and the effectiveness of such methods and is also disappointed with the way Greek politicians have seized this new opportunity of mediatized communication between them and the citizens (more than half of respondents), whereas another 30.6% more optimistically argues that Greek politicians may have a limited presence but they are willing to intensify. In addition to this, most of them also doubt that these networks have created a sense of proximity between them and the politicians. The fear of the unknown as well as the traditionally taboo-subject of openly expressing your political orientation and beliefs could probably explain this hesitation, but only in the first place, as if we’d scratch the surface we could see that all this behavior – conscious or not – has a very strong basis. This means that it is not possible and it is not right to build a brand new, digital world, based on likes and pokes, comments, shares and retweets, we cannot simply text-message a war or peace situation, we mustn’t have emoticons substitute the real expression of our anguishes and feelings. Because of the extreme simplicity of these actions, it is easier to copy a saying, to imitate a behavior, to adopt an action just because it is currently in fashion; it’s posted everywhere, liked by everyone or in other words, because we’ve been brain-washed with it. Literacy is far more important than social media usage and only deep knowledge and personal opinion formulation could change something in the world, accompanied of course by any means available. By no means should we underestimate the incredible power of rapid massive coordination of publics that social media offer as a major step to collective action. On the contrary, we must admit that it’s the level and the frequency of exposure to major social events and current political issues which social media offers to its users that reinforces active participation. ‘‘Conceptually, social discourse exposes people to a wide range of information that may influence participatory decisions, such as information about the desirability of participation. Discussions with friends who are interested or active in politics can help people learn about the reasons for participating while reinforcing the idea that such  behavior is desirable among one’s peers.’’    (McClurg, Scott D., 2003, p. 6).  We just have to always bear in mind that these tools are useless if not exploited carefully, as quality and not quantity should be the primary criterion for every social rally.  No digital means of communication, no matter how up-to-date it is and the range of opportunities it offers, should substitute real, active participation, with a physical presence on socio-political affairs, deep consciousness and critical mind, free thinking and decision making, especially during voting periods. There’s always the other side of the coin, where regimes of all kinds, even the most oppressive ones, become highly literate on the usage of social media and gradually transform them to perfect means of citizens’ deception and manipulation.

References
1.    Alexander, J.C. and Jacobs, R.N. (1998), “Mass communication, ritual and civil society”, in Liebes, T. and Curran, J. (Eds), Media, Ritual and Identity, Routledge, London, pp. 23-41.
2.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2011), Is there life after Facebook? The Cyber Gulag revisited & Debate reloaded, GHIR 11(2) 2012, Addleton Academic Publishers New York
3.    European Commission, Youth in Europe – A statistical portrait, Luxembourg: Publications of the European, 2009
4.    Eurostat (2009), “Youth in Europe – a statistical portrait”, 2009 edn, Eurostat Statistical Books available at: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-78-09-920/EN/KS-78-09-920-EN.PDF  (accessed 15 October 2013).
5.    Karantzeni, D. and Gouscos, Dimitris G., eParticipation in the EU:Re-focusing on social media and young citizens for reinforcing European identity, Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, Vol. 7 No. 4, 2013, pp. 485
6.    McClurg Scott D., Social Networks and Political Participation: The Role of Social Interaction in Explaining Political Participation, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Dep. Of Political Science, 2003,
7.    Mezek, S. (2011), European Identity and the Media – Re-definition of Identity, pp. 10-11, Stockholm University, Department of Political Science, available at: www.statsvet.su.se/mediarum/Media_and_Politics_2/PDF/Cpapers/european_identity_and_media.pdf
8.    Shirky, C. (2011) ’The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere and Political Change’, Clay Shirky, January/February 2011, available at: http://www.bendevane.com/FRDC2011/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/The-Political-Power-of-Social-Media-Clay-Sirky.pdf
9.    Thompson, J.B. (1995), The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media, Polity Press,Cambridge, p. 186.

Links
Internet Live Stats: http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users-by-country/
Macro-Economy Meter – Mecometer : http://mecometer.com/whats/greece/internet-users/

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Deployment of 5G Technology: Scrutinizing the Potential Menace & Its Repercussions globally

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5G, or fifth generation, is the latest generation of mobile telecommunications technology. It promises faster internet speeds, lower latency, and greater capacity than previous generations of mobile networks. 5G technology is designed to support a wide range of new and emerging applications, including the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, and virtual and augmented reality. The introduction of 5G to the world is a significant development in the field of telecommunications. It is expected to have a major impact on various sectors such as healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, and entertainment. 5G networks will enable new technologies like self-driving cars, remote surgery, and virtual reality to function more smoothly and efficiently.

It is based on a number of new technologies, such as software-defined networks, network slicing, and millimetre waves, which allow for faster data transfer and a greater number of connected devices. This will allow for more efficient use of network resources and support a wider range of applications. Many countries and mobile network operators are in the process of rolling out 5G networks, and the number of 5G-enabled devices is expected to grow rapidly. However, the deployment of 5G networks is a complex and ongoing process, and there are still many technical and regulatory challenges that needs to be addressed.

Concerns & Impact:

In terms of cybersecurity, 5G networks have the potential to be more vulnerable to cyber-attacks than previous generations of mobile networks. The increased complexity of 5G networks and the use of new technologies, such as software-defined networks, could make them more difficult to secure. As the number of devices connected to 5G networks increases, so does the attack surface for cybercriminals. In terms of privacy, with the deployment of 5G networks, the amount of data that is collected and stored by mobile network operators will increase, raising concerns about the protection of personal information. 5G networks will enable new technologies, like self-driving cars, remote surgery, and virtual reality, which will generate a large amount of data. Ensuring the security and privacy of this data will be a major challenge. Also, in terms of supply chain security, the deployment of 5G networks requires a large number of components and systems from different vendors, which makes it more difficult to ensure the security of the network. There are concerns that these components, if not properly secured, could be used by malicious actors to compromise the network. The deployment of 5G networks could also lead to radiofrequency interference with existing technologies such as weather radar, satellite communication, and GPS systems, aviation navigation, and scientific research. Even, countries that are deploying 5G networks are dependent on foreign vendors for the equipment and technology needed to build and operate these networks, which creates national security concerns.

Further, there are several concerns related to the environment and health that have been raised in relation to the deployment of 5G technology. It requires the installation of many more cell towers and antennae than previous generations of mobile networks. The environmental impact of this increased infrastructure, including the potential impact on wildlife and natural habitats, is a concern. The increased use of 5G networks is likely to lead to an increase in energy consumption, which could have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate change. Additionally, there have been concerns about the potential health effects of 5G technology, particularly related to the use of millimetre waves for the transmission of data. Some studies have suggested that these waves may have an impact on human health, although the majority of scientific studies have found no evidence of such effects. 5G technology uses the same frequency bands as meteorological radars and could interfere with the accuracy of weather forecasts. Such networks will increase the exposure of people to electromagnetic fields, which could have negative impacts on health, particularly for people who are sensitive to electromagnetic fields.

However, it’s pertinent to note that these concerns are being studied and addressed by governments and regulatory bodies, and steps are being taken to mitigate them. However, it’s important to be aware of these issues and take appropriate action to address them as 5G networks are deployed to ensure that the benefits of 5G technology are realized while minimizing the security, privacy, environmental and health risks.

Conclusion:

Resolving these concerns will require a multi-faceted approach that involves cooperation between governments, industry, and other stakeholders. Governments and industry should work together to develop and implement security standards and best practices for 5G networks. This could include regular security audits and penetration testing, as well as measures to detect and respond to cyber-attacks. They should work together to develop and implement data protection and privacy policies for 5G networks. This could include measures to protect personal data, such as encryption and secure data storage, as well as clear guidelines on how data is collected, used, and shared. They should conduct further research on the potential health effects of 5G technology, and take steps to mitigate any negative impacts. This could include measures such as limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields and ensuring that cell towers are located in safe areas. They should take appropriate measures to minimize the environmental impact of 5G networks. This could include measures such as using renewable energy to power cell towers and antennae, and minimizing the impact of infrastructure on wildlife and natural habitats. They should secure the supply chain of 5G networks. This could include measures such as ensuring that vendors comply with security standards, and conducting regular security audits of suppliers.

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The Indian Drone Industry is Growing Leaps & Bounds

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Rustom-2 drone

Iranian drones have wreaked havoc in war-stricken Ukraine. When it comes to drones until a few years back it was the USA Vs China, but now all countries have realized the potential of these flying machines.

Bill Gates had predicted that drones, overall, will be more impactful than one can ever imagine or think to help society in a positive way, but sadly, today they are being used in warfare at a very large scale. Where does India stand in the Drone Making Spectre?

Today, India uses drones for a variety of causes. It has‍ BVLOS (Beyond-visual-line-of-sight) flights, mosquito eradication drones, drones used for agricultural needs – like spraying pesticides etc., then there are seed-copters used for aforestation (planting seedballs). During the pandemic Indian drones supplied vaccines to far out regions, as estimates suggest that more than 24 lakh Indians die of treatable conditions every year simply because medicines don’t reach them on time. Drones are bridging the gap when it comes to inaccessibility of roads and other means of transport.

In India, drones can be seen everywhere, in weddings events and agricultural fields. There is a huge demand for drones and the Government is encouraging the industry to grow further. How is this emergence happening? Smit Shah, President of the Drone Federation of India is filled with ideas of zestful entrepreneurship and innovation for the Indian drone industry. He shares his views about how things in India’s Drone industry are shaping up.

“Since 2018, we have had multiple regulations and lot of work is happening on that front. Finally, in August 2021 we had our regulations liberalised. So, after multiple policy attempts and iterations we were able to crack the right policy. This is the policy of liberalisation and incentive towards the industry. Since mid 2021, we have had a boost in the ecosystem. We have multiple start-ups now, over 200 working in the drone manufacturing and technology space in the country.” says Shah.

The idea to ease the regulations has worked wonders for the industry and start-ups getting involved means a lot of innovation and experimentation is ongoing in the Indian drone industry. So, how are drones being used in governance and management?  There is a lot of talk of drones being used for surveillance at borders. In what ways does the Indian Government use drones? Shah says that multiple State Governments, the Union Government, various departments and private sector corporations are now adapting to drone usage at a very large scale. The Government has launched the ‘Swamitwa Scheme’ where 6.5 lakh villages are being mapped across the entire country through drones. The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has mandated monthly monitoring of all highways via drones. The armed forces are looking for buying drones for security surveillance on all borders using drones. Also they are being used in tracking logistics.

India is using drones in almost all important departments, especially in defence the country is trying to procure and develop the best possible technology for which many private corporations like the Adani Group have forged Joint Ventures with major International drone component manufacturing companies.

For the purpose of warfare India is using drones on the borders to keep an eye on the enemy. It endeavours to make more advancement in the domain. How are things shaping up on that front?

“During warfare you need round the clock monitoring and intelligence and capacity building. So, surveillance capability on the borders and logistic capability on the border means transporting various kinds of resources to the border outposts, including the high altitude regions is what is being looked at now. In India, Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAF) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) are technological terms but are interchangeably used. All these are being used in our border security,” informs Shah.

India is rapidly scaling up its drone industry and is investing a lot on research and development. Not just for domestic use, it plans to use drones intensively for border security by the armed forces. Does India manufacture raw materials and components used in drones? What plans does it have to reduce dependence on other countries and boost its own home-built production capability? What is the road ahead?   

“A majority of the components are imported from different countries.  Now we have Indian start-ups and corporations who are engaged in building local supply chains and local design on drone components. The PLI incentive is encouraging for manufacturing drones and their related components in India. If we see the overall drone ecosystem of drones in India, it envisioned success lies on 4 key pillars. First is ease of doing business, under which policy was liberalised and much of the licence fees was reduced.  Second  is the financial incentive, like the Production Linked Incentive(PLI) under which domestic manufacturing has a 20% incentive with almost zero upfront commitment. One is not needed to do any plant or machinery investment or any minimum employment. It is a straight investment based on one’s capacity, so if you produce goods worth INR 100, you get 20% of your value addition. This is a sunrise sector, so rather than complicating incentives by tying them up with employment or revenue or upfront capital investment – it’s all straight in the face. The third part is protectionism or favouring the local industry via an import ban. At present, import of drones as a whole are banned but the import of components is not. Fourth is enhancing our own skilling, R&D, trying to becoming Athmnirbhar (Self Dependant) in every possible way and benefit our own industries. Though, a lot of technology for the smaller drones comes from across the world including China, US and Europe, for the bigger drones, like the ones used to patrol the borders or for offensive ops, it is specialized so that is coming from our partners or the domestic manufacturers,” elaborates Shah.

Many reforms by the Government have been introduced to encourage domestic production. It is confident that its own ecosystem will battle all odds and will be able to emerge as a frontrunner in drone making. The Government and industry are working in tandem to achieve this goal. In January, 2022, the Indian Government  has offered a 100% subsidy or 10 lakhs, whichever is less, up to March 2023 to promote the use of drones for agricultural purposes and reduce the labour burden on the farmers. Also a contingency fund of INR 6000 per acre has been set up for hiring Drones from the Custom Hiring Centres (CHC). Together, the subsidy and contingency funds shall help farmers access latest drone technology at a very reasonable price.

Does India export drones to any other countries. If NO, by when does it intend to do so? What are its plans to become a recognized name in the drone export segment?

“Slowly and steadily India is looking at exporting. We are looking at certain initiatives to scale up our export segment and expect good results very soon. Our first goal has to be design independence. In terms of supply chains it is difficult to become 100% India made as many raw materials are imported. For that we need to have our own designs and supply chain reliability. In supply chain reliability there are 3 things, first we have domestic supply chains, second we have primary supply chains and third is we have secondary alternate supply chains. If we build good supply chains then we do not have be dependant by the traditional definition because then we have backup & balance of the supply chain. In today’s global civilization we can’t become completely independent.  The right approach is to be dependant but also balanced.  Some aspects of our drones may be better than others and vice versa. We are not yet ripened in this as our Information Technology (IT) sector is. India is trying to have its own electronic manufacturing fabs, so things are gaining momentum. In five years the game will totally change,” asserts Shah confidently.

The industry and Drone Federation of India is optimistic that in a few years to come India will be a champion drone manufacturer and may export to other countries as well. Be it the procurement of raw materials or other critical components it seems to be progressing fast for self-reliance in the drone industry.  

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Science & Technology

Is tech industry still a boys’ club?

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Young women participate in Kazakhstan’s first nanosatellite development programme aimed at women. © UNICEF/Zhanara Karimova

Authors: Ash Narain Roy and Jisha Jacob*

The Nobel Prize, says the 2022 literature laureate Annie Ernaux, is an institution “for men.” She further says that “speech has almost always been monopolised by men.” If even the hallowed Nobel Prize is still “bound to traditions” and “is perhaps more masculine,” as the French writer contends, what about the world of science and big tech?

The tech industry remains a male bastion. Citing the abysmally low percentage of female employees, the New York Times says, that the doors to the technology field “remain virtually closed to women.” The Los Angeles Times has similar observations about sexism in Silicon Valley. It says, the tech industry “lags decades behind other industries in its treatment of women.”

The big tech is far worse. Elon Musk, the new Twitter boss, often mocks advocates of the LGBT+ community. It is anybody’s guess where women will find themselves in his scheme of things. He would perhaps expect women to “follow the white rabbit.” (It is assumed if you follow the white rabbit, it will ultimately lead you to the truth). Or you may enter an alternate world. Musk isn’t playing “four-dimensional chess,” he is defending “the future of civilisation”!

Emily Chang in her book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, says that the big tech industry “has self-selected for men: first, anti-social nerds, then, self-confident and risk-taking bros.” No wonder therefore, “deep-rooted sexism prevails” in their universe and their meetings in hot tubs and at strip clubs are considered small ‘pecados’.

That women are under-represented and hold far fewer organisational positions in big tech companies like Meta, Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft is an open secret. As Francine Bermen and Jeniffer Lundquist say, a large number of high-profile whistleblowers are women. “Frances Haugen exposed personal data exploitation at Meta, Timnit Gebru and Rebecca Rivers challenged Google on ethics and AI issues, and Janneke Parrish raised concerns about a discriminatory work culture at Apple, among others.” (Bermen, Francine and Jeniffer Lundquist, 2022)

“Why can’t a woman be like a man” has been a grumbling refrain in most walks of life. Literature, science, films, politics have all perpetuated such perceptions. In the footnote of his famous lecture, “The two cultures and the scientific revolution,” eminent British scientist C.P. Snow said that since childhood women are given training to be a “good wife” and a “good mother.” He further said that women lack training to become a good scientist or a physicist. But he ended up saying “whatever we say, we don’t regard women as suitable for scientific careers” for which he would have been heavily trolled today. (Snow 1959) Technology is widely considered a male- dominated industry. Psychologist Janet Morahan-Martin of Bryant University explains that men are more comfortable using a computer since childhood than women. This exposure to technology in the early stage of their lives has led to the masculinization of computer culture.

Big tech and masculinity

What is masculinity? Does it really have to do anything with technology? In a larger sense, masculinity refers to how men perceive themselves. It is a manner of thinking and being that is socially formed. Victor J. Seidler of University of London offers an interesting explanation positing that men have assumed rationality as masculine based on a “rationality appropriated from and denied to others.” Men have made it a basis of male power “affecting what men see, hear and regard as important.” Brian Easlea, in his book Fathering the Unthinkable: Masculinity, Scientists, and the Nuclear Arms Race, argues that men’s propensity for science was mostly a “compensatory mechanism” for their inability to procreate and their vulnerability on the sexual level. (Easlea 1983)

Power and masculinity go hand in hand. The idea of masculinity is often associated with gaining increasingly greater power. Men now stand at the top of the technological pyramid thanks to this power. It appears that using power is fundamentally unbalanced. Men unquestionably make the important decisions. Whenever scientists are mentioned, “men” is always used as the pronoun. For instance, C.P. Snow referred to members of scientific communities as “men of science.” Men are thus at the top of the tech pyramid.

Lucie Greene, author of Silicon States: The Power of Politics of Big Tech and What It Means for our Future, cites the examples of Siri, Alexa, and all the verbal subservient assistants which normalize sexism. Twitter has an atrocious record of failing to address misogyny. Amnesty International has found women’s experience on Twitter as “toxic.” Women continue to be the victims of “digital violence.”

According to one source, women roughly represent about 25 % of technology workforce. When it comes to senior corporate leadership positions, the less said, the better. Only 8.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

The Google UK: Gender Pay Report 2018 says that there are more males than women working at Google in top leadership positions and technical occupations, Due to the underrepresentation of women in senior leadership, technical and engineering roles, and roles with a lengthy tenure, the percentage gaps persist in the majority of the leading tech businesses. Men are more likely than women to fill senior positions. Only four women appear on a random Google search of the top 48 or so tech companies.

Stereotypically gendered technology

The masculinization has produced what is known as stereotypically gendered technology. It is crucial that women work in an industry that is predominately male. Who designs a product and who stands to gain from it should be taken into consideration when it is designed. Men may design a product that is primarily used by women, which could result in subpar design. It might not fit the specifications set forth for technology that women can use. An average-height woman, for instance, cannot reach the bottom of a washing machine tub to pull the items out. Another dated example is the fact that since the 1970s, the crash test dummies used to test car safety have been modelled on men for an average male weight and height. It has only now been rectified. This digital world needs more female designers because it is mostly created by men for men.

Ironically, the early programmers were not men, but women. The 1940s saw computer operation and programming as women’s space. By the 1960s when computing gained prominence, men displaced women who were experts and as Marie Hicks states in her book, Programmed Inequality, the space was altered from a “feminized field of endeavour” to a “distinctly masculine image”. (Hicks 2018)

As per the data provided by Planet Money: NPR, women’s presence in various fields clearly shows that, while  medicine, law, and physical sciences saw a significant rise in the number of female students enrolling after 1984, science and technology have seen a sharp decline in the number of female students. There was a perceptible increase between 1975 and 1984, but the trend did not last long as women were ejected from cyberspace.

Women had to learn how to utilise the room-sized supercomputers that the US employed to decipher codes during World War II. A person who programmed the first general-purpose electronic computer during the Second World War was known as a “computer.” Women were portrayed as confident, attractive, and ready to do their part to win the war. They were encouraged to join the workforce by glorifying and glamorizing the role of the working women.

Women made up a significant portion of the tech workforce throughout the World War Two and up until the 1960s. They made important contributions to science and technology. 

 STEM education’s impact

Women make up approximately 43% of all STEM (Science, technology, engineering, mathematics) graduates in India, one of the highest percentages in the world, but just 14% of scientists, engineers, and technicians in universities and research-development organisations. (Economic Times 2022) The underrepresentation of women in STEM fields is a problem around the world but India’s case is a curious one, despite an increase in the number of female STEM students each year, these higher education levels have not led to greater employment opportunities.

Lack of job opportunities has prompted them to turn to other avenues. Clinical psychologist Joy Harris describes such a phenomenon as “learned technological helplessness”. (Harris 2008)

Studies have shown that young girls would decide if they were good at math or science by the age of 8 – 10 years of age. It is critical to provide them the right opportunities at that young age.

The data further shows that disparity becomes acute at the undergraduate level. They prefer psychology, biological and social sciences over engineering (22%), computer science (20%), and physics (21%). Similarly in the STEM workforce, women show not much interest as compared to men. They have a very low share in the computer and mathematical sciences (26%), and engineering (16%).

 Post- COVID era

Even in normal times, women bear what sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls “the double burden.” While they work for a living, they do significant amount of unpaid household work. According to a survey made in 2022, as many as 58% of Indian women lost their employment mostly due to the Covid-19  pandemic. Women were driven away from the corporate sector thanks to the rise in home duties. (Sethi 2022) This was also the time where people showed a greater dependence on technology than ever. Most jobs demanded workers to be tech-savvy. The gender gap in the economy also worsened because of the pandemic.

Rising domestic violence further accentuated the disparity. According to one source, 1 in 3 women worldwide experienced physical or sexual abuse at the hands of an intimate relationship. As a result, women were experiencing assault and looking for employment options. (UN Women: Gender equality matters in COVID -19 response)

During the worst phase of Covid and after, some people began to use social media to share their daily emotions, which allowed them to connect with others who share their perspectives. According to Statista portal, as of January 2022, Snapchat had more female users, while platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter had more male users than female. According to another source, men use LinkedIn more often as compared to women which are 54% and 44% respectively.

 The active presence of women on the social media platforms have made them vulnerable to abuses and threats of various kinds.

Online gender-based violence (OGBV) is perpetrated by using technology or a digital interface -specifically the internet or smart devices. Cyber stalking, zoom bombing, identity theft, online threats, blackmailing and cyber flashing are familiar forms of online gender-based violence. According to the toolkit, 85% of women globally face online gender – based violence. 88% of women in Asia and the Pacific have experienced OGBV. (Toolkit: 30 for 2030 UN Women 2022)

A survey on online violence against women by the Amnesty International suggests that 70% of the women who experienced some forms of online harassment have altered how they use social media, and a third of them claim they no longer express their thoughts on certain topics.

 Nordic exceptionalism?

Nordic countries score higher than others on gender equality parameters. While Sweden gets top score in perceptions of gender equality, Norway tops all other nations in terms of income equality. This has been possible as the Nordic nations  have established a higher degree of political consensus around issues like social equality and social solidarity. They pay women in technology more than others. As the 2018 OECD report, “Is the last mile the longest? Economic gains from gender equality in Nordic countries” notes, it is this region’s past improvements in gender equality in employment that have “contributed to economic growth.” The Nordic nations’ global reputation notwithstanding, they continue to have gender gaps in technology. Anneli Häyren, a researcher at the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University, Sweden, points out that there exists an idea of being gender equal, but “we have a long way to go before we are gender equal.”

The Nordic Gender Effect at Work, a report from the Nordic Council of Ministers, an advisory group, further notes that there has been “a disturbing pattern” in businesses: “the higher up the hierarchy you look, the more men you notice.” This report raises serious concerns about the gender gap. It is thus apparent that even in societies where gender equality is the norm, women and other different gender groupings may not necessarily be equally represented in all sectors, specially  technology.

Some academics contend that women are less likely to pursue degrees in STEM even in countries where there is already a culture of gender equality. This behavioural pattern involves teaching topics to girls when they are still very young. It has come to surprise many like University of Essex professor Gijsbert Stoet who says, “It is a paradox…. nobody would have expected this to be the reality of our time”.

 Maddy Savage’s write-up for the BBCwebsite, “the paradox of working for the world’s most equal countries,” appears puzzling. Even in Denmark, the most inclusive country in the world, “mainly white males sit at the top of many of the best-known corporations.” One explanation is that women prefer to work in public sector which limits the pool available for top private sector roles.

Engineers and IT specialists are already in short supply in the Nordic labour market. According to a study, it will soon be necessary to solve the problem because new technology will be created practically entirely by men. In the Nordic labour market, women have established themselves in the service industry. According to a survey, women have benefited most from the region’s service industry, which accounts for 80% of all employment.

Conclusion

Women in the tech sector continue to face toxic and gendered environment. The so-called male technical prowess as an organising principle marks the work culture. As the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific points out, the existing under-representation of women in the technology industry is reinforcing social inequalities. “It is meaningless to talk about technological advancements if half of the population is being left behind.”

It is ironic that such gender inequalities should exist while the world embarks on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Another worrying trend is that the Covid -19 pandemic impacted men and women differently “exacerbating current asymmetries and risking a reversal of progress made towards closing the gender gap.” Gender stereotypes have led to a gendered division of labour in the tech industry.

In 2021, the percentage of women in CEO positions globally was a mere 5.5 % and in STEM fields, it was only around 3 %. A way forward would be women’s larger presence in the STEM careers. That will not only lower the untenable existing disparities, it will embolden other women to follow suit.

Nalini Malani, a contemporary Indian artist whose creative works reflect pressing feminist issues, says that though science and technology have given us so much allowing us to talk to each other over oceans, “the human psyche hasn’t kept abreast.” However, Malani is confident that “the future is female’ and the world needs the instinctual knowledge of the female side of our brains, “otherwise we are doomed.”

 Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has announced that from February 2023 teenagers will only receive ads based on their age and location. It has also announced that it will be “removing gender as a targeting option.” It is perhaps too late, too little but it is a welcome move. If the big tech companies don’t mend their ways, they will be blamed for what Churchill chastised the Balkans: “they produce more history than they can consume.” They will be judged by the new generation for showing their own shame.

*Jisha Jacob has done Masters in Political Science from University of Delhi

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