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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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Science & Technology

U.S. Sanctions Push Huawei to Re-Invent Itself and Look Far into the Future

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There is no doubt that the return of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou to Beijing marks a historic event for the entire country that made every Chinese person incredibly proud, especially bearing in mind its timing, as the National Day celebrations took place on October 1.

“Where there is a five-star red flag, there is a beacon of faith. If faith has a color, it must be China red,” Ms. Meng said to the cheering crowd at Shenzhen airport after returning home from Canada. She also added that “All the frustration and difficulties, gratitude and emotion, steadfastness and responsibility will transform into momentum for moving us forward, into courage for our all-out fight.”

Regardless of how encouraging the Chinese tech giant heiress’s words may sound, the fact remains that the company remains a target of U.S. prosecution and sanctions—something that is not about to change anytime soon.

When the Sanctions Bite

It was former U.S. President Donald Trump who in May 2019 signed an order that allowed the then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to halt any transactions concerning information or communications technology “posing an unacceptable risk” to the country’s national security. As a result, the same month, Huawei and its non-U.S. affiliates were added to the Bureau of Industry and Security Entity List, which meant that any American companies wishing to sell or transfer technology to the company would have to obtain a licence issued by the BIS.

In May 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce decided to expand the FPDP Rule by restricting the Chinese tech giant from acquiring foreign-made semiconductors produced or developed from certain U.S. technology or software and went even further in August the same year by issuing the Final Rule that prohibits the re-export, export from abroad or transfer (in-country) of (i) certain “foreign-produced items” controlled under the amended footnote 1 to the Entity List (“New Footnote 1”) when there is (ii) “knowledge” of certain circumstances, the scope of which were also expanded.

Moreover, the decision also removed the Temporary General License (“TGL”) previously authorizing certain transactions with Huawei and added thirty-eight additional affiliates of the Chinese company to the Entity List.

In these particular circumstances, despite the initial predictions made by Bloomberg early in 2020 that Trump’s decision to blacklist Huawei fails to stop its growth, the current reality seems to be slightly changing for once—and briefly—the world’s largest smartphone vendor.

The impact of the U.S. sanctions has already resulted in a drop in sales in the smartphone business by more than 47% in the first half of 2021, and the total revenue fell by almost 30% if we compare it with the same period in 2020. As is estimated by rotating Chairman Eric Xu, the company’s revenue concerning its smartphone sales will drop by at least $30-40 billion this year.

For the record, Huawei’s smartphone sales accounted for $50 billion in revenue last year. The company has generated $49.57 billion in revenue in total so far, which is said to be the most significant drop in its history.

In Search of Alternative Income Streams

Despite finding itself in dire straits, the company is in constant search for new sources of income with a recent decision to charge patent royalties from other smartphone makers for the use of its 5G technologies, with a “per unit royalty cap” at $2.50 for every multimode mobile device capable of connections to 5G and previous generations of mobile networks. Huawei’s price is lower than the one charged by Nokia ($3.58 per device) and Ericsson ($2.50-$5 per device).

Notably, according to data from the intellectual property research organization GreyB, Huawei has 3,007 declared 5G patent families and over 130,000 5G active patents worldwide, making the Chinese company the largest patent holder globally.

Jason Ding, who is head of Huawei’s intellectual property rights department, informed early this year that the company would collect about $1.2-$1.3 billion in revenue from patent licensing between 2019 and 2021. But royalties will not be the only revenue source for the company.

Investing in the Future: Cloud Services and Smart Cars

Apart from digitizing native companies in sectors like coal mining and port operations that increased its revenue by 23% last year and 18% in the first part of 2021, Huawei looks far into the future, slowly steering away from its dependency on foreign chip supplies by setting its sight on cloud services and software for smart cars.

Seizing an opportunity to improve the currently not-so-perfect cloud service environment, the Chinese tech giant is swiftly moving to have its share in the sector by creating new cloud services targeting companies and government departments. For this purpose, it plans to inject $100 million over three years’ period into SMEs to expand on Huawei Cloud.

As of today, Huawei’s cloud business is said to grow by 116% in the first quarter of 2021, with a 20% share of a $6 billion market in China, as Canalys reports.

“Huawei Cloud’s results have been boosted by Internet customers and government projects, as well as key wins in the automotive sector. It is a growing part of Huawei’s overall business,” said a chief analyst at the company, Matthew Ball. He also added that although 90% of this business is based in China, Huawei Cloud has a more substantial footprint in Latin America and Europe, the Middle East and Africa as compared with Alibaba Cloud and Tencent Cloud.

Another area where Huawei is trying its luck is electric and autonomous vehicles, where the company is planning to invest $1 billion alone this year. Although the company has repeatedly made it clear that it is unwilling to build cars, Huawei wants to “help the car connect” and “make it more intelligent,” as its official noted.

While during the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show, Huawei and Arcfox Polar Fox released a brand new Polar Fox Alpha S Huawei Hi and China’s GAC revealed a plan to roll out a car with the Chinese tech company after 2024, Huawei is already selling the Cyrus SF5, a smart Chinese car from Chongqing Xiaokang, equipped with Huawei DriveONE electric drive system, from its experience store for the first time in the company’s history. What’s more, the car is also on sale online.

R&D and International Talent as Crucial Ingredients to Become Tech Pioneer

There is a visible emphasis put on investing in high-quality research and development to innovate both in Huawei and China as a whole.

According to the company’s data, the Chinese technology giant invested $19.3 billion in R&D in 2019, which accounted for 13.9% of its total business revenue and $22 billion last year, which was around 16% of its revenue. Interestingly, if Huawei was treated as a provincial administrative region, its R&D expenditure would rank seventh nationwide.

As reported by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the total R&D spending in China last year was 2.44 trillion yuan, up 10.6% year-on-year growth, and 2.21 trillion yuan in 2019, with 12.3% year-on-year growth.

As far as activities are concerned, the most were spent on experimental development in 2020 (2.02 trillion yuan, which is 82.7% of total spending), applied research (275.72 billion yuan, which gives 11.3%) and basic research (146.7 billion yuan, accounting for 6%). While the most money was spent by enterprises (1.87 trillion yuan, which gives up 10.4% year-on-year), governmental research institutions spent 340.88 billion yuan (up 10.6% year-on-year), and universities and colleges spent 188.25 billion yuan (up 4.8% year-on-year).

As far as industries go, it is also worth mentioning that high-tech manufacturing spending accounted for 464.91 billion yuan, with equipment manufacturing standing at 913.03 billion yuan. The state science and tech spending accounted for 1.01 trillion yuan, which is 0.06 trillion yuan less than in 2019.

As Huawei raises the budget for overseas R&D, the company also plans to invest human resources by attracting the brightest foreign minds into its business, which is in some way a by-product of the Trump-era visa limitations imposed on Chinese students.

So far, concentrating on bringing Chinese talent educated abroad, Huawei is determined to broader its talent pool by “tall noses,” as the mainland Chinese sometimes refer to people of non-Chinese origin.

“Now we need to focus on bringing in talent with ‘tall noses’ and allocate a bigger budget for our overseas research centres,” said the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei in a speech made in August. “We need to turn Huawei’s research center in North America into a talent recruitment hub,” Ren added.

While Huawei wants to scout for those who have experience working in the U.S. and Europe, it wants to meet the salary standards comparable to the U.S. market to make their offer attractive enough.

What seems to be extraordinary and crucial by looking at China through Huawei lens is that it is, to the detriment of its critics, indeed opening to the outside world by aiming at replenishing all facets of its business.

“We need to further liberate our thoughts and open our arms to welcome the best talent in the world,” to quote Ren, in an attempt to help the company become more assimilated in overseas markets as a global enterprise “in three to five years”.

The Chinese tech giant aims to attract international talent to its new 1.6 million square meter research campus in Qingpu, Shanghai, which will house 30,000 to 40,000 research staff primarily concerned with developing handset and IoT chips. The Google-like campus is said to be completed in 2023.

The best sign of Huawei’s slow embrace of the “start-up” mentality, as the company’s head of research and development in the UK, Henk Koopmans, put it, is the acquiring of the Center for Integrated Photonics based in Ipswich (UK) in 2012, which has recently developed a laser on a chip that can direct light into a fibre-optic cable.

This breakthrough discovery, in creating an alternative to the mainstream silicon-based semiconductors, provides Huawei with its product based on Indium Phosphide technology to create a situation where the company no longer needs to rely on the U.S. know-how.

As for high-profile foreign recruitments, Huawei has recently managed to hire a renowned French mathematician Laurent Lafforgue, a winner of the 2002 Fields Medal, dubbed as the Nobel Prize of mathematics, who will work at the company’s research center in Paris, and appointed the former head of BBC news programmes Gavin Allen as its “executive editor in chief” to improve its messaging strategy in the West.

According to Huawei’s annual report published in 2020, the Shenzhen-based company had 197,000 employees worldwide, including employees from 162 different countries and regions. Moreover, it increased its headcount by 3,000 people between the end of 2019 and 2020, with 53.4% of its employees in the R&D sector.

The main objective of the developments mentioned above is to “lead the world” in both 5G and 6G to dominate global standards of the future.

“We will not only lead the world in 5G, more importantly, we will aim to lead the world in wider domains,” said Huawei’s Ren Zhengfei in August. “We research 6G as a precaution, to seize the patent front, to make sure that when 6G one day really comes into use, we will not depend on others,” Ren added.

Discussing the potential uses of 6G technology, Huawei’s CEO told his employees that it “might be able to detect and sense” beyond higher data transmission capabilities in the current technologies, with a potential to be utilized in healthcare and surveillance.

Does the U.S. Strategy Towards Huawei Work?

As we can see, the Chinese tech giant has not only proved to be resilient through the years of being threatened by the harmful U.S. sanctions, but it also has made significant steps to become independent and, therefore, entirely out of Washington’s punishment reach.

Although under the intense pressure from the Republicans the U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo promised that the Biden administration will take further steps against Huawei if need be, it seems that there is nothing much that the U.S. can do to stop the Chinese company from moving ahead without any U.S. permission to develop in the sectors of the future, while still making a crucial contribution to the existing ones.

At the same time, continuing with the Trump-era policies aimed at Huawei is not only hurting American companies but, according to a report from the National Foundation for American Policy published in August 2021, it also “might deal a significant blow to innovation and scientific research” in the country.

“Restricting Huawei from doing business in the U.S. will not make the U.S. more secure or stronger; instead, this will only serve to limit the U.S. to inferior yet more expensive alternatives, leaving the U.S. lagging behind in 5G deployment, and eventually harming the interests of U.S. companies and consumers,” Huawei said in, what now appears to be, prophetic statement to CNBC in 2019.

On that note, perhaps instead of making meaningless promises to the Republicans that the Biden administration “wouldn’t be soft” on the Chinese tech giant, Raimondo would make the U.S. better off by engaging with Huawei, or at least rethinking the current policies, which visibly are not bringing the desired results, yet effectively working to undermine the U.S. national interest in the long run.

From our partner RIAC

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The so-called privacy on the Internet

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At the beginning of last June, 8.4 billion stolen passwords were made public around the world. This large collection – made available to everyone – is named “RockYou2021” and is stored in a text file measuring 100 GB.

On October 4, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram were blocked and hence all sensitive data was logically copied upon the initiative of skilled hackers, of whom our planet can boast anonymous categories of them with superior and exceptional abilities that care little about prime numbers.

At the same time, when we connect with thousands of multilingual copy-and-paste websites, they come up come up with a pathetic piece of software that begins with the phrase “We care about your privacy”. And in Italy where “amore” (love) has always rhymed with “cuore” (heart), some people think that users – while reading this – take out their handkerchiefs to wipe away the tears of emotion because there is someone who lovingly thinks of them, not realising that, instead, it is tears of laughter.

Others say that there are laws to protect the few naive and gullible users, but they forget a proverb and a key to political thinking. The proverb is: “every law has its loophole” and the key is: “laws are a superstructure”.

Hence many people are curious to know whether the advertising of the Internet giants respects confidentiality – commonly known with the barbarism privacy – and whether the establishment protects them from the many bad hackers.

It is in the interest of the advertising by Internet giants (the establishment) to use each user’s privacy, such as monitoring the chat history (primarily WhatsApp) or the content of calls, because the methods and means to do so exist. Just watch excellent US series, starting with the gripping Mr. Robot and other series, to understand that fresh and young minds are enough to do so. Imagine what scruples the Internet giants may have in the face of ethical values such as confidentiality and secrecy.

The risk-benefit ratio of the Internet approach is high, as what is at stake is not Kantian ethics (the superstructure) – which is worth very little – but profits in any currency, whether real or in bitcoins (the structure).

There are many ways in which the Internet giants, and private hackers, can control users’ privacy, which are really beyond many web users’ cognition.

It is natural that most of our privacy is exposed by ourselves to third parties. We all know that there is a word on the Internet called “search”. Basically, for most people who are particularly active on the Internet it is very easy – for one who is interested in the matter – to discover the forms in which privacy oxymoronically manifests itself all out in the open.

Most of the time people do not know how much privacy they expose in a search or in simple surfing. We think it is impossible for ordinary third parties to know who are those who investigate web surfers. I am referring to both decent people and criminals. Before being discovered, however, even a criminal has a right to privacy.

The Internet giants and independent hackers have data and systems that we mere humans cannot even imagine. The Internet giants help the police to catch intruders, saboteurs or other criminals, and can often provide very comprehensive information on suspects, including last address, area of activity and so on. As usual, the problem is a moral – therefore negligible – one: intruders, saboteurs or other criminals previously used to be ordinary citizens. Therefore, as they are monitored, so are we. This is logic not inference.

As noted above, the data of the Internet giants and private hackers is more abundant and vast than many ordinary people may think.

When the Internet giants carry out data analysis and optimise advertising, the connection by third parties has huge commercial value (the structure). Hence the motivation and skills of the Internet giants and hackers in data connection are astonishing.

The vast majority of the Internet users, in fact, have not a deep understanding of all this and may think that an Internet giant does not know about a user or another when they connect to a web page or when they send top secret documents to their counterparts. At the same time, the scarcely skilful people – albeit aware that they are being taken for a ride by stories about privacy protection – reappraise the old systems: personal meetings in unthinkable places; delivery by systems reminiscent of old 1950s-1980s movies. In practice, the cunning incompetent people reverse one of the first absurd statements of the digital age: ‘With the Internet, books will disappear’. It did not take long to realise that a book in pdf format is unreadable and its use is only for finding strings in it, i.e. sentences or words.

The above mentioned Internet giants often use the same set of advertising and management platforms for different products, whether they are deployed on the households’ Internet or in the dangerous and ruinous deep web, which is the part of the iceberg below sea level.

If the leader of an Internet giant wants to maximise the data value, he/she asks to check all the “clicked” components of the product, so as to obtain the accuracy of tags – i.e. the sequence of characters with which the elements of a file are marked for further processing – in view of getting the maximum advertising revenue (the structure).

At the same time, the mobile Internet (i.e. the one that can be accessed by smartphones, which used to be ridiculously called mobile phones) provides more possibilities to locate people, obviously more accurately than the fixed one at home. Hence those who do not want people to know that they are at home, and go elsewhere with their smartphones, communicate their wandering location, believing they are invisible.

In fact, if we think about it, home desktop computers often provide inaccurate data to those who spy on us to find out our tastes and preferences. For example, it happened that some background data showed that 3,000 users, with an average age of 30-40, seemed to be suddenly getting younger. Hence the Internet giant was initially surprised, but shortly afterwards realised that many children were using their parents’ computers.

To remedy this, the Internet giants – in close liaison with the telephone industry – have gone beyond the primitive and very common scenario of family desktop computers and Internet café shared workstations for young adults, and made parents and grandparents equip their underage children with smartphones. In this way, an Internet giant has a perfect framework for monitoring, controlling and diversifying tastes for narrower age groups, thus obtaining higher profits (the structure) to the detriment of privacy (the superstructure). The telephone industry is grateful for this, as its profits simultaneously rise, thanks to buyers who barely know how to use 5% of the functionalities of the aforementioned device.

Many people have not even clear understanding in their minds as to the data connection. For example, if the product/desire/curiosity A and the product/desire/curiosity B are used at the same time, and A and B belong to the same Internet giant, it is actually very easy for it to establish a data connection mechanism to share any of the user’s desires through specific characteristic information.

Such a system is used to recommend a product/desire/curiosity or use the same advertisement that the user personalises without realising it. Many people think they are being clever by having separate accounts for different purposes. Apparently it looks that way, but in reality it is easy for the Internet giants to know the relationship existing between these accounts and put one and one together.

The smartphone is an even better container for the Internet giant and the hacker to collect unique identifying information from that “device”, such as that user’s number, phone book and other data. In fact, while the user is not sufficiently security-conscious, many software installations (i.e. apps) already collect various pieces of information by default.

In turn, the identifying information from that device (the smartphone) is used by various software located in remote servers. If the product/taste/desire belongs to the same Internet giant or if the same third-party data company provides technical support, it is actually very easy to obtain the users’ data through them.

Moreover, when the apps are installed, the phone numbers of the naive unfortunate users have been collected on the remote server without their knowledge. This is because when most people install apps, the privacy authorization step by default is simply ignored.

It is annoying for users to read all those long pages and therefore, in the future, the Internet giant will say that it is their and not its fault if it spies on their privacy, because they authorised it to do so! Provided that it is true that if they refuse, it “morally” does as they have chosen. Probably the naive people still think so.

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John McAfee’s suicide: The Internet and conspiracy theories

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According to rumours, the suicide of tax evader, bitcoin supporter and antivirus software pioneer John McAfee (1945-2021) – a British naturalised US citizen – has prompted both grief and new conspiracy theories.

After his evading taxes and dribbling the US authorities for many years, a Spanish court ordered – in the first instance – McAfee’s extradition a few hours before he was found dead. If he had been extradited, the 75-year-old man would have faced life imprisonment in the United States of America.

Former National Security Agency employee and whistleblower Edward Snowden criticised the global influence of US law enforcement agencies and warned that McAfee’s untimely end may not be the only one. He wrote on Twitter: “Europe should not extradite those accused of non-violent crimes to such an unfair justice system – and to such a cruel prison system – to the point that those accused in a judicial prosecution in the United States would rather die than be subjected to it”.

The founder of Cardano – an open source project linked to cryptocurrencies that aims to create a public blockchain platform (a digital ledger whose entries are grouped into ‘blocks’, concatenated in chronological order, and whose integrity is guaranteed by the use of cryptography) for the management of computer protocols that facilitate, check or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract, sometimes enabling the partial or total exclusion of a contractual clause (smart contract) – Charles Hoskinson, praised McAfee for his contribution to computer science, calling him “one of the most mysterious and interesting people in the history of cryptocurrency and computing”. “He is also a deeply troubled person” – Hoskinson added – pointing to McAfee’s well-documented personal trauma from his substance abuse problems.

“The reason for the suicide seems to be obvious: McAfee was 75 years old and extradition to the United States of America was likely. If found guilty, he would have faced over 30 years in prison and it is certain that he would also have been incarcerated […] He seemed rather determined to choose to end his life in a Spanish prison instead of a US one.”

Bitcoin influencer and podcaster Anthony Pompliano recalls that McAfee was “kind, funny and very smart”.

“I once had the opportunity to spend a day with the legendary McAfee on a boat in the Bahamas. I will always remember that day. I have great respect for one of the most unique people in the world.”

Kim Dotcom – a German entrepreneur and computer scientist with Finnish citizenship – is an Internet entrepreneur who is fighting extradition charges from New Zealand over his file-sharing network Megaupload. He regrets that McAfee’s drug abuse robbed him of his potential. He said: ‘He was a pioneer in data security. I always thought it was too difficult for him to be around other people. He should have avoided drugs and instead concentrate on using his ingenuity all the time. When he was lucid, he was dedicated to everyone’s freedom”.

Although McAfee’s legal representative in Spain told Reuters that McAfee committed suicide, preferring to hang himself rather than face life in prison, predictably the Internet is full of conspiracy theories claiming that McAfee did not die by his own hand.

Shortly after McAfee’s official Instragram account shared the image of the letter ‘Q’, controversies and allegations were raised, igniting the imagination of QAnon conspiracy theorists, according to whom there is a hypothetical secret plot organised by an alleged Deep State (which can be identified in some hidden powers) that would act against the former President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, and his supporters.

Business Insider reported that QAnon influencers on Telegram have hundreds of thousands of followers and are sharing posts suspecting suicide stories.

McAfee’s tweets have been republished since the day he died, and one of them dates back to December 2019, when McAfee claimed that the government had threatened to assassinate him. Hence there are many who do not believe any version of his suicide.

Other conspiracy theorists followed a June 2019 post in which he claimed to have a data treasure trove of 31 TB and more, containing evidence of government corruption.

Every eccentric millionaire who argues with the government claims to have evidence of corruption, and if tragedy befalls them, everything will be made public. In the end, tragedy falls on many of them, but the evidence is never released to the media, unlike we often see in US movies.

It is worth recalling that McAfee was no stranger to bold and strange statements, including a promise that if the price of Bitcoin did not exceed one million US dollars by 2021, he would devour his supporters on national television.

In the last weeks of his life, McAfee’s tweets in prison had also become increasingly sombre. In May 2021, he revealed he had discussed suicide with a cellmate: “Today a person who is facing a difficult situation has asked me if I know a painless method of suicide. I have little experience in this field and I am not very forthcoming. Surprisingly, the tone of the discussion then slipped into how to spend the time”. It is worth noting that the businessman had no particular reason for the suicide. The fact is that the Spanish court’s decision on extradition was not final. Hence McAfee could have subsequently tried to appeal that decision. It is alarming in this story that even last autumn McAfee stated he would not commit suicide under any circumstances.

Javier Villalba, a Spanish lawyer for McAfee, told Reuters he believed that McAfee could simply not tolerate being locked up in a prison: “This is the result of a cruel system. There is no reason for this elderly person to be in prison for so long.”

Conspiracy theories are flourishing in the United States. Probably fewer people believe in the “moon conspiracy”, which is – after all – a matter of national pride. The rest of the stories are similar: vaccinations and HIV – a conspiracy of pharmaceutical companies; global warming –  a conspiracy of climatologists; Kennedy’s assassination by the special services – the said special services even staged the 9/11 attacks and school massacres, etc.

The story of Bill Gates implanting microchips in COVID-19 vaccines to track us has also sold well: according to the latest polls, 44% of the Republican Party’s members believe it.

The problem is that such views – sometimes naive, sometimes strange and sometimes wild – often have consequences. Some people think 5G towers are really spreading the coronavirus and go and burn them down. Others refuse to vaccinate their children, and so massively that the WHO included it for the first time in its list of threats to human health. With the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine, this could become an even bigger problem.

It is vain to think that conspiracy theories are about someone else, and not the smartest people, and certainly not about you and your environment. A 2018 poll showed that 67% of Russians believed in a secret “world government” (in 2014 it was 45%), and 68% of them have higher education.

Conspiracy theories are not a consistent story to be believed or disbelieved. Rather, it is a multitude of interpretations of individual facts, each of which can occupy any place on a scale ranging from pure absurdity to scientific evidence. Some might consider the enslavement of humanity by aliens incredible, but oppose vaccination – or vice versa.

Between scientific facts and explicit conspiracy theories, there is a large grey area, within which for each of us there is a completely logical explanation of the world, which to someone else will seem like a conspiracy theory.

Our image of the world is influenced by rather old settings of the brain and psyche. It is influenced by archaic settings of the brain and psyche: detection of apparent and insubstantial intentions; fear of uncertainty; generations of stories and distrust of strangers.

When the subject is confronted with stress due to external circumstances, thinking runs the risk of becoming more conspiratorial, and hence developing the above mentioned four characteristics.

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