The Political Economy of the Web: Monopoly, Laziness, and Editorializing

When Facebook held its IPO this past spring and Twitter adopted a censorship policy which allows local authorities to intervene in users’ accounts if deemed necessary by those authorities, I started thinking about the monopoly that communications companies have on our time and money. We may disagree with the trajectory these companies are headed, their policies, and their methods, but still we keep coming back. And they know it.

It came up again recently when the mitZine needed to renew its domain name registration for another year: GoDaddy is the cheapest and easiest option. Even the process of looking for other domain name hosting companies was frustrating.

GoDaddy is one of those companies whose nearly-ubiquitous advertising you roll your eyes at during every SuperBowl ad cycle (busty celebrity sportswomen wearing tiny GoDaddy t-shirts and tank tops, such as in this “racy” banned SuperBowl ad). The company has garnered a reputation for being sleazy, allegedly spamming its outgoing customers, and for having a CEO who does what he wants and gets away with it.

But, once you’re in, it’s much easier to stay in than to switch.

The same goes for Facebook and Twitter. Once you have built your cyber world on these sites, it’s easy to put up with what the CEOs are doing behind the scenes and stay for your own personal enjoyment. Besides, where else would you go? Google+?! (Does anyone really do anything on Google+?) Tumblr? Surely it’s only a matter of time before the CEOs of those companies, too, realize that if they sell their soul to get foreign users, they will reap massive financial rewards.

The point is that if we want to be social on the web, we pay for it. We pay simply by being humans, by being users. Our information is being put to work for these websites that have inextricably interconnected countless aspects of our postmodern lives. But we either pay or we unplug. Unplugging is always an option, of course, but there is no truly ethical (or functional) replacement for the FB and T. Maybe there is no truly ethical alternative for GoDaddy either.

Perhaps we should have tried harder to get another domain name host. They definitely exist. Many people have left GoDaddy for other companies. Why aren’t we among them? I have no comprehensive answer, only an excuse: GoDaddy is cheap and easy. And as busy editors, we chose to go with convenience over ethics. And we chose to use an editorial to alleviate our guilt.

2 thoughts on “The Political Economy of the Web: Monopoly, Laziness, and Editorializing

  1. Not only am I quite disappointed that the mitZine continues to support GoDaddy (one of the initial advocates for SOPA, among other things), but this article also highlights a disconcerting trend I’ve noticed amongst FIMS students: we are privy to the injustices of an increasingly concentrated media landscape, but due to convenience, laziness, etc. we somehow rationalize our compliance in perpetuating the very systems we know are exploitative, unethical, and so on. In this regard, I think it’s high time we start applying our knowledge, that is, begin to resist mercenary media practices wherever possible. Alternatively, we can continue to passively — and conveniently — accept our current situation (but we’ll still write really critical essays about it, of course).

    I, for one, am mad as hell. And I’m not going to take it anymore.

  2. To be honest, I disagree that we are ‘privy to the injustices of an increasingly concentrated media landscape.’ From my experience, more often than not, we don’t really know shit; many of us are keen on making broad theoretical arguments, without enough substance. It’s like pseudo-critical thinking.

    For example, how many times have you heard ‘Facebook takes your information and sells it to corporations.’ I mean, as business Facebook needs revenue streams, but how exactly do they sell your ‘information’? We probably don’t know, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a concrete explanation of this process- only general claims. Even the Facebook IPO argument which introduced the article did not transpire to any specific claims. What changes have you noticed since Facebook IPO’s, and should we be concerned with any of them? As a public company, they are under immense pressure from angry investors after a disappointing IPO, so there is definitely a cool research topic there.

    I guess all I’m saying is that, yes, perhaps laziness propels our continued support for certain companies. However, more troubling for me, is the laziness behind making broad rhetorical accusations without specific research backing it up.

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