Alternative Histories of Social Media in Japan and China
In her essay for the inaugural edition of the journal Social Media and Society, Nancy Baym critiques the idea that there is something inherently new or special about recent social media platforms such as Facebook. She notes that older forms of media like televisions and telephones have always had social applications and that a range of earlier Internet functions have long enabled 'connecting with friends and family, discovering what is going on in the world [and] sharing and expressing what maters' (Baym, 2015: 1). For Baym, the rise of the term 'social media' is more about the corporatization of the Internet and the manner in which companies such as Facebook have developed platforms that 'harness what people were already doing' and turned these practices into 'revenue streams' (Baym, 2015: 1). She notes many of the drawbacks of the corporate model of social networking, not least its domination by a few venture-capitalist companies whose 'take-it-or-leave-it' terms of service divest users from their content and promote cultures of mass surveillance where individuals lose control over their data. We need a better model for rethinking communication media, she concludes, not one that treats 'humans as data profiles to be matched with advertisers' (2015: 2).