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A HyperLink Network Analysis of the UK Mobile Porn Industry
Steven McDermott Institute of Communications Studies University of Leeds email@example.com
The Internet is optimistically regarded as a force for democracy and at the same time another mechanism by which the poor and weak become further disempowered (Calhoun, 1998). Computer mediated communication enhances the current power structures while reinforcing the exploitation of those who are most vulnerable. By recognising the dominance of online pornography, Internet Service Providers and the communications industry are willing to accept the profits generated in working with the porn industry while ignoring the price being paid by the most visible, and yet voiceless agents. In doing so the Internet is awash with easily accessible pornographic imagery with mobile phones viewed as an even bigger market. With the demand for such material being the driving force for broadband usage and with the expansion of the use of mobile phones for downloading videos, I will ask; ‘which United Kingdom companies are the keyplayers? Are there structural holes within the networks, ensuring ‘deniability’ for the larger industrial players?’ I target online websites of the ‘adult entertainment’ industry in the UK using HyperLink analysis in order to extract the social network. This then enables me to conduct social network analysis uncovering the keyplayers of the UK porn industry with higher levels of “closeness centrality” and “betweenness centrality” (de Nooy et al., 2005). Closeness centrality and betweenness centrality are regarded as measures of power within a given network. This paper is an exploratory analysis of the dominant players shaping the UK mobile porn industry, searching for tentative links between the providers and the industrial players that have enabled the distribution of the material via the Internet and mobile phones.
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The proliferation of new communications and information technologies are facilitating the continued exploitation of women and girls (Hughes, 2002). People can now easily buy and sell images and videos that are pornographic. The pornography industry operates as any other industry does under capitalism. It is constantly seeking new markets and where none exists, creating one. The so-called ‘free stuff’ offered on the Internet;
is either a product that gets you hooked on to another one or makes you just consume more time on the net. After all, the goal of access people and telecoms is to have users spend as much time on the net as possible, regardless of what they are doing. The objective is to have you consume bandwidth. (Horvarth, 1998 cited in Terranova, 2004)
The paper is concerned with the mainstream space of flows of a highly commercial activity on not just the Internet but mobile devices, the production and distribution of pornography. The pornography industry is heavily reliant on the mainstream media for the dissemination of their material. Where once the consumer of pornography had to traverse a terrain that was policed, prohibited, regulated and hidden in the periphery of spaces; now the consumption of digitised pornographic imagery is achieved via fibre optic cable linked to personal computer terminals. With the advent of portable video devices, from the 3G mobile phone to the iPod, this paper examines the developing mainstream network of producers and distributors of pornography, its limits and the next wave of distribution of pornography via ‘free stuff’ mobile sites or “mini-porn” (Musgrove, 2005). This distribution takes place while the corporations make assertions about their levels of social responsibility. The United Kingdom (UK) Internet pornography industry is defined here as any adult orientated website that is accessible to anyone online or via mobile phone, and the businesses and companies that help or aid in the distribution of such content. It does not cover newsgroups or peer-to-peer exchange of pornographic material. The geographic location of this industry is not determined by the location of the servers but by the business strategies employed by global pornographers in targeting the UK. The pornography industry is regarded as one of the most advanced in terms of utilising technology and now major corporations are attempting to profit from this
Draft – Not for citation industry without being seen to be associated with the production process and exploitation that accompanies it (Devaney, 2002). In 2002 Penthouse was said to be on the brink of bankruptcy (Devaney, 2002). The industry that was once dominated by magazines has seen revenue drop and is fighting for survival. Their declining profits made via the exploitation of women may be about to see a turn-around. A survey conducted by the British ISP Homecall, found that 23 per cent of UK residents are getting broadband in order to access pornography, and it is the most important factor when getting broadband (Orlowski, 2004). The pornography industry is important to the Internet because of its consumption of bandwidth (Zook, 2003). Perdue (cited Zook, 2003) estimates that the pornography industry pays US $1.9 billion for bandwidth charges per annum. Developments in new media can be the best thing to happen to old media (Orlowski, 2004). Only twenty days after the launch of the video iPod on the 12th of October 2005, the firm Apple announced that it had sold 1 million videos and television shows at $1.99 each. Podcasts can also be downloaded via Apples ITunes Music Store. According to Bakker and Taalas (2007), within 24 hours of launching, 500,000 video clips were downloaded from Suicidegirls website (suicidegirls.com) which offers short ‘adult’ movies. After 3 days, 1 million short movies had been downloaded from the website (Kahney, 2005). The Sony created Playstation Portable, is also making pornographic material available, although they describe the development as undesirable and insist that it is the open source nature of Universal Media Discs (UMDs, an open source format for digital movies). Niizumi believes the company has learned from the Betamax and VHS debacle, “that adult-oriented movies can significantly affect the expansion of a new media format” (Niizumi, 2005). Consequently, third generation mobile phones (3G) are expected to contribute to the dissemination of pornographic content and generate large revenues for the businesses concerned. The claims of corporate social responsibility (CSR) by the industrial players needs to be something other than hollow assertions of misguided virtue (Henderson, 2001).
It is the paramount duty of the Board of Directors to oversee the CEO and other senior management in the competent and ethical operation of the Company on a day-to-day basis and to assure that the long-term interests of the shareholders are being served. To satisfy this duty, the directors will take a proactive, focused approach to their position, and set standards to ensure that the Company is 3
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committed to business success through maintenance of the highest standards of responsibility and ethics. (http://www.apple.com/investor/)
Recent developments in the distribution of pornography and alleged profits to be made show the emptiness of such assertions. A report titled Mobile Adult Content 2008 Securing revenue from adult entertainment published in July of 2008 targeting UK consumers by Visiongain views the dissemination and profiteering from pornography as a “success story”. Any moral issue is reduced to a ‘relative’ matter with the financial rewards far out–weighing any moral imperative:
On the internet, pornography has been one of the few success stories in terms of revenue generation. Pornography is increasingly becoming available on mobile around the world. Can you afford to ignore mobile adult content? […] Opinions on adult content will continue to differ, from person to person, from country to country. Nevertheless there is no doubting that mobile adult content can reap rewards for mobile operators, content producers, aggregators and distributors. There are though a number of moral issues that must be taken in to account such as content filtering and age verification. Laws and regulations in different countries are also having an effect on what services can be offered. (Available at http://www.visiongain.com/Report.aspx?rid=271 viewed 13/08/2008)
According to Schalken (2000), the Internet would contribute to democracy as a public sphere. It would enhance civil liberties (Percy Smith, 1995), increase accountability (Hague & Loader 1999), increase associational activity (Klein, 1999), and participation (White, 1997; Lenk, 1999 cited Hague & Loader, 1999). When making such grandiose predictions the best approach to theory building is as Howard (2001) states, “[t]heories in social science tend to come from rich detailed investigation and only later are tested on simplified aggregated data.” While much of the research conducted on the Internet tends towards the exaggerated claims of its democratising effect, Hughes (2002) argues to the contrary:
The use of new communication and information technologies for the sexual exploitation of women and children is creating a crisis for women and children’s status, rights and dignity all over the world. Pimps, traffickers, stalkers, and users of pornography and women and children in prostitution have adopted new technologies to further their abuse and exploitation of women and children. (Hughes, 2002:146)
Bohman (2004) asserts that the hope that the Internet would replace sound-bite television with an electronic democracy has failed. Sunstein and Shapiro (Cited Bohman, 2004) argue that the Internet has undermined the sort of public sphere and political interaction needed to engender genuine democratic deliberation.
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Not acknowledging that Internet technology and technology in general is embedded in the social context leads to technological determinism. As Calhoun (1998) asserts, the Internet may do a little to undermine the prevailing domination of elites, be they classified as male or ‘corporations’ but it does manage to do rather a lot to ensure the continued domination of the weak by the powerful.
Social Network Analysis
It is rarely that we find a community that is absolutely isolated, having no outside contact. At the present moment of history, the network of social relations spreads over the whole world, without any absolute solution of continuity anywhere. This gives rise to a difficulty which I do not think that sociologists have really faced, the difficulty of defining what is meant by the term ‘a society’. They do commonly talk of societies as if they were distinguishable, discrete entities…Is the British Empire a society, or a collection of societies? Is a Chinese village a society, or merely a fragment of the Republic of China? (Radcliffe-Brown, 1940:224)
In adherence with Nadel (cited Cavanagh, 2007) the important factor is to not to arbitrarily select a unit of analysis to study. The network is discovered through empirical evidence rather than imposed by the researcher at the beginning. In this instance I am allowing the network to be uncovered by the business industry report rather than the process of HyperLink network analysis. So what is a network? According to Cavanagh (2007) there are five core features of social network analysis’s networks. Networks act to constrain the actions of individuals, networks are in principle universal, networks do not affect the identity of the individual components of them, networks are formed voluntarily but patterns remain culturally specific, networks are not reducible to the aims of the actor involved and social network analysis uses networks as a method of studying networks rather than arguing “that they are a structure in their own right.”(Cavanagh, 2007:29) Social Network Analysis has developed into a formal, mathematical technique of analysing relational data. It is concerned with the contacts, ties and connections, group attachments and meetings (Scott, 2000:3). “The relations are not the properties of the agents themselves, but of systems of parts; these relations connect pairs of agents into larger relational systems.” (Scott, 2000:3). The appropriate method for the analysis of relational data is network analysis which is made up of qualitative measures of
Draft – Not for citation network structures. The emphasis is placed on the ‘structure’ of social action. “Structures are built from relations” (Scott, 2007:4). Social meaning is actively constructed by the group members of the network based on the perceptions and experiences of the context in which they are operating. Paths of connections or geodesics run between the groups and these paths divide the groups into distinct regions. Regions are separated from each other by a lack of paths (Scott, 2007:11). Paths run within the regions but not between the regions. It is these regions that are viewed as constraints or boundaries. These boundaries are regarded as the ‘forces’ that determine group behaviour. American Social Network Analysis on the other hand prefers to work with the concept of the ‘network’ as a geographical metaphor instead of a structural metaphor. Emphasis is placed on the communicative aspect of the network therefore seeing the ties as facilitators and not constraints or boundaries. The communicative basis of the network leads to the erosion of the distinction between organisational networks and interpersonal ones (Scott, 2000:33-36). It is more concerned with ‘intensity’ and ‘strength’ not ‘reciprocity’ and ‘durability’. The focus is on a form of social capital which facilitates action while at the same time arguing that individual components retain their pre-existing identities (Cavanagh, 2007). Actor-Network theory defines the social as a series of conduits or bridges that facilitate the flow of information, resources and ideas around a society. ActorNetwork theory is primarily concerned with an investigation of power. It is concerned with the way that ideas and beliefs are formed and developed in a society. Power emerges from interaction which, similar to society and the social order is something that is always in process. This is different to the anthropological concentration on structures that are fixed and rigid over time. For Actor-Network theory society is temporarily situated, it can be activated and de-activated and is in a state of constant creation and re-creation. Actor-Network theory is not so much a theory rather it is a set of procedures to aid in the investigation of the social. It is a methodology not a method. The points or nodes in a network are regarded as potentially equal with regards to power. The ‘forces’ that shape the interaction and the network are themselves generated by the network in the interplay of the component parts that comprise the network (Cavanagh, 2007:33-34). The power of a network resides in the
Draft – Not for citation interactive and generative mechanism of the network itself. The network according to Actor-Network theory behaves as if it is a thing, a separate phenomenon from the component parts that make it up. Actor-Network theory networks are not only comprised of people and personal connections but also texts, objects and a diverse array of material. The network as a whole, the materials, the nodes, the links, and the images do not possess fixed properties so agency is a property of the initial goal that resulted in the creation and formation of the network (Cavanagh, 2007:37). Finally, according to Castells (2000) networks are comprised of personal contacts, places, technologies and functions. The elements within the network have been carefully selected and therefore there is exclusion. Networks are exclusionary and particular, therefore not universal. The network is therefore regarded as an actor in its own right and yet it is still dependent on all parts according to Castells (2000). The heterogeneity of all the parts is vital for its continuation. Networks are said to operate globally and are patterned by global imperatives making them globally orientated in order to maintain the dominant interests of the elite.
HyperLink Network Analysis
Social network analysis seeks to trace the flow of information that passes through a network of relations. Garrido and Halavais argue, “A map of the communication network is roughly isomorphic to the structure of the relationships among the users (2003).” Creating a Website, the webmaster ties their own efforts to those with similar interests using hyperlinks. Designing and placing a hyperlink is an act that requires a certain level of hypertext mark-up language (html) knowledge and as Adamic and Adar (2001) state, a form of cognitive, social or structural connection between the websites. Jackson (1997) and Kling (2000, cited in Garrido & Halavais, 2003) indicate that, “Hyperlinks represent reasonable approximations of social relationships.” In hyperlink analysis, the unit of analysis can be a Website or a hyperlink. In this instance, the unit of analysis are websites and the hyperlinks contained within them. Hyperlinks allow actors or groups of actors to form social and communicative
Draft – Not for citation relations. Jackson (1997) suggests that the methods of social network analysis maybe useful in understanding the relations of computer mediated social processes (Garton, Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 1997). Hyperlinks are not just technological tools but social channels. Web sites are actors with hyperlinks among websites representing a relational link (Park, 2003). A hyperlinked system exchanges information and cooperates around a given shared background, interest or project. In this paper, the focus is on websites that are connected with the production, aggregation or dissemination of pornographic material and so-called ‘adult services/entertainment’. Using the tools of social network analysis applied to hyperlinks I use measures of closeness centrality and betweenness centrality to assess which websites are more ‘important’ to the flow of information. The closeness centrality score of a particular website indicates the number of other websites divided by the sum of all distances (the shortest path or geodesic between two websites) between the website and all other websites (de Nooy et al., 2005). A website’s position indicates whether it has access to information and better opportunities to spread information. In a highly centralised network, information spreads easily but the centre is indispensible for the transmission of information. As the network of websites becomes less centralised the possibility of the information flow being distorted increases. Closeness centrality is based on how easily a website is reachable in the network (de Nooy et al., 2005). Another method, the betweenness centrality, of assessing the ‘importance’ of a website in the network is to measure how large a role it plays as an intermediary (de Nooy et al., 2005). How many flows of information are disrupted by a website becoming inaccessible or inactive? If a website is removed from the network how many detours are required to access other websites, which websites control the flow of information because of their position in the network? To paraphrase de Nooy et al. (2005) “The betweenness centrality of a [website] is the proportion of all hyperlinks between pairs of other [websites] that include this [website].”
The companies listed in the Mobile Adult Content 2008 – Securing Revenue from Adult Entertainment’ industrial report, are the starting points of the data collection. I
Draft – Not for citation searched for and retrieved the URLs for 171 of the 179 companies listed. The list includes movie production companies, distributers, mobile infrastructure companies, magazines and a small number of child protection agencies. This list of 171 URLs was then entered as the seeds for the Hyperlink network extraction. As this research is in its initial stages this paper focuses on the network generated by the original list of seed URLs. The boundaries of networks are a contentious methodological issue within social network analysis and anthropological studies of networks. These methodological considerations are not the focus of this research paper. However insight into the nature of the flows of information can be gained from a limited awareness of the methodological debate. According to Park (2003), data on hyperlink networks can be gathered using two methods. The first involves the researcher observing the sites and the second uses computer-assisted measurements. The use of human coders in the observational method does allow error to enter the process; it would also involve high labour costs if a large network were to be assessed. During this particular study it was also felt to be inappropriate for the researcher concerned, especially as the data was gathered using a shared public access personal computer. I used the second method of computer-assisted measurements for this research, namely Issuecrawler1. An initial list of companies associated with the United Kingdom pornography industry was obtained via a list compiled for the ‘Mobile Adult Content 2008 – Securing Revenue from Adult Entertainment’ industrial report.2 From this list I was able to compile a list of website addresses or URLs to be used as seeds for the hyperlink analysis in August of 2008. The parameters were set as follows; number of iterations 2, crawl depth 2, co-link analysis by site and privileged starting point was on. The sociomatrices was generated using Netdraw. I also used the data to conduct social network analysis focusing on betweenness centrality, closeness centrality and degree. This list of 171 URLs was then entered as the seeds for the HyperLink network extraction; this yielded a network containing 970 nodes or websites, as the following figure shows:
1 http://www.issuecrawler.net/index.php http://www.visiongain.com/Report.aspx?rid=271
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Figure 1 Results of crawl of 171 seed URLs resulted in a network of 970 nodes.
I then manually removed all 835 nodes/websites that were not part of the initial seed list of 171. I also left the obviously pornographic URLs of websites (such as Hustler) on the list and then conducted a betweenness and closeness centrality test on the remaining 135 nodes. These can be seen in the following figure:
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Figure 2 UK Mobile Porn Industry, 135 nodes with paths. Colour of node depicts core grouping. Nodes grouped vertically to the left are not connected but appeared in the original list 179 companies.
The most ‘important’ 21 websites of the UK mobile porn industry with higher levels of closeness centrality and betweenness centrality are listed below in Table 1.
ID apple.com sonyericsson.com ipcmedia.com vodafone.com ofcom.org.uk timewarner.com symbian.com aol.com opera.com mbill.biz o2.co.uk att.com nttdocomo.com eplus.com mxtelecom.com t-mobile.co.uk Degree 20 8 6 10 10 5 12 7 10 7 9 7 9 6 9 5 Betweenness Centrality 1798.407 1202.451 962.358 881.174 817.146 736.25 693.345 667 641.4 457.215 426.642 401.817 344.389 324.47 316.006 295.907 Closeness Centrality 5011 5020 5090 5004 5023 5166 5010 5251 5030 5022 5036 5032 5022 5067 5063 5043
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verizonwireless.com nokia.com motorola.com 3 6 9 291.733 279 261.621 5103 5050 5021
newscorp.com 4 241.655 5092 Table 1 List of Top 21 Industry leaders by Betweenness Centrality
All information presented in this section regarding the nature of the businesses was attained directly from their respective websites. The top 21 companies, according betweenness centrality measures, facilitating the distribution of pornographic material, including images and video, as well as their mainstream ‘ethical’ content are Apple Inc. Apple however, promotes itself as a provider of digital music. It boasts of having sold over 110 million iPods and over three billion songs from its iTunes online store, which also appears in the network and is reputed by others to facilitate the downloading of pornography from third parties. The second company to appear on the list is SonyEricsson. Their mission, according to their website (sonyericsson.com), is to ensure that SonyEricsson becomes “the most attractive and innovative global brand in the mobile handset industry”. IPCMedia, which is owned by Time Warner Inc., is a leading UK consumer magazine publisher with 80 magazines including Woman & Home, Ideal Home, Loaded and Nuts. Time Warner Inc’s business includes interactive services (including AOL), cable systems, filmed entertainment, television networks and publishing on a global scale. IPCMedia claims that almost “two in every three UK women and over 45% of UK men read an IPC magazine. That's almost 27 million UK adults”. Another distributer is Newscorp, who create and distribute “top-quality news, sports and entertainment around the world”. AT&T, Vodafone Group Plc, o2, T-Mobile, NTT Docomo and Verizonwireless are mobile phone service providers with a global reach, with mobile telephone networks in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific and the United States. Mbill.biz and mxtelecom.com enable payments for WAP/XHTML site billing to be made from your mobile phone. Symbian OS and Opera are the market leading open operating systems for advanced mobile phones such as 3G. They have created systems that allow the costumer to surf or view the entire Internet on smartphones, 3G and Personal Digital Assistant (a palmed sized device).
ePlus, enables companies to co-ordinate all aspects of using technology that operate within a variety of markets including but not limited to Financial Services/Banking, Utilities, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Distribution, Telecom/ISP, Legal, Retail
Draft – Not for citation and Fortune 500. They also service the Public Sector at the level of local
Government, Federal Government, and Higher Education in the United States. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries. Ofcom is the only site in the top 21 list of the network that is not directly profiting from the distribution of pornographic material. Its presence indicates an acknowledgement of the existence and continued monitoring of the companies involved. It might also be added that their presence adds a sense of legality and legitimacy to the exploitation of the women involved.
Closeness centrality and betweenness centrality are regarded as measures of power within a given network. The goal of the telecommunications industry is to have users spend as much time on the net as possible, whether that is shopping, listening to music or downloading pornography. Regardless of what they are doing online they are downloading digital information that is charged to the consumer and the provider. The objective is to increase bandwidth consumption. Allusions to social responsibility are simply misguided. The current provider of pornographic material as evident in the graph is Penthouse, which is one geodesic from Apple Inc., in figure 2. Apple then openly allows for its vast iTunes ‘music download’ business to facilitate the distribution of pornographic material from third sources. Networks are said to operate globally and are patterned by global imperatives making them globally orientated in order to maintain the dominant interests of the elite. The fact that the Hyperlink network analysis does not result in a UK centred network is not a surprise. The network is dominated by companies founded and based in the United States of America (Apple Inc.) and a mobile phone producer with a global reach (SonyEricsson), the gateway into the UK market is via IPCMedia which distributes an old media form - magazines. This is not a surprise with the global reach of numerous technology companies and the revitalisation of older media as a result of the Internet. The business model proposed for the continued distribution of pornographic material via mobile phones is a model dominated by the mainstream media, which is a model
Draft – Not for citation that is geared towards increasing the revenue of paid websites, such as Penthouse. This strategy includes major media producers such as Timewarner, magazines such as Loaded and Nuts, and mobile service providers such as O2 and Virginmobile. Another strategy employed not only by the pornography industry is the so-called ‘free-stuff’ and this approach is exemplified in sites such as youporn, pornotube and redtube (Helmore, 2007). On these sites access to pornographic movies and images does not require a paid membership. It must be remembered however that the downloading of such material will use the consumers bandwidth allocation. The interactive generative relational model amongst a multi-tiered distribution network, called for by the Mobile Adult Content 2008 – Securing Revenue from Adult Entertainment’ industrial report is not a surprise. The next step for the continued creation of a new market for pornographic material is a shift to the ‘free stuff’ pornography model. The membership free model for the distribution of mobile pornography in order to expand the reach of the industry and attract new customers is pending. The webmaster of such a site is not dependent on membership for the generation of revenue but requires the advertising of sites that require membership. The technology is freely available in the network to convert ‘free’ online pornography sites to mobile sites. This combined with a ‘culture of acceptability’ of pornography in the mainstream media heralds the continued expansion of the UK mobile porn industry. The presence of Ofcom which focuses on limiting the availability of child pornography and ‘extreme pornography’ merely indicates an acknowledgement of the existence and continued monitoring of the companies involved. Ofcom however, continues to provide legitimacy for the exploitation of women and girls in UK society.
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