Geography Compass

The spatial politics of virtual worlds

By Matthew Rech

In the past few months the social networking site, Facebook, has been implicated in the investigation of various criminal activities. From the exploits of the ‘Facebook Fugitive’ (Times online), to the recent and tragic death of Hayley Jones (BBC news), it is clear that online social networks are becoming increasingly important (and sometimes intrinsic) in understanding the motivations for certain criminal activities.

But why, we might ask, do the virtual proofs of these often horrific acts remain central to the reportage? Why is it so often surprising that remnants of our virtual, intangible worlds cast shadows in the spaces of the real?

Writing in Geography Compass, Clayton Rosati argues that “one of the geographically important representational dimensions of media is their ability to make geography seem irrelevant, to shatter the connections of culture to land…and to alienate images from the contexts of their production” (999). “Whilst there are now not many aspects of social life – from grocery shopping to wedding registries – that do not rest on some form of digital communication” (1005), there remains a lack of focus on the “spatial contours of [certain] social forms” (996).

Much like the case of the use of fiction to interpret political and cultural realities (c.f. Tabloid Geopolitics), we must realise that media, images and networks must necessarily be considered alongside, and in parallel with, our more conventional treatments of space and place. And so, while images and networks “are obviously important, they can never form the basis of a media politics in themselves. They must, alternatively, always be understood not simply as an object but as a process as well – as power in circulation” (1000).

60% world Read Rosati C (2007) Media Geographies: Uncovering the Spatial Politics of Images. Geography Compass.

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