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No matter how much you hate Facebook, Wired’s “beaten Mark Zuckerberg” cover is a disgrace

The magazine have published a photograph that wouldn’t look out of place on The Daily Stormer.

The competition to be the most boring person at the party used to between the guy with the acoustic guitar playing Wonderwall, the person loudly discussing veganism, that bloke explaining why The Beatles are overrated, and the couple with the impressive knack for managing to bring up how they don’t even own a TV. Now, the top of the pain-in-the-arse pops is the person who doesn’t use Facebook, and wants to tell you why you shouldn’t either.

Facebook is awful. There are lots of reasons: it’s an extension of the surveillance culture we’ve become almost bored of discussing, it pretends to have hippy ideals while being utterly gimlet-eyed about destroying whole industries, it was a conduit for misinformation on industrial scale during the 2016 Presidential election, and it constantly forces you to find out about the lives of smug couples who you can’t quite bring yourself to unfriend.

But  like Mark Anthony  today, I come not to bury Mark Zuckerberg but to, well, not praise him either, but mildly defend him.

The latest cover of the US edition of Wired magazine features a composite image of a bloodied and bruised Zuckerberg. The photograph  created using a lookalike and a picture of the real Facebook founder and CEO  is a metaphor for the strife he has faced in recent times. You can see why the editorial staff and photographers at Wired were so jazzed about this concept  it is already on its way to becoming a modern classic. But there are some big problems with this choice...

With the surge in “populism” (a nice cuddly name for fascist and pseudo-fascist movements) across the Western world, antisemitism and violence towards minorities has also spiked massively. The figures get heavily disputed by the right because, well, they don’t want to face up to the side-effects of even their low-level bigotry. In this climate, Wired publishing a cover story featuring an image of the probably the world’s most famous Jewish businessman battered and bruised is tone deaf.

To Wired Pravda for the Silicon Valley set the imagery is just metaphorical. They are so proud of their achievement that they have written an entirely separate article about how the effect was achieved. And the journalism in the feature that the image trails is excellent deeply reported and insightful on the fundamental problems that confront Facebook’s leadership in the age of misinformation. But that doesn’t make up for the cover.

The cover is succour to fascists. I’ll be accused of hyperbole but I don’t believe it is such: Let me spell it out Wired have published a photograph that wouldn’t look out of place on The Daily Stormer. Fascists will be getting tumescent at the thought of beating up one of the world’s most successful (and richest) Jewish businesspeople. That is the reality.

In a wider sense, the image is a great example of how Wired’s distorted world view skews its reporting and the visual and journalistic choices it makes. To Wired — aside from the occasional semi-critical article like the Facebook feature — technology is the balm for all ills. That’s a highly dangerous standpoint in a century where technological advancement is faster and colder than ever before.

Technology has always disadvantaged the poor first. Now, it has brought us to a situation where the so-called gig-economy has revitalised a kind of feudalism. We need to ask more questions about the deployment and development of new technologies, from gene therapies, AI and robotics to consumer-level tech like augmented reality, machine learning and social networks.

Silicon Valley is less inspired to disrupt the world of the rich. It builds things to make their lives easier and ‘disrupts’ the existences of the poor and disadvantaged. The future is not evenly distributed and we should all be deeply concerned about that. But Wired virtually beating up Mark Zuckerberg? That’s not the answer. 

Mic Wright is a freelance journalist and CEO and partner at The Means Agency.

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.