Connect with us


The Digital Romance Economy



Love. Sex. Romance – are and always have been key in the adoption and use of new media technologies. Pornography and dating sites are the most frequented internet sites across the globe. Romance breeds new economies in the West– we find ourselves in the age of tinder, grindr, hinge, hitch, and okCupid. However, when it comes to the global South, the story has a different twist. While romance also serves as a prime driver for internet adoption here, few can afford to browse for a partner across sites for sustained periods. After all, the majority of the population in the global South are low-income, many living below 2$ a day and with limited access to the internet.

With Facebook’s new initiative that provides free internet service to those in the developing world, it has become the one-stop-shop for romantic activity in these emerging markets. Facebook istinder to the world’s poor. Most young men in poor communities such as in the Middle East have never spoken to a girl outside their family. Online chatting can be the only avenue of being in touch with the opposite sex. The girls in such patriarchal societies resist open communities online as they seek anonymity, atomization and autonomy that otherwise is hard to come by in these sexually segregated societies.

Facebook carves new spaces for pleasure as well as new vulnerabilities. “Concerns about online deception are as old as the internet itself,” argues Toma and Hancock. The disembodied nature of online communication increases the opportunities for deception. False self-representation is a well-documented, common and global social practice as both women and men invest tremendous effort to position themselves as desirable in this highly competitive romance economy. Much of this can be harmless. However, deception when done systematically to scam people of their life savings, can be tremendously destructive.

In recent years, Koon and Yoong [pdf] have identified a new cyber-crime known as Internet Romance Scams (IRSs) in Malaysia where the scammers prime intent is to prey on the lonely and desperate and defraud them of large sums of money. The Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) reports that in 2012 alone, 846 IRSs cases have been recorded with a total loss of RM32.09 million and there may be more that have gone unreported.

In my own ongoing research (with Rangaswamy & Scheiber) on Facebook usage by youth in the slums of India and favelas of Brazil, romance frauds are a common malady. Fake girl profiles are set up to lure the ones keen on companionship. The game here is to promise love in exchange for recharging a mobile. The ‘fake girl’ friends a young man and chats with him. Some send photos and say that they are single and desperate for love. Then, as Raj, a young Indian man puts it, “I ask if we can meet? They say ‘can you help me with something’ and finally they ask for a recharge.” This has compelled a quick and steep learning curve among these men on detecting fake from authentic profiles on Facebook. Sanjiv, another young man in the slum, shares his deception detection strategy, “if you send ‘how are you’ to fake accounts, their reply will be ‘hot’ almost all the time. We can tell they are fake directly.”

Another area of vulnerability is revenge porn, the non-consensual sharing of sexual content posted and distributed online of the person featured, with the purpose of shaming. While this practice is pervasive worldwide, it far more frequently results in more deadly consequences, particularly in patriarchal societies in the global South. A common practice is to ‘slut shame’ the victim. For instance, Muttalik of the conservative right-wing religious party in India suggested that the young women have themselves to blame as they have been “corrupted by technologies” – their inappropriate use of their cell phones have made them “sluts.” In contrast, from our fieldwork in Brazil’s favelas where there is far less gender segregation, sexuality is more open and permissive. Even then, these issues pervade. While acknowledging self-blame, Elena from a favela in Rio, states clearly that it’s a matter of rights. “I made the video with my boyfriend, we broke up and he posted it.  Even though I’m wrong, I’m gonna go after my rights, because my image is there. Everybody has the right, so here nobody is a saint.”

While the West have had privacy laws in place since the 1970s, the emerging markets are only now seriously grappling with this as affordable mobile technologies have brought much of their citizenry onto the digital sphere within the last five years. Today, even the poor are digitally connected. And as with many laws, the personal becomes political as it’s more graspable to the lay public. Sex is perhaps the most visceral area that triggers moral panic and expedites regulation of the internet. A case in point is Brazil. Public anxieties about child pornography became pivotal for pushing legal initiatives to control Internet traffic in 2009. Media events such as the suicide of 17-year-old Julia Rebecca after a video of her having sex with other minors was posted online pushed the revenge porn bill into motion. In 2014, Brazil formulated a more sophisticated version of the Civil Framework for the Internet called ‘Marco Civil,’ which affects Internet users’ privacy and freedom of expression.

Not surprisingly, internet regulation in the global South strongly ties to regulation policies of Facebook. Since Facebook serves as The Internet to the majority of the world’s marginalized demographic through its, it will continue to take center stage. Given the collapse of diversity here, Facebook is at once both a public sphere of protest and state propaganda; their administrators are activists as well as instruments of authoritarian regimes. Furthermore, the global South is not unified on notions on sexuality, moral codes of conduct and perspectives on gender rights and yet, they continue to be addressed repeatedly as a monolithic whole. While it is helpful to go beyond the West to critically examine internet norms, it is also worth reconfiguring our understandings of the BRICS nations as they relate to politics of sexuality and how it manifests in digital cultures that propel new internet laws for a more inclusive public.


About the Author

This article was written by Payal Arora of LSE Impact Blog, a hub for researchers, administrative staff, librarians, students, think-tanks, government, and anyone else interested in maximising the impact of academic work in the social sciences and other disciplines. Paypal is Associate Professor in the Department of Media & Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam and is Founder and Executive Director of Catalyst Lab. see more.


Is There A Coworking Space Bubble?



An annual growth rate of nearly 100%, almost five years in a row? More than 60 coworking spaces in a city like Berlin? Are these the characteristics of a bubble? Nope, these are characteristics of a lasting change in our world of work, which has been further catalyzed by the recent economic crises in many countries. But what makes this change different to a bubble? We’ve summarized some arguments of why the coworking movement is based on a sustainable change. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job to open a good working coworking space.

Five reasons why the growth of coworking spaces is based on organic and sustainable growth: 

1. Coworking spaces invest their own money and create real wealth

Already, there is a convincing argument supporting why coworking spaces are not developing in a bubble: the fact that they create real wealth.

Whether referring to the dotcom bubble a decade ago or the real estate crisis in Spain or the United States, the crisis originated in a glut of cheap money, in an environment in which the sender and the recipient were unacquainted. From funds and banks, money flowed in steady streams to investments which offered little resistance and the most promising returns – which only a little while later turned into delusions and ruined investments.

Redistributed risks create illusions. Those people who distributed the money rarely wore the risk of investment decisions. The risk was mainly taken by small shareholders or people who bought parts of those investments. This was because either both parties’ (better) judgement was drowned out by the noise of the market, or because shareholders were unaware of the risk, and were at the mercy of banks and funds for reliable information.

Another fundamental condition for the creation of bubbles are the sheer amounts of money that flow from various locations globally and are concentrated, by comparison, in much fewer places.

Most coworking spaces, however, receive their funding from local or nearby sources and do not operate within this financial system. In fact, the founders mainly inject the bulk of the required investment, and turn to friends or relatives for additional support. They wear the full brunt of the risks that are involved in small-time investment.

They have access to much more information, because it is their own project, rather than a foreign one thousands of miles away. This also includes failures and mistakes that are encountered along the way, but the risk is less redistributed, thereby decreasing the probability of failures.

2. Labor market changes demand on certain office types lastingly

Most users of coworking spaces are self-employed. The proportion of employees is also on the rise, in many cases simply because they work for small companies that increasingly opt to conduct their business in coworking spaces rather than in traditional offices. The industry of almost all coworkers fall within the Internet-based creative industries.

With flexibilisation of work markets, new mobile technologies that are changing work patterns, and the increase of external services purchasing from large and medium-sized enterprises (outsourcing), the labor market has changed radically in many parts of the world.

The long-term financial and emotional security of becoming an employee no longer exists, especially for younger generations of workers. Bigger companies are quicker to fire than hire, and precarious short-term contracts are on the rise. Promising options on the labor market are more often recuded to freelancer careers and starting your own company.

And that’s possible with less money to invest. All you need is a laptop, a brain and a good network. For years, the number of independent workers and small businesses has been growing worldwide – particularly in internet-based creative industries. Anyone who has sufficient specialized skills and the willingness to take risks may adapt more quickly to market conditions if they own a small business or are self employed; more so than if they were to work in a dependent position in an equally volatile market.

Coworking spaces provide an environment in which to do this. Once they have joined a (suitable) coworking space, these factors become apparent to coworkers, who will remain in their space for years to come.

Furthermore, independent workers rarely fire themselves in crises, and even small companies are less likely to give their employees the boot – compared to their large counterparts. This combination enables more sustainable business models – and less business models à la Groupon.

3. Coworking spaces don’t live on crises

Global economic growth is waning while the number of coworking spaces is continually growing. Do coworking spaces thus benefit from this crisis?

The current crises accelerate the formation and growth of coworking spaces, because they offer solutions and space for the resulting problems. Coworking spaces are therefore not a result of a crisis, but the product of change that pre-dates their existence. A crisis is simply the most visible expression of change.

The first coworking spaces emerged in the late 1990s; the movement’s strong growth started six years ago – before the onset of economic downturns in many countries.

4. Coworking spaces depend on the needs of their members

Most coworking spaces are rarely full. Does this mean they are unsuccessful? On average, only half of all desks are occupied. But the average occupancy rate of 50% refers only to a specific date.

In fact, coworking spaces generally serve more members than they can seat at any given time, since members do not use the spaces simultaneously. Coworking spaces are places for independents who want to work on flexible terms. Smaller spaces rely more on permanent members. Larger spaces can respond more flexibilty to the working hours of its members, and, can rent desks several times over.

If a coworking space is always overcrowded or totally empty, the purpose of said space would be defeated. Firstly, it is rather impossible to work in an overcrowded room. Second, it’s impossible to cowork in an empty room. Given the nature of flexible memberships, a coworking space only can survive if they fit the needs of their members. Members would otherwise be quick to leave, and membership would be much more transient.

5. The coworking market is far from saturation

Less than 2% of all self-employed – and even fewer employees – currently work in coworking spaces. Reporting on coworking may increase, but inflated reporting on the coworking movement in the mainstream media is still far away.

Coverage of coworking space are most likely to be found in the career or local sections in larger publications – front cover coverage remains the dream of many space operators. This is because the whole coworking movement can’t be photographed in one picture. What appears to be a disadvantage, however, is actually a beneficial truth: niche coverage allows the industry to grow organically, and avoid over inflation.


Coworking spaces don’t operate in parallel universes – like the financial market. Demand and supply are almost exclusively organic and operate in the real world economy.

For the same reason, there is no guarantee that opening a coworking spaces will be automaticly successful. Anyone who fails to learn how to deal with potential customers in their market, or is unfamiliar with how coworking communities function, will have a difficult time of making one work. In the same way that business people in other industries will fail if they do not understand their market.

Those who simply tack on the word ‘coworking’ to their space’s facade will need to work harder. The structure of most coworking spaces is based on real work, calculated risk, and real-world supply and demand.


About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

Continue Reading

Callum Connects

Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy



Dextre Teh is a consultant and marketing guru, helping F&B businesses to tighten their operations and grow their businesses.

What’s your story?
I help frustrated F&B business owners stuck in day to day operation transform from a glorified operator into a real business owner. I’m a 27 year old Singaporean second generation restaurant owner and a F&B business consultant. Entering the industry at 13 years old, I have always been obsessed with operations and systemisation. At the age of 25, I joined the insurance industry and earned a six figure yearly income. However, I left the high pay behind because it was not my passion and returned to the F&B industry. Now I help other F&B companies to tighten operations and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services.

What excites you most about your industry?
The food. I’m a big lover of food and even have a YouTube show on food in development. But that aside, it is really about impacting people through food. Creating moments and memories for people, be it a dating couple or families or friends. Providing that refuge from the daily grind of life. So in educating my consulting clients and training their staff to provide a better experience for their customers, I aim to shift the industry in the direction of creating memories instead of just selling food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love the culture, the food and travelling in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore hands down. The environment here is built for businesses to thrive. The government is pro business and the infrastructure is built around supporting business growth. Not to mention the numerous amount of grants available in helping people start and even grow business. If I’m not mistaken, the Singaporean government is the only government in the world that offers grants to home grown businesses for overseas expansion.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Learning to do things you do not intend to master is a BIG mistake in business. Focus on what you are good at and pay others to do the rest.

Many business owners including myself are so overwhelmed by the 10,000 things that they feel they need to do everyday. We try to do everything ourselves because we think it saves us money. The only thing that, that does for us is overload our schedules and give us mediocre results. Instead we should focus on what we do best and bring in support for the rest.

Who inspires you?
Christopher M Duncan.

At 29, Chris has built multiple 7 figure businesses. He opened me to the possibility of building a business on the thing that I loved and gave me a blueprint of how to do it. He also showed me that being young doesn’t mean you cannot do great things.

Imran Mohammad and Fazil Musa
They are my mentors and inspire me every single day to pursue my dreams, to focus on celebrating life and enjoying the process of getting to where I want to be.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Time is always more expensive than money. Money, you can earn over and over again but time, once you spend it, will never come back.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am a firm believer that your experiences shape who you are. I am grateful for every single moment of my life be it the highs or the lows, the successes and the failures because all these experiences have led me to become the person I am and brought me to the place that I’m at so I will probably do things the same way as everything was perfect in its time.

How do you unwind?
Chilling out in a live music bar with a drink in hand, listening to my favourite live band, 53A. Other than that I’m big on retail therapy, buying cool and geeky stuff.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bangkok. It feels like a home away from home where the cost of living is relatively low, the food is good and the people are friendly.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Everything you know about business is wrong by Alastair Dryburgh. It is a book that challenges commonly accepted business “truths” and inspires you to go against the grain, think different, take risks and stand your ground in the face of the challenges that will come your way as a business owner.

Shameless plug for your business:
I’m the creator of the world’s first Chilli Crab Challenge. It gained viral celebrity earlier this year with 3 major newspaper features and more than a dozen blog and online publications featuring it in the span of two weeks. In the span of the two weeks, the campaign reached well over a million people in exposure without a single cent spent in ads.

Now I help F&B companies to tighten operations, increase profits and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. Chilli Crab Challenge (

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me on Facebook ( or visit for more information or book a 10 minute call with me @

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

Continue Reading