Posts Tagged ‘China’

Two Wednesdays ago, I headed over to Ogilvy PR Worldwide in DC to hear Jared Cohen, a member of the State Department’s Policy and Planning Staff, discuss social media and 21st century Statecraft. You can hear the speech/read the transcript for yourself here. Or, you can check-out my takeaways below.

Like many people, I use Facebook and Twitter as fun tools to keep in touch with my best friends and share articles of interest. But the impact of these tools can be much stronger in other contexts. Digital connections empower groups of people, both good and evil. For example, Afghanistan prisoners have used cell phones to coordinate an uprising from inside their jail cells. On the other hand, digital technology has given voices to those silenced by political oppression or chaos in the wake of a natural disaster.

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at social media’s recent role in helping out Haiti or think back to the June 2009 election protests in Iran. Cohen recognized that Twitter was acting as an important medium through which Iranians could voice discontent and organize protests. Thus, he contacted Twitter to ask them to delay scheduled maintenance of its global network during the protests. Check out this video to remember how social media connected the world to this event in a way never seen before.

The world’s governments also recognize the power that comes from being connected. Corrupt governments fear the empowerment of their citizens, so they rely on censorship to maintain control. But people will always find a way to communicate, even if it’s by good-old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Since communication is inevitable in today’s world, Cohen takes a “technopragmatist” approach to the internet and its related technologies:

The reality is whether we like it or not from a policy standpoint…all these tools are being put out on the public domain. From a government standpoint, we have two options: We can fear we can’t control it and not try to influence it. And by the way, if we don’t try to influence it, all that does is give greater space to hostile actors who seek to use technology for nefarious purposes. Or we ca recognize that the 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak, recognize we can’t control it, but we can influence it and there is no better time to influence it when access is where it is today.

Cohen plans to influence the use of technology by reaching out to the experts of innovations and local contexts, private sector companies and civil society organizations, respectively. By melding their knowledge together, he thinks they can unlock the power of digital communications and social media in a positive way.

Next week, I’ll be attending a conversation with Knight Fellows at the International Center for Journalists.  The International Center for Journalists, a non-profit, professional organization, promotes quality journalism worldwide in the belief that independent, vigorous media are crucial in improving the human condition.  The Knight Fellows are working on new mobile and online technologies in an attempt to deliver the work of professional and citizen journalists to the remote and underserved communities of the world. By getting these remote communities connected, they will give them the power to participate in the world’s conversations.


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John Battelle’s The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed our Culture really opened my eyes to Google as a business enterprise. I feel a little silly and a lot naïve, but I had really always thought of Google as the world’s information providing service to the world rather than a business with a bottom line. I have grown up making sense of the web throuh “Googling.” I am reliant on this search engine to the degree that I automatically type www.google.com into my internet browser’s address upon opening the internet, even if I am just using it to navigate to a familiar webpage.  Sure, I was aware that the Google model relied on making money through AdWords and AdSense, but I had never thought of Google solely as a money-making endeavor. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the company.

Google’s “promise” is plausible: to organize the world’s information and make it universally acceptable and useful.” But did you know that the “effective tool” keeps changing? I’m not convinced that Google algorithms change overnight to benefit the public, but I am certain that changes like the Florida update help Google’s bottom line. In Chapter 7, Battelle tells the story of online small business entrepreneurs who were profiting from Google search results in an honest way. Without warning or prior explanation, Google introduced a new algorithm that turned search results upside-down and forced these small businesses to buy AdWords to move back up the search ladder.

Did you know that the “acceptable bargain,” or the rules of Google, might not be so transparent? Google initially agreed to an extremely low level of censorship in China so that it could enter the valuable market. This decision blatantly broke Google’s original promise. Google rationalized this compromise by saying that it would ultimately be more of a disservice to the Chinese people to live without Google altogether. Four years later, Google has suddenly decided that censorship is not in line with its company’s values, and it plans on pulling out of China after a series of security breaches. Google doesn’t explain how the security breaches have changed their opinions on censorship, but apparently they have. Or is this just a way for Google to rebuild integrity while abandoning an investment gone-bad?  While I do not personally have anything to hide, I’m not as comfortable with Google’s influence on my life and possession of my personal information now that I recognize what appear to be Google’s ulterior (or at least conflicting) motives.

On a final note, my internet is working fine, but my Google has suddenly stopped working as I write this post. Is Big Brother watching? No, I don’t think so. I’m not afraid of Google, but I’m glad that I’m now aware (thanks to Battelle) of the company’s questionable integrity.

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