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Posts Tagged ‘government’

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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Garrett Graff’s 2007 The First Campaign asked this question about the 2008 presidential campaign: Will the two major parties seize the moment and run the first campaign of the new era, or will they run the last campaign all over again?

Clearly, Obama ran the first campaign. His online campaign for change was a grassroots movement on steroids. It took political campaigns to a new era by showing “what Web 2.0 means for Campaigning 3.0 (Graff, p. 267). It even earned him Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year. Businesses are also in “campaigns” with consumers, and corporations like Conde Nast  are already trying to capitalize on Obama’s digital lessons.

I wonder how the Supreme Court’s Citizen United vs. The Federal Election Commission will impact the 2012 campaign. Will corporations invest more heavily in supporting candidate’s online campaigns or launching their own? Will candidates lose control of their messaging, online and offline? Or will the FEC rewrite their rules to stop corporations and unions from working with campaigns they favor in planning their messages.

Michael Turk, who was in charge of Internet strategy for President Bush’s 2004 campaign, has accused the GOP of failing to believe that “people will up and participate if they are invited to do so” (Graff, p.258). After the 2008 loss, Obama’s prospective 2012 Republican rivals Republicans are already changing their tune and investing heavily to build supportive online communities. Will their efforts pay off?

It is difficult to make these predictions when technologies and social media’s influence are evolving so rapidly. Back in 2007, even experts were misjudging when political figures would adopt the internet.  For example, blogging pioneer Henry Copeland forecasted that the team who won the 2008 Presidential election would have run an “old-school fuddy-duddy campaign” (Graff, p.254).

In this article, Michael Silberman explains:

We can expect to see even more impressive integrations of tried and true organizing strategies with new technologies that we can’t even imagine. In 2012, millions more people will have access to broadband, and no one really knows how they will be spending their time online.

New Web 2.0 platforms are certainly creating new options for Campaigning 3.0. For example, foursquare users can easily notify their networks when they are volunteering for campaigns, and campaign offices can provide supporters with increased recognition.

But in spite of these changes, the key to winning the 2012 election online will still be understanding that “the internet isn’t an end to itself but merely a means to an end- a chance to pull people in and get them involved in the political process” (Graff, p. 275-276). Candidates who launch social media campaigns to simply “build community” will fail. Candidates’ success will rely on their ability to establish a focused message that is simple, consistent, and relevant. Unless online community members understand their mission, they will not be able to take advantage of fancy social media tools to accomplish it.

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I had never read a military blog (milblog) before today. I have a hard enough time trying to keep up to date on the happenings of the war (and make sense of them.) When I started poking around the milblogosphere this afternoon, I had no idea that I would become engrossed in this activity for a solid four hours. Only class could pull me away from my computer, and even then I was late!

After my investigation, my perception of the war is already less abstract. While I still haven’t formulated my opinion, I can already tell that spending more time in this blogosphere would help me shape justified attitudes towards the war. Perhaps even more importantly, it would expose me to differing viewpoints and allow me to better understand those perspectives.

To develop and understand war policy, all sides of the story certainly need to be heard. I suggest starting with a daily snapshot of the top milblogs at milblogging.com. Check out milblogging.com’s blog’s profiles to see which ones might interest you from the get-go.  From there, it’s almost impossible not to get lost stumbling from page to page. It seems like everyone (including parents, wives, and children of the enlisted) involved in the war has an interesting story to tell. While many did stop posting to their blogs after the U.S. Army ordered soldiers to follow new rules in April 2007, this blogosphere is still incredibly active. Milblog’s have a wide variety of followers. Hollywood Refugee, for example, was angered when Kaboom was shut down for failure to properly vet a post in accordance with the new rules. There is some evidence that the U.S. military is trying to re-engage soldiers in the blogosphere. Check out the highlights from 5th Annual Milblog Conference in Arlington, VA two weekends ago (I wish I had known about this earlier!) Below is a video of General David Patreous’ opening remarks.

I read Baghdad Burning’s last post about self-identification as a refugee, and it made me want to read the book. Army of Dude’s The Real Deal post was also eye-opening, and I liked the author’s use of pictures to bring his point home. From there, I decided to search for more photo essays and was introduced to the world of Michael Yon. I also liked Wings over Iraq, Afghanistan without a Clue, Stormbringer, and The Sandbox. Does anyone have any other suggestions for me?

Finally, the milblogosphere was abuzz about the leaked video (Collateral Murder) of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that claimed the lives of two Reuters employees. Be sure to watch the entire video. Do you think it’s too biased? Milbloggers certainly had a lot to say about government transparency, war tactics and the risk of on-assignment journalism. The NY Time’s At War blog also did a fantastic job of rounding up different milbloggers’ reactions to the video’s release. This situation reminds me of the conflict over Kevin Site’s video of a soldier shooting an unarmed wounded Iraqi.  It’s strange how history repeats itself.

After my explorations into the milblogosphere this afternoon, I can already say that I’m a big fan of its transparency. I’ll definitely continue to follow this online community beyond Social Media class.

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On February 5, 2010, Tunisian Blogger Ghodwa Nahrek wrote:

Ammar (the nickname given to the Tunisian censorship apparatus) said that he doesn’t like Nocturnal Thoughts anymore. He prefers afternoon thoughts. Nocturnal Thoughts, the blog of our friend and brother Tarek Kahlaoui, had been censored after more than three years of continuous blogging about interesting and sensitive subjects. In Tunisia, the scissors of censorship acquired new significance. It is no longer a form of oppression and a limit to freedom of expression as it is a medal for the blogger and a certificate from the censor showing the value of a blog and the importance of the subjects it deals with. Congratulations to our friend Tarek and welcome again in the club of censored blogs.

Tunisian censorship of the internet is the rule rather than the exception. Websites that criticize Tunisia’s human rights, such as Amnesty International , Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, the International Freedom of Expression eXchange, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, are blocked. The Tunisian government is also notorious for blocking websites critical of the Ben Ali regime. Even YouTube and Daily Motion have been banned for hosting of videos documenting prison abuse in Tunisia, and pages that are critical of the regime are blocked on international media sources like the New York Times or the BBC.  According to aggregate scores established by Freedom on the Net (the higher the score, the worst the censorship on a scale of 0 to 100), Tunisia and China are tied for second worst censorship in the world (only behind Cuba.)  

The Tunisian blogosphere did not start until 2006, but by August 2008, at least 22 of about 600 active blogs had already been blocked. Blogging was originally used as a form of free speech, but the government quickly began punishing bloggers who addressed topics beyond the “red lines” observed by traditional media in Tunisia. But some bloggers are resilient and choosing to wear their badges of honor for speaking up (and being censored.) It is unclear whether this anti-censorship blog campaign has been squashed, but in 2008, about fifty bloggers would repost deleted or blocked blog posts on new sites- sometimes starting as many as nine blogs to get their message out there in the face of censorship. Others bloggers have come up with more creative ways to write about politics and human rights without being caught.  The blog NormalLand used to be able to discuss Tunisian politics by using a virtual country with a virtual leader, with various government positions being assigned to other Tunisian bloggers, but it is now shut down.  

To learn more about trends in the Tunisian blogosphere (or any other country, for that matter), definitely follow the conversation on Global Voices Online, which rounds out the bloggers around the world and gives you a bird’s eye view of what conversations are going on in blogospheres around the globe. In November 2009, Tunisian bloggers were posting most often about the trial of Fatma Arabicca, the question of French reparations to Tunisia for its past colonization, and the Egypt-Algeria World Cup Match. Over the past two months, the fight against censorship has continued in the blogosphere, and bloggers have begun speaking in English (as opposed to the more common Arabic and French.)  Cyber-activism for student protesters is another trending topic that continues amongst Tunisian bloggers and social media users.

If you want more of an insight into the blogosphere in the Arab world, check out this episode. You’ll get great insights from an Egyptian blogger and a Lebanese blogger (both of whom have been arrested and detained.) It’s interesting to learn how censorship of traditional media impacts the role blogging plays in these states, and how cenorship of digital media varies from state to state!

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