OSI Forum: New Media in Authoritarian Societies

Taken from here:

Darius Cuplinskas, head of OSI’s Information Program, frames the discussion by pointing out that all the three stories we tell ourselves about the effect of new media on society — Don Tapscott’s utopian picture in ‘Grown Up Digital’, Andrew Keen’s dystopian version in ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ and Cass Sunstein’s more nuanced approach in ‘Infotopia’ — are largely based on research in open societies, especially on the US. There’s very little work on the effects of new media in other parts of the world, especially in closed societies.

John Kelly talks about his map of the Iranian blogosphere (PDF) and his ongoing efforts to develop similar maps of the blogospheres in other countries, including Russia and China. The maps basically group blogs belonging to a country or a language into clusters based on the linking behavior between the blogs and the content on the blogs.

The English language blogosphere, for instance, has four main clusters: US progressive political blogs, US conservative political blogs, technology blogs and UK blogs.

The Iranian blogosphere has several distinct clusters based on political and religious leanings, apart from a big cluster of poetry blogs. The reformist political blog cluster is the most visible in the West, and is also the most censored within Iran, but the other clusters are also censored to different degrees.

It’s difficult to map the Russian and Chinese blogospheres because linking behavior in these countries is driven by the platform the blog is hosted on. For instance, the Russian blogosphere is difficult to study because most bloggers use LiveJournal and only link to other LiveJournal users.

Kelly suggests that rewards related to social capital and recognition by fellow bloggers and journalists are important for the blogosphere to function as a vibrant online public sphere.

Ethan Zuckerman talks about blogging about politics (and the politics of blogging) in Africa and says that a blogosphere needs well-connected and influential bloggers for it to perform the role of a public sphere and aid democracy. He suggests that bloggers move from bridge-blogging in English to native-blogging in the local languages, as their blogosphere matures. He also points out that the usual content on a popular blog isn’t really an indicator of its political impact because many bloggers who don’t usually blog about politics inevitably become involved in political debate during a crisis.

He also suggests that censorship can take many forms, from blocking SMS services in the entire country, to blocking individual blogs or blogging services, to the more sophisticated and selective censorship being used in China. He suggests that widespread surveillance and pervasive censorship in China may force activists to use web 1.0 tools like bulletin boards, which are less powerful, but harder to control.

Evgeny Morozov also talks about the limitations of using quantitative techniques to map the public blogosphere in repressive regimes when the real activists are more likely to remain semi-private to protect themselves. He also uses examples of cyber-hacktivism in the Russia-Georgia Ossetia war to argue that censorship can be both hard and soft and it can be carried out by both state and non-state actors.

He suggests that governments are becoming increasingly sophisticated in using new media to support government ideology, using a combination of censorship and propaganda and employing new techniques like denial of service attacks and astroturf campaigns.

It’s a great panel discussion, except that Porochista Khakpour, an Iranian-American writer who talks about how the Iranian diaspora uses the internet, looks a little out of place on the panel.

I was forwarded this video link, it is extremely relevant to my work and very interesting particularly the analysis of the Iranian blogosphere.


0 Responses to “OSI Forum: New Media in Authoritarian Societies”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: