Friday, November 26, 2010

I found the Shannon and Weaver's communication Model very interesting. Especially how the message is received by the other person. The message is sent via some channel to the receiver. Sometimes mass media plays the role of this “channel”. There are many flaws about the old model. It is not true that a message can be simply translated. There are many other elements that are can effect the meaning of the message too.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Making American Story Win!

Joseph S. Nye Jr. in his article entitled Public Diplomacy and Soft Power says that the soft power of a country rests on three resources: its culture, its political values, and its foreign policy (p. 96). The article discusses the public diplomacy of the United States, especially after the 9/11, which changed the world for ever.
9/11 was a wake-up call for the U.S. which had abandoned public diplomacy soon after the end of the Cold War. But its initial reaction was counter to public diplomacy when President George Bush used the word Crusade for war on terror which carries a religious connotation. Similarly, he set the U.S. on the path of unilateralism by raising the slogan of 'either with us or against us', using phrases like 'axis of evil' for Iran, North Korea and Iraq.
President Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union an 'evil empire'. This shows the Cowboy nature of the U.S. diplomacy which can be traced back to its Calvinistic history. President Bush in one of his national addresses had used the word 'evil' for no less than 14 times. Guantanamo and Abu Ghuraib damaged the high moral standard of the U.S.
These initial missteps of the U.S. tarnished its image as custodian of democratic values and human rights and supporter of democratic forces across the world. In Third World Countries, where dictators had always been supported by the U.S. for its strategic interests, democratic forces found themselves orphaned in the absence of moral and political courage from the world's largest democratic power.
However, all these foul-ups swung the U.S. into action and it set on a damage control trail to win 'hearts and minds' of the Muslim world. In the past few years the U.S.'s ratings have soared in the Muslim world, especially in the wake of the 2005 tsunami, when America contributed generously to the rehabilitation and reconstruction in the affected countries.
Recently, when devastating floods hit Pakistan, the U.S. was the largest contributer while its armed forces open-heartedly helped in rescue and relief goods' delivery efforts. By opening a special office in the State Department for winning over the people of the Muslim world is also paying in dividends. But, still, the U.S. has to do a lot to live up to its image of being a friend of democracy everywhere. It has to shut Guantanamo, get out of Iraq and Afghanistan after shoring up democracies in those countries.
Simply toppling dictators like Saddam Hussein and ruthless rulers like the Taliban is not enough. Replacing them with a democratic set-up, restoring their autonomy and helping them to stand on their own feet is the best public diplomacy which can restore the image of the U.S. and make the world more safer. The U.S. needs to make sure that its story wins, not that of the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban who thrive on American excesses in Muslim countries.

Flaws in the pragmatic complexity model

I consider that the article “A 21st Century Model for Communication in the Global War of Ideas” (Corman, Trethewey, Goodall) is successful showing that the message influenced model is simplistic. However, in spite of the fact that the pragmatic complexity model is better, it is not good enough to explain the complexities in the effort of an effective communication.

Taking into account the characteristics of this blog and the fact that its goal is to discuss about the paper we read for our classes, I just would like call the attention to the fact that the pragmatic complexity model minimize the importance of the message and the way is elaborated and sent, as well as the sender, in favor of the reality that the listener and/or decoder is very important and “create meanings from messages based on factors like autobiography, history, local context, culture, language/symbol systems, power relations, and immediate personal needs.”

Probably one of the reasons of such a mistake is the wrong assumption that “As several decades of communication research has shown, the message received is the one that really counts.” (page 7). Certainly we will be in disagreement with such statement if we think in people like Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Luther and their messages. They obtained changes in basis of their ideas and believes and their capacities to transmit them. In other words, in order to be 'well received' the message must be 'well elaborated', meaning -among others- using the 'right' words; establishing the necessary rapport; addressing the 'right' issues; been the 'right' person to address them; directed to 'right' segment of public opinion; using the 'right' language according with receiver (metaphors, rhetoric, etc.); using the right channel of communication; having good enough doses of visual, kinesthetic or auditory language; taking into account the values and believes of the receiver, as well as the uses, custums and traditions; the timing, etc.
Agustin Fornell

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Al-Qaeda Media Nexus

It is an interesting study of the virtual network behind the global message of Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization that uses the modern media with a medieval mindset. Mr. Daniel Kimmage finds out in this study that the "original" Al-Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden accounts for a mere fraction of jihadist media production.
In the wake of NATO attack on Afghanistan followed by the U.S. assault on Iraq Al-Qaeda has seized to exist as a centralized organization; it has metamorphosed into real hydra-headed monster. Many small organizations with presence in remote corners of countries like Pakistan have hitched themselves to the Al-Qaeda bandwagon.
Many of them work under the cover of charity organizations. These so-called charity and welfare organizations have their own newspapers, magazines and other publications that openly espouse jihadist agenda. Pakistan has one of the largest chain of publications which promote a warped world view.
These publications try to demonize the Western world and glorify jihad (sacred war) against non-Muslims everywhere. Some of these newspapers have entered the ranks of mainstream Pakistani press with large circulation. These publications proliferated especially after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the United States as an “alternative” to the mainstream Pakistani media.
Every school of thought as well as every jihadist group in Pakistan has its own newspaper or magazine to promote its respective ideology and to present its own world view on different issues—both national and international. The distinctive feature of these newspapers and magazines are their very names, which are themselves militant or religious in connotation, like Zarb-i-Momin [the blow of the Muslim], Ghazwa [holy war], Shamsheer [sword] and Islam etc.
These publications do not publish human pictures, which are considered un-Islamic. They do carry pictures but of inanimate things like buildings, roads and tanks etc. The editorial contents of these newspapers are mostly religious in nature or concerning Muslim hotspots the world over like Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Chechnya etc.
The jihadist newspapers often engage in advocacy journalism, which takes a position on the issues of the day by editorializing them and promote specific religious or sectarian views. Such newspapers reinforce the prejudice or bias of the readers. This levels ground for Al-Qaeda to have a voice of its own in different garbs.
If the scope of Kimmage's study is extended to print media too, the Al-Qaeda media nexus may come out to be a mesh-mash of a wide network that spans both the landscape of media and geography.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

“Media coverage carries clear and significant political effects.” The fishing boat incident happen China and Japan is a very good example. The news broadcast of this incident created very big political effects. It made the relationship between China and Japan became worse than before. Lots of demonstration could be seen in China. Chinese living in Japan were warned by organizations to be careful about what they say. The old issue about this island about where it belongs to, was brought back again by this incident. All of these could only happen if we have the communication technology and made the media today.

Al Qaeda Inc.

While the United States government would like us to believe that Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are dangerous, but still on the fringe, the truth is a bit more alarming. Al Qaeda, and other affiliated terrorist groups are adopting modern professional information networking techniques in order to not only legitimize themselves, but to extend their recruiting capabilities. Daniel Kimmage highlights these methods in his article "the Virtual Network Behind the Global Message.

One of the key reasons that these terrorist groups are having so much success with their network approach is that they are not using centralized, formal methods for information dissemination. For example, each organization can create forums on the internet for discussion of techniques, coordination, and recruitment tactics. This makes them very hard to track, and even harder to catch. I should point out that the same techniques that some Chinese citizens use in order to avoid censorship and internet filters could just as easily be used by jihadist internet users attempting to avoid identification by governments searching for clues.

According to Kimmage, though, the primary method of publicity for these groups is actually print media. This encompasses journals and periodicals, as well as fliers and pamphlets. What terrorist groups are taking away from journalistic work, however, is the methodology of attribution and confirmation, which allows for greater credibility when one group claims to have performed a particular attack, or when there are reported injustices by enemies. It is interesting that there is so little discussion of this new kind of networking in either the US government or US Media. I imagine that neither wishes to give publicity or credence to the threat, nor do they want to talk about something that they could not provide definitive or concrete information about; despite studies like Kimmage's, there is little understood about how and where these electronic and print materials are being organized and created. We may never really know, or be able to stop such efforts, either.

Because of the nature of terrorist organizations - that they are not necessarily based in state or centralized power structures - it is unlikely that every single member of Al Qaeda or any other group like it can be found and captured. The decentralization inherent in these groups makes them particularly suited to evading detection and capture, as much in cyberspace and print media as on the battlefield.

Al-Jazeera Provides a Bridge to Cross

Al-Jazeera has become a force to contend with on international matters. Loved and hated, there's no denying its influence. The fact that Al-Jazeera is regarded positively in the Arab world and widely considered trustworthy speaks to its success. The article by Powers and Gilboa attributes Al-Jazeera's "New Public Diplomacy" for its rise to the ranks of international contenders in the world of broadcast journalism.

Powers and Gilboa describe new public diplomacy as, "a set of communicative activities that are utilized by states and nonstate actors in the international sphere in order to effectively communicate with and persuade any number of foreign audiences." With transnational media organizations like Al-Jazeera, the two elements of effective communication are two-way communications and actor-branding.

The managing director of Al-Jazeera English, Nigel Parsons, has said that Al-Jazeera is "a conduit to greater understanding between different people and different cultures." Al-Jazeera succeeded in branding itself as a "public diplomat in the international sphere," and as a representative of the voice of the Arab world. This gives credibility to Al-Jazeera among Arabs, because they know that their voice is being heard.

The motto of Al-Jazeera, "the opinion and the other opinion," conveys a democratic approach to broadcasting. This in turn provides credibility for an international audience, in that Al-Jazeera represents a large proportion of the opinions of Arabs. However, in the United States, Al-Jazeera is often criticized, despite its democratic approaches to reporting.

Al-Jazeera has been criticized in the United States for showing footage thought to be "inciting violence" and "endagering the lives of American troops" in Iraq. This is because footage not allowed to air or that is deemed appropriate in the US is often not as controversial in the Middle East. While as an American I understand the politics and reasons for not showing explicit violence of the war in the United States, I can understand from a cultural point of view that it would be normal in the Middle East. I would think that since people in the Arab world are exposed to much more violence everyday than the average American, ignoring footage of violence would seem like trying to cover it up. People see it happening everyday. This is a dilema that Al-Jazeera constantly faces, how to walk the thin line between representing the Arab world and pleasing the international world.

As every news station must hold some degree of bias, be it for geographical or political reasons, I think its unreasonable for the United States to expect Al-Jazeera to be completely neutral. After all, they are an Arab news station. I think that using Al-Jazeera has a way to understand and communicate with the world would be extremely beneficial to the United States, as Al-Jazeera is providing, "a bridge to the Arab world." I think it would be impractical in terms of Public Diplomacy not to cross it.

Public diplomacy 2.0 as a soft power resource

Soft power is no easy feat to accomplish. Rather, to me, it seems like a balancing act, making sure you are generating a positive image without being coercive. Joseph Nye explains soft power as "getting other to want the outcomes that you want," which is obviously helpful in that "if I can get you to want to do what I want, then I do not have to force you to do what you do not want." Nye continues to say that soft power is more than persuasion, but is the ability to entice and attract.

James Glassman, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, said Public Diplomacy 2.0, consisting of social media, is an approach, not a technology. He believes this approach can combat terrorism and Al-Qaeda by "creating an environment hostile to extremism and encouraging young people to follow productive paths that lead away from terrorism." He hopes that the interactivity of social media will provide a conversation that will engage, inform, and influence foreign publics.

I think public diplomacy 2.0 will give an outlet to foreign audiences to voice perceptions and values that they share with the American public, but maybe didn't realize. One example of this is a contest the State Department formed with other partners like NBC Universal consisting of video entries with the title "Democracy Is...". Entries were 3 minutes long and a visual representation of what people believe democracy is. Entries can contain many different cultural perceptions and values while all pertaining to the idea democracy. This collection of entries can show others how one idea of "democracy" is shared by many, but perhaps through different means of achieving it.

The State Department also has a Digital Outreach Team who engages conversations with foreign audiences in Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu about U.S. policies. I think it is important for the U.S. government to take this proactive approach in telling foreign publics that we care about what they are thinking, and that we want to understand them better. Conversation can lead to the identification of common value and perceptions, which is the root of achieving soft power.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Influence of the Al Jazeera brand

Joseph Nye defines soft power as the ability to obtain outcomes through attraction instead of coercion, shaping others’ preferences through influence instead of threats. Related to this, he describes the three key dimensions of public diplomacy that may be used to gain this power: daily communication with the press, strategic communications, and creating lasting relationships. This can be accomplished by listening to your audience as well as telling them information, in order to understand your audience. Some of this soft power may also come from brands, in the US especially with global products like Google and Starbucks.

But it was surprising to hear that, in 2005, the Arab news network Al Jazeera was voted the number 5 most influential brand in 2005, beating out even Nokia and Coca-Cola (Powers and Gilboa 57). This is an astounding fact, especially considering the seemingly inescapable The network has portrayed the US conflict in a very unfavorable light, but perhaps they are just trying to present their view of the issue. Some of the issues could be resolved more quickly if both sides are given a chance to speak. The more I read this week about soft power and public diplomacy, the more I felt that much of the criticism, and even some of the decline in popularity for US foreign policy surrounding the war in Iraq, is due to the fact that American policy makers do a great deal of talking, and not as much listening.

I found a very interesting article by the Atlantic with the opinion that, while Al Jazeera has its faults, the station does present a decently unbiased report from a developing part of the world. At first I was surprised and shocked by this admission. But then, as I ready more, I was persuaded by his argument, and could understand his perspective the way some people may defend CNN or Fox News. This in fact goes back to our discussion on the public sphere and the way we are trained to consume the media. He writes:

“Al Jazeera is forgivable for its biases in a way that the BBC or CNN is not. In the case of Al Jazeera, news isn’t so much biased as honestly representative of a middle-of-the-road developing-world viewpoint. Where you stand depends upon where you sit. And if you sit in Doha or Mumbai or Nairobi, the world is going to look starkly different than if you sat in Washington or London, or St. Louis for that matter” (Kaplan).

The difference the perspective from which it is viewed -- are you in the Middle East, or are you in London, or Washington, DC? The article goes on to ask: could the US media, such as Fox News, present the news without an American perspective? The answer is no, since the American culture and expression of power are so deeply ingrained in its communications. In fact Al Jazeera is participating in the new public diplomacy, or as Powers and Gilboa state, “Al Jazeera places its role as a public diplomat in the international sphere at the center of its self-representation and organizational identity”, and in fact even serve as a tied to a “imagined pan-Arab community” (70). So even with all its criticisms, Al Jazeera as a non-state actor plays a major in the international sphere, and like it or not, it is a network that cannot be ignored.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

FOX Network vs AL JAZEERA effect

According with the article The Public Diplomacy of Al Jazeera (Powers/Gilboa), this Organization is a new powerful actor in international politics with a self adopted agenda relevant to the Arab and Western world and with a successful new public diplomacy. Moreover, It hava been able to brand itself through the articulation and projection of an identity that won the hearts and minds of an Arab citizenry like no other actor in today´s geopolitical environment.

It easy to see how relevant the role of Al Jazeera is in the international arena –among others reasons- because is giving space to a certain leaders of opinion; crafting the public sphere and the public opinion; creating currents of opinion; acting and being informed by a particular epistemic Arab frame; and, framing and reframing the ‘news’.

These facts, plus the information that Rupert Murdoch, in partnership with the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, plans to launch a new Arabic television news channel (, give us an interesting panorama of the non bloody conflict for the hearts of minds of and Arab citizenry that is taking place between a challenger and an incumbent of the international communication governance structures.

Agustin Fornell

Friday, November 12, 2010

The CNN Effect and Google Maps

Without a doubt, modern communications technology has complicated the ability of nation-states to formulate policy "in a bubble" so to speak. The fact that the public at large is privy to a wide swath of information often necessitates a certain course of action or policy on the part of the government, as public opinion can not be ignored in most situations. Take, for example, the recent "Invasion" of Costa Rica by Nicaragua.

Although the details were muddled in the initial reports, it appears that the Nicaraguan movement was directed towards a small island that was already owned by Nicaragua. The controversy started when the Nicaraguan troops removed a Costa Rican flag (on Costa Rican soil), and then justified their actions by pointing out Google's map of the Rican/Nicaraguan border, which was off by a few miles in Nicaragua's favor. The problem inherent in this situation should be obvious.

The fact that the Nicaraguan military was quoting Google, an international NGO, instead of their own cartographical services, indicates that in this media climate, there is a palpable shift in the balance of power between international media/information services and nation-states. While it is believed that the Nicaraguan commander was purposefully using the Google Map data as an excuse for his actions, the above point still stands; even if the commander was only trying to cover his tracks at the last minute, the fact that he chose Google as his "higher power" is indicative of the power that the corporation and others like it hold in the political world today.

Simon Cottle, in his article "Global Crises in the News" talks at great length about the power of the media regarding framing crises (or in some cases creating them). Sympathetic and emotionally couched reports have the power to shape public opinion, which in turn dictates official response. In the case of the Nicaraguan invasion, however, the relationship between official sources and media sources is turned on its head: rather than governmental sources reacting to the interaction between the public and the media, they tried to immediately take control of the power of the media, bypassing public opinion entirely. Of course, this failed for obvious reasons. Really, though, governments reach out to information NGOs like Google all the time, whether through business deals or data-mining. In many ways, media and information NGOs are better equipped than governmental organizations, in that they are not bound by the same regulations and restrictions inherent in international sovereignty laws.

As the world is becoming more and more globalized and with the communication technology we have today, a lot of issues are becoming globalized. So as global crises. Global crises are highly dependent on global news media. The big earthquake happened in China last year and the more recent earthquake happened in Haiti were local disasters. But through global news media, these became global issues. Money was raised from all over the world to help these areas. With all this money, lives were saved, cities were rebuilt. Global news media played a key role.

We see what we want to see

We hear what we want to hear, thus goes the maxim. And this is the crux of Kai Hafiz's, and Shawn Powers and Mohammed el-Nawawy's articles we discussed in the class on Tuesday. Powers and el-Nawawy find out in their research that "viewers worldwide turn to particular broadcasters to affirm rather than inform their opinions ..."
The Powerful Effect theory of mass media has already been challenged by more researches in the field of mass media and their effect on the people. As Walter Lippmann says that people are more likely to believe pictures in their heads than come to judgment by critical thinking. It means that before exposing ourself to the messages of the mass media, we have our own world view based on the stereotypes and generalizations that our culture has inculcated in our minds.
Culture works as a filter for us when we look at the world, allowing only those images that reinforce our stereotypes, prejudices and demonizing of the 'Others'. As Kai Hafiz says that the media follow rather than lead, the mass media uses "monologic" rather than "dialogic" style of journalism in reporting international issues.
Since culture is a "whole" in which the mass media function and people live their lives, the news media cater to the information needs of people of their own culture. This gratification of needs of people of their own culture leads to fragmentation of the audience. People become selective in exposing themselves to a long list of mass media. At the same time, they also become choosy or picky while giving attention to and retaining certain information disseminated by a single media.
Therefore, in this age of globalization the mass media are fragmenting the world population instead of weaving them into a common thread of humanity. What the mass media do is dehumanizing the proverbial Other and reinforcing their typical publics' stereotypes and prejudices. Physically, the world has turned into a global village, but psychologically nations and communities have insulated themselves--and the mass media, instead of reshaping their world view, have sharpened their existing opinions.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Misperception or manipulation of public opinion?

According the article “War and Peace in the Information Age” (124) of Elizabeth Hanson, the framing of the war was the key to the success “on the domestic front in shaping public perceptions and in maintaining the dominant interpretation of the event in the media during the course of major combat operations….The effective communication strategy began with the framing of the response to the September 11 attacks as the ‘war on terror’, and the representation of the overthrow of the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of that war”.

Later Hanson says that this frame also met three conditions that enable political leaders to keep control over the framing of the event. First, the conflict was characterized as a threat to basic cultural values; Second, the lack of debate among the political elite that could have provided a base for a dissenting coverage; and, Third, the nature of the situation itself clearly called for a response.

I guess could be very interesting to know how was done the decision making process in the Bush Administration to link the overthrow of the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of that “war on terror”. The decision making process probably was the result of a misperception created for ignorance about the muslin world; or perhaps an unmentionably interest; or maybe a mental schema related with the ideology of the people that took part in the decision; even domestic policy could be an alternative explanation. That is a very interesting task for the academics and practioners of diplomacy.

However, is probably just a little more than a mistake if not a calculated and an induced one, in order to misinform and induce to the public opinion to believe so because as Hanson says on his article (126), “Although President Bush himself never explicitly made the connection, mentioning “Saddam Hussein” and “September 11” frequently enough in the same paragraph or sentence helped to make the link.” Agustin Fornell

Snapshot into Al-Qaeda Media Nexus

The article by David Kimmage gave a detailed inside look to the intricate network of Al-Qaeda media. What is interesting is that the author mentions a 23-page paper titled Media Exuberance, which is a detailed critique of the Jihadist movement written by the the Jihadist Media Development Unit in 2005.

This policy paper in interesting in that it criticizes the "media exhuberance" of the Jihadist movement, referring to the distribution of audio and video products without official sanction or permission from a producer. The paper recognizes the importance of credibility, citing CNN and ABC as maintining their credibility because "information leaks to such outlets, rather than from them." This seems to be a weakness that the U.S. government can work to exploit when combating Al-Qaeda.

The organization of the media nexus is interesting as well, with a logo identifying the organization or source involved. Further, it was found in this study that the terms "production" and "distribution" may not be concrete, with one organization actually doing the work but crediting another. This itself makes the Jihadist movement difficult to track and know who is doing what. While Kimmage notes that it is not known why this intricate web exists, it seems plausible that it if for that very reason, to create confusion, making it difficult to nail down a source. If this network is thought of as connecting "nodes" or "hubs" and one node or hub is threatened, the network would continue to function. In this case, a plausible argument would be self defense.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spinning the War

This week we discussed media tactics during times of war and conflict. While am going to try to keep this post from being a political rant, a passage in Hanson’s chapter entitled “War and Peace in the Information Age” really resonated with me. Not only does it sum up my feelings on the war on terror, I think it clearly illustrates much of the reason for complexity in today’s new media. She writes:

“The confounding of the war on terrorism and the struggle for the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim world encouraged an array of simplistic, hard sell tactics that focused on delivering the message without taking the first important step of listening to the targeted audiences and trying to understand their values and worldviews” (Hanson 118).

Hanson sums up quite well the reasons for the lack of buy-in for the war on terror, reflected in increasingly low ratings for the President. This is not to say the US should have sit back and taken a passive response to the attacks on September 11th. Of course I believe that from a military standpoint, a forceful reaction to the terrorist attacks was absolutely necessary and warranted, but the reaction in the media channels leaves itself open to further critique. The framing of events was very effective with the US population, mainly due to the fact that the political and media interpreted the war as a threat to cultural values, an appeal that spoke to the American people. However, as time went on the focus of the invasion became muddied, and the reasons for the US occupation more and more unclear. If you go back to day one in class, we learned that communication technologies have crossed political boundaries, bringing messages and influences from all the corners of the globe. Failure to take these points of view into consideration is too narrow a lens to view today’s complicated issues, especially in a war as politically delicate as the invasion of Iraq. In addition, the American media spin on the events that did not seem to reflect well on either the people of the Arab world.

Interestingly enough, the article by Powers and el-Nawawy explain in part why this occurs. The hope for international media coverage was to increase a public conversation, and perhaps even homogenize, to an extent, the public sphere. Alas, the reality is more like “sphericules”, or bubbles of culturally similar values around which media channels tend to report in a “impartial, yet [locally] sensitive” manner (Powers and el-Nawawy 268). The media presents these conflicts with a bias towards one culture or another, depending on where they are broadcasting. Thus, going back to the quote by Hanson, it is important to know and understand your audience if you are trying to present an opinion with which they will agree.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wireless Communication: a double-edged sword

Control of information and communication has always been central to power. Powers that be have always sought to have a firm grip on both, but new information and communication technologies offer challenges for rulers and opportunities for the ruled. With the proliferation of information technology, information has become more precious for some but more lethal for others.

However, technology is not the sole determining element in the distribution of power because, as Manuel Castells et al in their article, The Mobile Civil Society: Social Movements, Political Power, and Communication Networks, say that “the usage of technologies is shaped within the social context and political structures of a given society.

The writers discuss three different cases in which wireless communication, by creating a new form of public space, brought about political changes: in the Philippines, Spain and South Korea. In all the three cases people used wireless communication to voice their discontent with the powers that be and to mobilize protests. In 2007, military chief-cum-president of Pakistan removed the Chief Justice of the country on corruption charges and took private television channels off the air to forestall any protests.

However, the civil society, including lawyers and university students, took to the streets across the country in support of the deposed Chief Justice. In the face of police crackdown civil society activists kept communicating with each other through short messaging (SMS), the Facebook, Twiter and mailing groups to decide about the timing and venue of demonstrations. Internet blogs worked as dynamic newspapers that were updated every hour with pictures taken with cell phone cameras.

This social networking galvanized the people and un-nerved the rulers: the Chief Justice was restored and the president had to step down. But as Castells et al say wireless technology has the ability to speed up communication in both positive and negative ways, cell phones in Pakistan are frequently used by the terrorists like the Taliban to communicate with the mass media. In majority of the cases they threaten journalists and their organizations, forcing them into self-censorship.

In the above-cited cases wireless communication was effective because of its inter-personal and horizontal nature in which both the sender and the receiver were known to each other. But the success of this technology is situational: as Prof. Hayden said the government machinery could infiltrate the wireless network to forestall an anti-government activity. 2003 China and 2004 U.S. are examples where states controlled communication before it could pose any threat.

Authoritarian states use the wireless communication for keeping track of political dissidents and quell anti-government protests. Next time a president fires a chief justice in Pakistan, he/she will take care of this technology before the civil society can use it for mobilizing the people.

Texting in Haiti

This weeks class discussion posed the question, do communication techonologies enable the public sphere to take action? And if so, when and how? I thought Castells article was great in the way it divided its analysis by country. Castells focused on how mobile technology, texting in particular, was sucessful in some instances and not in others. For example, in Madrid, Spain, peer-to-peer texting is attributed as a major reason the people chose to elect the oppositional party. However, in Washington State, it seems that because authorities foresaw the potential for rallies via text messaging, all attempts were sucessfully supressed.

On CNN's website, I found an article titled, "Texts, Maps battle Haiti Cholera Outbreak" that bring this issue to light in Haiti. Haiti has recently battled with numerous cholera outbreaks and cannot seem to stop the spread fast enough. In the article, health workers are said to be using communication technologies such as texts and mapping technologies to aid the Haitian people. Local cellular messages are sending text out to the public warning them where the contaminated areas are and sending information on symptoms to look for. "Crowd mapping" groups are volunteering to map out the spread of disease in real time, so people can know where to avoid. A specific site,, maps locations of clean water (since cholera spreads mostly by infected water and food).

I found the use of this technology to help spread critical information to a people in dire need to be extremely innovative and amazing. I hope these communication technologies will help stop this outbreak in Haiti soon, or at least help control it. I also hope more people will look at this example in Haiti and think about how these communication technologies would be able to help disease/disaster relief around the world.

The article can be found here-

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Nation-State: A Sinking Ship?

Continuing the discussion that we started in class this week, I'd like to briefly talk about the implications of China's firewall network. Really, though, I'd like to talk over the question "Is it worth it in the long run?" China currently has a strong lock on its communications networks, and there is no doubt that there is a great deal of consent to the censorship and government control. China has a long history of government control, whether dynastic or communist, and their approach to Internet monitoring (framing it in patriarchal and protectionist terms) reflects this. However, the firewall is not impenetrable, just as the Great Wall also crumbled over the years. Whether supported by US Government-affiliated organizations like VOA, or on their own initiative, hackers, advocates, and activists are reaching out and slowly making contacts within China's computer-savvy population. China can not completely shut down its Internet connection to the outside world, as North Korea has nearly done - China is frankly too large, too intertwined with international business and information networks to do so.

In my opinion then, it is impossible for China to stop the flow of foreign information. Hackers will always find a way through the firewall, even as it improves on a daily basis. China's greatest adversary in the battle of information is not Soft Power directed by a foreign state, but by individual cultural agents of the world.

Tweets and Transition in China

I was pleasantly surprised how well the topic of our presentation on Google China went along with this week’s reading, especially the chapter by Hanson. With the second largest number of internet users in the world, Google would be foolish to leave the market entirely. Google’s history of both following China’s censorship regulations, and the more recent choice to allow unfiltered results, is as much a business decision as it is a discussion of information control, either by the company or the government. Yet, one of the most interesting points brought up in class regarding this topic, is the question of how much of the censorship is due to cultural values, and how much is due to the resistance of the Communist party to give up this control. However, this power is slowly starting to shift from the Party to the people, in part due to the ICTs that have been introduced in the past decade. Hanson states, “Even if the Internet is not precipitating political ferment or prompting a mass democratic movement, it is bringing about profound political change that could lead in several directions, one of which is a transition to a more democratic political system” (189). The Party is slow to give up control, i part because of the greater accountability, due to increased transparency "Once a government connects to the Internet, its actions become more visible to the rest of the world, however stringent the restrictions" (Hanson 212). Obviously this is not anything that will happen overnight, nor do I foresee a huge uprising just because there is greater online freedom.

I tried to find some public opinion about this whole ordeal, and while I wasn’t expecting anyone to flat out ran into this very interesting article on microblogging in China. (Read it here on the Economist). While Twitter is blocked to all but the most tech savvy, bloggers do have the option to use Fanfou, a weibo service currently in beta and under the eye of the government censors. But that is not keeping people from letting their thoughts be known. In fact, “Last August China Youth News, a newspaper run by the ruling party’s Communist Youth League, reported that in a nationwide survey more than 45% of people under 40 said they were frequent weibo users. More than 94% said that weibo had changed their lives.” However, the government also uses the program for its own promotions, and all other writers are still cautious about what they post. But there is certainly the slow shift which challenges the state, and for both political and economic reasons, this is not a change to be ignored.
With networks and technology, communication becomes instant. It does not matter where you are, as long as you have the technology people can communicate. It has great impact on political movements too. There are many changes happened in media. It is very true that German political scientist Joachim Raschke starkly described the importance of mass media for movements: “A movement that does not make it into the media is non-existent.” This established how powerful media and technology is.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Is it a trigger for action in front of new media information/communication?

The article called “Blogs and Bullets” (p. 7) conveys to the readers the appealing statement that “new media might play an intermediary role but is neither necessary nor sufficient for contentious politics.” Then it goes further to say, that “The impact of new media can be better understood through a framework that considers five levels of analysis: individual transformation, intergroup transformation, collective action, regime policies, and external attention” (p. 3).
Speaking about the impact at the level of the individual the authors argue that “Some individuals may develop new competencies through their exposure to or participation in new media, allowing them to participate more readily or effectively in real world politics or to process information differently…Alternatively, new media could make citizens more passive, by leading them to confuse online rhetoric with substantial political action , diverting their attention away from productive activities.”(p. 9)
I believe that the issue confronting the “new media” dilemma of the individual’s participation versus his/hers passivity should be well understood in order to identify, in a scientific way, how to pull the trigger that leads to action as a result of a given information. Before offering any opinion about this issue, it is important to recognize that prior to new media and with new media –at least in a democratic country- is after each one to participate in the dialectic process within the public sphere should take place , so as to be able to craft into the public’s opinion and achieve social change.
Maybe one of the triggers that lead to the action of individuals and inspires or “obligates” them to take part in a given process is the perception that their ideas and interests are challenged in a certain way. As a result they chose to act or not, according to those ideas and interest, and depending of their subjective evaluation of the cost/benefits and the perceived chance of success based in a particular criteria of the law of probability.

Agustin Fornell