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Posts Tagged ‘internet

Weekly #11: Tunisia and Citizen Media

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T is for Tunisia (oh, Sesame Street, you are handy). I first became interested in this country while studying elementary Modern Standard Arabic in college. On paper (or Wikipedia, as it were), it looks stellar at first glance. It is the northernmost country in Africa, surrounded by Algeria, Libya, and the Mediterranean, and its official state religion is Islam. Perhaps surprisingly, it is a constitutional republic with heavy influences from the French, with a great degree of religious freedom, and a close relationship with the European Union. Its government, led by President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, has also held a moderate stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, making it a valuable voice in MENA in the eyes of Western powers. Sounds good, right?

Guess again. Ben Ali has been around since 1987, and if Blagojevich can go bad in six years in President Obama’s sandbox, it’s easy to imagine how corrupt this guy can get in 23. Ben Ali touts freedom and democracy, all the while Amnesty International calls his messaging “lip service” and cites various human rights abuses committed by his security forces. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy (2008) classified Tunisia as an authoritarian regime, ranking 141 out of 167, only four spots above Iran. Although freedom of press is officially guaranteed, in reality it is the exact opposite. No public criticism of the government is tolerated, and journalists are blocked from reporting on controversial events. Finally, Tunisia is one of the strictest countries in the world when it comes to censorship of the internet. There is only one server for the entire country, and it is controlled by (you guessed it) the government. Just this past January, Secretary Hillary Clinton named Tunisia as one of two countries with the most internet censorship in the world (China was the other).

This is all my long way of saying that Tunisian bloggers have guts. Global Voices writer Lova refers to the bloggers as the “citizen media,” which rings true. They face extreme oppression for doing what U.S. bloggers do every day: give their opinion, spread information, and tell the truth as they see it. They speak out against the government and its restriction of both quantity and quality of information. For example, as reported via Global Voices, bloggers on Nawaat revealed that photos of Ben Ali’s son were doctored by the national press to his benefit, showing the government’s influence over national media.

These bloggers are evidence of Shirky’s claim that these days everyone is a media outlet. However, their significance for Tunisia goes much further than “mass amateurization” and its effects on journalism as a profession. They are saying what the professionals cannot and taking huge risks to practice free speech in a repressive state. In April and May 2010, the government blocked hundreds of blogs, and in response bloggers protested online with videos, comments, blog posts, and screens denouncing the actions. Since this crack down, a movement has started to revamp the blogosphere by encouraging Tunisians to start new blogs.

Tunisian bloggers are not Justin Hall and they are not Robert Scoble. They are the citizen media, acting under threats to freedom and life, all for the sake of providing access to accurate and uncensored information. Sure, they blog about their personal lives too, but the overwhelming narrative is what they are compelled to tell by virtue of being a blogger on the most censored internet server in the world: information is limited and falsified, and through my blog I can tell you what is really going on.

We come from a place where the work of Woodward and Bernstein is hailed as the “single greatest reporting effort of all time.” We are that lucky. I don’t mean to diminish their hard work, but Woodward and Bernstein were backed by a hundred-year-old institution and didn’t face the certainty of being tracked and high possibility of being arrested and detained without cause that these bloggers face daily. The bloggers of Tunisia, the citizen media, are a crucial media outlet for the country. They are key to tracking human rights violations, practicing freedom of speech, and keeping democracy alive in Tunisia.

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Weekly #5: The Love Song of tyoung215

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A poem, from me to you:

You and I together a breakneck dream

You show me wonders from your engineering team.

Favoring keywords in one, two’s and three’s

Words without meaning, yet you easily see

Knowing my intention despite spelling so tragic

Powered by PageRank, beacon of math magic.

And before there was us, you went by BackRub

But more fitting a name you would soon be dubbed.

Father Page and Father Brin ignored tradition

Instead used word-of-mouth and PR to up your position.

Marketing agencies felt the raw sting of rejection

Take note, your past only increases my affection.

With free tools aplenty, you promise access, no evil, and care

All in exchange for name, birth, state — a bargain more than fair.

I log in to Gmail, easily a cut above the rest

So simple to chat and sort and add Labs for zest.

You bring me updates from sources far and wide

I even read in a feed to stem the info overload tide.

I dock my docs with you for sharing and safe keeping

Your directions lead me home in time for sleeping.

Again you ask: “What do you want?”

But I know not.

So you show me the Earth and bring down the Moon

You fulfill Jimmy’s pledge — I confess, I swoon.

Even your oddities like Buzz are strange but charming

AdWords appear everywhere, yet don’t seem alarming.

Oh hey, look, it’s as if that ad is speaking to me!

That is your goal, of course, now I easily see.

Knowing my intention

Despite no explicit mention.

I brush this aside because you give much and ask for little.

Or do you?

You’re moving faster than me

Taking over the phone and soon TV.

Robot cars now too?

Jesus, who knew

That you could be

Knowing my intention despite not knowing it myself

Then storing it as if any other on your virtual shelf.

You’ve catalogued my whims, wishes, and wants

Right next to all my faults, failings, and flaunts.

And would you divulge these without my consent?

Turns out, yes, if ’twas the government that sent.

I to you one of many in the Database of Intentions

Exploited for the bottom line without question.

You say: “This is for your own good, trust my helping hand.”

I hear: “All are immortalized and retrieved upon demand.”

You speak plainly now, you ask, “What does the world want?”

Information replacing relationships? I pray not.

You and I are no longer, but you and all stay strong

And I a part of all take you still, no matter the wrong.

All I can do now is trust that you will live your motto

Be not evil, or else shoulder unforeseen sorrow.

Google — you came, you gave, you strayed

And in short, I am afraid.

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Weekly #4: Happy Days Are Here Again

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Hello, Gorgeous! I must confess that I am totally obsessed with Barbra right now. Just listen to the sheer power of her voice.

On to the point: I am easily obsessed with ____. In searching for online communities about my favorite activity/hobby, I realized that I have no one favorite. Instead, I become quite easily obsessed with something, and then use the the Long Tail of information out there on the interweb to discover more about that thing. I guess if I had to pinpoint an activity that I love best, it is internet research on my favorite flavor of the moment.

Take The Social Network, for instance. I saw it this weekend while visiting HPL (more on that in my personal post), and have since been obsessed. Yes, obviously I love the Sorkin screenplay and the Reznor score. But more importantly, I love the chemistry between the actors. It hints at the male bonding that had to have occurred offscreen in order for such a strong connection to be formed onscreen. I watched several interviews with the cast, read through transcripts of interviews, and then researched cast members and their bodies of work. I searched by referencing the popular sources (EW.com, Variety, IMDB.com, Wikipedia) first and landed on this amazing clip of cast member Andrew Garfield during an ABC News interview. Then I found some stuff from lesser known sources simply by sifting through the massive amounts of returns yielded on Google and YouTube.

Chris Anderson acknowledges in his book The Long Tail the main concern with using the Long Tail of any market, which is any topic on the internet in my case: “The Long Tail is indeed full of crap” (p. 116). The same is true for the internet itself. But he also acknowledges that it is full of brilliance. The key is to be a judicious researcher by checking multiple sources of information, and not just the popular ones.

Garrett hit on this a bit last week when discussing the fracturing of media. He talked about how notions which have been proven false continue to spread as true not because of people on either end of the information access spectrum (“elites” and “non-elites”). Rather, those in the middle are the ones believing these misconceptions and spreading them as credible intel. The middle can access information via the web, but they are poorly skilled at determining fact from fiction. Indeed, it is no longer about getting hold of information, but about making smart decisions based on that information (p. 107). Interestingly enough, Aaron Sorkin talked about his disdain for the internet because of this very problem. As he puts it, “There’s just too much bad information getting out there, and I have to believe that’s mostly the fault of the Internet, which isn’t held to any standards of accuracy.”

I hear that, Almighty Sorkin. However, I think that the standard of accuracy comes from the “wisdom of the crowd” as Anderson puts it. The ratings of a user’s answer to the burning questions regarding offscreen relationships are what connects my demand to the good supply in the internet’s Long Tail. And I trust these users because they are just as obsessed as I am with finding the right answers. No internet search would be complete without the reference to or help of the social web. Of course, that doesn’t mean I rely solely on users (methinks that would knock me out of my elite status). But they are just as valuable a source as the EW reporter fawning over the actors.

I have used the Long Tail of the internet to find out about lasting obsessions such as grammar, Harry Potter and Wegmans. The speed of the internet is especially helpful for those passing obsessions like Kings of Leon. It helps reduce time wasted on something that might not matter as much to me in three weeks. Today it’s Social Network, tomorrow it could be tsunamis. Despite the wealth and variety of information sitting on the internet, I have not found defined online communities devoted to the information sitting on the internet. Perhaps the entire internet is my community, and more narrowly the social web. After all, my favorite activity would not exist without both.