Citizen Journalism Saves Lives!

An amateur…

…with a hand-held camera captures flagrant violations of war crimes in Africa. The video footage from this witness becomes the incriminating content in a documentary that exposes atrocities. Precious lives are saved because of a citizen’s actions. Does this sound like un-professional journalism?

The NGO called doesn’t think so. Their mission promotes citizen involvement and it’s working just fine saving lives all over the world, thank you very much.

Here’s the deal. uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. This group trains Human Rights Organizations how to use the power of video to report on rights violations.

In the success story above, one of many, the widespread recruitment and use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had become unparalleled throughout Africa. Tens of thousands of child soldiers had been recruited as combatants by all parties to the conflict, which has been described as Africa’s world war by observers given the widespread involvement of both continental and international actors.  The conflict has claimed nearly five million lives to date.

The International Criminal Court has investigated war crimes in the DRC as one of its first cases.  The recruitment and use of child soldiers is a war crime as defined by the Rome Statute of the ICC under article 8(2).

The story of WITNESS is one of both vision and evolution. It began in 1988, the year musician and activist Peter Gabriel traveled with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! Tour. Peter brought along a Sony Handycam®, one of the first smallcamcorders marketed to consumers, to record the stories he heard.

In 1991, a bystander captured on videotape the brutal beating of Rodney King, Jr. by Los Angeles police. The footage, flashed on TV screens around the globe, initiated an international conversation about police brutality and racial discrimination. Those images demonstrated the immense power of video to capture the world’s attention and viscerally communicate human rights abuses.

WITNESS has worked in over 70 countries to advance human rights through the use of video for change. Their slogan is See it – Film it – Change it.

WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.

Human rights organizations are increasingly interested in employing video to advance and strengthen their advocacy. But most groups are not equipped or experienced enough to make the most of video and other forms of media.

WITNESS collaborates with NGOs worldwide to bridge the gap between conventional campaigns and campaigns that incorporate video into advocacy to accelerate the process of human rights reform.

As a result of the footage taken by a Congo citizen there was a major arrest by the ICC for involvement in the commission of war crimes, namely enlisting and conscripting child soldiers.

The coordinating efforts of groups like WITNESS fulfill the promise that Interactive Media can be used to change the world – with a little help from citizen photo-journalists.

Categories: COM580

Contemporary Media Issues – My Analyses – by Paul R Wagner

May 14, 2010 1 comment

Introduction of Panelists

In the spirit of our New Media symposium and in view of its debt to computing, we have asked our four distinguished panelists to construct their opening position statements in the form of an If/Then Algorithm. Here now are the algorithmic renderings of their main concerns, theories, and issues for today and the near future.

Robert W. McChesney

If you have a democratic state that protects the rights of a free press, and if those rights include not only the freedom from government censorship but also the right to a free press in the first place, then the result will be a sound basis for professional journalism protected by constitutional law. But, if that state allows credible journalism that was once healthy and widely subsidized by its public to then be left to a few hands operating in largely monopolistic markets without direct competition, then you will have a conflict between the profit motive and the public service of journalism. And, if that state lives under the illusion that the natural free market function in the form of a modern business model as a commercialized, dispenser of journalism can continue to sustain itself in the face of rapidly dwindling advertising revenue which is accelerated and permanently altered by an electronic global Internet, then that state is forced not only to condone, but demand public subsidies just as it did for nearly all of the 19th century.

Ken Auletta

If you can deliver a product or service that has been in demand for the entire history of mankind, then offer this product free to users, and if this product or service is highly valuable to an unlimited number of users who can, in turn, profit from its delivery and re-use, then the benefit of free equals the result of obtaining 100 percent of the market. If you can avoid the high cost of creating this product along with minimal cost in delivering the product, and if this product is already being provided but at a higher cost in other platforms like news media, then you can become the preferred gatekeeper of this product, replacing other access platforms for an unlimited number of users, the result being an aggregate perception that your service is superior to other similar platforms. If you can have the most concentrated gathering of left-brain employees on the planet, and if these concept workers can maintain primacy in the search and delivery of data, then you can reach a level of unprecedented control over commerce and content, and then monetize this service by selling advertising in a non-zero sum game to those who are willing to offer money to obtain more data so that they can make more money. If you can achieve these goals by being nice and by constantly embracing change and always questioning everything including conventional corporate thinking, and if you can constantly focus on data-driven products and services that are the most useful to an unlimited number of users, then you can make the world a better place by creating an environment that is conducive to making friends out of your users and allies out of your customers.

Daniel J. Solove

If a world-wide publishing and receiving technology [Internet] is created that operates on a digital network and is connected to everyone in the world, and if this system is virtually or nearly free to use, and if this system is not regulated, and if there is no alteration to the published material, then anybody can instantly publish anything about anybody to everyone in the world. If the Internet is available to the citizens of a democratic state that by law protects their right to free speech and also establishes a right to privacy as a basic human right, then the use of the Internet brings these two privileges into conflict. If what is published on the Internet is instantly widespread, permanent and available as a public record no matter the intention whether good or bad, then every person’s freedom to manage their own privacy, reputation and including their own hate speech is compromised because their lives are forever shackled by their irreversible publications. If radical, federal government laws and restrictions are applied to the use of the Internet, then it is highly probable that reputations will be protected at the loss of the rights of free speech. If a tort system of law is used to manage civil suits, then it is possible to build up a set of social norms that educate Internet publishers to all the implications of exposing data on the Internet. If this process can begin, then it is highly probable that an increasing number of reputations can be protected without any loss of the rights of free speech.

Jonathan Zittrain

If you build personal computing devices that anyone can reprogram, and if you connect these to an Internet that routes bits between two arbitrary points, then the result will be a generative revolution where novel and disruptive technologies can originate from grassroots sources. If you build an Internet with generative properties of technical openness, ease of access and ease of mastery and adaptability, and if you combine this with the generative personal computer, then the result will be an unsurpassed environment for innovative experimentation. If this same generative environment is unregulated, then this will also make the Internet hospitable to various forms of wickedness as in hacking, porn, spam, fraud, theft, predation, and attacks on the network itself. And if these undesirable phenomena proliferate, then business, government, and many users will find common cause for locking down Internet and PC architecture in the interests of security and order. And if this happens the most probable reaction, if not forestalled, will be the growing profusion of devices (tethered appliances) whose functions cannot readily be altered by their owners. And if these devices which are nothing more than pre-packaged, closed systems are allowed to proliferate, then the generative Internet and PC has a probability to be dislocated from the center of the digital ecosystem, and then unable to produce the next round of innovations and competition. And if this is allowed to happen because their convenience or functionality supersedes a more generative choice, then the probability is higher that users, by migrating to such appliances, will unwittingly trade away the future benefits of generativity, and then the loss will go unappreciated even as innovation tapers off. And if, there are so many examples of the failure of closed systems like CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL, or makers of “smart appliances” such as dedicated word processors and video-game consoles, then the advantages of investing in generative systems should be obvious.

Wagner critiques (Robert McChesney)- ‘who is living in a parentheses’

Robert McChesney claims that the business model for commercial journalism is dying because, starting in the 1990’s and now permanently accelerated by the Internet, its advertising revenues have dwindled while its power structure has changed to a handful of monopolistic, profit-seeking conglomerates who have no regard for the sanctity of the fourth estate nor its necessity as the lifeblood of a free, democratic state.

Based on this epidemic, Dr. McChesney’s remedy is presented as obvious; we will need to return to public subsidies as the primary financial resource in order to support a sufficient level of quality and quantity in self-governing, credible journalism.

Who can rightfully disagree with this? I can. Here’s why.

You see, it’s all much clearer if you think of the ink-printed, paper news that you see in the old movies. News came printed on paper and rolled up and a boy on a bicycle would deliver it to your ranch house in the suburbs. Anyway, every time (Robert) uses the words ‘journalism’ or ‘media’ he really means ‘newspaper.’ Ok? You got it now?

O, (he’ll) slip up every now and then and use the word ‘press’ just like Thomas Jefferson did but, he really wants you to try and picture the bigger world of the fourth estate – journalism with a big ‘m’ for media and he would define this as a corporate chain of newspapers owned by a heartless, profit-seeking cult.

Now everything he says in his 589-page book is really good stuff as long as you have that rolled-up newspaper on the porch in mind. It’s also easier if you go ahead and pretend like it’s the 19th century and there is no Internet or iPad nor even the hint of anything like an Amazon or Steve Jobs to complicate the argument (there would be telegraph, though). Just picture big ol’, hungry, obsolete printing presses as ‘media’ and everything will fall neatly in place just like the beautifully crafted algorithmics at the beginning of this blog. After all, (McChesney) reminds us:

‘from 1790 to the late 19th century we had this spectacularly bountiful press system much larger on a percapita basis than Britain or France or Canada…and it was significantly due to massive public subsidies put in place by the federal government (primarily postal but also printing subsidies.”)’

In other words, no one involved in journalism in those days made a profit, it was only for the public good? Wait a minute, (Robert)? What’s in those parentheses? Say that again, don’t rush through it like you do in that YouTube video: primarily postal but also printing subsidies.” What? Primarily Postal? So, now the post office is part of journalism? Please.

(Robert), you really have no clue where all those advertising dollars have gone, do you? Helloooo! You see, there’s a new big ‘printing press’, the largest ever built and it’s called the Internet and two ‘nice’ guys out in California have used this press to become an advertising powerhouse whose revenues now match those of the five broadcast networks combined, most of this coming from those little four-line text ads that appear next to Internet search results. And all of this was accomplished without one penny of government subsidies. Go ahead (Robert), Google ‘telegraph’ and you’ll see what I mean.

O, and talk about great expectations and finding resources to monetize journalism, do you want to know what that ‘handful’ of monopolistic media giants are doing… you know who they are. Guess what? They are not reading your book and have no intention of asking the government for subsidies…they are way ahead of you. They are simply trying to learn how to be a ‘frenemy’ and either ride the long tail of Google’s magic or at least learn to dance on the same online clouds that all the V.C. ‘angels’ are monitoring.

Read my blog right below here (Robert) and you’ll also learn how citizen journalists (yikes!) can save lives with a flip-cam (another word for ‘press’) not to mention preserving the lifeblood of the fourth estate.

ZitTRAIN, PLEASE STOP! I wanna get off at the next station.

Me-Thinks our guest, Mr. Zittrain, ‘doth protest too much.’

Contrary to the idea that only open platforms can provide true ‘generativity‘, I submit that the ‘walled garden’ of, for instance, Apple’s App Store can allow users to be empowered with amazing abilities that are exponentially more ‘generative’ when compared to the typical interactive media products available BEFORE iTunes, iPods, iPhones and now the iPad.

For example, Apple (and its cadre of independent and freelance open programmers) has put an incredible amount of work into making Safari do amazing things like, the ability to create websites or ‘web apps’ that install locally, don’t require an internet connection, and look and feel like native apps. These efforts benefit mobile browsers on other platforms since most of them are based on the ‘open-source’ WebKit. Zittrain, on the other hand, keeps blasting away and whining about what has become the dreadfully closed world of Apple as if the ‘do-it-yourself & creativity-wins culture’ is an either/or proposition that cannot possibly co-exist with the corporate choke-points of digital czars like Steve Jobs. Relax, it’s OK, everything’s going to work out fine.

Rupert Murdoch and I, for instance, are forming a new ePub company called Generatively Yours™ that will employ a happy group of open-minded app developers and will be built on the open mission that ‘content is king’ and the iPad (or something like it) can extend the definition of “the book”, the “newspaper”, the “magazine” and the “journal.” This, by the way, will be available via the “iTunes” store and users will be able to ‘self-publish’ in the spirit of the Long Tail. Rupie and I, and our pal Steve Jobs, have absolutely no anxieties about whether this falls within or without Zittrain’s ‘tinkerabilty zone.’ All we know is that it will be a ‘platform’ that ‘hobbyists’ will love and consumers will want. What other formula is there?

Zittrain’s strict codec for what is and is not “quintessentially generative” puts his argument into such an unnecessarily tight corner that it cannot tolerate a broader definition. This causes me and authors like NY Times columnist, Steven B. Johnson, to disagree and expand the notion of ‘generativity‘:

“…the goal we’re all championing—rapid, emergent innovation with small guys competing with big software companies—is happening on the iPhone platform, and it’s happening in part because of the way that platform is closed, not open…the iPhone platform has seen more tinkering and new uses, generated by businesses and hobbyists alike, than any other two-year-old computing platform in history! (Including the Web, I would argue.)”

I’m sorry, Mr. Zittrain, but I would argue that new products like the iPad are great tools for our creative future and will drive new categories for exactly the reasons that you would argue it is taking us a step backwards.

Come with me a moment and let’s imagine all the possibilities for this handheld-sized computer with an unlimited number of possible apps (short for generative applications). There’s no files, no windows, no clicking to get in the way of 200,000 wonderful, tinkerer-provided apps that, like it or not fill a fascinating little generative gap that nobody’s really thought about before.

Did I mention that the iPad has an accelerometer, too? I love saying that word…it’s so SciFi-sounding.

Whoa, what great expectations lay before us, Pip! Could my built-in iPad compass give me more hope and better direction than Zittrain’s dystopian image of a future train wreck? I think so.

Categories: COM580

China’s Citizen ‘Democracy’ – powered by the Internet

One recent morning from within China, two frantic messages were posted to Twitter at 5 a.m.:
“Pls help me, I grasp the phone during police sleep.”
“I have been arrested by Mawei police, sos.”

This cry for help was quickly “retweeted” by hundreds of people in China and around the world. Then, everything went silent from the sender.

Over the next few days, the people in the sender’s Twitter network who knew his real identity followed up with his family and friends in the city of Mawei. News quickly spread around Twitter that the police had taken their friend from his office the previous afternoon and that he was able to tweet once while they slept. He was arrested along with several other bloggers on trumped up charges that enraging an entire community of Chinese netizens.

One blogger organized a campaign in which hundreds of people mailed postcards to the Fuzhou detention center where their friend was being held with the simple message:

Peter, your mother wants you home for dinner.”

Other people organized a fund-raising drive to pay for his defense. After 16 days in detention, Peter and two other bloggers arrested around the same time were released. “I used Twitter to save myself,” he wrote on his blog. The massive online reaction, he believes, helped to free him.

Had this happened just a few years ago no one outside of China and very few inside China would have ever heard about it. Our victim in this real life story would most certainly still be serving time. This represents a profound change. There is a social revolution going on in China and it is powered by new media technologies.

Connected Netizens--The Quiet Revolution

Cyberspace is the new battlefield in the struggle between the Chinese government and foreign and domestic critics of its censorship policies. China has nearly 400 million netizens, far more than any other country in the world. Despite the constant filtering by way of the Great Firewall and the repeated bans of social media platforms, many experts are arguing that the Internet is dramatically shifting power to the Chinese people by allowing them to organize and by channeling uncensored information from outside, especially about democracy and human rights. To be sure, the Internet has further degraded the regime’s ability to control the flow of information, both within China and across its borders.

China’s recent knee-jerk reactions to immediately sever mobile communications and Internet access at the first sign of unrest speaks to the threat, or at least perceived threat, that social media poses to authoritarian regimes. Political developments in Moldova and Iran have annointed Twitter and Facebook the social networks of choice for revolutionary political movements, allowing like-minded people to organize virtually before taking to the streets. Can social networking ultimately open up the flow of free information to the point authoritarianism is unsustainable?

Indignation, says human history, can rarely be extinguished once it’s fires are fueled. China is being democratized from within by its own citizenry and the government is at a loss as to how to stop it. All one has to do is witness the persistence of tech-savvy, Chinese citizens who constantly find ways to circumvent state controls.The sleeping giant of human cooperation is being awakened by new media technologies and innovation.

A new book by Guobin Yang

In recent years increased participation and communication, two basic aspects of transparency, have taken place on the new media platforms in China. Guobin Yang, in his new book, “The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online,” reports that the primary form of netizen participation is online protest and dissent, most commonly in the form of replying in comment and forum threads.

China, despite its consistent and oppressive political tactics, is experiencing a very active netizen revolt. There are times that online activities are accompanied by offline activities. Relying on the online community platform, these kinds of activities are spontaneous and loosely organized, but they can have influence not only on online discourse, but also on offline public discourse and government policies. Social problems such as the widening divide between the rich and the poor; corruption; environmental pollution; changes in cultural values, etc. are all now reflected in these online discussions. The rise of an urban middle class is particularly important in the new online activism. The urban middle class is more confident culturally and has more confidence in both domestic and international media than the working class.

Yang’s book explores and expands our very limited understanding of the use of the Internet in China. Western media likes to depict China’s uses of the Internet as immature and only in two dimensions: onethat the government totally controls everything and two, that netizens only use the Internet to play games. Instead, Yang’s many years of studies and reporting from inside China reveals a very different story. Yang witnesses an unstoppable explosion of online activism:

“I show how Chinese people have created a world of carnival, community and contention in and through cyberspace and how in this process they have transformed personhood, society and politics. This book is about people’s power in the Internet age.”
Categories: COM580


April 18, 2010 Leave a comment

After World War I, when the doughboys were returning home, we worried ourselves sick about these lads as we sang: “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm–After They’ve Seen Paree?” Yes, we felt, these soldiers must have seen things we didn’t even know existed. I suspect many of their stories stayed with them as in the ritual ‘what happens in Paris, stays in Paris.’ Nevertheless, we were changed because some of us now knew about other worlds, other lives. We at home were changed and we hadn’t even gone anywhere!

Curiosity, it seems, is one of those ancestral deep forces in all of us, continuing to feed our interest in what might be around the next corner. Sometimes our hunter-gatherer efforts reward us with fields of edible berries or get us in trouble as we stumble into a bear’s den. Either way, it only takes the slightest bit of positive reinforcement to keep our fires lit.

Today countries are struggling to put firewalls and filters on their netizens’ connections. OK, I’m taking bets. You in? I’m going to vote that curiosity is going to outwit this one. Sorry dear leaders, the cat’s out of the bag, too many of us know that there’s lots of really cool information and images and rumors and well, fields of edible berries waiting for a simple click of the mouse. Put up the walls if you must, we’ll just find a way around them.

Even back in 1989, as part of the increasing widespread policies of ‘glasnost’, the Soviet Union’s regulation of personal publishing media was finally abandoned as hopelessly difficult in the information age. At the time, U.S. President Ronald Reagan quipped,

“Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire; it wafts across the electrified borders… Technology will make it increasingly difficult for the state to control the information its people receive. The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip.”

Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, is set five centuries from now in an anti-intellectual world where firemen serve the reverse role of setting fires, in this case to books that people have been illegally hoarding and reading. Literature is banned because it might potentially incite people to think or to question the status quo of happiness and freedom from worry through the elimination of controversy. But, like today’s Internet filtering, the books were burned in public so, everyone knew about them. Once again the corrupt elite underestimates the power of curiosity as the populace rebels by each being assigned a book to memorize for posterity. Bradbury’s indignation lives in the character of Granger who imagines:

“And when the war’s over, some day, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know, and we’ll set it up in type until another Dark Age, when we might have to do the whole thing over again.”

Here in America, our own Supreme Court has upheld the CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) requiring the application of filters to Internet access in public and school libraries. No doubt this is the extension of a necessary effort against pornography but Internet filtering today still suffers from two major flaws: bias and absurdity. Bias arises because like all of us, filter providers have their own ideas about what kind of expression is valuable, acceptable, or inoffensive, and what kind of expression, by contrast, is offensive, unacceptable, or ‘harmful to minors.’

For instance, in ‘Access Denied’ a book on Internet filtering practices, Dr. Lynne Sutton reports that some filters block virtually all information about gay and lesbian issues, regardless of whether it has sexual content. Some have broad blocking categories for “alternative lifestyles,” “cults,” or “sex education.” Of course, what qualifies as an acceptable mainstream religion, and what merits ‘cult’ status involves highly subjective judgments by whomever is controlling the filters. Not surprisingly, Sutton has found, one of the most frequently and deliberately blocked categories has been criticism of filtering software. Hey kids, let’s burn those books!

The absurdity of filtering is shown in examples illustrating how cyber-sitter, artificial intelligence algorithms could decide to block the word “homosexual” in the sentence “The Catholic Church opposes homosexual marriage”–thus leaving the viewer to read that “The Catholic Church opposes marriage”. Or consider the blocking of Congressman Dick Arney’s website, the University of Kansas’s Archie R. Dykes Medical Library, and the phrase “at least 21” from a human rights site reporting that at least 21 people were killed or wounded in an incident in Indonesia (‘at least 21’ being the typical disclaimer on porn sites.) O my! Can you blame Google for pulling out of China?

Not to fear…books are being memorized (scanned)! And, even the Chinese have heard about those fields of edible berries not to mention all the frolicking possibilities of gay Paree.

Dr. Sutton conducted a major study to determine the effects of Internet filtering on the ability of high school students to research for class papers. One of her conclusions and now her belief about filtering resistance in general is how miraculous it was that the majority of students with great ease discovered and shared creative ways to unlock and work around the filtering.

Go ahead, says our righteous curiosity, put up your walls if you must. For, as William Faulkner acknowledged when receiving his Nobel prize: “… I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.”

Categories: COM580

How do you like to be managed? How do you manage others?

April 13, 2010 1 comment

The best management doesn’t ‘feel’ or ‘look’ or ‘act’ or even ‘sound’ like management. No one really wants to be ‘managed’, that is, no one who is expected to provide real value to an organization. The best workers have transcended the need to be ‘managed.’ This transcendence is achieved by creating an environment that is focused on the highest goal of most companies and that is to be centered on a deep understanding of the customer and their needs.

The role of management is to continue to focus on goals that have to do with the customer and mission statement of the organization. However, even the mission statement, like a democratic contract, needs to be constantly re-written with the help and counsel of the most valuable employees. This can only happen by creating an environment that stimulates the employee to want to manage his or her own contribution to that goal.

To offer value in a company with such extreme customer (goal) focus requires the development of successful channels of communication and trust; channels and an environment that reinforce group interdependence. Employees manage themselves because their value is determined by their individual efforts to continue making their own work environment conducive to making friends and allies. The best management has everything to do with preserving cooperation and learning and fairness and virtually nothing to do with hierarchy and secrecy and making enemies. Even the competition should never be positioned as the ‘enemy.’

The most productive environments are full of cooperation and it would be the task of management to constantly monitor the levels of such win-win altruism. As soon as any employee who has demonstrated their value senses that there is a loss of focus or trust or effort on the part of another employee or, more importantly, on the part of a customer, that employee should feel free to voice such concerns without fear of reprisal.

The fact that Google has succeeded with their ‘don’t be evil’ mantra has a whole lot to do with the effects of applying the very human algorithms of communication and trust and fairness. They not only trade on the success of ranking search, they also trade on being nice, never defecting from their focus and never being envious. The management message should be: ‘Let others be envious if that’s all they can do and let them lose focus on being out to get us. Instead we’ll focus on our ability to continue to learn how to be best friends and allies of not only our customers and employees but also our competitors.’ It may be a world of survival of the fittest but to be ‘fit’ means to be the best at building social capital, to be ‘stronger’ at communication and trust, the engines of cooperation.

All we need to do is follow the trail of the most successful organizations, the highest rated places to work, and note their governing rules promoting social contracts and we will find win-win corporate cultures that succeeded because they capitalized on the conditions that favored the evolution of cooperative behavior.

Categories: COM566, COM580

The Internet is a Basic Human Right, Even China Agrees.

March 31, 2010 1 comment

In an effort to warn about the risks of misuse of networks as in China’s sovereign power to patrol the Internet, Jonathan Zittrain states: “Perhaps it is best to say that neither the governor nor the governed should be able to monopolize technological tricks.” (pg. 196, Future of..)

For example, the blocking and unblocking of Wikipedia in China without announcement or acknowledgment—might be grounded in a fear of the communal, critical process that Wikipedia represents.  In the days leading up to Google’s decision last week to remove its Chinese search engine from China, there is much debate about the future of the generative Internet in that part of the world.

While the Internet exploded in popularity for Americans in the 90s amidst a blizzard of AOL discs and disconnects and dot-com booms and busts, it wasn’t until the last decade that it went mainstream for the Chinese. And, China has done quite well making up for lost time.

Google has been there since 2006 and realizes more than anyone that Chinese Internet users have become a defining element of modern Chinese society. In fact, there are now more Chinese online than there are Americans in this world. (China now has over 384 million Internet users, which is nearly 80 million more than the population of the United States.)

Google’s public complaint about Chinese cyber-attacks and censorship reflects a recognition that China’s status quo – at least when it comes to censorship, regulation and manipulation of the Internet – is unlikely to improve any time soon, and may in fact continue to get worse.

Chinese government attempts to control online speech began in the late 1990’s with a focus on the filtering or “blocking” of Internet content. Today, the government deploys an expanding repertoire of tactics. Zittrain calls them “technological tricks.”

Filtering is just one of many ways that the Chinese government limits and controls speech on the Internet. They have also engineered ways to delete content at the source, have developed domain name controls, ways to disconnect and ways to launch cyber-attacks.

China is pioneering a new kind of Internet-age authoritarianism. It is demonstrating how a non-democratic government can stay in power while simultaneously expanding domestic Internet and mobile phone use.  In China today there is a lot more give-and-take between government and citizens than in the pre-Internet age, and this helps bolster the regime’s legitimacy with many Chinese Internet users who feel that they have a new channel for public discourse. On the other hand, reports state that the Communist Party control over the bureaucracy and courts has strengthened over the past decade, while the regime’s institutional commitments to protect the universal rights and freedoms of all its citizens have weakened.

But, there is great hope for the generative Internet and no one understands that better than the Finns, who last October made Finland the first country in the world to declare broadband Internet access as a “basic human right”.

With the revolution having thus begun by the Europeans, it is perhaps not surprising that four out of five respondents to a recent BBC World Service poll believe access to the Internet is a fundamental right. And these feelings are particularly strong in South Korea and China.

More notable findings from this study using 27,000 adults across 26 countries:

  • 78% believed the Internet gave them “greater freedom”.
  • And over half feel the Internet shouldn’t be regulated whatsoever by any governments anywhere.
  • South Koreans, Mexicans, and Nigerians apparently felt most strongly about this.
  • Whereas Pakistanis, Turks, and Chinese did not.
  • Americans were ahead of the curve when it came to expressing opinions online.
  • 65% of Japanese, however, felt differently, that they couldn’t “safely” express themselves on the Internet.
  • People in France, Germany, South Korea, and China felt likewise.
  • Over 70% of respondents in Japan, Mexico, and Russia said they couldn’t live without being able to go online.
  • But respondents feared online fraud, more so than violent/explicit content and threats to their privacy.
  • 9 out of 10 said the Internet was a good place to learn.
  • Nearly 50% say that the Internet was valuable for finding information.
  • Over 30% valued it as a means of communicating and interacting with others.
  • But only 12% valued the Internet as a source of entertainment.

China is going to continue to be the focus of the expansion of the generative Internet. Hopefully, if companies like Google are patient enough they will be able to affect some changes in Internet filtering and over-cautious censorship. And free speech advocates want to see the Internet do what we were promised it would — connect people, serve as a check against abusive governments, and ultimately serve as a democratizing force throughout the world.

Categories: COM580

How To Save Our Weapons of Mouse Destruction!

March 6, 2010 2 comments

Our recent debates about the need for new U.S. laws to protect our privacy on the Internet are all inspired by the very negative emotions of shame and disgust. Where’s the love? Some smart people in this debate contend that our system of law cannot be understood without some reference to the emotional impact on those people the law is meant to protect.

For instance, Daniel Solove invokes the help of the philosopher Martha Nussbaum to define ‘shame‘ in his book, The Future of Reputation. Her book Hiding from Humanity, I think, is even better as a philosophical treatise on the difference between norms and the law. Her greatest critique and the point that Solove avoids in his arguments is that we should be wary of laws that have as their sole agents the emotions of ‘disgust and shame‘ because indulging in those emotions allows us to hide from our humanity. She refers not only to our humanity in the general sense but also to those specific features of our humanity that are most animal-istic: our vulnerability and mortality.

Nussbaum portrays emotions and vulnerability as fundamentally intertwined, and interprets laws as defenses against human vulnerability to a wide variety of harms. However, Nussbaum takes the strong position that disgust is never constructive in law, and in those cases where it might seem to be useful, indignation is actually the more appropriate constructive emotion.

Can you imagine putting ‘disgust and shame‘ on a continuum for the courts to decide? The ruling would read:

“well, let’s see, this example is ‘mildly’ disgusting and embarrassing and deserves a “3”while this is other example is ‘really’ disgusting, so let’s give that one a ’10’!”

As Nussbaum contends,

“we cannot trust disgust to carry innate wisdom or any meaningful correlation to what is really harmful and …, disgust prompts turning away from a stimulus or issue rather than constructively handling it.”

Discrimination of Jewish people and subordination of women are the result of laws based on disgust. Most people respond to disgust by distancing themselves from the object. In Nussbaum’s view, this “out of sight, out of mind” reflex undermines the ability to productively use disgust in fighting for progressive causes such as human rights.

For example, disgusting images from the genocide in Rwanda motivate some to turn away from the information and avoid learning more about it, which in turn prevents them from actively working to prevent future crimes against humanity. For others, the images are seared into the memory, and they are thereby motivated to support the prevention of such crimes. Their indignation supersedes their disgust. This type of ‘positive’ rage against the breach of human rights embodies the best kind of wisdom that has spawned the most meaningful and productive laws like anti-discrimination, for example.

Solove needs to take heart as he admits the dilemma in trying to embolden laws based on general themes of disgust, shame, guilt, depression, embarrassment, humiliation and rage. The digital socialism reinforced by the ‘open source’ world of the Internet not only exposes all of us to unprecedented sharing of our formerly ‘secret’ inner lives but also challenges us to come to realize our most difficult ability – the group consensus.

In fact, it is empirically proven in studies that the decisiveness of other cultures differs considerably from that of Americans. The Japanese, for instance, have assimilated values that actually promote building a group consensus at the expense of individual initiatives. My personal favorite is that the universal use of wearing a gauze mask in Japan to prevent others from catching the mask wearer’s cold is easily seen in America to be an embarrassing few who wear masks to prevent catching a cold from others! In Japan, it’s all about what’s good for others, in America it’s all about what’s good for me.

American culture clearly emphasizes individual decision making through concepts such as freedom and rights. We like being anonymous and selfish and singularly righteous about, well…just about anything. We also don’t care much for laws that inhibit our ability to ratchet up our personal weaponry or our scopes or our recorders.

Fortunately, our founding fathers were able, after much debate, to actually reach a group consensus and free up our speech and our press and protect our privacy as best they could. They decided to defer on the topics of gossip and rumor and the Internet.

So, instead of passing new laws because we are so disgusted or shamed about our reputations and secrets we should instead gather up our indignation and rage and channel it to admit that the Internet is the world’s free and open source binoculars, microscopes and recorders and weapons of mouse destruction. And so, let’s just be downright indignant and determined to muster up some tough laws that make sure we teach that wide-open-source lesson to the next generation!

Can we have a show of hands?

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