Media Message Value

Although we did not have a chance to discuss this in class, I was really intrigued by the articles about how media cover and shape global disasters.  What struck me was the explanation of different types of coverage of stories.  As media and journalism studies was never a subject of focus for me in undergrad, some of this may seem relatively obvious.  I think it still important to note how the presentation styles of news, especially disasters, can affect the relative importance of and relationship we feel to the story.

Chouliaraki’s article, “The symbolic power of transnational media: Managing the visibility of suffering”, illuminates examples of how the media covered particular tragic events.  She discusses the new role of on the ground footage, and demonstrates how it brings us closer to suffering.  The questions really raised are how do media networks decide which stories to highlight, and how does this change the way in which they present the story.  As discussed, a brief story with a picture of a map of the area “decontextualizes” the tragedy of a boat accident in India. Even aerial views of tragedies seem to put a certain distance between us and the event.  When footage comes from on the ground, and includes important interviews and firsthand citizen film, the credibility and reactions go through the roof.  These may not be as refined, but they are “real”.  I also wonder if reporters on the ground are given more credibility for trying to bring the audience as close to the story as possible.*

*Of course...this may not always be true...

Of course not every story can be given this amount of attention.  On the ground footage is not always available, could take longer to get, and could seemingly be extremely dangerous.  The media companies must decide when it is most important to take the steps to produce this kind of engaging story.  I believe that a great deal of the time, more effort to create these kinds of products is put in when it directly affects the audience or people similar to the audience – such as events that occur on their soil or their citizens abroad.

Limitations of time and expenses force the media to make critical decisions on which stories to explore in-depth, and which can suffice with still images or maps.  Because of these decisions, the audience’s reactions will likely be varied.  Assuming there is a certain amount of empathy for suffering that each person can possess, the media is basically dictating where we should direct it towards.

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War on Media, or War by Media?

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

– George Orwell, 1984

Ever since the first class, we learnt that there’re different layers of reality. Depending on what we choose to believe, we live in different realities. Now it more depends on what media we choose to believe.

This week’s readings mostly talk about the way media cover international events influence world politics and foreign policies.

From time to time, we all have a strong opinion towards some issue happened in a place far far away… the downfall of Silvio Berlusconi, Gaddafi’s death, or Tibet.  Many of us think we know enough, understand enough to generate an opinion. But most of the times, our sharp perceptions are only second-handed, borrowed from our favorite news sources.

But what if media lie? Does is means everything we so firmly believed are not solid at all?

The way media portray a foreign nation and report conflicts can have huge impacts on the way ordinary people see the world, even the way they look at their neighbor.

The thing is media love negative stories, scandals, and wars. Sometimes it is for political needs to set fire to an enemy; sometimes it is for economic interests to create sarcastic sensations.

As a result, disputes are always exaggerated and common grounds are always ignored; anger is repeatedly roused but seldom appeased.

This makes me wonder that if it is the other way around, media could have been the best tool for peacemaking.

What a shame.

The Other Side of Internet Censorship

Ian Shapira’s Washington Post article “U.S. funding tech firms that help Mideast dissidents evade government censors” discusses the actions that  U.S. agencies (including the State Department, DoD,  taking to ensure freedom to browse the internet in countries with authoritative governments like Saudi Arabia and China. According to Shapira’s article, government grants/awards for building technologies to shatter and go around firewalls without being tracked are as much as 30 million dollars. There’s a particular focus on the Middle East, where internet freedom seems to be an issue.

While this may seem like a good idea, I can’t help but wonder about its consequences. I do believe that all people should have access to the internet, not just a filtered form of the Web that their government deems appropriate. With that said, I don’t think it’s such a great idea for a government to step in and make a decision for another. The same way that we, as American, wouldn’t want an outside force to meddle with our policies, even if it was with good intentions, I don’t think we should do the same with another (even if we mean well). We’ve got organizations like the United Nations that address issues like internet access as a human right.

I say this because of a recent Washington Post article. According to the article:

” Syria is using equipment and software developed by an American company to censor the Internet and conduct surveillance of its citizens, according to data analyzed by technology experts and advocates for Syrian dissidents. The equipment, developed by California-based Blue Coat Systems, is allegedly being used by Syria’s autocratic government to block access to the Internet and crack down on dissidents who have been protesting against President Bashar al-Assad for nearly eight months, the experts and advocates say.”

These allegations are under review and have yet to be proven true or false. But it’s still scary to think that while we’re trying to promote internet freedom, our same technologies are being used by these autocratic governments to crack down on their citizens. Another issue I have is the U.S.’s indirect involvement in Internet freedom. We’re all right with maintaining ties with Saudi Arabia and China, we’re fine with their exports into our country, but we’re not okay with the internet censorship in their countries but we’re not willing to vocalize this in our policies. Why is it that the U.S. will sanction other countries (like Iran) because of internet freedom issue but not Saudi Arabia and China. (Please note that I do understand the sanctions against Iran are implement for more reasons than just Internet freedom issues). These issues are complex and often ‘sticky’ but I think our decisions have real implications and consequences.

LENDING ARMS IN CYBERSPACE

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In the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’, onlookers across the world were mesmerized, watching in wonder, debating whether the rebels in these countries should be assisted and if so, how? International pressure was placed on the dictators to heed the calls of their people and give up their ruling positions.  While the dictators stalled, plenty argued that this form of ‘diplomatic’ assistance was not enough, that more should be done to help the people. With the exception of NATO forces in Libya, it seemed that citizens throughout the rest of these uprooted countries were being left to their own devices.

In reality though, they were not. An online war was being waged; the war over information, and the US government was siding with the dissidents and providing the ammo: technology that allows people to browse blocked online news and social media sites.

Many of the little known US companies that create this type of technology, like the Tor Project and UltraReach are proud of their support for the Mideast activists, “but the United States’ backing of these firms has the potential to put the White House in an awkward diplomatic position, not only with the countries where uprisings are active, but also with economic partners such as Saudi Arabia and China, who are known to block Web sites they deem dangerous.”*

What does this imply for diplomacy in the long-run? And what is the future of information wars going to look like?

To begin with, it is becoming clearer to nation states that more intelligent or ‘soft’ power tactics can and should be used in international politics. In addition, the war over information; who has the power to produce it, who has access to it and what is it used for, has never been more relevant than it is today. And with this emerging paradigm, comes a whole host of ethical and political issues.

If internet freedom is now being likened to a basic human right, which nation states are willing to fight for, does this pose a real threat to governments like China and Saudi Arabia who deny that right? Will it eventually cause the demise of those governments? Or force them to concede, if they wish to remain intact?

No matter what happens, one thing’s for certain… the fight is only going to get messier.

www.washingtonpost.com/local/2011/03/04/AB3NbvP_print.html

-Laura H.

My map is wrong?

Sangeet Kumar’s piece entitled “Google Earth and the nation state: Sovereignty in the age of new media” is shaping up to be one of my favorite readings of our class so far.  It’s not because it is the most informative, or the most witty, but it really made me think about the role that technology and non-state actors are playing in (literally) shaping the world.

Specifically, I found the section on India’s disputes with Google over the territory that Google Earth delineated to be extremely thought-provoking.  Does this mean that Google decides in a sense what land belongs to what country?  I never would have questioned the demarcations provided by a Google map until now.  My biggest question is, do they realize that they unknowingly took a side in a battle over territory by drawing the lines the way they did- and what are the real impacts of this?

It is also incredibly relevant today to begin questioning the way in which governance takes place- specifically who the new actors are.  As we have seen, it is increasingly NGOs and other transnational activist groups.  Where to corporations such as Google fit in here?

Business Insider shows that the revenues of many companies are far higher than the GDPs of nations.  Walmart would fit in at the 25th largest in “GDP” if it were a country.  Do such companies thus have the right to governance?  Similarly, in the interest of the greater good, it has been argued, sometimes non-governmental actors’ actions can be justified.  I am increasingly interested to see how the role of the world’s largest corporations are shifting to become involved in governance in the near future.

Advertisements as a catalyst of “poison”

 Many advertisements have many negative influences on children, families, and society. People from different classes, associations, and organizations should support those actions for protecting the kids from harmful advertisements. Some advertisements have a very negative influence on children, and children are too weak to protect themselves. Many companies have regarded kids as their target, including some beer, cigarette, and fast food companies. These companies designed many cute cartoon logos to attract children; the company thinks that if children liked these products very much, they will nag their parents to buy these products no matter what. The moment children nag their parents to buy those products successfully, the companies earn the profits, and they win. The advertisers should not put the colorful or cute cartoon logo in the package of fast food, cigarette and beer: such “poisons.” Those advertisements will appear in any corner of the city, and they will influence children. Adults did not need that cute stuff to attract their attention, at least not the silly talking Chihuahua or Winnie-the-Pooh.  Many fast food companies like Macdonald’s used toys as baits to induce children to eat those high calorie poison and they always turned out to be successful.

These advertisements will then lead to under-age-smoking and under-age-drinking. Because of those advertisements, children learned about cigarettes and beer when they are very young. When they grow up, they will feel curious about those “cartoon products,” and they will decide to have a try. After this “first try,” some of them will begin to smoke or drink alcohol, and year after year, they will be addicted to drugs, drive after drunk, and even steal money for buying those products. On the other hand, children are too weak to protect themselves; they do not understand how to choose the right product for themselves. Children are the strongest generation, but at the same time, they are the most vulnerable generation. They are strong because of their purity and happiness, and they can do everything they want. They are vulnerable, because they are young and weak, and they cannot protect themselves from the cruelty of the real world. The saddest part is when children are fooled by someone else, and do not know at all; they still feel happy and thankful to the one who fooled them. What will happen when they found out about the truth in the future?

Message or Messenger

The great thing about network is that it linked us together, in an equal way. Or at least it suppose to. The whole idea of the Internet is to connect nodes without setting priorities. Every piece of information should enjoy the same opportunity of being sent and received.

In reality, however, we often experience situations when who’s speaking is more important than what’s being said. Many people evaluate the credibility of a message not based on its content, but based on who endorsed it. Even in grassroots movements, opinion leaders on the Internet still hold more responsibilities in shaping public discourse than they should. Especially when using social media, the fastest way to let your message be heard is to get it recognized and transmitted by some influential people. The nodes are of different size now; the bigger a node you are, the more valuable your information is.

An important technique in wine tasting to ensure impartial evaluation is blind tasting. Tasters cannot see or know the label, origin, grape variety, color or any other details of the wine before they make a judgment. That way they can give a true opinion on aroma and texture without fighting with prejudice in their mind.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if we try this method to screen information. Instead of waving to those privileged messengers yelling toward microphone, we let the message itself say the word and see how or where it travels. It would be interesting to see, at the end of the day, whether we end up with the same information in our mailbox, or trap in a world full of useless noises.

An Introduction to Networks for Dummies

Understanding the definition of a network  and its implications is difficult,  or at least for me. What makes task all the more difficult is the fact that theorists have not come up with one (umbrella) definition of a network, implying the complexity of the topic.   While I don’t really like spitting readings back in the form of a blog post, I think this would be helpful to others as well. So the following post is my understand of a network based on Amelia Arsenault’s “Networks: Emerging Frameworks for Analysis.”

Arsenault’s simplest definition of a network is “a set of relationships between objects (i.e. nodes)” (Arsenault 2). Nodes can be inanimate objects, humans, machines, and organizations. Nodes are then linked, formally or informally, based on different associations. For example, Ginnie and I (two different nodes) are connected through a formal association, we’re both students in the International Media program. At the same time, “different nodes can belong to multiple networks” (Arsenault 3). So I may belong to the International Media network at American University but I’m also a part of the English Literature network at Notre Dame and so on.

When it comes to understanding the role of technology in networks, Arsenault writes, “networking technology has become inseparable from the human actors that use it, leading to the rise of a network society… Humans rely upon technology in much the same way that they rely upon other humans. Your computer may crash or your lover may leave you – both occurrences may have broader effects on the networks within which you might be embedded” (A. 6).

From my understanding, networks continue to expand, (and nodes continue to connect to link to one another) because of/through technology. Similarly, we definitely rely on technology more than we think. How many of us are glued to our iPhones/blackberrys/phones? Technology allows to maintain, strengthen, and create relationships within our networks. I am thanking Facebook for the Iphone app? Maybe indirectly. But in all seriousness, I agree that we’ve shifted to a network/information society. One of the theories Arsenault discusses is that of the Network Society. Just as she describes, our network society allows people and organizations the ability to reconfigure or tailor our networks based on our specific needs, desires, interests, etc.

The Last Three Feet…

This past Thursday our class was able to attend a wonderful panel lecture called “The Last Three Feet: New Media, New Approaches and New Challenges for American Public Diplomacy”, hosted by George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy & Global Communication, the Public Diplomacy Council, and the Walter Roberts Endowment.  The general focus was on how diplomats are reinventing their approaches in an effort to keep up with an ever-changing global environment.  The particular focus is on the media and new technologies that are shifting the practice of public diplomacy.

It seems that many of the themes of public diplomacy are the same, they are just experiencing shifts in the way the themes are utilized.  For example, the Ambassador to Brazil, Thomas Shannon, reiterated the importance of relevance.  The US has to be relevant to the other nation’s success and be accommodating.  These, to me, would appear to be long-standing practices, that may just have to shift in a technology-related environment.  Similarly, Deputy Director for Press and Public Diplomacy and Spokesperson of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Aaron Snipe, explained the importance of language.  Of course this has always been critical to public diplomacy, but it now comes in the form of language choices on websites.  His team chose to switch from English to Arabic on their website to allow for more actors and to show respect.

Some new challenges arise as well- such as the amount of online”journalism” cropping up.  It is comprised of of course of both fact and fiction, and sorting through that is a new task.  Furthermore, the amount of information nations are receiving has increased tremendously, assuming they have access to the internet.  The panelists noted the importance of providing consistent information to other countries in this technologically-based era.

One thing I think is important to note, is that public diplomacy does not always occur as a state department-sanctioned project.  It would have been nice in my opinion to see some people on the panel who are dealing with public diplomacy in a new internet-driven world from other sectors.  Maybe because we have started learning about public diplomacy so recently we are used to understanding the media and technology aspects of it, but a lot of what the panelists seemed to say were not drastic departures from the things we would have read about in class.  To many of us students it was obvious that Twitter would be used to target the youth, and forced interaction between students on government sponsored websites are going to seem too artificial.  Not to say there weren’t some great ideas, but I was looking for that one thing that would leave me saying “wow this is really the future of public diplomacy!”

Happiness is only true when shared

The movie In to the Wild is based on a true story. A young man was so appalled by the industrial society and decided to live in solitude, to the wilderness without family, without network, without modern civilization. He settled in Alaska only tragically realized how flowed his plan was. He wrote a short sentence before died of food poison, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

This is not the first attempt trying to abandon the “excessive” modern way of life. We have struggled between humanity and technology for long, as if there’s some inherent contradictory between the two. Henry David Thoreau cut himself off from the rest of the world and lived by Walden Pond for two years, although that turned out to be more of a demonstration, and he returned to the world in good terms.

Now it is even more impossible to escape. Network defines our position and ties us together. We are all linked to each other and linked through each other. We are addicted to network not just for the possibility to constantly stay connected, but also for the instant feedbacks we are able to get.

It’s hard to find a common soul. Well, at least, it has been hard. Now with the Internet the pool is so big that we always can find someone sharing the same thoughts and feelings with us. You can post the weirdest thing online and still get a few heartfelt replies. This feature greatly satisfied our need to be understood. Somehow ironically, through sharing, we are mostly trying to build a better self and drag others into our own universe.

From printing to telegraph to the Internet, maybe one of the reasons communication is developing so fast is that this impulse of sharing is in our blood.