Tuesday, March 10, 2009

free spaces: Arab Women & Blogging

Since we are celebrating the international women day and since I belong to the Arab region I thought to contribute to the discussion of blogging ethics through introducing some findings of a research of mine about the Palestinian Female bloggers. The research was titled “ free spaces: Arab Women & Blogging
Content analysis study to the Palestinian females’ blogs” .

There are many reasons for the suffering of Arab women in general and the Palestinian in particular, despite the relative improvement in laws and the official policies concerning women rights in the Arab countries, Unfortunately, still some religious leaders and some media contribute in one way or another in the promotion of customs and traditions that seek to strengthen the rule of men to women's lives and bodies from the birth time to the grave.

The Palestinian women sufferings is derived from many sources from one hand the family traditions , the society customs and from the other hand the misery of economic conditions or the loss of husband or brother or beloved children, from houses demolitions, siege and closure of roads by the occupation authorities.

I found that Palestinian women feel powerless and can’t complain about their own problems because usually they face much important financial and practical difficulties.
Through the literature review I found that women in general experience wars and military conflicts in a different way from men. Wars in Bosnia, Herzegovina and Rwanda in the nineties of the last century, drew the attention to the horrific levels of violence against women in times of armed conflict. Women may be also targets of violence by the occupation forces because of their political activities or because of the political activities of their relatives. I found also that Communities living under the restrictions of occupation turned by time into a semi-military societies, many families have weapons that can be used in incidents of violence against women by husbands.

Meanwhile, communication technologies specially the Internet and its applications represent a new public sphere for the freedom of expression to the Arab world. Blogging is a new hope for Arab women because it is characterized by the decentralization that makes it more liberal and interactive. Many female bloggers told me that the best thing about blogging is that you can write what ever you want freely and remain anonymous .

Blogging the Palestinian issue is still a central interest to many Arab bloggers . I have analyzed a purposive sample consisted of 200 Arabic blogs on maktoob.com ( the union of Arab blogs) according to the traffics, selecting the highest 10 blogs from every Arab country according to hits or visits. And I found that the majority of the blogs in the sample have posts about t the Palestinian issue .(90%) of the blogs from Algeria , (70%)Jordan, (50%) Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. (40%) UAE, Mauritania, Bahrain, and Syria, and (30% and less) of the blogs from 10 countries: (Morocco, Qatar, Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, Tunisia, Kuwait, Oman, Djibouti, Libya)

In my study I tried to shed light on the Palestinian female bloggers ( those who lives in the Palestinian territories in Gaza and west bank) I tried to approach their demographics, their Internet usage habits, their blogging interests, and some of their ethical standards.


It was an opportunity to test also the theory of Everett Rogers on the spread of innovations within the different cultures “diffusion of innovations”.
I used a descriptive content analysis to a sample of the Palestinian females blogs on the site of the Arab Bloggers Union ( Maktoob.com) along with questionnaires.

The study found that the majority of the Palestinian female bloggers were educated belong to the age group 16 to 24 years and they used their blogs for advocating the Palestinian right for having their independent state and advocating women’s rights.

Palestinian bloggers participation in the compound was in the seventh rank after Egypt - Morocco - Saudi Arabia - Syria - Jordan - Algeria. The number was 1103 blog of the total 17,846 Arabic blog hosted by a site at the time of the study, Palestinian women have almost (11.42%) of the total Palestinian blogs.

(61.9%) Palestinian female blogger mentioned her profession , while (38.1%) didn’t. Undergraduate students & Graduates (41%) followed by journalists (19%).
For the variable of age(72.22%) mentioned the age while (27.77%) did not I found a variety of age groups, where it became clear that the majority of them belong to the age group 16 to 24 years

Why do they blog?? They wrote that:

"When the words rose up inside me and I felt the desire to write and to communicate this blog came to existence, I chose it to be a personal blog, it’s my blog and its only for me! I do not really know what is the real reason which encouraged me to blog? Is it the need to reveal? Or is it my need to feel existed as a separate entity! With ideas, opinions and point of view?! "(Liel wa eqhwan blog 2007)

"Robba of Palestine" another female blogger wrote that
“It is ones right to achieve his own myth, the legend is for me to participate and share my ideas with others through blogging" (Rabbi of Palestine, 2007)

Blogging topics:

Analysis also showed the diversity of blogging categories, (50%)of the Palestinian female bloggers classified their blog to be public blog which means that the posts are about public concern issues that can be political or social, while (18.25%) classified their blogs to be personal blogs means its about their personal ideas , experiences, and emotions and the rest didn’t chose a specific category.

Concerning the posts topics( 55%) of the posts were about Palestinian rights and the creation of an independent state. (40%) dealt with women's right to safety, love and freedom and equal opportunity. ( 5%) of the posts were about technology, sports and others.

The blogs and the posts show various forms of oppression and discrimination against the female bloggers. For example some times families prevent them from continuing blogging. one wrote in her blog which is one of the most visited Palestinian blogs as demonstrated by quantitative analysis titled “ Masdar elhamy” means the source of where my inspiration:

“I watched everybody then I start crying then after all tears I turned to my blog, its topics became to be more personal day after day against my will….but it’s the way to reveal because I know that in this world there are people can feel me, even if we do not see each other and maybe will never meet...... .
Even my blog they will take it from me one day, as they said .........
Take all of my writings, burn it or distributed to the sellers of sweets to use it ,
I suggest you take every thing I wrote since I was so young, through it from the window and make it fly in the air before the eyes, but unfortunately, something will make you angry after all. My blog will remain on the Internet and many people will be able to read it after all "(the source of my inspiration 2007)

Blogs also mention some forms of rejection of some social customs like the use of the term of spinsterhood a Palestinian female blogger wrote:
"The term itself is offensive.., as if women in the universe were created for one purpose only, is to be a breeding machine. "( Mschriologgio 2007)

Blogs also mentioned many testimonies about cases of violence against Palestinian women, both by the occupation forces or by their relatives and neighbours, including attempts of rape, sexual harassment, and others.

Code of Ethics:

I have posted 300 questionnaire to some of the female bloggers trying to get their input concerning whether we need to develop a new code of ethics for the bloggers and the majority of the responses ( 55%) was against this code for different reasons:
(25%) of them justified their refusal because of the fear of transforming this into a new type of censorship. (10%) have some questions about how to apply such code, While(10%) doubted the importance of these codes. (10%) didn’t give any reasons.
(35%) accepted the idea of code of ethics for blogging and (10%) were neutral.


Ofcourse there are many limitations to the study like analyzing of a specific site limits the ability to generalizing the results, also using Quantitative analysis of the content does not include what could be regarded as the tone or the context of the posts.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Social and Political Innovation through Social Media

Last week I attended a great panel on Social and Political Innovation through Social Media as part of Social Media Week NYC. It was hosted by Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) at the New York Times building and organized by Toby Daniels (@tobyd). The panelists included Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and director of online organizing for President Obama's campaign; Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference and website covering the intersection of politics and technology; and Jamie Daves, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur with more than ten years of experience in the public sector who has helped found a number of successful nonprofit and political organizations. Here are the highlights from my notes:

Jamie Daves emphasized the disruptive effect new media technologies have always had when they shift the social balance of power to new agents. He also mused whether the two components of democratic capitalism can continue to function in their current forms worldwide given the current trends and uncertainty. Daves said that the rise of social media is creating the largest accrual of social capital we've ever seen. This trend forces corporations to no longer be faceless, and it forces the people who work in business to engage as individuals, leading to an increase in personal responsibility and accountability.

Rasiej said Obama scored points by being the first national candidate to use the pronoun "we." He also noted that an organized minority will always triumph over a disorganized majority, and that social media technologies have lowered the cost of organization.

Chris Hughes noted that the strategy behind my.BarackObama.com was to provide an organizing toolset for supporters to do their own outreach, fund raising, and event hosting.

Rasiej noted that Whitehouse.gov is lackluster so far concerning social media. "Technically every citizen should have their own login," he said. But government doesn't have a Chief Technology Officer to guide things yet, and discussion moderation tools are still imperfect.

Hughes said these things require time, technology, and money. The Bush White House had only one person manning the Web. And the goals are more complex once you're in office, whereas a presidential campaign has one focus: winning.

Daves noted that it was naive of government to be scared of contact when it could actually benefit from the crowd-sourcing of answers. The trick is to connect common strands and the people who weave them. To illustrate his point, Daves cited one of the recent crane crashes here in NYC. There had been numerous citizen complaints about the shakiness of the construction site, but the local government didn't put their comments together into a bigger picture, and the people had no means of finding each other online to amplify their message.

Rasiej said 95 percent of human behavior is about maintaining position, so it's no wonder governments are slow to adapt to new technologies. For example, he came to be known as "wifi guy" when he ran in 2005 for Public Advocate in New York City because he wanted to modernize the city's telecom infrastructure. Nowadays a pejorative and reductive moniker like that might not stick, or might be a positive, because the upside is that social norms change relative to power and technology.

Daves emphasized that the universal service model for broadband connectivity is essential. He cited Pew statistics showing that 75 percent of people 18–24 are active in social networking.

Rasiej replied that older demographics are fast catching up and show some of the strongest growth rates. Globally he said many people will receive a mobile phone before they get access to clean water. Old institutions may fade in the face of these new technologies. One example where mobile phones could prove particularly useful is election monitoring. They may also unleash a new type of grassroots populism. For example, reform of marijuana laws consistently rises to the top of online forums where users are allowed to vote on commonsense priorities for their government.

Daves commented on the roles and responsibilities of old versus new media. We shouldn't look to the New York Times for social solutions, he said. They do a great job articulating the problems, but the mobilization will come from elsewhere.

A question was raised about the economic meltdown and whether this signified a broader meltdown of trust in our society. Hughes responded that transparency is actually natural to Internet technology. Rasiej agreed, stating that in a world of social media it's easier to build than destroy, and there's more vetting than ever before. Everything is recorded, meaning that to fear Big Brother is to fear ourselves.

Another question was raised about the momentum built by the Obama campaign and where it will go now. Hughes, speaking now as a private observer, said they had compiled 13 million emails and that 2 million accounts had been created on my.BarackObama.com, so the infrastructure of a movement does exist and could be channeled into activism, service, and other goals.

A question was raised as to whether social media will chip into the two-party system. Rasiej believes we have drifted into a somewhat post-partisan era where people may be more likely to self-identify as empowered citizens rather than Democrats.

Rasiej also discussed the potential of social media to save politicians from being "sound bited" to death in traditional press conferences. Interactivity can spur a virtuous circle between representatives and their constituents, as was somewhat the case when a cadre of my.BarackObama.com supporters staged the FISA Rebellion, forming a popular group within Obama's own site and threatening to suspend their fund-raising if they didn't get some straight answers from him on warrantless wiretapping. Obama responded directly to prove that he was willing to listen.

Rasiej seemed adamant, however, that social media will not morph government into rule by popular referendum, à la thumbs down in the Coliseum. But I wonder if he isn't being a little preemptive in his reasoning here. If the evolution of technology makes it possible to give more power back to the people, A LOT MORE POWER, why shouldn't it? One can conceive of a People's Digital Parliament rising in parallel to the traditional structures of government and wielding significant influence over legislators. Perhaps it would eventually be annexed to the government as a new branch with specific and limited authority. There may come a day when the dusty documents of a predominantly agrarian society, ingenious though they were, will have to be discarded and rewritten to fit the new ethics, politics, and technologies.

Meanwhile, said Daves, Members of Congress pay attention to four "M" words: Message, Membership, Media, and Money. And Rasiej concluded that there will be no expansion of participatory democracy in America without rebuilding education. Education funding and our view of it has been choked for decades, he said, citing the one hour per week that New York City school children spend on a computer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stimulus Bill and Internet Transparency

One of the most fascinating transformations we'll watch over the course of the Obama administration is how the U.S. government embraces digital and social media to improve transparency and responsiveness. The wisdom of crowds and loss of total message control are hallmarks of online interactivity, and new technologies such as OpenCongress indicate the enormous potential to improve accountability through greater citizen participation, but these trends often conflict with the traditional patterns of government.

Already we're seeing the limits of where government is willing to go. The Obama transition ran into trouble when it was perceived that the incoming press secretary snubbed the question that the greatest number of visitors to change.gov [now whitehouse.gov] wanted to see answered: "Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?" And the thorny issue of marijuana criminality almost always rises to the top of online discussions, noted Personal Democracy Forum Andrew Rasiej last week at a panel on Social and Political Innovation through Social Media, indicating that the netroots may eventually push decriminalization or legalization up the ladder of priorities.

For context on how digital accountability is already starting to crop up in legislation, here are two excerpts from the stimulus bill detailing how disclosures will be made public:

With respect to funds made available under this Act in the form of grants for operational purposes to State or local government agencies or other organizations, the agency or organization shall publish on the website Recovery.gov a description of the intended use of the funds, including the number of jobs sustained or created.
Each contract awarded or grant issued using funds made available in this Act shall be posted on the Internet and linked to the website Recovery.gov. Proprietary data that is required to be kept confidential under applicable Federal or State law or regulation shall be redacted before posting.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Media on Gaza: Not enough, not enough, not enough

Not long ago, I went to an event here in London at the Frontline Club on the media's experience 'covering' the conflict in Gaza. The event, aptly titled 'Media Talk: Gaza - Missiles and Messages', brought in a number of media experts to discuss not so much the politics of the event, but the media's experience in attempting to get 'in' the thick of things. Representatives from the Guardian, Jerusalem Post, Channel 4, and Al-Jazeera were more or less allied with or pitted against an Israeli affairs specialist.

I won't go into detail about most of the conversation as it will soon be uploaded on the Frontline website, but one thing I did notice (and, subsequently asked a question relating to), was that despite the complaints from the media about restricted access to Gaza, there seemed to be little done in terms of outreach to the respective Israeli or Palestinian communities, to the potential (or already) citizen journalists. 

Not to risk careless comparison to the respective political situations or the oversimplification of the specific nature of the conflicts themselves, but when the monks began protesting and the Junta effectively shut off all electronic or tele-communication with the rest of the world, there was what almost felt like a mass movement from major newspapers and media outlets requesting that those inside Myanmar should do whatever possible to upload photos via cell phone (as an example) so that the outside world would have some idea of what's going on. Where was this in Gaza? If the media (at least from the side attempting to enter through Israel) keeps saying: not enough access, not enough support, not enough access, not enough support--then why was there virtually no outreach to the inhabitants of Gaza? I wonder if any of our readers can speak to this.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

BK on FB

Another Burger King campaign to approach the ethical line: Will you sacrifice your digital friends on Facebook for a burger? The Slate video above rightly gets the main points here:

1. a booming business despite the global economic downturn is Internet marketing; the webbier the campaign, the better
2. it is questionable how much people are attached to their digital friends, even though social networks are invaluable
3. even though BK had to pull the Facebook campaign, it will reap the benefits of press exposure

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gaza and the Battle for Public Opinion

Seventeen days into Operation Cast Lead, Israel and Palestine are engaged in battle both on the ground and online. The Israeli Defense Force is the first national force to launch its own YouTube channel, complete with footage of attacks on Gaza, and the Consulate General of Israel in New York held a press conference in December via Twitter.

The Israeli military spokesman recently called new media a “new war zone” in which the battle over public opinion is a crucial component of military operations.

With that in mind, the Israeli military blocked foreign journalists’ access to Gaza in order to maintain some control over the flow of information out of the conflict zone. A few outlets who already maintained a presence in Gaza, however, have been closely following the conflict. Al Jazeera, the only international news outlet with a presence in Gaza, has been taking particular advantage of the Internet in order to get its news to English-speaking audiences. In addition to the station’s use of Twitter updates and YouTube, Al Jazeera has published an interactive map which tracks bombings, deaths, provision of aid, and other information using the Ushahidi platform. Ushahidi allows users to submit information related to international crises via cell phone or Internet, which is then fact-checked and published to the web.

Israel’s information blockade has also failed to stifle the voices of citizen journalists, and has potentially increased dependence on them. Images, video, and first-hand accounts from Gaza are spreading rapidly on the Internet.

Although web 2.0 and citizen journalism can help amplify aspects of a conflict that otherwise wouldn’t receive attention from the traditional press, the risk of biased or inaccurate information is also extremely high.

Already, video footage has been taken out of context. One video that has been widely circulated online and broadcast on France 2 claimed to depict dead and injured Palestinians in the aftermath of an Israeli bombing. According to the UK’s FirstPost, however, the footage was actually “the aftermath of an accidental explosion of Hamas’s own weaponry at a rally in a Gaza refugee camp in September 2005.”

In a similar vein, the BBC has debunked a video from the IDF’s YouTube channel:

Israel released video of an air attack on 28 December, which appeared to show rockets being loaded onto a lorry. The truck and those close to it were then destroyed by a missile.

This was clear evidence, the Israelis said, of how accurate their strikes were and how well justified…

It turned out, however, that a 55-year-old Gaza resident named Ahmed Sanur, or Samur, claimed that the truck was his and that he and members of his family and his workers were moving oxygen cylinders from his workshop.

But the misinformation, as well as emotion-filled if accurate accounts from bloggers, has effectively polarized the debate.

According to Dev Raj Dahel, head of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Nepal:

In a situation of ongoing conflict, media's role lies in debating impartially about the health of the country and citizens, framing conflicts in a rational manner, offering concrete options rather than just criticism of actors and furnishing practical initiatives to the conflicting parties to resolve the conflict of various kinds—direct, structural, perceptual and latent. Capacity building of journalists on conflict reporting, communication and peace education thus helps to identify and release deep-seated knowledge located within the various sub-systems and systems of society, weigh a range of alternatives and adopt multi-track measures to seek peaceful resolution of conflicts.

A recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review critiques the use of social media in the Gaza conflict, questioning in particular whether or not the use of Twitter by the Israeli Consulate is in fact an improvement over a traditional press conference:

…this angle emphasizes the mere fact of democratization over the more salient question of what, exactly, is being democratized… As long as the people answering questions have public relations, rather than public information, as their primary goal, throwing the doors to a press conference open to the general public won’t make the press conference any better. It’ll just make it more crowded.

Followers of the “propaganda war” being waged online may be led to believe that violence is the only option available-both to Palestinians and Israelis-in the debate over Gaza. However, a 2006 report by the United States Institute of Peace found that “for the first time since the start of the peace process, a majority of Palestinians support a compromise settlement that is acceptable to a majority of Israelis.”

What’s been called the “over-democratization” of conflict journalism may be making it more difficult to amplify the moderate voices within the Israeli-Palestinian debate that are calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The use of new media in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict encompasses a number of the ethical questions we often address on this blog: How can an audience verify the accuracy of citizen journalism? Is a certain amount of professional training necessary to produce quality reporting? Should YouTube censor extremely violent and gruesome footage of potential political significance?

It may also emphasize the responsibility of professional news outlets to maintain rigid standards despite an influx of information and amateur competitors. While new technology is making it easier and faster to get more news out to a wider audience, it's no less important for professionals to verify, edit, and contextualize citizen reports in a way that mediates, rather than sensationalizes, conflict.

Friday, December 19, 2008

How to Blog: Share, Link, be Consistent

Slate puts on the web today some tips from Arianna Huffington's new book on blogging. See Slate's "How to Blog."

Here is the truncated list on best practices on blogging (bloggers, including Josh Marshall have told me that consistency and uniqueness are the keys):

1. Set a schedule. Blog often. Jeff Atwood, who runs the fantastic programming blog Coding Horror, told me that the key to his early success was sticking to a realistic target of six posts a week.

2. Don't worry if your posts suck a little. Unless you're Jeffrey Goldberg, your first blog post is unlikely to be perfect. Indeed, a lot of your posts aren't going to be as great as they could be if you spent many hours on them—and that's OK.

3. Write casually but clearly. This one flows from the last two—the best way to stick to a blogging schedule is to write quickly, and a good way to write quickly is to write as if you're talking to a friend.

4. Add something new. This might seem obvious, but new bloggers tend to forget it: Readers aren't going to stick with you unless you give them something they can't find elsewhere.

5. Join the bloggy conversation. And link! The only way people will find your blog is through other blogs—and you'll get other blogs to notice you by responding to what they're writing about.

6. Don't expect instant fame. Actually, don't expect any fame. There are better ways than blogging to get rich and famous.

It strikes me that sharing, consistency, uniqueness, and volunteerism are themes here, and they happen to be the themes in a lot of business literature on how to be a good worker in the global economy. How to be a good blogger and be applied to life; and many are lessons we learned in in kindergarten.

These themes have also come up over the past several months at the Carnegie Council. "Join the bloggy conversation. And Link!" is like Jay Rosen's "ethic of the link."

Similarly, Lawrence Lessig spoke recently at Carnegie Council's Public Affairs program on sharing economies or a hybrid economy. He sees the hybrid economies as those that combine the value from free and shared labor and commercial value.

The volunteerism that is often done on the web, for example social networking or product ratings, are free work that gives network power to companies. David Grewal also spoke recently about his "network power" concept: