Friday, November 30, 2007

Iranian blogger in bow-wow row

Under some interpretations of Islamic law, dogs are considered unclean animals. (N.B.: As with many aspects of the Holy Quran, there is considerable, complex debate over this. You can read examples here, here and here.)

A story first appeared in The Guardian on November 20 revealing the use of bomb-sniffing security dogs by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's security detail. Now, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is reporting that Iranian blogger Reza Valizadeh is being detained by authorities after blogging about the purchase of 4 German dogs by the president's security staff.

Arash Kamangir reports on that Valizadeh is being held on charges of "acting against public security as well as disruption of public opinion."

From the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report:

Valizadeh's arrest comes two days after dozens of Iranian journalists and intellectuals issued a statement to protest the jailing of journalists who are critical of the Iranian government.

One of the signatories, journalist Issa Saharkhiz, told Radio Farda on November 26 that a government crackdown on journalists has intensified in recent months. "There are some who are sitting and thinking of ways to fill up Iran's prisons. Unfortunately, we now see this not only in Tehran but also in the provinces," Saharkhiz said.

Saharkhiz added that journalists and media workers have lost their jobs as a result, and society has been limited to a "single voice."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Grand Old Party's lookin' for somebody who can lead...

So begins the first video to introduce the Republican candidates at last night's CNN/YouTube debate. Poring through just under five thousand submissions (4,926 in all) to YouTube, journalists in CNN's political unit pared down the numbers until they hit 34. (and given all the banter over the Boston Red Sox, maybe that has some significance. hmm.) Meaning, roughly, that just under 1% of the videos were going to be seen by the candidates. Or, unless after doing an extensive and exhaustive search on YouTube, anybody who watched the debate. (CNN reportedly pulled many of the videos from the public for review.)

With more than two thousand more entries for the Republican debate than for the Democrats' debate in July, are Republicans just that much more YouTube savvy than the Democrats, or is this model really allowing citizens to get the issues most important to them out in the open? Is this kind of user-generated video debate the best way to spark activism and interest in politics? And is it actually working?

The New York Times's blog coverage of the presidential race did a nice job of explaining the "behind-the-scenes" action when it came to deciding what videos got picked. An interview with CNN Washington bureau chief and one of the executive producers of the debate David Bohrman revealed that a lot of careful reviewing and editorial decisions went into selecting the final videos. In a similar article on Broadcasting & Cable, despite the perhaps more democratic flavor of selecting the debate questions, the focus remained on:

"... a serious debate, a Republican debate," Bohrman added. "We're going to weed out the obvious sort of Democratic gotcha grenades that are there to just be disruptive. The campaigns were all nervous that there'd be this leftist Web Democratic sense of the questions, and we're going to weed that part out."
In the aftermath of the debate, viewer responses haven't been too kind. In a post this morning on The Caucus (at NYT), Amanda Huber who describes herself as a "Democrat who often votes Republican" said:

I missed the first hour of debate, and so I watched the analysis afterward to hear some of what I missed. What I heard was that there were no questions about education, health care, Iran or energy! What? The Democrats talked at length about several of these subjects. What is CNN doing?

Are the Democrats getting the meaty, hardball questions that the candidates can use to really define themselves, and the Republicans get a bunch of nonsense questions that they will essentially all agree on?

And "Hank" responded to the above-mentioned collection of viewers' impressions, offering a somewhat more exasperated take:
Anderson Cooper was better than Wolf Blitzer but the questions and questioners CNN chose to show were cartoonish, silly and stereotyped. A guy with the Confederate flag in his bedroom? Come on! A guy brandishing a rifle and making a mock threat asking about gun control? Give me a break! An arrogant question about the bible? Oy! If these people truly represent the base of the Republican Party then they are in even worse trouble than anyone thought. Why not choose questioners who are normal, serious and thoughtful and who represent most of America, not the goofballs who populate YouTube and the internet.
Janis Hotham via the Huffington Post had a few good insights yesterday before the debate aired:
With 5000 questions and only 40 being picked to air during the debate, are we getting a fair representation of what people really want to ask? A quick scroll of YouTube's feature site for the upcoming debate shows mostly males sitting in front of their computers with questions about the national debt, social security, and what the role of government should be in the years to come. Bohrman said so-called "lobbying questions" about gay marriage and abortion won't be considered, despite the bickering between candidates about their nuanced and past positions on those issues. What does that leave?

It will be interesting to see if this debate that marries classic questions with more new media, and whether that will stay true to CNN's vision of a "serious" Republican debate. Of course, it's much easier to craft that kind of debate when you have 5000 nearly identical questions at your hands.

In theory, and to some extent in practice, the sheer number of videos submitted is a positive; people want to be involved, want to raise awareness for the issues they find important. To easily produce and upload for free a video message to the next potential president (and have it be answered on national TV, no less) is appealing, exciting. For me, personally, the jury is still out. At the end of the day, the 'average Joe' image that these debates try to promote is misleading. You can access all of the used videos from both debates on the YouTube YouChoose '08 website, but where is the breakdown for all of the videos submitted? Of the more than 99% of videos that we aren't seeing, what are the issues that are coming up most? What are 'the people' talking about, concerned about? What aren't we seeing and why not?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tales from the online darkside

The AP is reporting that as many as one in three children in the US have been a victim of what is being called cyberbullying. This comes hard on the heels of the much publicized case of Megan Meier, a 13 year-old from suburban St. Louis who committed suicide last year after believing that a boyfriend she met on MySpace had broken up with her. The boyfriend was later revealed to have been a hoax creation of Meier's 47 year-old neighbor Lori Drew. The story received widespread coverage in the national media. Local authorities declined to charge Ms. Drew with any crime, but the local Board of Alderman chose this week to pass an ordinance making online harassment punishable with up to 90 days in jail.

On a related noted, I noticed a story on the Blogging Ethics newscrawl installed this week on the lower right hand corner of this page by Devin Stewart. This from OKC Friday, which bills itself as "the Newspaper for Oklahoma's Trendsetters":

A Village woman’s nasty blog posting was met with real life threats that led to Village Police sending out a metro-wide notice regarding a potentially dangerous person. On Oct. 17, a woman called police to report receiving threatening email messages. According to reports, the woman suspected the messages came from another woman who had been involved with the caller’s ex-husband. She told police she had written bad things about the other woman on her MySpace page and, although she did not name names in the posting, thought the subject of the postings had somehow found them and knew they were about her.
You can read the rest here.

Two examples of the anonymous world of the internet spilling over into the "real world" with tragic consequences. Have you been bullied online? Do you consider this a tolerable byproduct of the freedom of expression that the internet provides?

Ethical Blogging vs. Email

We all know what a hassle it is to wade through hundreds of pieces a spam every week in your inbox just to keep up with your legitimate email correspondence. A Wall Street Journal article yesterday titled “Email’s Friendly Fire” has identified “colleague spam,” email from your coworkers who always press the “reply all” button. The article goes on to offer some solutions in the form of email sorting technology such as ClearContext.

Are we witnessing the death of email? Can blogs help out?

I always suspected the day would come when email would begin to die. First, with the wave of spam growing every year, legitimate email gets lost in the tide. There was an excellent article in the New Yorker in August describing this phenomenon called “Damn Spam: The losing war on junk e-mail”:

As the Web evolves into an increasingly essential part of American life, the sheer volume of spam grows exponentially every year, and so, it would appear, do the sophisticated methods used to send it. Nearly two million e-mails are dispatched every second, a hundred and seventy-one billion messages a day. Most of those messages have something to sell.

Second, corporate spam filters aren’t always accurate in identifying which emails are spam and which are not. I have witnessed several cases in which spam filters have gone berserk in the past few weeks inside my office and at the offices of others. The bottom line is: When you hit that “send” button on email, you can’t be so sure the recipient will get it, open it, and read it. Finally, the addressee can always claim, “I never got your email.”

Why not shift the responsibility on the readers by posting everything on blogs? Indeed, as you know, one of the origins of the blog in its current form was from an ah-ha moment: People emailing to one another discovered that the discussion thread amounted to something of value and thought the discussion could be posted publicly. Many corporations are trying out internal blogs as ways to share ideas and innovations, thus reducing the amount of “colleague spam,” I would hope—assuming their idea was more than “Brownies in the kitchen.”

Essentially communication is diversifying at a rapid pace. Chad Lorenz of Slate magazine declared “The Death of Email” just a few weeks ago. We communicators are hedging against the risk that email may not be infallible. Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, and blogs, I would argue amount to a communications potpourri. The great thing about blogs (and Facebook for that matter) is that you can see your post as soon as it goes online. “I didn’t get the message” can be a thing of the past if people trust the integrity of their message to be viewed by the public.

Perhaps a transparent blog posting in lieu of a secretive email message could save people from becoming victims of embarrassing gossip or other affairs. For private matters, it might be best to make a phone call or do what's sometimes called "Facebook in the flesh."

Blogger Garrett Graff to Speak at Carnegie Council

Hey Ethical Bloggers,

One more announcement: For those of you living in the New York City area, the Carnegie Council would like to invite you to a Dec. 6 evening talk by Garrett Graff, the first blogger to be admitted to cover a White House press briefing.

To attend, please sign up here. (There is a fee to attend.)

Here is the information:

The Carnegie Council presents:

A discussion of “The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House”


Garrett M. Graff

Thursday, December 6, 2007
5:30pm – 7:00pm
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Merrill House
170 East 64th Street
New York, NY 10065-7478

The emergence of the Web as a political tool has shaken up the campaign process, leaving front-runners vulnerable right up until Election Day. How will the two major parties take advantage of this new technology? And how instrumental will technology be in deciding the outcome of the 2008 Presidential campaign?

Garrett M. Graff is editor-at-large at Washingtonian Magazine and covers media and politics. He was also the founding editor of’s Fishbowl D.C. (, a blog that covers the media and journalism in Washington. As the first blogger admitted to cover a White House press briefing, he is a frequent speaker on blogging and the intersection of politics and technology. He served as deputy national press secretary on Howard Dean's presidential campaign and, beginning in 1997, was then-Governor Dean's first webmaster.

Presentations begin at 5:30 PM, followed by a question-and-answer session at 6:00 PM and a reception from 6:30 to 7:00 PM.

NYU Center Joins Ethical Blogger Project

Dear Ethical Bloggers,

As you may have noticed, New York University’s Center for Global Affairs joined the roster of institutions participating in the Ethical Blogger Project. We are seeking additional institutions worldwide, so if you have suggestions, please let us know. Please send ideas to Devin Stewart at the Carnegie Council or post them on this blog. The plan is to convene meetings around the world to engage publics in every region on this topic over the course of the next two years.

We are very encouraged that a part of the NYU community, with its global reach and superb academic reputation in law, media, business, and international relations has joined us.

Here is the announcement:

NYU’s Center for Global Affairs (CGA) is pleased to join the Ethical Blogger Project, a collaboration created by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Demos—The Think Tank for Everyday Democracy, and Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Launched in the heart of lower Manhattan in 2004 on a tradition of global affairs education begun in 1984, the Center for Global Affairs at NYU facilitates change by educating and inspiring its community to become global citizens capable of identifying and implementing solutions to pressing global challenges. Through rigorous graduate and non–degree programs and provocative public events, the CGA prepares global citizens who will be at home–and thus be effective agents of change–in diverse environments around the world.

“We founded the Center for Global Affairs on the principle that ‘global’ and ‘international’ are different in important ways,” says Vera Jelinek, CGA divisional dean. “Understanding these differences informs our mission of creating global citizens and demands that we engage our community in a deep and meaningful examination of ethics at every level. The Ethical Blogger Project focuses a critical spotlight on ethics and new media and is a perfect fit for our students and our mission. We are delighted to engage in this exciting project with such outstanding peer institutions.”

For more information on the Center for Global Affairs, please visit the site or call 212.992.8380.

November 27, 2007
New York University
New York, NY

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Convention Blogger Corps

Democrats and Republicans will both make more room for bloggers at their respective conventions next year. "The Democrats are starting a state blogger corps, with credentials going to 56 blogs, one from each state plus the territories," reports Katharine Q. Seelye in the New York Times. Many other bloggers will also get credentials for the DNC in Denver, and hundreds more are expected in the mix of convention-goers.

The presence of more bloggers is itself part of the narrative, feeding into the media's love of self-analysis. Seelye writes that we will see "more stories by the media about the media covering the media." The whole endeavor will be a great test case for the effects that blogs have on our political perceptions. Imagine the snapshot mosaic of all the bloggers' comments on a particular speech. Will they align or diverge? Which details will prove salient?

The Colorado blogosphere has teamed up with to host an adjunct blogger hangout across the street from the convention. Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas put in a plug for the alternative location, citing the security nightmare as a deterrent to convention access. Blogging from a safe distance is indicative of the state of fear in America. During the 2004 RNC, midtown Manhattan was a ghost town populated mostly by police. Echoes of FDR's first inaugural address seem pretty relevant.

Monday, November 26, 2007

UK tells MySpace generation: You might regret that hearfelt blog confession

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is the UK's independent authority set up to promote access to official information and to protect personal information. On Friday, the ICO released the results of a survey whose findings suggest that teenagers are recklessly posting personal information, photos, diaries and blog comments on social networking sites, blogs and personal web pages. These posts, the agency warns, may come back to haunt teenagers:

As many as four and a half million young people (71%) would not want a college, university or potential employer to conduct an internet search on them unless they could first remove content from social networking sites, according to new research by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). But almost six in 10 have never considered that what they put online now might be permanent and could be accessed years into the future.

In this case, young people are defined as 14-21 years old.

David Smith, Deputy Commissioner for the ICO, said: "Many young people are posting content online without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind. The cost to a person’s future can be very high if something undesirable is found by the increasing number of education institutions and employers using the internet as a tool to vet potential students or employees."
An argument in favor of anonymity perhaps? (Devin Stewart has written extensively on the debate over online anonymity. You can join the conversation here.)

The ICO has launched a new site to help UK teens safely navigate the online space? Will it work? Could government possibly know more than teenagers about social networking? Does the internet make it easier for teens to make foolish choices? Haven't parents always worried that kids will make tragic mistakes in their teenage years and "Throw their life away?"

You tell me. Just be careful what you write........

Photo by Annie in Beziers under terms of Creative Commons.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is Lurking Ethical?

Hey Ethical Bloggers,

I added a Google newsfeed below and called it Ethical Blogger News. An interesting essay showed up from the New York Times: "In Defense of Lurking" (on the Web). Here is Virginia Heffernan's argument:

Which brings me to my lurking problem. I can’t tell whether lurking is a devious violation of Web ethics or a return to luxurious nonparticipatory reading. I do know it seems indulgent. When I lurk, I relax, fall silent, become a cosseted 19th-century baroness whose electronic servants bring her funny pictures and distracting tales. I have no responsibilities. I’m entirely on intake.

In participatory media, is it OK to sit on the sidelines? Is lurking ethical?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Diplomatic Blogging

Last week it was announced that the State Department’s new Digital Outreach Team has entered the blogosphere to counter misperceptions about U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world, with plans to expand into Persian and Urdu blogs as well.

According to an article that appeared in Reuters today:

The Digital Outreach Team's job is to spring into action when they see bloggers on Arabic-language sites maligning the U.S. and casting aspersions on U.S. policies.

Duncan MacInnis, the man in charge of the team, described it as "an initiative to counter ideological support for terrorism."

Government bloggers "speak the language and idiom of the region, know the cultural reference points and are often able to converse informally and frankly rather than adopt the usually more formal persona of a U.S. government spokesman," he said.

"This is a major departure from our previous ways of conducting public diplomacy. It requires both creativity and a new set of skills."

A Washington Post article from earlier this week touched on the anonymity issue:

Even though the State Department employees were not going into hard-core terrorist sites, the worry, MacInnes said, was that after identifying themselves and using their own names, "we would be, in the parlance of the Internet, 'flamed' when we come on" -- meaning their entries would be subjected to intense attacks.

They were not, and there were such posts as, "We don't like your policies but we're sure glad you're here talking to us about it," MacInnes said. As a result, State is expanding the team to six speakers of Arabic, two of Persian and one of Urdu.
As well as moderating:
“Because blogging tends to be a very informal, chatty way of working," MacInnes said, "it is actually very dangerous to blog." So State has a senior experienced officer, who served in Iraq, acting as supervisor and discussing each posting before it goes up.
But it doesn’t talk about how the Digital Outreach Team ensures that others know who their true members are. Someone posing as Condoleezza Rice for a TV or newspaper interview would easily be found out- it may not be that easy on the blogosphere.

This counterterrrorism tactic further illustrates how powerful blogs have become and brings up issues of blogging ethics with potentially high stakes.

Blogalization and its Discontents

A recent commenter travelling by the name I, Candyman, took sophisticated umbrage at my use of the term "blogosphere" to describe the imagined online community of weblogs, wikis and other such media that comprise our object of study.

"Oh wow. Every time I read the word 'blogosphere', a little part of my soul dies," he wrote.

Ever since, I have been toying with the idea of a new post titled "Blogosphere," comprising nothing more than an infinite repetition of the word "blogosphere" separated by double spaces. (Just to see what would happen.)

Instead, I give you an entirely new, evocative and likely annoying word-scramble for the Candymen of the world to seethe at: Blogalization.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Syria blocks access to Facebook

In my last post, I mentioned the wonderful site Global Voices Online -- a sort of clearinghouse for international blogs. The site "aggregates, curates, and amplifies the global conversation online – shining light on places and people other media often ignore."

And fair play to them.

At the top of Global Voices tonight is this post from Amira Al Hussaini, detailing the censorship in Syria of the social networking site Facebook. (Access to Google's Blogger, which hosts The Ethical Blogger, is also blocked in Syria.) Hussaini links us to the Syrian blogger Golaniya, who claims to be "neither an 'Arab' nor a 'Syrian', not even a 'female'." She blogs "for the right to be a citizen."

What follows is bold, brave and truly inspiring.

...recently there has been a cultural awakening [in Syria]; people are starting to organize their interests in concerts, galleries, conferences, plays, screenings…etc. and Facebook is facilitating the process which is very hard to do in an inactive militarily controlled society. There are no cultural institutions in Syria, no private independent NGOs, no civic institutions, who represent the populations except the government? Syrian Facebookers are trying now to represent themselves. Those who cannot be activists in a "real" Syria can be one in a virtual Syria. Facebook is becoming a tool to bring together these very individuals to promote their socially, religiously and politically prohibited thoughts. We are not talking about blocking of a social networking tool, we are talking about blocking an awareness networking tool, a chance to express, to finally speak and do something about it. It's high time to demand our right to seek ALL and ANY information regardless of its source, we have the mind to decide for ourselves what we should/should not read or believe.We have the right to organize ourselves and activate our numb citizenship. We want to be socially and politically active. We want to campaign for human rights, we want to be civilians instead of abstract "Syrians," instead of mere Muslims and Christians. We want to engage in building our nation. We don’t want to be permitted to act; we want to be voluntarily and spontaneously acting. We want to be doers and actors. We want Syria uncensored!

As we discourse here on the appropriate use of profanity and anonymity in fora such as this, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that freedom of expression remains out of reach in some corners of the globe.

As Ian Bremmer points out so eloquently in his book The J Curve, authoritarian regimes rely heavily on state control of the media to keep the citizenry in the dark.

...the slightest influence on their citizens from the outside could push the most rigid...states toward instability. If half the people of North Korea saw 20 minutes of CNN (or of al Jazeera for that matter), they would realize how egregiously their government lies to them about life beyond the walls. That realization would provoke widespread social upheaval. The slightest improvement in the ability of a country’s citizens to communicate with one another—the introduction of telephones, email, or text-messaging into an authoritarian state—can likewise undermine the state’s monopoly on information.

No doubt the Syrian regime feels mortally threatened by the latent power of sites such as Facebook. It is not hard to see how easily the political opposition in Syria (such as it is) could leverage these sites, both at home and abroad, to destabilize the government of Bashar al-Assad. Even the lowliest technology (think of the role of the cassette tape in the Iranian revolution of 1979) can conceivably be employed to illuminate "life behind the walls."

We should acknowledge and commend the brave struggle of dissidents such as Golaniya.

Blog Ethics du Jour

In their article Searching for the Ethical Blogger, Devin Stewart and Matthew Hennessey ask a key question that this blog and its related project hope to explore: "Which ethical standard should govern the blogosphere? Is it necessary to choose, or can multiple codes coexist?"

Perhaps a boiled down code of basic principles is possible, but would it cover the spiciness of the blogosphere or just reheat the well-worn sole of free speech? Personally I'm pitching my hat with multiple codes. I think it's the practical and democratic option, more in step with Internet culture, and more ethical. At the Carnegie Council we sometimes look at ethics as the expansion of choice, and I think that's a solid footing from which to evaluate blog behavior and collect resources and thinking on the topic.

Multiple codes is practical first of all because of diversity. Blogs are owned and authored by too many people from too many different countries for too many different purposes to make applicability or enforcement of a single code possible or desirable. It's ethical because it's something people opt for, not something imposed upon them.

From that starting point we can start to piece together some of the structure of what an á la carte code of blog ethics might entail.

APPETIZERS (Your opening choices)
Anonymous and Pseudonymous Blogging: Very tasty option under repressive regimes.
Transparency: This clear soup lets everyone know who you are, what you're an expert on, why they should care, and how they can contact you in case something unpalatable happens.

MAIN DISHES (You could skip this course, but it's best not to.)
No illegal content or activity: libel, child pornography, trafficking delicious endangered species, etc.
Disclosure: If you're blogging about sensitive information, do you have a conflict of interest?

DESSERTS (Tasty but not necessary)
Comments Policy: Moderated or unmoderated? What is allowed, what is deleted?
Copyright Policy: Are you using traditional copyright or sharing your work with the Creative Commons?
Your Blog's Ethics: Share the recipe! If you've chosen certain principles, post them prominently.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

More on Anonymity

We are fortunate to have sparked quite a lively debate on this blog. We got a lot of love from Google. Last week our magazine Policy Innovations was accepted by Google as a news source and Google's Blogger named The Ethical Blogger a "blog of note," triggering a flood of traffic and comments.

One of the biggest areas of debate so far has been about the utility of anonymous postings. I originally called for general transparency in the blogosphere here and mused on the counter intuitive credibility an anonymous blogger can have in oppressive environments, such as in China. We also had a touching comment from a teacher in the New York school system who was sanctioned for writing an op-ed, using a professional email address. Here is an excerpt:

I hate the feeling that in this country, a supposedly free country, that people must hide behind anonymous names.

I, too, hate the namecalling and animosity I read in debate. We can disagree without bashing the person; we can converse without rude language.

This is a topic I care about personally and professionally. How can students learn to debate and converse when all around them they see venomous attacks and language not worthy of intelligent thought?
This is a complicated case, as they all are, because this teacher tried to do the right thing but was caught in school system politics. I am not sure if this advice is applicable, but Tim O'Reilly has discussed anonymity quite a bit on his blog thread on developing a Blogger's Code of Conduct.

One of his codes of conduct is to connect privately before we respond publicly: "When we encounter conflicts and misrepresentation in the blogosphere, we make every effort to talk privately and directly to the person(s) involved--or find an intermediary who can do so--before we publish any posts or comments about the issue."

From the lessons he learned so far, he notes on anonymity:
Another place where we clearly erred in the first draft is in the suggestion that anonymity should be forbidden, as there are most certainly contexts where anonymity is incredibly valuable. (Some that come to mind include whistleblowing, political dissent, or even general discussion where someone might not want to confuse their personal opinions of those of an organization to which they belong. As one commenter remarked, it might even be useful for a shy person to whom anonymity gives a bit of courage.)

Like the New York Times Public Editor (read Matthew Hennessey's post on this topic here), O'Reilly concludes that civility is therefore of utmost importance:
But I believe that civility is catching, and so is uncivility. If it's tolerated, it gets worse. There is no one blogging community, just like there is no one community in a big city. But as Sara Winge, our VP of Corporate Communications pointed out, it's not an accident that "Civil" is also the first two syllables of "civilization." What's more, when an exchange of ideas turns into an exchange of insults, everyone loses.
Without civility, a few bad apples ruin the Internet for everyone.

Student bloggers monitor Hong Kong elections

Rebecca MacKinnon is a former journalist and co-founder of the international citizen's media community Global Voices Online. Currently she is Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Hong Kong. Her blog is called Rconversation. As I write this Sunday, her students are spread out around the city monitoring local district council elections in Hong Kong. You can follow events as they unfold at the blog MacKinnon set up for her young citizen journalists. Click here for MacKinnon's real-time aggregation of other local blogger's observations on the election. MacKinnon:

Quite a number of my students' stories have quoted pro-democratic candidates complaining that the pro-China camp has better resources to reach out to the grassroots, while pro-China candidates have questioned who is more "democratic"
than whom...
She offers a link to an english translation of a thought-provoking blog post by Jasper Tsang Yok-sing titled Democracy in Need of Emergency Help:
"Democracy needs emergency help"? This is a risible slogan. In an open, fair and just election, it is a victory for democracy no matter who wins. It is a basic concept in the believe [sic] of the people and democracy. The people who need emergency cannot be democrats, for they can only be those people who wave the flag of "democracy" but are unwilling to do the practical work to gain the support of the voters.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Blogosphere 101 for Grandma and Grandpa

This weekend, Parade magazine introduces millions of behind-the-curve Americans for the first time to the web technology that is changing politics. For many, this will be an eye-opening first encounter with YouTube, MySpace and Google. A good many still won't get it. It's a generational thing.

You know Parade as the floppy little insert that falls out of your Sunday paper and offers middle-of-the-road profiles of mainstream celebrities like Keri Russell, Drew Carey and Lucy Liu. Official circulation: 32 million. Estimated Weekly Readership: 71 million. Hardly small potatoes. Here's the opening paragraph of "You Have the Power," by Michael Scherer:

In this new Internet age, democracy means much more than a trip to the polls. Every day at personal computers across the nation, people are speaking back to their politicians—posting essays and videos that will be seen by thousands, organizing their neighbors and delving deep into the issues they care about on their own terms.
While this will hardly seem like breaking news (or required reading) to denizens of the blogosphere, it will certainly clarify a few things for some members of the so-called "old school." It should be noted that in 2004 the 65-74 year-old voter cohort was the most active in terms of turnout -- nearly 75 per cent voted.

Is it safe to assume that most of the online politicking so characteristic of this election cycle is geared toward relatively young, web-savvy voters? Yet, less than half of 18-24 year-olds voted in the last presidential election.

Are the candidates wasting their time online? Shouldn't they be courting the editors of Parade rather than Ariana Huffington or Andrew Sullivan?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

China's Citizen Journalists Check Government Corruption

An article that appeared yesterday in AsiaMedia reports on the third annual China Blogger Conference, with an interesting note on how blogging has helped counter the country's corruption:

After [Zola, a panelist and blogger,] investigated and wrote in April about a couple who refused to accept a below-market price from a real estate development company, traditional Chinese media outlets and overseas press such as The New York Times and Time magazine's The China Blog picked up the story. The issue wasn't only about a big company's business practices, but also about the local government's collusion with businesses in the name of economic growth. According to a Washington Post report, with nationwide media attention, local officials worked to reach a compromise; the developers increased their offer with a ground-floor apartment affording space for the couple's restaurant business and $120,000. The couple accepted. Beijing Youth Daily's weekly tabloid, yWeekend, celebrated the incident as the "birth of citizen journalism."

Zola, who goes by Zhou Muguang when he’s not blogging, has been contacted by other Chinese citizens battling eviction orders all over the country, according to Reuters. Given that traditional media outlets are barred from reporting on high-profile corruption cases, bloggers may be the only hope for those whose land is seized by developers in collusion with local governments.

The Reuters article notes other instances when citizen journalists have stepped in, like demonstrations and disasters. But it also reports that the less rigid restrictions on the Internet have given journalists and impostors an avenue for exploitation:
Authorities jailed four men in October who tried to blackmail a local official by threatening to write incriminating information about government abuse of power in land usage.

In January, a local reporter for a Beijing-based newspaper was beaten to death by hired thugs during an investigation into an unlicensed coal mine in Shanxi province. Officials there said he lacked accreditation and suggested he may have been seeking payoffs in return for not reporting problems at the mine.

Devin Stewart wrote previously about a survey which found that the credibility of Internet media in China is actually derived from its anonymity. At what point will impostors and blackmailers impede the work of sometimes anonymous citizen journalists trying to cover sensitive issues, and what sort of regulations could prevent this?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blogging Under Martial Law

BusinessWeek reported yesterday on the Internet's role in informing the public of the state of Pakistan after General Musharraf enforced Martial Law on November 5th and in mobilizing citizens in opposition:
A complete blackout of cable television—the most pervasive medium in Pakistan—radio, and the Urdu press had blocked images from public view, but word spread. The students decided to participate in the protests.

That's when the blogging began. On Nov. 5, the Emergency Times (and an attendant wiki, appeared. It declared itself "an independent Pakistani student initiative against injustice and oppression," which gave readers a regular update and comments on the emergency, and student activities against it across Pakistan. It announced that there would be a protest by LUMS students on Nov. 7 at 2 p.m., as also at FAST-NU, a technical university in Lahore.

Other protests were organized using Facebook, not just in Pakistan but around the globe, which you can track on Teeth Maestro, a blog that shifted to “crisis mode” after Martial Law was instated. The website also publishes updates on in-country demonstrations and tips for protesters, submitted by readers via Blackberry and email.

With thousands of lawyers and human rights activists in jail and media outlets being pressured to abide by a new "code of ethics," the current situation is a perfect example of how the lines between citizen and professional journalism are becoming blurred. The New York Times recently appealed to Pakistani citizens to submit eyewitness accounts of blocked protests via text, video, or photographs.

Last week Dr. Awab Alvi, who formerly ran Teeth Maestro, warned fellow bloggers of the dangers they may face in light of this power:


Other bloggers have decided to remain anonymous, fearing their opposition movement may be hampered by leakages of information in the press.

With any media coverage of conflict or civil unrest come ethical questions: Should reporters risk their lives to get accurate information to the public? Under what circumstances can unnamed sources be used and trusted?

The situation in Pakistan suggests that bloggers too now have to ask these same questions of themselves.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I Built My Blog of Glass

Philip Johnson's Glass House, Photo by Mel KThe article about how the New York Times is striving to maintain an editorial policy of "civil discourse" in the comments on its blogs raises some interesting issues (Matthew Hennessey touched on a few here). It led me to think that in some ways blogs blur the lines between public and private space. For example, if you have an open house party and a guest leaves footprints on your walls you're well within your rights to give him the boot. But discouraging similar unruliness by deleting or editing comments on a blog can quickly lead to accusations of censorship.

This issue is compounded by the fact that blogs are hosted and owned in a number of different ways, from free public services like Blogger to proprietary and commercial institutions of journalism like the NYT. That's why bloggers and hosts develop content policies and terms of service to set the rules of use, indemnify themselves, reserve rights, etc. Otherwise all the huffing and puffing might blow their blog down.

It seems natural then, given the public/private nature of blogs, that many would adopt a "house rules" approach to filtering content, and transparency comes from making that policy explicit. Do the blogs of journalists, press, and media carry unique or additional responsibilities for disclosure or tolerance? Many letters to the editor never see the light of day, but there's no public outcry over that.

Photo of Philip Johnson's Glass House by Mel K (CC).

Monday, November 5, 2007

Public Editor Seeks Civility (and finds it lacking at

Clark Hoyt is the Public Editor of the New York Times (a position created in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal). His column this weekend, "Civil Discourse, Meet the Internet," began with the following disclaimer:

WARNING: This column contains rude and objectionable language not normally found in the pages of this newspaper but seen surprisingly often on its Web site.

As the title and warning suggest, Hoyt's column details the messy side of web interactivity. Most of the time, this is confined to boorishness. But the convention of anonymous posting in the blogosphere is particularly conducive to both unsupported claims and personal attacks. The traditional approach to journalism is being challenged, and informed by, so-called citizen journalism.
From Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, on down, executives and editors of The Times use similar language to describe their goal: they want the newspaper's Web site to nurture a healthy, "civil discourse" on the topics of the day.

As Hoyt notes, however, "the real Internet world often falls far short." He cites the challenges that vex Kate Phillips, editor of The Caucus,'s political blog:
...Phillips said she struggles sometimes with the "intolerance" and "vitriol" she sees in some comments—so much so that on rare occasions "I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices."

The most challenging ethical problems often require forbearance in the face of unruly, unexpected or undignified behavior. Yet, ethics is a normative pursuit, one whose ultimate purpose is to distinguish between the acceptable and unacceptable. Some have argued for an internet conversation ungoverned by standards. While you can't yell "Fire!" in a theater, you're still pretty free to write whatever you like online.

Is this what we want from the internet? Is this all we want from it?

Anonymity as Credibility

As I mentioned previously, anonymous blogging makes more sense in a regime whose government is not representative. A very good article in the Asahi Shimbun today "Sizing up China: Internet posing a sensational and credible challenge."

Here is the kicker:

Chinese prize the Internet because it is a relatively free forum to express their opinions. According to a 2005 survey by the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, 60.8 percent of Chinese respondents said that people have more opportunities to criticize the government on the Internet. The number was much greater than 24.2 percent in Japan, 20 percent in the United States and 10.1 percent in Sweden.

"People's enthusiasm for the Internet is the flip side of the government's tight control of the conventional media," said a reporter of one of China's state-run news agencies, who declined to be named.

She said that she often writes news and opinions on her three anonymous Web blogs that she cannot write in the company's wire reports.

"The irony here is that the Internet is viewed as a credible media, because of its anonymity," the reporter said. (IHT/Asahi: November 5, 2007)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Headless Monsters?

As I recently wrote in Fairer Globalization blog, there is a lot of anxiety around the world about whether traditions can be maintained in a globalized world. In Japan this week, I picked up a copy of the Daily Yomiuri, which featured an essay titled "'Headless monster' changing society."

Its author describes how leaderless movements or "headless monsters" can emerge more easily from blogging and wired communities. As we have seen numerous times in South Korea, in China, a blogger was empowered to make change. A blogger forced the closure of a Starbucks in Beijing's Forbidden City.

But the author wonders if such movements could lead to more sinister results:

...what makes me uneasy is the frequent and recent occurrence of copycat crimes. Every time details about an offense--types of lethal weapons, methods and relationships between culprits and victims--are reported, imitations of those crimes emerge. Fortunately, as reports of this kind also tend to become quickly obsolete, the chain of copycat crimes breaks in most cases in Japan after a spate of a few imitative offenses.

Meanwhile, I dread the assumption that Islamic extremists are in a situation similar to the above-mentioned ones. There is a strong possibility that they, too, have collectively become a headless monster, with Osama bin Laden sighted in the far background after rootless developments due to immigration and urbanization, involving them first in anticommunist campaigns and then in anti-U.S. ones and sectarian strife.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Further Evidence of Blog Power

In the Persian Press Watch box at the bottom of this page I spied the following quote:

Communications has entered a new era with the emergence of Internet and new technologies. At present, another phase has begun and that is the phenomenon of blogging. Weblogs have a significant status among Internet users, particularly journalists who can freely express their opinion away from any redline or censorship. Weblogs have now turned into an important technology. As we witnessed in the recent Myanmar crackdown, the role of weblogs is undeniable. Weblogs were the only instrument for people in Myanmar to communicate with the outside world.
Repression of Iranian blogging is something that Policy Innovations covered a little while ago, so it's interesting to see the state media now citing Burmese blogs as a communications lifeline for those struggling under an authoritarian regime.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Bloggers Getting (Too?) Cozy With Candidates in NH

Amy Schatz's article on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal (subscription only) details the successes and failures of a trio of Democrat bloggers in New Hampshire. Their blog, Blue Hampshire, only gets about 800 hits a day, but it has managed to weave itself into the fabric of the primary race.

The piece speaks to many of the questions that we are struggling with here, namely, what are the ethical obligations, if any, of disclosure, sourcing and independence associated with political blogging. For instance, the Blue Hampshire bloggers recently endorsed Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. As Schatz reports, however, the decision to do so came after a series of snubs at the hands of the John Edwards campaign. Dodd's people, on the other hand, made a concerted effort to woo the Blue Hampshire bloggers.

"Mr. Dodd and his staff have actively courted the Blue Hampshire bloggers. Mr. Browner-Hamlin, the blog-outreach staffer for Mr. Dodd, regularly posted items on Blue Hampshire. In one, he wrote enthusiastically on Mr. Dodd's website about meeting the 'renowned bloggers' at a New Hampshire Democratic party event. Phone calls and daily emails to the bloggers with tidbits about Mr. Dodd's activities led to a steady stream of items on the Blue Hamphsire site."
Were we talking about a newspaper, this type of relationship would certainly be cause for suspicion and no editor in their right mind would allow it to continue. All journalists have sources, and all journalists are occasionally cheesed off at being snubbed or ignored. But journalists don't typically make endorsements. Is this a breach of journalistic ethics? Should bloggers be held to that standard?

[Added: Link to Amy Schatz's article.]

[Correction: "...the Blue Hampshire bloggers recently endorsed Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd" is inaccurate. Only Managing Editor Dean Barker endorsed Dodd.]