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:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Are Politicians Their "Friends"?

I recently reconnected with a former colleague from Manila through Facebook. She invited me as a friend, I accept her as a friend, thus reaffirming our friendship, both online and off. I saw she had more than 300 friends on her list and I was curious if I would find some old friends that I wanted to be in touch with again. I did find old friends and some, namely, some politicians holding no less than national seats. This made me send her a quick message to ask: Are these senators actually your "friends"?

The Philippine political scene is apparently evolving fast. Senators and congressmen have jumped on the bandwagon of social networking, and can be found in three of the most popular sites in the Philippines - Friendster, Facebook and Multiply. A number of my Manila-based friends are "friends" with a range of colorful political characters, from the ambitious novice Senator Francis Escudero, the media-savvy Senator Richard Gordon, to the acerbic veteran Senator Joker Arroyo, whose profile is suspiciously too detailed to be the work of an 81-year-old legislator. Some senators are on Friendster, the most popular networking site in the Philippines, and popular among Internet users in the provinces.

So what does being "friends" with a politician mean? My journalist friend says sometimes she uses Facebook to contact these officials but the responses are usually not as helpful. One senator quickly responds to her questions but starts his answers with "This is off the record." Other senators reply too but, she says it is obvious that their aides are doing the replying for them.

As U.S. President Barack Obama has shown, being on social networking sites can be an effective political tool and other politicians know this all too well. And with the national elections due in May 2010, expect Facebook and Friendster to be the new campaign platforms.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Army Invades Second Life

By Joshua S. Fouts
Carnegie Council Senior Fellow
Chief Global Strategist, Dancing Ink Productions, LLC

In the wake of Google closing down its virtual world, "Lively," and Reuters noisily closing its Second Life office, you'd think that virtual worlds would warrant the Sturm und Drang predictions that have replaced an equally misguided first-round buzz of interest.

Maybe it's just growing pains.

Enter the United States Army.

Wired reporter Noah Shachtman recently blogged that the US Army will be opening up shop in the virtual world of Second Life over the next month. According to Shachtman, their effort "will actually consist of two virtual islands. One of them will serve as a ‘welcome center' with an information kiosk and the means to contact a recruiter." The other will offer virtual experiences like, "jumping out of airplanes, and rappelling off of towers and using a weapon."

I asked my friend Peter W. Singer, who is director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, and author of the upcoming book Wired for War -- what he thought of this. (Singer's program at Brookings is notable in that it was one of the first to host a session on the impact of Second Life on the future of politics -- Singer's wife Sue works for Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life).

"A lot of credit is due to the Army for being willing to take this first step," he emailed back. "It is a great way to connect to potential recruits, who it might not reach otherwise, through a growing medium. But I hope they don't just see it as merely an advertising tool. Just like many other organizations entering Second Life have found, there is a whole new world of possibilities, as well as perils, for them to learn more about."

It's indeed a wise decision for the Army. In our research for the Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project, CCEIA Senior Fellow Rita J. King and I encountered many people from around the world who found the experiences in virtual worlds offered them a safe environment in which to explore things with which they were unfamiliar. Why not present the Army in the same light? Stanford University researcher Jeremy Bailenson has already found that people take experiences in virtual worlds with them into the physical world. A May 12, 2008 Time magazine article reported "even 90 seconds spent chatting it up with avatars [in a virtual world] is enough to elicit behavioral changes offline."

The Army might also learn something about their potential recruits in Second Life that they might not learn otherwise from meeting them in person. In an interview I conducted in January 2008 with IBM executive Sandra Kearney, Global Director for Government Research Initiatives and Programs and the lead for many years behind IBM's Virtual Universe Community, she explained that work within virtual worlds has, "made obvious the value people have beyond the box they work in all day long. I'm able to leverage in the organization the passions and the skills that the employee has by what I learn from and about them in virtual worlds. It's addressing the whole person in a really different way."

But it's also a risk--one that I'm glad to see the government taking. Ironically, these kinds of chances seem to be lead by the military more than other parts of the government. For example, in May 2000, before online video games had fully entered into the psyche of advertisers and marketers, the US Army commissioned the creation of the video game "America's Army" which was released in 2002 and later turned into a wildly popular game exceeding even the Pentagon's expectations to become the number one online action game in 2004.

There's reason for hope that other parts of the US foreign and military apparatus are watching and learning. James Glassman, US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, made a stunning announcement at the New America Foundation on December 1, 2008 about the State Department's "Public Diplomacy 2.0" efforts. Glassman, who is the "the government-wide lead in strategic communications, or war of the ideas," provides "leadership and coordination for … the Defense Department, the intelligence community, and beyond." In his speech, Glassman makes the case for the importance of integrating a full-fledged approach to Internet outreach, arguing that government needs to let go of its desire to control the message. "[I]n this new world of communications, any government that resists new Internet techniques faces a greater risk: being ignored. Our major target audiences – especially the young – don't want to listen to us lecture them or tell them what to think or how wonderful we are."

I found Glassman's words inspiring and exciting. In the fall of 2005, as director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, I had the opportunity to brief Under Secretary Glassman's predecessor Karen Hughes before she took office as Under Secretary of State. Our group recommended that, among other things, she integrate games, virtual worlds and blogs into her public diplomacy outreach strategies. Nearly three years later, I'm thrilled to see that her successor has implemented all of those ideas and more. (Disclosure: Glassman's speech also mentions a January 12, 2009 event in Second Life in which he will be appearing that Rita J. King and I will be co-hosting as part of a project with the American University in Cairo.)

Glassman argued, as do we, that virtual worlds are no substitute for real world experiences. They serve, however, as excellent gateways to better understanding people or opportunities to augment or extend ideas – such as expanding and continuing relationships formed in exchange programs.

While the Army is considering Second Life, maybe they should also consider theater. A year ago, Rita J. King wrote about a play by the Scottish National Theater called "Blackwatch." The play, about the famed Scottish military regiment, described the collapse of the unit after their involvement in the War in Iraq. The play's tour in the US was funded by the British Council, the public diplomacy arm of the British Government. It shed unique insight into the British experience in the US-led War on Terror.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to get a better understanding of a US soldier's experience in the Iraq War. I was a participant in the off-Broadway production of "Surrender," a play co-written by my friend Josh Fox (who coincidentally played in a high school rock band with the aforementioned Wired journalist Noah Shachtman – Shachtman played bass) and Sergeant Jason Christopher Hartley, Iraqi War veteran and author of the extremely well-written "Just Another Soldier," about his experiences in the war in Iraq. The three act play allows you to either observe or participate. I chose to participate. I arrived a few minutes late and was rushed into a changing room where I was issued a standard military uniform while the sound of a drill sergeant (played by Jason Christopher Hartley) barked orders to a group to do push-ups until the latecomers were ready. The play began with training in basic combat techniques including a crash course in rifle handling, room clearing and engaging the enemy. In act two I was deployed with my squad, which consisted of actors and participants, although I did not know which was which breaking into darkened rooms under the deafening cacophony of helicopter gun ships, sirens, gunfire, screams all capped my squad and company leaders fevered commands. Each room offered a different panic-inducing scenario – from interrupting a tryst and having the paramours shoot at you, to encountering an otherwise innocent looking family who also then shot at us. Act three was our hallucinatory "reintegration" into society in which the various participants were required to act out the fate of their characters. This entailed reading lines from a teleprompter while actors responded accordingly. I played the part of a soldier who had to have his legs amputated and ended in a mental institution. Next it was determined, that I had a pre-existing mental condition and would not be receiving medical coverage.

The experience participating in Surrender was a powerful one. It radically changed my view of the experience of soldiers in urban ground combat.

Surrender is opening for one week only January 7 – 12. If you're in New York City and want to understand the Army, this is one virtual experience you don't want to miss. After that, try something little more relaxing like visiting the Army's virtual offices in Second Life.

cross posted at Fairer Globalization
photo by Seb Ulysses

Monday, December 8, 2008

Advancing Corporate Citizenship in the Media: Working Group

The media certainly have a great deal of influence over public opinion and discourse. During my recent trip to Brussels, I even heard one finance expert blame the media for the worsening of the financial crisis, saying that the media sector is stoking fear beyond reason.

Can a sense of social responsibility or ethics be instilled in the American media sector? At the Carnegie Council, we convened a small working group of media professionals called "Advancing Corporate Citizenship in the Media." Based on our first meeting, the following are some of the big issues that the group might explore:

balancing media coverage vs delivering a socially responsible message;

whether good behavior can be recognized without the use of certification;

distinguishing opinion from fact;

balancing the need to be entertaining and profitable with the company's role of informing societal debate.

Media CSR Forum has identified issues in three categories: those that are common to all sectors (such as the environment); those that have implications for the media (such as intellectual property); and those that are specific to the media (such as media literacy).

In this final category, the Forum has identified media literacy as a common concern and workable issue for its stakeholders. Its campaign asks, for example: Are you a receptacle for the unacceptable?

Trust in the media has been increasing in several countries, according to the Forum's research. It was surmised that public engagement, such as conferences, and transparency in the media sector could be given partial credit for this improvement.

How to create incentives for better behavior? I asked the group whether non-bottom line and non-shareholder issues could influence behavior. What about moral suasion? Can the interaction of peers and competitors at working groups facilitate better behavior? What about certification, reputation risk, association in a working group? Can these things build trust among competitors? One practitioner suggested that we attempt to shape popular culture to create moral suasion, tying brand, culture, and CSR.

There appeared to be traction in this area since "self-regulation is preferable to government regulation." One way could be to share information on each company's internal code of conduct toward improving the sector's conduct and embedding good behavior in corporate culture. One code of conduct for the sector as a whole is a possibility especially if stakeholders demand it.

Nevertheless, it will be challenging to create a universal code since there are so many types of media (music, new media, print, etc.). I asked if we could use the Equator Principles as a model. It was noted that those Principles worked because they were targeted specifically to project finance, suggesting that the more focused, the better. One practitioner wondered how we would know when a CSR ethic was embedded in the company? Is it already there? How do you embed it?On media literacy, one practitioner wondered whether the focus might be better placed on examining infotainment. In other words, which comes first: creating a better product or teaching people how to use it? The cart or the horse?

A code of media ethics should be connected to how media companies relate to their readers and stakeholders. Indeed, a business case for ethical practices will be made if readers demand it. Shareholders will get the message. One of the companies in NYC is trying to engage its readers directly with its editorials and by making its style guides available. Advances have been made in distinguishing fact from opinion in print by using different font treatment. One practitioner agreed that demands from clients can also change ethical practices dramatically. What if large newspapers demanded green policies from clients wishing to run green ads?

It was noted that CSR is coming back because there is now a struggle to define CSR, and this struggle is creating opportunity. One observer said that while CSR is on the minds of media executives in the big cities, it has not yet reached the heartland, yet this market could have a big effect if tapped, suggesting another opportunity.

Overall, CSR can be seen as a business opportunity and a way to reduce risk. This is the lens through which a task force can make a case.Another approach toward introducing CSR in the media is for the media to critically assess corporate behavior and then report on it. Corporations can engage the media for more critical self-assessment.

Several participants noted that American top tier media companies have a responsibility to make the case for climate change mitigation. Future meetings might take emulate the Media CSR Forum's model and bring in experts from media and civil society to speak.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Indonesia Seeks Blogger's Identity

Some debates simply refuse to go away. And those that keep recurring are obviously no close to being resolved.

The Indonesian government has announced that it is seeking the identity of a blogger who posted the controversial newspaper cartoon that purportedly insults Muslim Prophet Mohammad, and will detain him/her for defamation. Indonesia's Deparment of Communication and Information has formally requested for the blogger's identity from the blog host, Wordpress.

This, once again, raises the debate between respect for religion and freedom of expression. When the cartoon first came out in a Danish newspaper in 2005, it triggered a wave of protest actions in Islamic countries, including Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country. The protests intensified after the cartoon was reprinted by several European newspapers, whose editors defended their move under freedom of the press. But some publishers, subsequently, restrained further reprints.

The question now is, will Wordpress give in to Indonesia's demand? If it does, it will not be the first blog platform to do so. In 2007, Google gave up the IP address of a blogger who had been sued for defamation in Israel. Three months ago, Google was also directed by a local court in India to provide information on a blogger who complained about a Mumbai-based company. In 2006, Microsoft admitted that it blocked a blog by a Chinese journalist, which was hosted by MSN Space, to conform to Chinese laws. In 2003, Yahoo was accused of providing information that led to the conviction of a Chinese writer who was accused of providing state secrets to external parties.

Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have all defended their decisions, saying that they have to follow local laws and that they only provide information after a due process. Meanwhile, Wordpress appears to have made the first step to appease public opinion in Indonesia. It archived the offending blog,, for violating Wordpress' terms of service.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The New Kid in Malaysia's Blogosphere

One of the most exciting developments in the blogosphere is happening in Malaysia where bloggers are slowly but surely trying to chip away the government's notorious sensitivity to press freedom. And guess who is Malaysia's most popular blogger these days? It is no other than the former prime minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, whose government designed the draconian laws that kept an inquisitive media at bay for the 20 years he was in power. Through his blog,, Mahathir now "fights the system he perfected," reported the New York Times two weeks ago.

The first entry was made on May 1, 2008, Labor Day, which is traditionally marked by labor protests in various parts of the world. His blog is clearly a form of protest to the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. The first entry was a criticism of Mr. Abdullah's decision to form a commission to appoint judges. Since then, the 83-year-old leader has commented, in either English or Malay, on various political, social and economic issues of the day, from lobbying practices, the rule of law, and race, to traffic and attending a school reunion. He has criticized U.S. policies and recently wished President-Elect Barack Obama "the best of luck." Occasionally, he attacks his former deputy prime minister and now opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, and answers allegations against him and his family. But his harshest criticisms, for now, are reserved for Mr. Abdullah's government.

Indeed, Dr. Mahathir is now enjoying the very freedoms that his leadership sought to suppress. Malaysians, too, welcomed the entry of the iconic leader to the blogosphere. On its first day alone, Chedet received at least 10,000 visitors.

One wonders how the government is taking Dr. Mahathir's renewed popularity. His iconic status may have spared him the typical government reaction against its critics, but others have not been as lucky. One of Malaysia's most popular and outspoken bloggers, Raja Petra Kamaruddin (RPK), who manages Malaysia Today, was detained in September 2008 under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, and was freed only two months later. But RPK's problems are far from over. Yesterday, he was summoned for police questioning over reports that he had insulted Muslims.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Need to Teach Evaluation of Information

The sheer volume of information available online today is often overwhelming. The problems this creates for those who do not have the time to sort through it all, or those who are inexperienced in evaluating the quality of information, became apparent during this past election. I would hazard to claim thousands of Americans, and likely many others around the world, relied on sources such as,, and the Washington Post's Fact Checker to gauge the truthfulness of claims made during the campaign. But beyond a presidential campaign, what resources are available in evaluating information on the internet?

I recently spoke to a group of high school students, all pursuing research projects that excited them. All were also overwhelmed by the volume of information they were dealing with. The common question: How can we tell what's true? Simple corroboration was sometimes just not enough, and not unlike the rest of us, the more extreme claims stuck in their minds the most, for good or bad. Responsible research of their sources often led to competing claims regarding the agenda of that source, further complicating the picture of whether or not the information was truthful and objective. 

Fortunately, their teacher understands the problems and provides assistance. But what happens to the millions of other kids who may not be so lucky? Young people know how to operate the internet, but how many really know how to use it? To promote good citizenship, nationally and globally, students need to be taught how to evaluate information and the sources producing that information beyond the simple warning against reliance on Wikipedia.

The problem is not limited to the young. During the campaign, I received e-mails tying then-candidate Barack Obama to Armageddon by people who seemed to be believe Revelations clearly stated Armageddon would begin with the election of a US president approximately 40 years old and from a Muslim background. Never mind that Mohammed wasn't even born at the time Revelations is believed to have been written, nor that the US was about 1300 years from its founding. People receive unfiltered biased claims in their inbox every day without questioning the agenda of those producing it. After all, many of these e-mails are from trusted "sources," namely family and friends - the adult version of education on the grade school playground. For the newest in internet capabilities to inform and educate the masses, we should all take a lesson in fact-checking and information evaluation. Figuring out how is the challenge.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Prizing Academic Freedom

Recently, the Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law in New York City awarded its prestigious Stein Ethics Prize to Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Fordham University calls itself the Jesuit University of New York and continues to see its Jesuit founding as an integral part of its teaching students to serve the community and be good citizens. However, the question of the relationship between the Catholic Church and Fordham Law School came into question when Justice Breyer was awarded the Stein Prize.

Seemingly due to his authorship of the Supreme Court's decision that overturned Nebraska's ban on late-term abortion, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, reportedly rebuked school administrators. The cardinal's spokesman was quoted as saying, "As a result of these discussions, the cardinal is confident that a mistake of this sort will not happen again."

Fordham Law School students and professors were immediately incensed. An on-line petition was started as students decried the parochialism of the Catholic Church and the erosion of academic freedom. Many in academia would agree that blanket statements barring the law school from engaging in certain activities or giving awards to a Supreme Court justice smacks of censorship and harms the integrity of the academic institution.

However, this disagreement raises some fundamental questions that both academia and religious institutions have failed to deal with effectively. On many levels, religious leaders have failed to continue to play a real and relevant role in academia without impending academic freedom. With the fight over teaching intelligent design raging on in the public schools, the debate over the meaning of academic freedom continues in Fordham Law School and throughout the United States.

Religious leaders and academics both seem incapable of engaging each other in meaningful discussions. Instead of rebuking administrators after the decision, why wasn't there engagement with the decision making process? It could have been during that time that someone would have pointed out how Justice Breyer and the Church share a commitment to social justice and civil rights. That may not have been enough to satisfy the cardinal, but I've always thought education is really more about learning to live with people you disagree with than anything else. Although, that may simply be too much to ask of priests and lawyers.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Digital Social Responsibility Panel at Japan Society

It has been an eventful week. On Wednesday, I participated in the Japan Society's panel on Digital Social Responsibility: Search for a Sound, Responsible Information Society with Charla Griffy-Brown of Pepperdine, Jun Kurihara of Harvard, and Harriet Pearson of IBM. This conference could not have been better timed: It took place hours after Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft agreed to new guidelines that would aim to protect human rights, privacy, and free expression. From the Scientific American:

The three software giants today (Oct. 29) announced creation of the Global Network Initiative designed to persuade oppressive governments to allow their citizens to freely express opinions, via the Web in particular, without fear of

Participating companies must agree to "respect and protect the freedom of expression rights of their users when confronted with government demands, laws and regulations to suppress freedom of expression, remove content or otherwise limit access to information and ideas in a manner inconsistent with internationally recognized laws and standards," says the new group's guidelines.
The guidelines were a response to criticism from NGOs about Internet companies cooperating with the Chinese Government. From InformationWeek:

Yahoo helped launch the initiative after becoming one of several technology companies criticized for how they deal with restrictions on speech in foreign countries. Yahoo was accused of giving the Chinese government information about users that led to the jailing of dissidents. Google has been criticized for filtering search results to comply with demands from the Chinese government. MSN and Yahoo also filter search results to comply with Chinese government

GNI members said they commit to protect freedom of expression and privacy, partner with others for collective governance and accountability, and spread their objectives around the globe. They agreed to require governments to put information requests in writing and to interpret those requests as narrowly as possible.
As expected, there is already some skepticism about the initiative. From SA again:

Don't expect any radical chances results any time soon: companies joining the
initiative (at a cost of $100,000) have two years from the time they sign on to prove they're following the guidelines. It is unclear, however, the consequences a company faces if they join the initiative but fail to meet these guidelines.
Several themes emerged from the Japan Society panel. The overall theme is that companies and Internet users must build a foundation of trust in order to fully exploit the benefits of Web 2.0. That means stewardship of the Internet and of information will become a big focus--information stewardship happens to be something that IBM has been thinking about since the late 1960s. Some other big themes from the panel:

1. A "ubiquitous network society" or "collective intelligence" is emerging from the Internet and Web 2.0, allowing for better and quicker response to crises and problems. The use of crowd sourcing is one such example. With so much information out there, will the global economy begin to put a higher premium on other skills, such as empathy? (BusinessWeek has made this argument, too.)

2. The Web is allowing companies and operations to move from an international model to a multinational model to a truly global model in which data are processed in multiple places, through cloud computing, for example. As John Ruggie mentioned at the Carnegie Council this week, the speed and scope of business has surpassed traditional governing organizations like states. How do we keep up

3. Web 2.0 can help mitigate risk (as well as create new risks) in many areas, including supply chain, brand, and public relations. Lines between competition and cooperation are blurred as are those between friends and enemies. How do we better facilitate these interactions, for example to boost the "integrity of the crowds," as I would put it. This point was brought up by Andrew Zolli at our Web 2.0 panel at the Carnegie Council.

4. Finally, ethical leadership or "courageous leadership," as Kurihara put it, will be needed to resolve the paradoxes and ethical dilemmas posed by Web 2.0. Zolli made a similar point at our panel by saying that ethical leadership is the fastest mover affecting brand value. The others are about stewardship--social and environmental.

(Photo collage from Japan Society of Kurihara, Griffy-Brown, Pearson, and me.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

On Writing About Your Kids - Oversharing?

Slate writer Emily Bazelon has just written a piece in which she struggles with the ethical code of writing about one's children. It is a topic that is very much related to "oversharing," the problem that plagued Emily Gould, as Bazelon mentions toward the end of her article:

In my paranoid moments, I worry that by writing about our kids, we're encouraging them to loosen or lose their own boundaries. Then someday, they'll hurtle toward the vortex that produced the awful, self-destructive oversharing of former Gawker editor Emily Gould, as she related at such length in the New York Times Magazine recently.

I'd like to think, like many of the writers I talked to, that the small revelations I offer about my kids are harmless. But what if they're not? A few weeks ago, after writing about my 5-year-old son's frustrated search for his pre-soccer snacks, I got an e-mail from reader Marc Naimark. "I was just about to post the following to the Fray," he wrote. "Fortunately Emily uses her maiden name.

Otherwise she is being cruel level 9 on a scale of 10 to her kid. Stuff on the internet lasts forever, and I'm not sure that 16-year-old Simon is going to be pleased for his friends to learn that he used to scream bloody murder about not finding his friggin' veggie sticks." This gave me pause. Maybe I need new ground rules. Or maybe at some point it will be time to stop. Except not just yet. Last night, I was talking with Eli about his misadventures at recess and thought, ah, good topic.

A problem with writing about one's kids is that the writer may not realize that he or she will be creating the first published narrative of a person's life. As Bazelon notes, in the bottomless Internet, what we write will be around for a long, long time. In my view, an ethical approach to capturing a child's life on a blog would include a eye toward fairness. If you are setting the permanent record on one's beginnings, would it be something that person would be proud of later on? Is it fair for you to be making it public? How would you feel if your kid were blogging about your life?

The Slate article generated a lot of discussion from the Fray. One posting applied the Golden Rule:
As with any ethical question, the golden rule is a pretty good guide, in my opinion. Here it is stretched by time and perspective:
1) Would the child presently want to be written about in the story as published?
2) Would the child AT ANY POINT IN THE FUTURE want to have been written about in the story as published?
It seems to me that there is such uncertainty in both these questions, especially the second, that the governing presumption must be not to publish, with only occassional (sic) exceptions. As there is certainly some wisdom to be gained by the writing and by the reading of others' writing on the subject of one's child-raising experiences, here is an additional ethically safe route, it seems to me:
1) write anything and everything one likes
2) publish nothing, or only that which passes the strict golden rule test above
3) when one's children reach some age of majority and independence, present the material for their assent or veto and publish accordingly

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ethics of Friending and Gossip

This is interesting. An old article on the ethics of Facebook de-friending in Slate magazine is now on the most emailed list. Here is the author's advice on de-friending in 2007:

Is it OK to de-friend someone?

Say you've been too generous with your friending policy, and a gaggle of strangers is now hogging your News Feed. You too can launch a Great Facebook Purge. The beauty of this is that no headline or notification pops up in your ex-friend's inbox announcing, "You've suffered a humiliating rejection at the hands of _________." It's all very stealthy, thus making it the perfect way to deal with promiscuous frienders.

But what if your so-called friend scans through their friend list and notices that you've gone missing? First off, anyone who is policing their Facebook account this rigorously is morbidly obsessed and thus best kept at arm's length. If she confronts you about it, the best strategy is to plead ignorance: Perhaps the site's massive growth has led to some unexpected technical difficulties? Re-friend, then wait at least six months before trying another de-friending.

When we started this blog, people thought an Internet ethics was far fetched, but the idea seems to be catching on--even with those who are not completely aware of it. You may have seen the expose, tell-all story in the New York Times last weekend from the woman who gossiped her way to stardom but now feels a bit dirty about it. This is a funny excerpt from the article (funny in a sad way):

As Henry and I fought, I kept coming back to the idea that I had a right to say whatever I wanted. I don’t think I understood then that I could be right about being free to express myself but wrong about my right to make that self-expression public in a permanent way. I described my feelings in the language of empowerment: I was being creative, and Henry wanted to shut me up. His point of view was just as extreme: I wasn’t generously sharing my thoughts; I was compulsively seeking gratification from strangers at the expense of the feelings of someone I actually knew and loved. I told him that writing, especially writing about myself and my surroundings, was a fundamental part of my personality, and that if he wanted to remain in my life, he would need to reconcile himself to being part of the world I described.

After a standoff, he conceded that I should be allowed to put the post back up. As he sulked in the other room, I retyped what I’d written, feeling vindicated but slightly queasy for reasons I didn’t quite understand yet.

That "queasy" feeling is your moral compass trying to tell you something: Stop what you are doing.

Total freedom to act with pure impunity is not a good thing. It is something moral philosophers have talked about throughout history. Sometimes restraint is the kindest thing you can do.

The ironic thing is that this meta-narrative of how the author felt bad about doing something only worked to promote her story and (probably) compound the damage to those hurt. I gave a talk at Net Impact in San Francisco on Friday about Internet ethics. I asked who had read this New York Times article. Everyone had read it but no one could finish it because they were so repulsed by the actions of the author.

If you did make it to the end of the article, you would have seen that the author came around:

I understand that by writing here about how I revealed my intimate life online, I’ve now revealed even more about what happened during the period when I was most exposed. Well, I’m an oversharer — it’s not like I’m entirely reformed. But lately, online, I’ve found myself doing something unexpected: keeping the personal details of my current life to myself. This doesn’t make me feel stifled so much as it makes me feel protected, as if my thoughts might actually be worth honing rather than spewing. But I still have Emily Magazine as a place to spew when I need to. It will never again be the friendly place that it was in 2004 — there are plenty of negative comments now, and I don’t delete them. I still think about closing the door to my online life and locking them out, but then I think of everything else I’d be locking out, and I leave it open.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blogging the China Earthquake

Chinese citizens have been turning to the Internet for information on loved ones who went missing after an earthquake in Sichuan province took up to 13,000 lives. Twitter, the online tool that allows friends and family members to send short updates to one another via IM, SMS, and social networking sites like Facebook, has helped many Chinese keep each other up-to-date on their safety as well as on news related to the quake.

There's been discussion of Twitters becoming more and more popular as a "platform for serious discourse," used by citizen and professional journalists alike. Twitter apparently broke the news about the earthquake before the earthquake tracking agency, U.S. Geological Survey.

But the influx of information spread via Twitter, as well as YouTube and various blogs, in some cases may be raising more concerns than it's quelling. Many Chinese bloggers are questioning why the government wasn't able to predict the quake and help citizens prepare:

Local media in April noted water suddenly draining from a large pool in Hubei province, east of Sichuan. That report has been snapped up by bloggers looking for natural omens.

Other bloggers have unearthed a statement by a local government bureau in Sichuan, quelling rumours of an earthquake about a week before Monday's disaster.

Some "conspiracies" floating the blogosphere are that the government may have tried to ignore the earthquake out of a "desire for a peaceful Olympics." According to the UK Telegraph:

[Blogger] Shanghaiist posted 90 updates to the story, and started a rumour that the authorities had prior warning of the earthquake which provoked an official rebuke and more chatter across blogs.

The website gathered together material as diverse as reports that spy satellite images of the region were being used in the rescue operation, to the fact that Monday was Buddha's birthday, to a posting about how people killed in the earthquake were "victims of China's economic miracle.

Some have compared the situation to the handling of Hurricane Katrina by New Orleans and the US government. The situation also looks a lot like the 2003 SARS epidemic, when Chinese citizens spread exaggerated accounts of the numbers affected by the disease through SMS, sparking widespread panic and international criticism of the CCP for not better managing the crisis.

Times Online quotes "established journalist" Chang Ping's reaction to the quake:

" someone with relatives in the affected area, I could not stop myself from seeking whatever information I could ...”

He added: "The information was clearly unreliable, and it was difficult to tell what was true or false.

"Together it all spoke of a single problem, and that is the people's fierce appetite for information when faced with a public incident."

Most talk about citizen journalism revolves around whether or not it should be considered reliable or professional. On the one hand, this type of panic on the blogosphere could serve to delegitimize the Internet as a news source. But irresponsible blogging could ironically have just as much of a positive impact as the citizen journalists uncovering the truth about the
not-always-transparent Chinese government.

WSJ reports that the state-run Xinhua has "proved surprisingly aggressive at covering the earthquake in Sichuan province" to protect the country's reputation now that they have millions of competing accounts being spread through the Internet:

A regulation promoted as increasing government transparency took effect just two weeks ago. The regulation urges government officials to disclose more information to the public, including "information on the management, usage and distribution of social donations in funds and in kind for emergency and disaster relief."

At the same time, the leash has tightened on the country's news media. Just last August, the government approved a law restricting news outlets in covering natural disasters. The law says that "units and individuals are prohibited from fabricating or spreading false information regarding emergencies and government efforts to cope with emergencies," according to a Xinhua report at the time.

Though the law was aimed more at relative muckrakers, Xinhua was affected too. Yet since the earthquake, it has filed more than 200 reports and updates...

The verdict isn't clear when it comes to Xinhua's performance in covering the disaster. "Are they going to ask deeper questions about possible early warnings?" [David Bandurski, a researcher with the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong] says. "We'll wait and see."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Israel-Palestine Wiki-Conflict

According to Electronic Intifada (EI), the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) "is orchestrating a secret, long-term campaign to infiltrate the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia to rewrite Palestinian history, pass off crude propaganda as fact, and take over Wikipedia administrative structures to ensure these changes go either undetected or unchallenged."

An EI report documents action alerts emailed by Gilead Ini, a senior research analyst for CAMERA, which explain in detail how CAMERA volunteers can promote Israel's image on Wikipedia without being perceived as having an agenda:

"So, for example, imagine that you get rid of or modify a problematic sentence in an article alleging that 'Palestinian [sic] become suicide bombers to respond to Israel's oppressive policies.' You should, in parallel leave a comment on that article's discussion page (either after or before making the change). Avoid defending the edit by arguing that 'Israel's policies aren't 'oppression,' they are defensive. And anyway Palestinians obviously become suicide bombers for other reasons for example hate education!' Instead, describe how this sentence violates Wikipedia's policies and guidelines. One of the core principles is that assertions should adhere to a Neutral Point of View, usually abbreviated NPOV. (The opposite of NPOV is POV, or Point of View, which is basically another way of saying subjective statement, or opinion.) So it would be best to note on the discussion page that 'This sentence violates Wikipedia's NPOV policy, since the description of Israel's policies as 'oppressive' is an opinion. In addition, it is often noted by Middle East experts that one of the reasons Palestinians decide to become suicide bombers is hate education and glorification of martyrdom in Palestinian society ...'"
(The EI report notes: "In fact, there have been numerous studies debunking claims about Palestinian 'hate education,' or 'glorification of martyrdom' causing suicide bombings.")

In some emails, "a veteran Wikipedia editor, known as 'Zeq,'" offers advice to CAMERA volunteers, including a how-to on how some of them can become "neutral administrators"in charge of arbitrating disputes over contested articles.

Writing for the Jerusalum Post, Andre Oboler questions why EI would expect any different from the tools of Web 2.0:
To understand why this accusation of "infiltration" is so poisonous one must understand the nature of Wikipedia. Its basic idea is that anyone can edit the on-line encyclopedia. How, then, how can anyone be said to be infiltrating it?

Some might protest, "But these people were seeking to coordinate and thereby achieve a level of control over the editing process!"

I say, "So what?" This is how Web 2.0 works. This is Web 2.0 democracy. It is not perfect, and many would argue it is not even a good idea. Yet this is the model on which Wikipedia is based.
But the JPost author does admit that CAMERA should have been more transparent. Electronic Intifada reported:
Throughout the documents EI obtained, CAMERA operatives stress the need for stealth and secrecy. In his initial action alert, Ini requests that recipients "not forward it to members of the news media." In a 17 March follow-up email sent to volunteers, Ini explains that he wants to make the orchestrated effort appear to be the work of unaffiliated individuals. Thus he advises that "There is no need to advertise the fact that we have these group discussions."
Devin Stewart previously blogged about transparency concerns on Wikipedia, particularly that it "allows anonymous editors to change or delete entries."At the end of April, an IP address traced to the US Department of Justice was blocked by Wikipedia for "vandalism" after repeated attempts to remove information related to the CAMERA controversy. CAMERA encouraged its members to create screen names (but not those that could be seen as pro-Israel) and log in before making edits so as to avoid having their IP addresses recorded.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Blogger's Publishing Responsibility: Speech at The Korea Society

Here is me talking recently at The Korea Society about a blogger's responsibility as a publisher (with a little story to illustrate):

The Empathy Economy: CSR and Web 2.0

I just got back from participating in an innovative discussion this week in Orlando at SAP’s SAPPHIRE event. The workshop covered the intersection of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and web 2.0. I am posting my initial thoughts on Fairer Globalization and the Ethical Blogger because the topics are relevant to both blogs. Here are some of the points I made and heard:

From an ethics point of view, web 2.0 has the potential of dissolving the false divisions between people—whether it is between nations and communities, producers and consumers, or labor and capital. With more ownership—both in influence and voting power—of the global economy, these divisions can fall away.

I start with the premise that companies are full of people, individuals, each of whom has an ethical duty. Naturally, some of these people are bloggers and some are stockholders. Companies can find champions outside the corporate walls to force change within a company for the benefit of society beyond the simple bottom line.

An ethics of the web is needed. Without one, we could face more government regulation, creating an excuse for governments to control information and connectivity. Some of the ethics of the web are simple: link to others, log in frequently, and share content. They are the principles that speak to the scientific origins of the web. Other principles might focus on the integrity of the information on the web; those would be transparency, honesty, and disclosure.

In the case of CSR, companies should consider the principles of sincerity, innovation, and pluralism (as Mikkel Sorensen and Nicolai Peitersen have argued in “CSR 2.0”). Companies can draw on the infinite wisdom out there (in publics). They have this great list of principles for CSR 2.0:

1. Inclusiveness – involving stakeholders directly from beginning to
2. Market driven – no longer expert driven
3. Innovation – smart companies turn market pressure into stakeholder led
4. Sincerity – you can no longer uphold an image that is not real
5. Co-ownership – a truly embedded value-based culture requires
6. Dynamics – standards and annual audits replaced by 24/7 engagement
7. Quality - CSR as immersive business strategy
8. Personal - It’s about you, not your sector! What are your own
9. Pluralism – number and nature of CSR projects will expand
10. Proximity - local impact is global

Megacommunities or multistakeholder initiatives become a reality with web 2.0, producing more sustainable solutions. Not only are the solutions drawing on more information but they also get more buy-in from increased participation. Web 2.0 has empowered civil society to do its job: producing social values and fostering the positive dynamic between companies and civil society.

The convergence of web 2.0 and CSR also occurs in the need for public goods. The web is a public good much like the environment, public health, and human rights. In this way, web 2.0 and public goods can help one another. The revolution in the relationship between corporations and society is syncing up with the IT revolution in web 2.0, democratizing corporate governance (I suggest democratic wealth funds here).

Formal compliance is giving way to informal compliance measures, making ethics more important relative to strict law. As I put it, in this new business environment, what is increasingly important is empathy, not regulation. As one panelist put it, it is democracy without rules, challenging the way companies communicate. As Booz Allen has put it, companies are now “always on.”

Does the intersection of web 2.0 and CSR bring about mutual benefit? I think so. Transparency is fostered when companies are forced to listen to their stakeholders. And privacy can actually be strengthened through transparency. Some people track themselves online to preclude further surveillance, and more information availability can eliminate the need to investigate. I have suggested blogging our emails in order to deter people from writing things that are hurtful or libelous.

Making sure web 2.0 brings about a better world will be about fostering trust. Software that can facilitate trust will be a huge business opportunity in this realm.

Finally, time is precious. I would assert that efficiency is ethical. Several people at the workshop dreamed of a day when our communications become more streamlined, eliminating the need of outdated methods like email. Remember when email was the future?

Channels for communication between the corporation and civil society were spelled out: blogs (topic specific); wikis (with a final goal); social networking such as Facebook (for awareness and promotion); crowdsourcing (to ask crowds to solve problems or prioritize goals); and the boycott and buycott.
Photo by linkerjpatrick.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

For the truth about Zimbabwe, turn to the blogs first

If you are looking for timely news and information regarding the tenuous political situation in Zimbabwe, you might want to turn to a blog.

Over the the last several weeks I have identified a troubling delay in the reporting of hard news from Zimbabwe by major Western media outlets. Part of this is of course a function of President Robert Mugabe's open disdain of foreign media. Barry Bearak, the Johannesburg bureau chief for the New York Times, and Stephen Bevan of the U.K. Sunday Telegraph, were arrested and spent several days in a Zimbabwean jail last month for the "crime" of practicising journalsim without accreditation by the regime. The Committee to Protect Journalists claims that "seven years of government intimidation and deteriorating economic conditions have prompted a steady flow of Zimbabwean journalists to leave the country."

But a significant part of this news deficit seems related to the sourcing demands of traditional media. The blog This is Zimbabwe, covered the story of a Chinese ship carrying arms to Zimbabwe about a week before the New York Times did. Then there is the case of armed Chinese soldiers spotted patrolling the streets of the city of Mutare, Zimbabwe's fourth largest city. The story was reported on the website of the Association of Zimbabwean Journalists in the UK on April 15th, but only appeared in the Times and the Independent on the 19th.

I'll be the first to admit that these stories, when read on a blog, initially carry the whiff of rumor. This is especially so for second and third person accounts of events related to a blogger via text message (SMS), as is often the case in places like Zimbabwe where internet access is rarer than cell phone service. In both cases, however, the stories turned out to be true, but the slow moving traditional media either sat on or ignored them.

About 10 days ago, I attended a lunch with Eric M. Bost, the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. He told us he had recently dined with Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Although projected by many to have won the presidency, Tsvangirai now lives in self-imposed exile in South Africa as chaos and despotism gain increasing traction in his country. Bost told of videos he had seen featuring Mugabe supporters entering districts supportive of the MDC, dragging people from their beds, beating them, and setting their houses on fire. As the fires burned, these thugs were heard asking the local people, "Who will you vote for now?"

All of this is getting soft play in the traditional press. In my opinion, U.S. coverage of the crisis has severely undereported the degree of violence, intimidation and brutality going on in Zimbabwe. To the average American, the situation comes across as a slightly heightened version the Florida recount of 2000 rather than state terror on par with the most despicable regimes of the 20th century.

Is this because, as the Committe to Protect Journalists notes, the foreign press has been run out of Zimbabwe? Or is their a more fundamental problem with the way in which information is processed and regurgitated by the traditional media?

Press freedom cartoons by Mick Stern are available on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

UPDATE (5/9/08 1PM EST): The New York Times is preparing to run this report by Celia W. Dugger in the paper tomorrow. It appeared on their website ten minutes ago. Finally, someone is reporting on the brutality and intimidation in Zimbabwe. They might also have included pictures such as this, this and this documenting the torture (warning, the last one is pretty graphic). Or they might have run this photo of three-year old Samson, beaten because his parents work on a white-owned farm.

Photos taken from This is Zimbabwe, a blog published by Sokwanele, a civic action support group based in Zimbabwe. Their name translates as, Enough is Enough.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

'Codes of [Blogging] Conduct'- Reflections on Cyberethics Panel

'Code.' Four letters. Two vowels. Two consonants. One syllable. Over 1.6 billion Google search results.

In the blogsphere, the first reaction to the word 'code' is computer programming. Whether the initial thought is equal sign, quotation mark, or < and >, code holds specific connotations for the blogger who seeks to embed a video or create a hyperlink.

The word 'code' takes an entirely different meaning when paired with the word 'conduct.' 'Code of conduct' is defined as a group of expectations outlining the proper practices for an individual or organization. When this 'code of conduct' is moved from the gala circuit to the Internet, specifically to the blogsphere, a door to an ethical debate about duty and expression is thrust open.

So what, if any, 'code of conduct' should the blogging community uphold?

Many companies that host blogs set out basic rules of engagement. For, the host of this blog, its 'code of conduct' is as follows:

We respect our users' ownership of and responsibility for the content they choose to share. It is our belief that censoring this content is contrary to a service that bases itself on freedom of expression.

In order to uphold these values, we need to curb abuses that threaten our ability to provide this service and the freedom of expression it encourages. As a result, there are some boundaries on the type of content [including pedophilia, incest, bestiality, commercial or child pornography, hateful or violent content, or material that violates copyright infringement] that can be hosted with Blogger. The boundaries we've defined are those that both comply with legal requirements and that serve to enhance the service as a whole.
Some groups have adapted preexisting 'codes of conduct' for the blogsphere. has created A Bloggers' Code of Ethics, adapted from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics:
Be Honest and Fair.
Minimize Harm.
Be Accountable.
Others have approached it at a more individual level- creating 'codes of conduct' for themselves, that they then recommend to others. Tim O'Reilly writer of O'Reilly Radar sees a 'code of conduct,' and more importantly a discussion, stemming from the statements below:
Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
Ignore the trolls.
Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.
If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.
Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.
Author of Rebecca's Pocket, Rebecca Blood, argues that the six rules below form a basis of ethical behavior for online publishers of all kinds:
Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true.
If material exists online, link to it when you reference it.
Publicly correct any misinformation.
Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.
Disclose any conflict of interest.
Note questionable and biased sources.
All of these 'codes of conduct' share one common ideal and that is to be open and honest as a writer, and active and engaged as a reader. So should the 'code of conduct' for the blogsphere be as simple as that? For now it's up to each blogger and reader to decide.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Prognosis Positive for Ethical Bloggers

Our groundbreaking Cyberethics luncheon last week was preceded by a cerebral dinner the evening before with several media experts and personalities, including Carnegie Council fellow Josh Fouts, writer Alex Koppelman, and Linden Labs CEO and Second Life creator Philip Rosedale aka Philip Linden. (Phil is stepping down as CEO of Linden Labs.) One of the major themes we discussed that evening was the relationship between online and offline identity and accountability.

Phil's contention was that the identities that we create online, in virtual worlds such as Second Life, may be truer to our real identities than what we are born with. In a sense that philosopher John Rawls might have a appreciated, since we are in control of our online identities, the persona you create online is in some ways closer to your "true" self, if such a thing exists. Panelist Rita King, a Carnegie Council fellow, blogs about Phil's view in her post "Becoming More of Yourself" in Dispatches from the Imagination Age:

In the last few months, I've spoken about the cultural value of the Imagination Age on four continents, and I know how people react. Some are fascinated. Some are disgusted. Many respond with the predictable, "But I already have a first life." Some lament a perceived decrease in socialization and intimacy between people. Quite the opposite. The issue of virtual identity is an extremely critical one in the development of global culture.

"When you're in Second Life," Philip Rosedale said during the hearing, "there's a very strong sense that you are kind of, in a way, becoming more of yourself."

I never expected it to happen to me. But it did.

The name of Rita's online identity is Eureka Dejavu. The fact that her name online is different from her real life name begs a question that we have dealt with a lot on Ethical Blogger: How do you hold people accountable online if they use fake names, pseudonyms, or no names at all (anonymous)?

Rita, Phil, and others answered that like an author who writes a book under a pseudonym, a blogger or inhabitant of a virtual world spends a great deal of time in creating his or her online persona (a "truer" identity). With this time and energy invested, they accumulate a reputation that they feel compelled to defend and protect. In other words, if the dream of a true online identity holds, these people will avoid reckless behavior.

The problem, which Phil and others admitted to, appears when people create multiple online identities that fit their mood rather than their "self." When identity is split, there is less accountability. Phil said people might have a party self or a mean self or a nice self online. This could create a problem. When identity is unified, online societies can hold that person more accountable.

And this dynamic of people investing themselves online and related societies emerging online was the essence of the positive prognosis for Ethical Bloggers. No one wants the Internet regulated or censored as it is in China. The alternative is that we govern ourselves--that a sense of ethics emerges, not regulatory regimes or even systems of laws.

More on the Cyberethics panel later. Stay tuned for video clips of Alex Koppelman, Steve Clemons, Rita King, Michael Getler, and Jay Rosen as well.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Reflections on Cyberethics Lunch

Just wanted to pass along some reactions to the excellent discussion of cyberethics at the Carnegie Council this afternoon.

I think it is very important to acknowledge how important 9/11 is, and will continue to be, to the substance of today’s discussion. There was consensus among the panelists about the benefit of tapping into informed online communities on particular topics, and September 11th is an event around which perhaps the largest, and most diverse, such community has naturally coalesced.

While it is important for the New York Times to acknowledge, as they did, the deficiencies in their reporting leading up to the Iraq war, it is equally important to recognize the damage done by those deficiencies, and others like them. The atmosphere which contributed to the failures the Times acknowledged would have been impossible without September 11th, and as someone who was serving a gatekeeper function for newspaper editors in years immediately following September 11th , I can personally attest to the emotional component of the limits that developed on mainstream reporting during that period.

It just so happens that 9/11 occurred at a moment in history when citizens were not confined to traditional outlets of information. Official secrecy surrounding the event motivated many reasonable people to search for alternative sources of information. The credibility of the most of sources which ended up filling those gaps is certainly open to question, but it is important to acknowledge that the ability of conspiracy theorists to influence so many people stemmed in part from the (largely excusable and not conspiracy-related) short-comings of mainstream coverage. As a result, 9/11 became an important test-case for what contributions the Internet can make to educating the public about the world.

I was shocked to hear the questioner’s assertion that 1/3rd of Americans believe the CIA had something to do with 9/11, and if that is the case, it does not speak well of what the Internet’s contributions have been thus far. Whether or not the percentage is accurate, even the use of that figure in a setting like today’s discussion is striking.

It is often repeated that newspapers constitute the first draft of history, but the question of what role blogs will play in drafting history is only starting to emerge. As one of the panelists pointed out, there have already been instances in which individual bloggers have impacted a story such that it would be impossible to write an accurate historical account without mentioning them. I want to be 100% clear that I am not saying that I think the CIA had anything to do with 9/11. What I am saying is that our collective understanding of the event itself, and the factors leading up to it, has certainly been informed by the presence of the Internet- and that is important. As that history continues to evolve, I believe it will be one of the most important battlegrounds where the competing forces discussed today will vie for the public’s trust.

Continuing with a forward looking focus, the other comment I have is about something that was referenced in Devin Stewart's opening remarks; the generational element of the range in perspectives regarding the role of the internet in journalism.

I feel very lucky to have “grown-up” with the Internet. When my father first brought the net into our house, it was all text-based chatrooms and it took so long to download anything you weren’t supposed to be looking at that it was hardly worth it. While I think its important not to overestimate the influence the net has on kids’ mental development, I’m not sure how I would have handled the today’s Internet at the age when I first encountered its basic predecessor. I recently had the opportunity to discuss these themes with some high school students, and while it’s difficult for me to put into words, it was clear that we were approaching the Internet from two very different perspectives.

There certainly was at least one generation gap separating today’s panelists and I suspect another huge gap in perception already exists between people my age (26) and those ten years younger about their relationship to the net. As the medium continues to develop and these young people enter the marketplace of ideas, I am very curious to see how their perspectives on the role of the net in journalism will differ from someone like Mr. Koppelman, who, by that time, is likely to be serving the editorial role discussed as being so important to the continued evolution of the medium.

I think a well informed teenager would have made a useful contribution to today’s discussion. While he or she would not have the depth of knowledge and background on the issues being discussed, I think it would give the audience a preview of the attitudes of that will be taking the medium in yet undefined directions.

Monday, March 31, 2008

An unexpected catch to Amazon's wishlist

A Japanese blogger reports on her surprise at how the default setting for Amazon’s wishlist leaves your full name and email address open to the public. To begin with, Japan has no custom of listing the things they want before an event (such as bridal registry, or a present list for birthdays or holidays). There is no equivalent word for “wish list” in Japanese, and in fact recently changed the name of the wish list from “wish list” in English to “list of things I want” in Japanese. The author of the blog worries that the default setting of Amazon leaving all information open to the public will not be compatible with Japanese society, currently obsessed with private information leakage and protection. Internet has permeated modern society to the extent that each nation has developed its own internet culture—MNCs now must be savvy of the subtle differences in each country’s internet culture as well as their culture in the traditional sense.

-Watson Institute for International Affairs Research Assistant

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Viewer Protection or Political Suppression?

Following the violence in Tibet the past several weeks, China has blocked access to YouTube and other websites showing videos of the riots. The Wall Street Journal ran a story last week about the inconsistencies in YouTube’s censorship policies in Asia and the Middle East:

In Thailand, in order to be accessible, [YouTube] agreed to block Thai users from seeing clips deemed insulting to the king in violation of Thai law. In Turkey, YouTube has suspended the account of the person who uploaded the Ataturk video, though the site remains banned there. In Myanmar, YouTube was banned after clips of protesting monks appeared on the site. In that case, YouTube declined to remove the clips and remains banned.

Media analysts say YouTube's string of censorship flare-ups -- and the site's sometimes inconsistent responses -- indicate it needs to develop a more transparent strategy for dealing with these issues. YouTube's community guidelines state the site encourages "free speech and defend[s] everyone's right to express unpopular points of view." But the site also reserves the right to remove content it deems inappropriate, which gives it significant discretion when it comes to politically sensitive content.
The article states that YouTube often has to choose between “bending to censorship and losing business opportunities.” But YouTube isn’t just bending to foreign governments, and censorship is more than a business development issue.

The WSJ article leaves out mention of the Egyptian political turmoil and violence which was caught on video last fall by activist and YouTube user Wael Abbas. Abbas is the first blogger to receive the Knight International Journalism Award for his work, which led to the conviction of police for torture, but YouTube suspended his account. The nearly 100 images “including clips depicting purported police brutality, voting irregularities and anti-government demonstrations” that Abbas had uploaded were blocked, not just in Egypt but worldwide.

According to Reuters, YouTube told Abbas that the videos generated complaints about the content of torture. Human rights activists protested, including Gamal Eid, head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, who argued that the intent of Abbas to expose human rights violations should have been taken into account. Abbas’ access was restored in December and the majority of his clips were allowed back online.

The WSJ article discusses a similar case in Russia:
After being alerted by users last month, YouTube removed a video clip that appeared to document abuse of prisoners at a Russian prison camp that YouTube determined violated the site's graphic-violence policy. It eventually restored the video but required viewers to click to consent to watch a clip that "may contain content that is inappropriate for some users." YouTube says its staff hadn't initially been aware that the video was meant to document alleged human-rights abuses.
Where is the line between protecting viewers and censoring content of political value? Should YouTube be required to develop more consistent guidelines when it comes to political censorship, and in doing so is it YouTube's responsibility to decipher users’ motives?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blogging and Health

Policy Innovations ran a story earlier this year about addiction problems related to online gaming, citing an American Medical Association report suggesting that "gaming addiction is likely to be a subset of Internet addiction and may cause negative physical, psychosocial, or behavioral problems."

An search for "Internet addiction" returns over 400 books, mostly self-help guides, and you can take online quizzes to help you determine if you suffer from excessive Internet use. According to the New York Times, the constant pressure some bloggers feel to keep their blogs up-to-date can create stress-related health problems.

But a study released this month suggests otherwise. Researchers James Baker and Susan Moore from the Swinburn University of Technology surveyed MySpace users who were intending to start blogging and found in follow-up questionnaires that “after two months of regular blogging, people felt they head better social support and friendship networks than those who did not blog.”

We found potential bloggers were less satisfied with their friendships and they felt less socially integrated, they didn't feel as much part of a community as the people who weren't interested in blogging," Ms Moore said.

"They were also more likely to use venting or expressing your emotions as a way of coping.

"It was as if they were saying 'I'm going to do this blogging and it's going to help me'."
In the follow-up:

Bloggers reported a greater sense of belonging to a group of like-minded people and feeling more confident they could rely on others for help.

All respondents, whether or not they blogged, reported feeling less anxious, depressed and stressed after two months of online social networking.

Are these findings contradictory, or does blogging have different effects on different personality types? It would seem that individuals with addictive personalities or compulsive tendencies would be more inclined to run into health problems with continuous blogging, whereas those with problems socializing offline may find blogging more helpful.

If the latter is true, does that mean a code of blogging ethics would have to be tailored to address individual psychological or social predispositions?

Well-Informed on the Internet

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government--Thomas Jefferson

As the primary season draws closer and closer to the end, it is important to look back and reflect on the role the Internet plays for politicians and their constituency. At a basic level the Internet provides a vast array of information. Some of that information is valid and accurate, while other pieces of it, simple put, are not. As Lee Gomes writes in the Wall Street Journal article today "Does the Web Deserve The Power It Gained To Influence Politics?:"

Considering the rapidly growing number of Americans who rely on the Web to follow the election and judge its players -- even if mostly via mainstream-media sites -- it's a good time to look at all the Web does very well with politics, and at what it messes up.

Gomes explores the role that Web videos, blogs, forums, and email play. For him each is a mixed bag that has “the ability either to elevate or to debase the political discussion.” Web videos show full speeches and also napping politicians. Blogs and forums, allow for a democratized form of expression, but also tend to focus on the issues of the moment and not ones of the platform. Email provides an efficient and effective way to spread information to contacts regardless of false statements contained within them.

For the individual, the Internet has shifted the power of information, to a large extent, into their hands (or fingertips). The increase in speed and directness at which individuals can obtain and post information about a given candidate makes the Internet an obvious choice for investigation and research. It is up to the individual to sort through the onslaught of information that is provided to them- to determine what information comes from reliable sources and what information is created in the mind of an angry teenager in Springfield. The art of being efficiently and effectively well-informed is about sifting through the vast sands of information to find the reliable golden nuggets that will help the individual decide how to vote.

For the politician, the Internet, much like television and the radio before it, is creating opportunities to expand to a greater audience. The successful use of current technologies can help win campaigns or improve approval ratings. On the one hand, FDR effectively used the medium of radio when he broadcasted fireside chats to his constituency. On the other hand, Nixon poorly used the medium of television when he lost the first presidential debate on television.

The newest presidential hopefuls should aware of the positives and the negatives of the Internet. Down the line, the ones that are able to use it most effectively will most likely be the ones in office.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Does News Polarization Lead to Truthiness?

Blogger Alex asks if a polarized news environment may lead to what some call truthiness? Very provocative. (Accoding to Wikipedia, truthiness is a word that U.S. television comedian Stephen Colbert popularized in 2005 as a satirical term to describe things that a person claims to know intuitively or "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.[1])

I think truthiness is a very real risk. You have at least two trends playing out here. First group polarization: People converge to parts of the Internet that they agree with, fostering extremism. Related to that, you have news polarization, the market reaction to satisfy the demand for polarized takes on a narrow set of issues--Iraq, U.S. politics, etc. Meanwhile, media is losing an ethic that may have been unique to newspaper people. As Eric Alterman writes in the New Yorker article this week "Out of Print:"

Among the most significant aspects of the transition from "dead tree" newspapers to a world of digital information lies in the nature of "news" itself. The American newspaper (and the nightly newscast) is designed to appeal to a broad audience, with conflicting values and opinions, by virtue of its commitment to the goal of objectivity. Many newspapers, in their eagerness to demonstrate a sense of balance and impartiality, do not allow reporters to voice their opinions publicly, march in demonstrations, volunteer in political campaigns, wear political buttons, or attach bumper stickers to their cars.

By contrast, new media is very much about satisfying the desire for opinions on why things matter and what should we expect. Alterman writes:

Rupert Murdoch, in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, in April, 2005—two years before his five-billion-dollar takeover of Dow Jones & Co. and the Wall Street Journal—warned the industry’s top editors and publishers that the days when “news and information were tightly controlled by a few editors, who deigned to tell us what we could and should know,” were over. No longer would people accept “a godlike figure from above” presenting the news as “gospel.” Today’s consumers “want news on demand, continuously updated. They want a point of view about not just what happened but why it happened. . . . And finally, they want to be able to use the information in a larger community—to talk about, to debate, to question, and even to meet people who think about the world in similar or different ways.”