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.”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Group Polarization to News Polarization

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein has described an undesirable phenomenon he calls "group polarization"—the Internet can accelerate the tendency of people to gravitate to groups that agree with their views, thereby making extremism more likely (from his Oct. 2000 Yale Law Journal):

The central empirical finding is that group discussion is likely to shift judgments toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by the median of predeliberation judgments. This is true if a group decision is required; if individuals are polled anonymously afterwards, they are likely to shift in precisely the same way.

A new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that a similar polarization or "narrowing" is happening in news coverage as well.

As AP writer David Bauder puts it, "The Internet has profoundly changed journalism, but not necessarily in ways that were predicted even a few years ago."

The most worrisome statistic might be this (from Bauder's article):

Two stories — the war in Iraq and the 2008 presidential election campaign — represented more than a quarter of the stories in newspapers, on television and online last year, the project found.

Take away Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, and news from all of the other countries in the world combined filled up less than 6 percent of the American news hole, the project said.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

'Powerful' Blogs

The Guardian has just come up with their list of the '50 Most Powerful Blogs'. Do you agree with their choices? What makes a blog 'powerful'--and, by that same token, how are you defining 'powerful'? Here are their top ten:

1. The Huffington Post

2. Boing Boing

3. Techcrunch

4. Kottke

5. Dooce

6. Perezhilton

7. Talking points memo

8. Icanhascheezburger

9. Beppe Grillo

10. Gawker

Monday, March 10, 2008

An article of note...

Jeff Bercovici over at's Mixed Media blog has a great article out this morning about none other than ethics and blogging, providing some good context for the O'Reilly-Huffington showdown and the Tilley suicide. You can read it here: The Wild Web.

Two Ethical Blogger Events in April

Two upcoming Ethical Blogger events. We invite you to attend...

Cyberethics: The Emerging Codes of Online Conduct
Thursday, April 3, 2008

12:00 PM to 2:00 PM

This Workshop for Ethics in Business luncheon will explore the codes of online conduct that are emerging as new media gains more influence in political and business affairs. Going beyond commonsense ethical codes on the Internet, such as honesty, accuracy, and transparency, this panel will examine the relationship between money, the media, and the health of American democracy. What role does private money play in influencing elections and how does this influence play out in the blogosphere? How is the media performing as a watchdog for our political system? What companies and media organizations are advancing a more ethical internet society?

Steven C. Clemons, publisher of The Washington Note, will speak on political blogging, blogging ethics, and money in politics. PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler will discuss standards of editorial integrity in old and new media. Rita J. King of Dancing Ink Productions will talk about the evolving ethics of virtual worlds and their use in public diplomacy. New York University Professor of Journalism Jay Rosen will draw on his experience as a press critic and innovator of new media projects. This event is cosponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton's strategy+business magazine and the NYU Center for Global Affairs, and is part of the Ethical Blogger Project.


Global Policy InnovationsCarnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs170 East 64th StreetNew York, NY 10065-7478(212) 838-4120(212) 752-2432 - Fax


The luncheon cost is $50 (fee can be waived for students, academics, and nonprofit professionals). Please send your RSVP and payment info to:

The Republic of Bloggers
Thursday, April 10, 2008

6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

With some of the highest rates of broadband and wireless Internet penetration in the world, Korea and Japan are home to thriving online communities that affect politics, shape public opinion, and forge new forms of social bonding. In Korea, the net has empowered citizen journalism and created a new national pastime of "massively multiplayer online games." According to the Washington Post, more blogs are written in Japanese than in English, despite the fact that English speakers outnumber Japanese speakers by five to one. Both countries are bastions of participatory Internet use, but what accounts for subtle differences in user attitudes and behavior? In addition to exploring the challenges and lessons learned by people blogging about Korean and Japanese society and politics, the panel discusses how the peculiarities of Japanese and Korean political and online cultures affect participatory democracy in those countries, and whether these experiences will be a bellwether for the global community.

This program takes place in conjunction with the ongoing, two-year, Ethical Blogger project conducted by Brown University's Watson Institute, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Demos, NYU's Center for Global Affairs, and Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Introductory remarks by Devin T. Stewart, Director, Editor, Global Policy Innovations program, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs


David Weinberger, Author, Fellow, Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Wendy H. K. Chun, Assistant Professor of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University Tobias Harris, Publisher,; freelance blogger and journalist

Stuart Thorson, Professor of Political Science, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

Samuel Jamier, Senior Program Officer, Contemporary Issues & Corporate Affairs, The Korea Society

Moderated by Daniel B. Levine, The Korea Society


The Korea Society, 950 Third Avenue, Eighth Floor, New York City (Building entrance on SW corner of Third Avenue and 57th Street)

6:00 to 6:30 p.m.
Registration and Reception

6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Presentation and Q&A

$10 for members (The Korea Society, Japan Society, or Carnegie Council), $15 for non-members.

Contact: Please RSVP by email:

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tidbits of Dangers--Potential and Not--in the B'sphere

First it was the outing of Prince Harry and the backlash from big media outlets that the Drudge Report had 'disobeyed' the embargo for discussing Harry's whereabouts as a British soldier.

As for putting the prince in any high danger in Afghanistan?: thwarted, though not without plenty of backlash.

Secondly, perhaps this is a case of Megan Meier 2.0, but commenters on the blogs AdScam and AgencySpy are targeting the two sites for contributing to the suicide of Paul Tilley, DDB Chicago's managing director for creative. The reactions to his death have been confused if not consistently pointing to Tilley's being known as a complicated man. But what's so interesting is that within the blogosphere, fingers have been pointing left and right as to who caused Tilley's death (he was only 40 years old).

AdAge has an interesting piece that criticizes all of the speculation and blame-gaming, and the New York Times has set up their Readers' Comments section today for discussion on the question of: What responsibility do you think Web sites bear for the comments they host?

This question also goes back to a (fairly) recent exchange of hostilities between Bill O'Reilly and Arianna Huffington, during which O'Reilly blasted HuffPo for championing hate speech. O'Reilly accused HuffPo's anonymous commenters for their disparaging comments about Nancy Reagan. But, then he went so far as to claim Huffington was a Nazi--and not back down after coming under fire for his comments.

So, how do anonymous responses play into the ethics of blogging? What impact--and to what extent--do they have on the safety and danger that we face on a daily basis? What happens to our accountability for our actions? Who (or what), ultimately, is to blame?