Networked politics and the media: a difficult relationship?

The relationship between traditional media and net-fueled movements is often not easy. The corporate nature of news organizations often clashes with its informational side, and as sociologists Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert K. Merton pointed out, in mass media “he who pays the piper generally calls the tune”.

Is this also the case of The New York Times? After its article “As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe“, Digital Technologies for 21st Century Democracy‘s speaker Micah L. Sifry points out how the newspaper is a little bit late on reporting about net-based activism.

This article could have also been written in 2003 or 2007-8. For argument’s sake, the Times’ story on the rise of the “second superpower,” (“A New Power in the Streets,” February 17, 2003) which focused on the massive wave of international protests against the impending invasion of Iraq, which were loosely coordinated by net-based activists, was the story in 2003, except the Times stopped covering democratic protests after that as its editors and top writers fell in lockstep in support of the Iraq War.
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The rise of citizen journalism

No one doubts by now the impact that citizen journalism is having in the media and the balance of power. Web-streaming videos hit prime-time TV, tweets generate headlines, and pictures taken by anonymous citizens change pieces of history.

In recent days, the grim videos and photos coming out of Libya have been testament to people’s desire to bear witness to cruelty and oppression. Around the world, dictators have learned that even if they kill their people they can not ultimately stop the world from seeing what crimes they commit. Yes, they can use technology to stifle freedom, and they do. But media from average people can make a real difference, too, and it does again and again.
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But questions arise. Should news organizations reward citizen journalists if they use their work? What is their role in a world full of user-generated content? Can citizens be good journalists? How can rumor be combated in a world full of anonymous reporters?

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Are we approaching the autumn of the Arab Spring?

The symbol of a revolution ... Crowded squares like Cairo's Tahir initiated a movement that has trespassed frontiers.

The initial euphoria caused by the Arab Spring is now giving way to a more sober assessment of the situation. Is democracy finally going to succeed in the Arab world?

To prosper, a democracy requires a society where political and economical differences are not extreme and where citizens know that responsibility and respect always come before freedom. Alas, this rarely is the case in places where “revolutions” have just happened, as they often require a deep economic transformation and a cooling-down of all rancor. And this is a long-term, intergenerational project, say Kristian Coates Ulrichsen and David Held at openDemocracy.

The course of events since the dramatic ousting of Presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak from power in Tunisia and Egypt, and subsequently Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, suggest that we may be witnessing a transition of elites rather than a democratic revolution. (…) As spring and summer turn to autumn, the progression of the Arab Spring appears very uneven and likely to produce highly differentiated outcomes, but should nevertheless be seen as a transformative first step in a long-term process of change.
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Dawning Digital Democracy

Although electoral laws are rarely modified, there is an ongoing debate about the most convenient electoral system. But how can digital communications contribute to this debate? According to political reformist -and former Nirvana bassist- Krist Novoselic, new technologies will eventually mean an end to the U.S. two-party system, giving way to a plural, multi-party electoral system.

The 21st century is about communication. The convergence of technology and our democracy makes space for more voices. As voters try to make the jump from digital democracy to our 18th century electoral system, they should see the gap. Proportional voting is here to accommodate the movement towards real choices and new voices.
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Do you agree with Mr. Novoselic? Can digital communications lead to an election reform? Can they alter what Novoselic calls “strategic voting” – i.e. that voting for an alternative might spoil the election for one candidate or another?

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Twitter to launch political advertising

There is no doubt that politics are now becoming increasingly virtual. And there is also no doubt that Twitter is playing a major role in this process. Now the platform is about to introduce sponsored political messages:

“We’ve had five years to watch and observe how people are using the platform organically and we know politicians are active on the platform, and we know that consumers enjoy the messages from those politicians,” Twitter’s president of global revenue, Adam Bain, said in an interview.
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This is indeed a good idea for political propaganda, but is it for Twitter? Do you think it will alter its sheer spontaneous nature?

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Is terrorism going virtual?

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Interpol’s secretary general Ronald K. Noble believes that Internet should on the spotlight in the fight against terrorism.

A decade later, we see the same power targeting new generations to radicalize and spawn “lone wolf” terrorists. The trial in Germany of a young man who blamed online jihadist propaganda for the double murder he committed is just one recent example.
I believe that the Internet has replaced Afghanistan as the terrorist training ground, and this should concern us the most.
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Will there ever be a Vietnamese Spring?

Two months ago Vietnamese blogger Dieu Clay lost an arm in prison, where he is held for “conducting propaganda” against the state. This sad news raised the issue of the dozens of peaceful political critics and activists, many of whom are bloggers, who have been sentenced to long prison terms in Vietnam during the last few years.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) asked democracy advocate Vo Van Hai if a “Vietnamese Spring” could ever happen:

The ‘Arab Spring’ is definitely an awakening call. But we cannot compare the two situations. Although Tunisia, Egypt and other countries of the Middle East were ruled by dictatorships, there was a two-way flow of information, the circulation of ideas, a development of democratic culture. Under Vietnam’s tight system of censorship and control, these things have not had time to develop. But the seeds have been shown, and they are growing. We must be ready to help people in Vietnam when the moment comes.
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Did Wikileaks influence the Arab Spring?

According to Julian Assange, without Wikileaks’ material the Arab Spring might never have happened. But The Guardian’s journalist David Leigh, whith whom Wikileaks worked to publish its cables and who is now maintaining a row with Assange, says that “anyone who thinks that the Arab Spring was caused by Wikileaks is off their heads”.

Do you agree? Has releasing classified material changed the world?

Listen to today’s BBC’s interview to Mr. Leigh on the matter here. Interview starts at 29.35, declarations on the Arab Spring at 32.30. Program only available until September 8.

* * *

The Arab Spring will be discussed on our dinner talk ‘New Technologies, the Arab Spring and 21st Century Statecraft’ on November 8, 20:30 to 22:30, with Andy CarvinAlec RossAneesh Chopra and Derrick N. Ashong.

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High-Level conference to explore communication technologies’ impact on democracy

31 August 2011 – More than 40 democratic former Heads of State and Government will gather in New York City in early November to discuss the impact of communication technologies and social media on democratic development around the world.

The day-and-a-half conference, titled Digital Technologies for 21st Century Democracy, will analyze how information and network technologies are influencing and changing the world. From politics and journalism to economics and social habits, citizens are beginning to take a wider stake in the decision-making processes of democracy.

Organized by the Club de Madrid and scheduled for November 8-9, 2011 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, the event will take an in-depth look at the way citizens and governments are interacting through technological platforms, building a sustainable and inclusive environment in which individuals can fully exercise their social and economic rights and contributing to political transformations and democratic development. It will also take a critical look at the risks and limits that the scale and new forms of information, digital tools, information mediation and network technology present to political institutions; and how we can ultimately focus on designing strategies for more effective and democratic public institutions for the 21st century, using 21st century tools.

To shed light on this very timely topic, the Club de Madrid will bring together some of the world’s most experienced and inspirational political and business leaders, policy makers and scholars, including NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Professor Yochai Benkler (Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society), Susan Pointer (Google), Orlando Ayala (Microsoft), Jeff Jarvis (author of What Would Google Do?), Chat García Ramilo (Association for Progressive Communications), Patrick Meier (Ushahidi) and Micah Sifry (Personal Democracy Forum), among others. Participating Members of the Club de Madrid include Kim Campbell (Prime Minister of Canada, 1993), Joaquim Chissano (President of Mozambique, 1986-2005), Vicente Fox (President of Mexico, 2000-2006), Lee Hong-Koo (Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, 1994-1995), Lionel Jospin (Prime Minister of France, 1997-2002), John Kufuor (President of Ghana, 2001-2009),  Chandrika Kumaratunga (President of Sri Lanka, 1994-2005), Ricardo Lagos (President of Chile, 2000-2006), Mary Robinson (President of Ireland, 1990-1997) and Jennifer Mary Shipley (Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1997-1999), among others.

Gala Dinner to award President Bill Clinton

The conference will be close with a Gala Dinner on November 9th, during which the Club de Madrid will present President Bill Clinton with its Democratic Leadership Award. The prize, previously awarded to Nelson Mandela, recognizes a leader’s firm commitment to the consolidation of democratic values, human rights and good governance, and the promotion of sustainable, socio-economic development through democratic means, all of which represent the core values of the Club de Madrid.

These two events are part of the Club de Madrid’s 10th anniversary celebrations, and are supported of the Fahad Al-Salem Center, Hyatt Regency Coolum, Google, the Regional Government of Madrid and several other institutions.

Further information and instructions for press accreditation can be found at

– ENDS –

For more information please contact

Susana Mañueco, Communications Officer / Ph +34 911 548 236 / Cell +34 616 194 183

Raúl San Mateo, Communications Assistant / Ph +34 911 548 239

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Are social media-fueled protests going global?

People of Europe rise up. © Club de Madrid / Raúl San Mateo

Madrid calling ... The 'indignados' dreamed of an 'European Revolution'

Excited by its own success, the indignados movement that surged in Spain in May 2011 was prompt to call for a “European revolution”. Indeed, replicas of the camps held at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and other central Spanish plazas were seen in some European cities, but they were only timid copies of their Spanish counterparts, mainly held by Spanish émigrés. It seemed that a turbulent economic and social situation such as Spain’s current was needed for such a thing to happen.

But not only the indignados dreamed of a “European revolution”. By the same time, and in a different way, Trends Research Institute Director Gerald Celente announced that “these revolutions are going to spread through the summer in Europe, and by the winter it’s going to go global”. [Read full article...]

The facts are now there: massive social movements have since sprung up in many parts of the world – protests in Greece, marches in Israel, riots in England, strikes in Chile… All of them different in many ways, but with some things in common: they have been fueled by social media and are telling something about today’s democracies.

However, summer is almost gone and these “revolutions” have certainly not spread all throughout Europe. To which extent was Celente right? Will these protests succeed at a global scale anytime soon? If so, how global is “global”? Would it include developing countries with poor internet access? Or dictatorships where the internet is censored? Or countries where the impact of the economic situation has been minimal?

And most importantly, will these movements benefit democracy in the long term, or will they become an obstacle to unpopular but necessary measures?

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