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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
This is indeed a good idea for political propaganda, but is it for Twitter? Do you think it will alter its sheer spontaneous nature?
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.
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.
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.
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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 Carvin, Alec Ross, Aneesh Chopra and Derrick N. Ashong.