February 22, 2011

Twitter, Gladwell, and Why Social Media's Revolutionary Potential Isn't (Really) About Egypt

[This post originally appeared at canarytrap.net]

Earlier this month, amongst all the frustration, euphoria, and confused wonder surrounding the events in Egypt, Malcolm Gladwell and others got mired in another discussion regarding the relative efficacy of social media in creating political change.

I don't want to rehash the back and forth (some thoughtful opinions here, here, and here), except to say that I empathize with Gladwell's frustration, I really do, but I think that his push-back isn't particularly illuminating or necessary. It's true that some of the over-emphasis on the role of social media runs the risk of overshadowing more considered analysis of the historical context and implications of what happened in Egypt. And I have to admit that seeing some of the twitter and foursquare jokes made me bristle with annoyance briefly (not because they were making light of the situation, but because they made light of the privilege we had, as media and communications professionals in the US, in being able to be cute about it all). Maybe its a function of my youthful optimism, but I think Gladwell does a disservice in validating these strawmen as something worth arguing against.

For me, claims that social media brought forth the revolution in Egypt exist so deep within a territory of techno-narcissism that isn't really even worth refuting. And it's not unexpected -- these technologies are still relatively new. We're still trying to sort out what they can do. If we look at early film and TV criticism, so much focused on the "how" over the "why" in the same way that Gladwell laments, and it didn't prevent the "why" (and the "what") from dominating the discourse as the novelty wore off.

But more importantly, I think his arguments about social media not being relevant to revolutions makes the same awkward assumption as the claims that facebook changed Egypt: that what's compelling about what happened online has everything (or anything) to do with Egypt per se. Maybe because I think of them as dramatically important in totally different arenas, I don't see the emphasis on one or the other in competition with one another for column pixels. Because something significant did happen on and to social media, but to think it was what twitter and Facebook did (or didn't do) for Egypt is to have things backwards. Twitter didn't happen to Egypt; Egypt happened to twitter and is may be transforming how we think about the role of social media in our lives and communities.

Continue reading "Twitter, Gladwell, and Why Social Media's Revolutionary Potential Isn't (Really) About Egypt" »

March 24, 2010

Why We Should Care About Retrans Part III: Regulation

This is the third installment in a series on TV retransmission fees. The introduction and first installment ran last week. In brief Disney, WABC's parent company demanded a per-subscriber retransmission fee from New York area cable provider, Cablevision. Cablevision thought the fee was too much. A messy public battle ensued and WABC disappeared from Cablevision at midnight on Sunday, March 7, night before the Oscars. If you want to learn more about retrans in general, check out this great article from Broadcasting & Cable.

Battles over retransmission consent are happening because federal regulations give broadcast TV stations the right to negotiate with cable providers for carriage. Must-carry and retrans are among those sticky legal issues--like copyright-- that were meant to protect individual, but have come in the digital age to be used as a tool against consumers.

There's some explanation required here. I'll try to make it as brief as possible and get to the good stuff.

Brief history of Must-Carry and Retransmission Regulations

  • "Must-Carry" regulations were first created in the 1970s to help smaller broadcasters survive against as cable TV came on the scene. These regulations made it mandatory for cable operators to dedicate channels for most major over-the-air stations in their designated market area (DMA).
  • The Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 addressed must carry laws, allowing cable operators to drop redundant signals in their DMA. For example, cable providers wouldn't be required to carry two NBC affiliate stations in the same DMA.
  • In 1994, The FCC added the concept of "retransmission consent" to the mix. This meant that broadcasters had to agree to be carried by cable providers. This gave broadcasters the power to negotiate with cable providers.
  • Must-carry regulations have been challenged several times at the Supreme Court level, but they've been upheld.
  • The transition to digital television distribution hasn't had much of a consumer-facing effect on must-carry or retrans regulation.

Must-carry laws and retrans consent are two federal regulations that were originally created to protect small television broadcasters. While these laws still protect small broadcasters, they've also given more power to national networks and large holding companies.
This is because broadcast networks are owned by different entities in different markets across the country. Some stations are considered owned and operated (O&O) by national networks. This means that the stations are um... owned and operated by the national networks. Currently, O&Os are allowed to reach only 39% of the country. The remainder of the US is served by network affiliates, stations owned by independent parties who negotiate with national networks for programming.

The market isn't the same as it was when these regulations were passed. These regulations were created to level the playing field for stations and cable providers, but the balance of power has shifted toward networks for several reasons.

Continue reading "Why We Should Care About Retrans Part III: Regulation" »

March 15, 2010

I'm With Coco (Physically)

Back in January, Sheila wrote a solid post about the Conan O'Brien v. Jay Leno controversy taking place on NBC. Her third point, about the rallying of fans behind Conan, known as the "Team Coco" movement, has interestingly taken a turn for the best: Conan will be touring the States and putting on live events for his newly-optimistic fanbase.

The Facebook group acted as a space for anti-fan (Leno) and fan activity, even spurring massive rallies in major cities across America.

The fan support has been so astounding that Conan O'Brien teamed up with American Express to produce live shows in thirty cities across the country, which Conan is calling "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour" (the details of which can be viewed at http://teamcoco.com/).

Fan support for media or celebrities is not a new phenomenon: it's one of many examples of engagement that has produced beneficial results for television series, movies, etc. (such as Firefly, which saw a DVD release and a movie, Serenity, after the show's cancellation on FOX).

But Team Coco, having increased in size due to rapid communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook, seems to be the first that achieved results in such a short period of time. Will this expeditious trend continue with other fandoms as the Internet slowly connects people with similar interests online? And will we see similar trends with future examples of civic engagement and fan activism?

January 14, 2010

China: The First Geographical Walled Garden and What It Means for the Future of the Internet

It's hard to ignore all of the discourse that has occurred online in the past few days regarding Google's un-censorship in China. If you don't know the basics of the situation, take a look at the recent New York Times article (Google, Citing Cyber Attack, Threatens to Exit China) or simply read through the post that started this conversation over at Google's blog (A new approach to China). You can also look at the Twitter trending hashtag #GoogleCN here, which is sure to provide a lot of quick commentary and updated links.

Law professor Jonathan Zittrain explains that Google's website has been censored from access in China in the past, before Google agreed to set up its Google.cn address and filter content. However, as Zittrain also points out, most users attempt to circumvent filtering through anonymity networks and proxy servers.

Not that Google.cn has been used frequently in the past. Search competitor Baidu.com currently owns more than a 60% share of the market, perhaps because the website's search results tap into and reflect local Chinese culture much better than Google's algorithm. Whether or not Baidu finds the most relevant information, though, might not matter, as according to Rebecca MacKinnon's personal experience, Google.cn might actually censor less information.

The pressing issue, therefore, is whether or not Google's potential withdrawal from China will make a profound (or, really, any) impact on the local Chinese Internet culture. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out on Tuesday (12 January), even though a large majority of English-speaking users voted that they wanted Google.cn to remain in China, a majority of Chinese-speaking users wanted the company to leave:

At last look on WSJ.com, the main, English-language Web site, 80%, or 361 votes, said a resounding Yes. However, on Chinese.WSJ.com, the Chinese-language version, asked the same question in Chinese, 72% of a total 934 voters said No. The number of votes, just a couple hours of the announcement, was well above what similar questions have drawn in the past, and was growing.

Conversely, since Google is not just a search provider, but offers its many services to Chinese users, many people are upset about losing access to their data (link in Chinese).

The Blawgdog blog marks out the current websites that are already blocked in China:

  • Facebook.com: blocked.
  • Youtube.com: blocked;
  • Yahoo.com: it's Chinese website yahoo.cn has been acquired by Alibaba, a Chinese company;
  • Windows Live, still can be accessed in China, but some blogs are blocked.
  • Wikipedia: blocked.
  • Blogger.com: blocked several times.
  • Baidu.com
  • MSN.com: still can be accessed from China.
  • Yahoo.jp: still can be accessed from China
  • QQ.com: China's top IM provider and the top news website now.
  • Google.co.in: Google India, it will be blocked because Google's search engine is uniformed.
  • Twitter: blocked.
  • Myspace: blocked sometime;
  • Google.cn: It will die soon if Google keeps its promise.
  • sina.com.cn
  • Google.de: will also be blocked soon.
  • Amazon.com: Some of it's S3 Servers in America is blocked; it's Chinese version still works.
  • Wordpress.com: has been blocked for a long time.
  • Microsoft.com: it is alive.

  • More blocked website not in the top 20 include but not limit to discuss.com.hk (the largest BBS in Hong Kong), www.mingpaonews.com (the most reliable newspaper in Hong Kong), xanga.com, mitbbs.com (the biggest Chinese forum out of China), flickr.com, etc. Yes,  flickr. So one may know why yahoo sold its Chinese site. The fact is: for each new application that can not be controlled by the Chinese gov, if the operator does not restrict itself, it will be blocked. This is surely not an environment that Google can endure.

    Now, that this article points out that "if the operator does not restrict itself, it will be blocked," China is creating a politically-induced walled garden. Just like literal walled gardens, which are service providers that control content on their platform and restrict access to other platforms, the Chinese government is creating a national walled garden by slowly carving off websites that don't agree with the government's political philosophies.

    Of course, I have written before (Practical Geographies: Understanding How Cultural Practices Shape Social Media Usage)about how the Internet really isn't a linguistically-unified structure anyway, and the Google-China split will re-enforce the language divide. But as the Blawgdog also explains, while it would be detrimental to the general idea of the Internet as a unified structure if the Chinese Internet and English Internet split, the fact that non-skilled users will not be able to access any information they wish (skilled users though will continue to bypass restrictions, re: Zittrain above).

    A further division between skilled and amateur users of the Internet would throw Internet culture in China into further chaos, which might affect how citizens deal with and understand human rights, political activism, and communication policies. Thus, Google's split from China marks the first major instance of the direct political influence on digital appropriation. If the Chinese government continues to restrict access to certain websites, digital appropriation will move in two directions, resulting in either a highly-educated, unified user base or a split between current users and the next generation that are mediated by walled garden tactics.

    The Chinese government has already issued a response: "China's Internet is open," said Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry spokeswoman. "China welcomes international Internet enterprises to conduct business in China according to law." While "open" seems to describe if businesses can operate within the digital space, it appears that the government is not willing to bend on the censorship issue. And if Chinese netizens must learn to operate within this policed Internet ecosystem, then we may see a lot of interesting user innovation (with probable violent consequences) in the near future.

    April 20, 2009

    The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 2 of 2)

    Last Friday, we ran the first part of a piece I wrote about Maureen Murphy, Managing Editor of The Electronic Intifada (EI). The second part of this piece deals with the challenges journalism faces in a spreadable media environment. Murphy explains how being an online-only publication has forced EI to address issues of credibility, crediting, activism, and bias.

    Though the internet allows EI to reach--and possibly enlighten--a very large audience, Murphy also has some frustrations when thinking about the internet as a medium. "I think people take web media a little less seriously," she says. This is especially frustrating because the brand of journalism EI offers readers is much more complex--and arguably more serious--than much of what's found in the mainstream press. Still, the internet as an aggregate isn't governed by standards as strict as EI's editorial policy, so the same Google search can direct a reader to EI as well as other sites with varying levels of journalistic credibility. Of course it can be argued that many major newsrooms may have questionable journalistic standards, but there is an implicit level of trust that comes with the colophon of say, the New York Times or the Washington Post.

    Continue reading "The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 2 of 2)" »

    April 17, 2009

    The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 1 of 2)

    With the recent announcement that the Boston Globe might fold if it can't cut $20 million in union costs, the state of print journalism seems to be in a state of flux. The print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also folded to budget concerns, but the paper has continued to publish as an online-only news source. Are online editions the future of journalism? And how does online publishing differ from print journalism? As part of an assignment for Henry Jenkins's Theories and Methods class, I recently interviewed the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada, an online-only news source dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to get her opinion on the state of online journalism. Below, you'll find portion of my report.

    Maureen Murphy is the Managing Editor of The Electronic Intifada (EI), a nonprofit online publication--found at electronicintifada.net-- that features news, opinion, and analysis about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Disclosure: Maureen Murphy is also my cousin.) EI was founded in early 2001 by Ali Abunimah, Nigel Parry, Arjan El Fassed, and Laurie King--four activists who had never met in person. Murphy explains: "The Electronic Intifada project started as a reaction to the corporate media narration of the second Palestinian Intifada. It was started by a bunch of activists who didn't know each other, but who were able to find each other through the internet." EI was originally conceived as a supplement to the mainstream news media's coverage of the conflict, but it has quickly grown to a news source in its own right. EI averages 3000-5000 unique visitors daily, and they got as many as 30,000 visitors a day during the recent crisis in Gaza.

    Continue reading "The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 1 of 2)" »

    November 23, 2008

    FOE3 Liveblog: Session 7 - Global Flows, Global Deals

    So we finished out FOE by trying to push some of the key themes of the conference into a global context, with panelists Nancy Baym (Personal Connections in a Digital Age), Robert Ferrari (Vice President of Business Development, Turbine Inc.) and MaurĂ­cio Mota (Director of Strategy and Business Development, New Content Brazil).

    The panel was moderated by C3 Reseacher Xiaochang Li (that would be me, for those of you playing at home) and Liveblogging was done by Harvard undergraduate Christina Xu.

    Introduction of Panelists:

    • Nancy Baym: I study fans on the internet. I come at it from an interpersonal relationship and community building angle. I'm more interested in music fans than the narrative music, and how they relate to other fans in relation to pop culture material. I'm especially focused on Swedish/Scandinavian music flowing out of Swedish borders.
    • Bob Ferrari: VP of Business development, Turbine Inc. Looking at the online gaming side of the business. Turbine is a studio, 350+, based in Boston with a small office on the West Coast, that focuses on social (MMO) gaming. We build these deep dynamic worlds around brands (LoTR, D&D) and bring in hundreds of thousands of players into these live worlds and allow them to play & socialize. What I've been doing is driving it not just domestically, but also bringing them to other countries (Russia, starting South America, China/Hong Kong, Korea).
    • Mauricio Mota: Director of Strategy and Business Development, New Content. Pioneer company on branded content, leading the process of bringing transmedia storytelling to Brazil. Managing all of Unilever's 29 brands.

    Videos by Mauricio and Bob (embedded to the C3 blog here

    Continue reading "FOE3 Liveblog: Session 7 - Global Flows, Global Deals" »

    November 4, 2008

    My First Election: PBS Mediashift

    As an Australian, my experience of the US political system has always been a mediated one. As such, this is the first US election I've ever experienced 'live', and what an election it has been; Regardless of the outcome, this has been a unique and significant campaign season for a number of reasons. As we've pointed out previously in discussions about election monitoring, campaigns and fandom, Facebook and campaign building, and politics in the age of YouTube, the 2008 campaign has seen unique, interesting and savvy uses new media tools, particularly social media and online video publishing for grassroots campaigning, campaign financing and connecting with constituencies.

    These will be some of the things I'll reflect on this afternoon, when I participate in a live chat over at PBS' MediaShift site. At 4 pm EST/1 pm PT I'll be chatting about the election coverage and online media specifically with PBS blogger Mark Glaser and my old friend Alice Robison, Assistant Professor of English at ASU. Come on over if you'd like to join in. They've got a whole afternoon of discussion lined up.

    Oh, and whichever way you fall, please do vote. And for the junkies out there, Twitter's election feed makes for interesting reading throughout the day.

    October 17, 2008

    Looking a Gift Economy in the Mouth: Michael Moore's SLACKER UPRISING

    A few weeks ago, I got an email from Michael Moore with the subject "'Slacker Uprising' Now Belongs to You (Down/Load, Rise/Up!)." I've spent my first month with the Consortium examining the principles of spreadable media with a special focus on internet distribution of TV and film, so I was more than a little excited to see that Moore made his latest film, Slacker Uprising available to download for free without advertising.

    Moore's email goes on to espouse some of the most important tenets of spreadable media--gifting and sharing: "[Slacker Uprising] is available for free as a gift from me to all of you. And you have my permission to share it or show it in any way you see fit." This seems like quite a boon for spreadable media, especially considering the film is available in a variety of formats including streaming video, iTunes download, Amazon VoD, and even BitTorrent.

    The film itself is a joint venture between Moore's production company, Dog Eat Dog Films; independent internet TV site, blip.tv; and Robert Greenwald's activist film site, Brave New Films. Slacker Uprising chronicles Moore's 62-city tour to get out the vote before the 2004 presidential election. While Moore's efforts in this campaign are certainly noble, Slacker Uprising has none of Moore's signature liberal message hidden beneath man-on-the-street folksiness. This film meanders through long segments of Moore and various celebrities taking the stage before stadiums of screaming fans; I doubt it has the power to change anyone's mind about politics, but that's not Moore's aim.

    Continue reading "Looking a Gift Economy in the Mouth: Michael Moore's SLACKER UPRISING" »

    August 26, 2008

    McCain to Obama Supporters: "Get a Life!"

    I posted this recently on my blog and thought it would likewise be of interest to C3 blog readers.

    One of the most powerful tools in the Karl Rove arsenal was a form of political Judo: take your opponent's strengths and turn them into vulnerabilities. For example, coming into the 2004 convention, Democrats had seen war hero John Kerry as pretty much unassailable on issues of patriotism and they made it a central theme of their event. Within a week or two, the Swift Boat Campaign made Kerry's service record an uncomfortable topic to discuss, flipping Kerry's advantage (that he had served in Vietnam and neither George W. Bush nor Dick Cheney had done so) on its head. This added the phrase, "Swiftboating," to the language of American politics.

    Coming into the Primary season, several things stood out about Barack Obama: First, he had developed a reputation as the Democrat who was most comfortable talking about his faith in the public arena; many Democrats felt that he gave them a shot at attracting some more independent-minded evangelical Christians, especially given the emergence of more progressive voices that linked Christianity to serving the poor, combating AIDS, and protecting the environment. (Indeed, we saw signs of that pitch during Obama's appearance at the Saddleback Church Forum last week, when he clearly knew and deployed evangelical language better than McCain). Yet, the circulation of the Rev. Wright videos -- not to mention the whisper campaigns charging that he is secretly Islamic -- blunted his ability to use faith as a primary part of his pitch to voters. Similarly, the Obama campaign showed an early comfort with talking about American traditions in lofty and inspirational values, so he has been confronted with attacks from reactionary talk radio questioning his patriotism.

    Over the past three weeks, we've seen the McCain campaign take aim at a third of Obama's strengths -- the so-called "enthusiasm gap." Basically, pundits have been talking a good deal about the lack of enthusiasm for the Republican nominee among his rank and file in comparison with the extraordinary passion Obama has generated, especially among young and minority voters. To confront this "enthusiasm gap," the McCain campaign has clearly decided that it needs to pathologize enthusiasm itself, suggesting that emotional investments in candidates are dangerous, and thus positioning himself as the only "rational" choice. In doing so, he has tapped deeply rooted anxieties about popular culture and its fans.

    This is not the old culture war rhetoric where candidates accused each other of being soft on "popular culture," a tactic which Joseph Lieberman has turned into an art form. No, this time, the attack is on politics as popular culture. Both tactics strike me as profoundly anti-democratic. After all, how do you found a democratic society on the assumption that the public is stupid and has bad judgment?

    Continue reading "McCain to Obama Supporters: "Get a Life!"" »

    April 2, 2008

    SCMS: Henry Jenkins and Final Links

    C3 Director Henry Jenkins made a presentation at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia based on his research on politics in the era of convergence culture, particularly looking at the 2008 presidential primary season in relation to the rising popularity and political uses of sites such as YouTube.

    The basis of this presentation was a blog entry Jenkins wrote last fall, entitled "Answering Questions from a Snowman: The YouTube Debate and Its Aftermath." This project has led to a chapter completed for a forthcoming anthology, as well as the paperback version of Henry's book and the project that was this origin of this Consortium, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

    Continue reading "SCMS: Henry Jenkins and Final Links" »

    March 26, 2008

    More on LiveJournal Activism Through Strike/Boycott

    Last time, I wrote about LiveJournal's recent fiasco over not informing their users of large-scale policy changes on the site. After much debate back and forth between users and administrators, and the (fairly brief, due to protest) temporary reinstatement of an interest search filter, a call spread on LiveJournal for users not to post any content on Friday, March 21st, in protest. The discussion around the move, intended to show that LiveJournal's value was content-driven, and therefore user-generated, raises some fairly interesting issues regarding the growing pains of large, for-profit user-generated content sites.

    What was immediately notable was that there was a lack of consensus over what a large-scale, one-day disruption to posting constitutes: content strike or content boycott? The terms seemed to be used interchangeably, varying from announcement to announcement (the woman cited as the originator of the idea uses the term "strike"). At the most basic level, a "boycott" would suggest action by consumers, which strike implies action taken by a labor force against the corporations or institutions that profit from their production. There appears here a certain ambiguity over the role of LiveJournal users, wherein they feel responsible for the creation of content and networks that makes LiveJournal a viable business, but also recognize the role of LiveJournal as a service provider.

    Continue reading "More on LiveJournal Activism Through Strike/Boycott" »

    March 9, 2008

    Politics in the Age of YouTube

    I originally posted this on my blog and wanted to share it with the Consortium readers as well, considering C3's particular interest in online video and participatory culture in its current research.

    A few weeks ago, Stephen Duncombe, author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, and I held a public conversation about "From Participatory Culture to Participatory Democracy: Politics in the Age of YouTube" at Otis College. The conversation ranged across many aspects of the current campaign season -- from "Obama Girl" to Huckabee's relationship to Chuck Norris, from The Daily Show to this anti-Hillary video -- suggesting the ways that social networks and participatory culture have impacted this most unlikely of campaign seasons.

    Continue reading "Politics in the Age of YouTube" »

    January 10, 2008

    The Ron Paul Candidacy and Facebook Controversy

    The Internet is abuzz with politics. And it's that time every four years when suddenly everyone cares about civic engagement and democracy and all that. I'd like to see more of that type of engagement on a local level, including form myself, but nevertheless we're swept up in the frenzy of national politics.

    This year, with so many candidates in the mix, it seems as if every election is a surprise. Online, it's been quite interesting as well. There's no doubt that Barack Obama is carrying unprecedented amounts of interest from young voters, and there's a corresponding amount of buzz in the blogosphere, on YouTube, and elsewhere.

    For those of you who follow these spaces regularly, it will come as no surprise that there's a comparable amount of buzz from a much more unsuspecting candidate, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. As opposed to Obama, who is the youngest candidate in this year's election, Paul is the second-oldest, following only Mike Gravel. Further, Paul is a Republican fiscal conservative to an extreme, a fairly strict libertarian at heart.

    Continue reading "The Ron Paul Candidacy and Facebook Controversy" »

    January 3, 2008

    Tracking the US Election

    The varied uses of YouTube by candidates, citizens and the news media has lent a participatory air to the 2008 US Presidential election. While there is an emphasis in much of this discussion on the possibilities for candidates and citizens to connect more directly with each other (however unevenly this might be realized in practice), effective participation in democratic systems equally relies on access to information. In this regard, both Yahoo's Election '08 Political Dashboard and the ECOresearch Network's US Election 2008 Web Monitor projects , both of which offer reasonably sophisticated tools for tracking campaign coverage and candidate performance, are especially interesting because of the access to information and analysis they provide.

    Continue reading "Tracking the US Election" »

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