The photograph above is of Fethullah Gulen who Victor Gaetan writing in Foreign Affairs compared to the Muslim Martin Luther. Interestingly, I have been writing a little bit about Gulen recently in a book that I’m finishing up and during my research I had become a little intrigued with Gulen. You can find the article in Foreign Affairs here.
A typical descriptive statement about Islam over the last decade is that it never experienced a Reformation. It is true enough that Sufi-ism and scholars such as Said Nursi inspired new more humane schools of thought but they remain marginalized. Much of Islam, not all, is harsh and rooted in the political and military conditions of the ancient world and there has never been a moderation of these tenets by a Muslim Martin Luther. There has never been a Muslim Reformation. Martin Luther was an influential and controversial figure in the Christian Reformation movement. He was responsible for entire new lines of thinking in Christianity and set in motion a sort of enlightenment. Luther had a desire for people to feel closer to God and this led him to translate the Bible into the language of the people, radically changing the relationship between church leaders and their followers. Martin Luther is generally associated with rooting out corruption, preventing religion from being used as a tool for political power, and humanizing the church his anti-Semitism notwithstanding.
Even at the risk of exaggeration, many feel the contemporary version of the Muslim Martin Luther is Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is a Turk who has been in the United States since 1999. He has worked to promote a modern school of Islam and is an Islamic intellectual committed to secular education, economic development, democracy, and acceptance of scientific knowledge.
Gulen has taught that Islam should devote more energy to public service and be separated from politics as much as possible. His emphasis on helping others and doing good deeds in the community is consistent with much Koranic teaching and directs attention away from political organization. This is in sharp contrast to the Muslim Brotherhood whose ascendancy in the last half-century has argued that the state should be Islamic and armed struggle is a moral and spiritual obligation. Moreover, Gulen is committed to education, including science and math, and has over 1000 schools around the world with video and instructional material made easily available to students.
As you might imagine, Gulen is not popular with modern-day Islamists. He has been exiled in the United States for many years and clashed with Erdogan over foreign-policy and authoritarian politics. Gulen is a strong supporter of democratic dialogue and he has chastised Turkey and other Islamic countries for poor treatment of journalists and a failure to engage sufficient constituencies over issues such as the Gezi Park protests.
The Gulen movement upholds numerous liberal conditions such as the belief in the intellect and the fact that individuals are characterized by free will and responsibility to others. Not all of Islam divides the world up into categories such as dar al-harb (the house of war) and dar al-Islam (the house of peace) but understands humans as more coherent and integrated. A verse in the Koran states that “there is no compulsion in religion” which emphasizes the individual intellect and freedom of choice.
Gulen is both careful and brave. He will not be intimidated and continues to speak up even in the face of the easy violence that could confront him. While Erdogan continues to clamp down on Turkey with Internet censorship and control of the judiciary, Gulen continues to infuse Islam with the teachings of tolerance and democratic sensibility.
Facebook must be truly a magical medium. It cannot only reconnect you with your old high school friends but whip up a democratic revolution in its spare time. It received so much initial credit for the Arab Spring that political activists in places like Egypt began to question whether or not they were sufficiently committed or worked hard enough. Well, that was all an exaggeration but it is the case that Facebook had at least “something” to do with influencing the uprisings.
I enjoy my twitter (that’s me @dellis2) and Facebook accounts and they represent truly important advances in technology and the puffed up power of information networks. But as of now their media created images remain more potent than the reality; the impact of online activists is exaggerated although not unimportant. Marc Lynch, writing in Foreign Policy (Twitter Devolutions), argues that the power of social media must be tempered, that activists and academics sang the praises of these new media too loudly and they are subject to more criticism than has been levied. Moreover, the gritty politics that follow these uprisings is more important for shaping political life, yet if you judge by news coverage new media seem to have little to do with this. Facebook and twitter only seem to rear their heads during times of revolution. Off-line politics is turbulent but remains more central to the struggle for transition from authoritarian systems to more democratic ones. Below are some questions and issues that must be addressed with respect to new media because on the one hand new media get too much press, but on the other they are truly impactful. This means our understanding must be more nuanced.
1. Why do social media seem to get more attention or have more impact during revolutions or times of upheaval? During quiet times Facebook seems to offer little more than a pleasant pastime or benign exchange of information. There is still a tinge of awe surrounding new technology that lends technologically laden significance to a story that it carries. The story is not trivial because it is circulating on new media; on the contrary, it is important. When there is a crisis or political instability Facebook and Twitter seem to structure stories quickly as “good vs. evil” or “right vs. wrong.” I would guess, and I have yet to see data on such an effect, that any flurry of new media activity has a polarizing effect that results in binary oppositions such as “right vs. wrong.”
In the article cited above, Lynch observed that during the most active times in Cairo the Muslim Brotherhood and the non-Islamist online community structured their Twitter and Facebook exchanges exactly as described. Every time a story was critical of the Muslim Brotherhood it was quickly shared and reinforced by additional stories critical of the Brotherhood. And the same was true of the other side, every story critical of non-Islamist political activists was redistributed and shared by the Muslim Brotherhood thus perpetuating spirals of polarization. Habermas’s glorious inclusive and democratically aesthetic public sphere was nowhere to be found.
2. Why is it that social media are better at organizing and stimulating upheaval then routine politics? The new media seem to love energy and issue-driven controversies rather than the slow work of building political organizations. Again, Lynch points out that Twitter and Facebook were more successful at merging once disparate coalitions than mobilizing masses of voters. Perhaps Facebook is simply easier and faster and works best when a political situation is amenable to faster organization. Moreover new media can quickly employ the power of visual and auditory messages that increase their impact. Violence or a grisly death can be captured immediately on a cell phone and uploaded within minutes. This captures the attention of activist groups and encourages involvement. There is a “thrill” to new media because of its speed and multi-sensory impact that is not present during routine politics. we have not heard much from Ukraine but pay attention as things heat up.
3. The political strengths of Twitter and Facebook can be easily challenged by any regime willing to be as repressive as it needs to be. Places like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, not to mention Iran and Syria, are finding new ways to interfere with online activism including shutting them down when necessary. After enough pressure, and it does not take much, citizens and active account users will simply stop participating in online activity in order to avoid persecution and even violence. The possibility of harassment and arrest make it quite easy to withdraw from the online community. But it does pose the conservative dilemma which is that shutting down new media causes an uproar and does as much damage as good in the eyes of the dictator.
The various social media did not create revolutions in Egypt or the Arab spring, but they did play a role. They have undermined traditional models of information and helped elites and activists empower themselves in order to facilitate change. But if we hail the opportunities for elites and activists to encourage democratic changes, we have to also recognize the problems and limitations of these new forms of communication. At the moment, given the instabilities in Egypt and other countries, no advocate for new media would want to take credit for the current political realities.
Edited From Feb 2013
The noted cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman introduced the concepts of System 1 and System 2 or fast and slow thinking. System 1 is fast, instinctive, and emotional. System 2 is slower, logical, and deliberative. System 2 came later in our evolutionary development. System 1 thinking is intuitive and uses quick judgments that we rely on for most decisions. It is also the process that leads to far greater biases in judgment. System 2, our more deliberative thought processes, can be used to dampen the negative effects of our intuitive judgments. System 1 or fast thinking is reptilian and automatic. It has evolved from deep in our evolutionary history. So we respond quickly and easily to sexual associations and danger. System 2 is thoughtful and cognitive. It requires slower thinking and patience.
The experience of hate is I think a System 1 cognitive process but we often try to treat it with System 2 solutions. In other words, the bigot, anti-Semite, and the racist are typically confronted with System 2 rational thinking as if the person is simply experiencing unjustifiable beliefs and misinformation. We try to change the person or educate him by presenting facts, correcting errors, and revealing logical inconsistencies. Curiously, we are dumbfounded and dismayed when this doesn’t work. When our attempt to reason the other person into correct thinking is useless we are chagrined.
The truth is that bigots and racists and anti-Semite’s don’t want to hear it. They are immune to the closed fist of logic that characterizes reasoning. Also, even though it’s a little bit counterintuitive, these people enjoy the experience of hating. It’s a powerful biologically-based experience of information that doesn’t require much from them and is sensually pleasing psychologically. The System 1 experience of emotional engagement for the racist and anti-Semite is fun! The quick and automatic conclusions of System 1 thinking are enjoyable and require little of the hater.
The person’s beliefs are firmly established and foundational to the experience of hating. There’s no questioning or insecurity. Anti-Semites stand sure in their beliefs and the power and pleasures of self-righteousness, condemnation of others, and sense of intense kinship with those who think like them is climactic in its joy.
Just look at the joys of hating:
- That anti-Semite gets to compare Jews to Nazis. What an orgiastic pleasure it is to take the group you hate most (Jews) and compare them to the great symbol of evil Nazis. Hatred is a purifying experience and perhaps the height of its titillating pleasure is the sense of superiority it confers on one. The bully, the self-righteous, the judgmental, and the ignorant are all soldiers in this army of those who feel superior. The expressions of their beliefs are immediate and instinctual. And since they have little cognitive analytic sensibility and are incapable of genuine information processing, they don’t even see themselves as anti-Semitic.
- The racist who feels his group is superior transcends the pleasures of superiority and can think of himself as “morally” purified. Everywhere he looks he sees evidence – the confirmation hypothesis at work a System 1 heuristic – of his group’s moral clarity. The history and traditions of the outgroup are the subject of propaganda and deceit as any “good” in the outgroup is automatically attributed to the environment rather than the group thus maintaining the racist’s own sense of purity.
- The instinctual and exaggerated language of the hater quickly categorizes the other and relieves him of the burden of real moral scrupulousness. So one can accuse Israel of violation of human rights or colonialism without doing the hard analytical work of defining and understanding these ideas. These pleasures extend to the Westerner who hates Islam as well. His sense of political supremacy and rectitude produces the same gut feeling that Islam is backward and tribal, thus reproducing his own moral superiority.
Deliberative and thoughtful exchange about others is slow and plodding. It requires correction and revisiting of attitudes and beliefs that must be modified or discarded. The scrupulous attention to cognitive errors and misinformation is evolutionarily new and we are not yet so good at it, especially when deliberation has to compete with the reptilian joys of hate.
Blogs are probably the best form of user generated content. And finding good blogs is a challenge because there’s plenty of junk out there. Let’s take a look at a little of the organizational structure for blogs. The network of computers that connects us all makes for an ecosystem and every blog fits somewhere into that system. The first type of blog and the most popular is the personal blog. This is the type of blog where you express yourself and layout your own feelings and thoughts. Of course, if you happen to be bright and interesting and quirky than these are good blogs. But if you are dull and plodding than your blog will follow suit. A good example of a personal blog is Dooce.com. You can check it out here: Dooce.com is a personal blog that records the person’s life. A second type of blog is a filtering blog. These simply lists links with little or no commentary but they connect you to many other blogs. Filtering blogs filter the web from the blogger’s point of view. So some topics are more representative than others. Jason Kottke’s blog is a particularly good example that uses the web to represent his own interests particularly when he and his wife had a baby. You can find the blog here: Jason Kottke’s Blog
Topical blogs are of course extremely popular and they are simply devoted to issues and focused topics rather than the blogger. You can probably imagine the variety of topics available on the Internet. Politics is important but less so than you might think. A Pew Internet research study in 2006 found that only around 11% of all blogs were primarily about politics . You might also try The Daily Kos and The Artful Parent. Topical blogs usually take the practice of writing a post like a news story; that is, they describe an activity and then include additional information and insights about that activity. Some of these topical blogs are simply quirky and creative and enjoyable to read. For this, I would recommend “your civic doody.” You can find it here: Your Civic Doody.
Liberal blogs are plentiful on the web but there are even more conservative blogs. One fellow who is chronically pissed and pretty fun to read can be a found here : chronically Pissed. An angry liberal blogger. No holds barred language
The conventions and the practices of blogging will change over time. Blogs will change as the technology changes as well as the communication interests of people. Still, there are millions of blogs and very few of them receive very much attention . But it is also important not to think of them as mass communication . They are not designed for the masses but for slices of the audience. I think the issue of whether blogs are simply a medium or whether they are genre of writing is an interesting one. If they are simply an electronic tool through which text passes then they have relatively little to offer other than speed and availability. But if they are genre of writing then blogs stand to play a significant role in the expression of information.
Once again we are confronted with monstrous contradictions, ideological ignorance as well as inconsistency, and an oppressive and unfair singling out of one group (Israel) that certainly smells of anti-Semitism if nothing else. It’s another one of those moments when the world seems less than sane. Israel a vibrant democratic market economy surrounded by less developed political cultures is targeted by a fringe anti-Israel movement called BDS or boycott, divestment, and sanction.
Daniel Schwammenthal wrote in The Wall Street Journal Europe about how the BDS crowd might as well label Scarlett Johansson a war criminal of all things because she works for and supports SodaStream a highly successful sophisticated soft drink company. SodaStream is a model of coexistence, sustainability, peace, and corporate responsibility. They make a tasty fizzy drink and the company is operated by the Israelis and Palestinians together including Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze. The company is known for its environmental sensitivity and complete equality between Israelis and Israeli Arabs. There are no discrepancies in compensation and the Arab employees average more income than other Israeli Arabs. Again, the factory is an example of cooperation and what future relations could look like between Israeli Arabs and Israelis.
SodaStream has numerous factories but one of them is in the West Bank. That was all it would take for BDS to get fired up and target Scarlett Johansson and Sodastream as war criminals and violators of human rights. Never mind that if Israel is going to create factories and jobs that include Israeli Arabs than the West Bank is probably going to be implicated. I’m sure BDS’s slick public relations arm was drooling at the opportunity to use Ms. Johansson’s celebrity to magnify their own media presence.
Never mind again that this is pseudo-activism designed to keep pressure on Israel along with a constant flow of criticism without paying any attention whatsoever to issues and analysis. The location of the factory would probably end up in that portion of what is now the West Bank that will be the new state of Palestine – someday one hopes. Additionally, the economic infusion and stimulation provided by SodaStream is not insignificant and makes for considerable economic benefits to the local community. It seems as though BDS is more interested in boycotting the factory and subjecting it to inflamed media criticism than it is the well-being of the 500 Palestinians and their families that work in the factory.
But BDS must be taken seriously because they have convinced more than a few governments and organizations to withdraw investments from Israel. The EU is on the verge of preventing funding that benefits anything related to the West Bank. The pressures on Israeli banks that have relationships with settlements is preventing EU investment money from helping various communities. Once again sanity seems to elude these people and their organizations. It will not be long until Iran is one screw turn away from a nuclear weapon but the sanctions imposed on them don’t seem to be very bothersome. Democratic freedoms of all sorts including gay rights struggle amidst Israel’s neighbors but the EU turns a blind eye. Mahmoud Abbas continues to pay salaries and ignore terrorism.
And all this time the EU continues to support Palestinian communities even though their record of development is poor. They support the Palestinian right to ignore serious peace treaty attempts and encourage them in numerous unproductive ways. Everyone knows, for example, that some sort of compromise is going to have to take place in which Israel keeps selected settlements in exchange for giving up others. Moreover, there will have to be adjustments and compromises on all sorts of issues pertaining to refugees, borders, and the definition of each state. And, yes, Israel too must make some changes, but the EU does not work with Palestinians in a pragmatic manner designed to move them toward solutions. The EU does not communicate or use its position as an honest broker to properly direct Palestinian attention.
Even during those heavy late-night conversations in college about God the guy with an unmovable opinion, who just couldn’t see outside his own boundaries, was annoying. Extreme voices, and the harsh opinions and rigid sensibilities that accompany them, are always a problem during deliberation or any attempted genuine discussion. The practicalities of deliberation require manageably sized groups that are small enough for sufficient participation in genuine engagement with the other side that is not defused throughout a large network of people. In fact, smaller deliberative groups provide a more empirical experience one that is more easily observed and measured.
Originally, deliberation was associated with existing political systems working to solve problems through liberal democratic means that include all of the normative expectations of deliberation. The “rationality” associated with deliberation is most realistic for intact political systems. Deeply divided groups – groups divided on the basis of ethnicity and religion – were thought incapable of such discourse. But in the last few years authors such as Sunstein and myself have made a case for deliberation and ethnopolitically divided groups on the basis not of rationality but of the “error reduction” that communication can provide. And as the empirical work in deliberation has evolved numerous practical issues focusing on how people actually communicate has been the subject of research attention. Moreover, researchers form smaller deliberative groups that are more practical.
One of the variables or issues that emerged from the research that the smaller deliberative groups make possible is the matter of extreme opinions. Deliberators in the true sense are supposed to be engaging one another intellectually for the purpose of preference formation, along with all of the normative ideals of deliberation. But in the “real world” of deliberation people behave differently and sometimes badly. Individuals with polarized opinions and attitudes are supposed to moderate them and work toward collaboration, but this is an ideal that is not often achieved. There are individuals who do not fully appreciate or respect deliberative ideals.
This difficulty of extreme opinions is particularly pertinent to conflicts between ethnopolitically divided groups where the conflicts are deep and intense. Conflict such as that between the Israelis and the Palestinians is characterized by highly divergent opinions and tension. People hold firm and unshakable opinions and discussions between these competing groups are filled with individuals who hold rigid and extreme opinions. At first glance, you would think that rigid opinions would be disruptive and certainly damaging to the deliberative ideal. And, of course, that is possible. Research has shown that sometimes when groups get together and talk the result is a worsening of relationships rather than improvement. Efforts to reduce stereotypes by increasing contact with the target of the stereotype can sometimes simply reinforce already present stereotypic images.
Almost all decision-making groups of any type, deliberative or not, struggle with the problem of members who have extremely rigid opinions and cannot be or will not be moved. Subjecting one’s influence to the better argument is an ideal of deliberation and this is thwarted if group members resist exposure to the other side. Those with rigid opinions typically pay little attention to any collaborative strategy since their goal is the imposition of their own opinions. But the communication process can once again come to the rescue and at least increase the probability of moderation mostly through the process of continued exposure to information, ideas, and counter positions. And although it’s more complex than that the basic communicative process is the initial platform upon which change rests.
It turns out that educating people about how policies and positions actually work tends to increase their exposure to other perspectives and improves the quality of debate. This is one more weapon in the “difficult conversation” arsenal that can serve as a corrective and ameliorate the polarization process. Rigid opinions will not disappear but improving knowledge promises to be an effective unfreezing of attitudes procedure.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article Puddington and Kramer reported that there has been a decline around the world in political rights and civil liberties as measured by Freedom House. True enough, the measurement of these things is not an exact science but Freedom House does a decent job of identifying key variables and definitions correlated with cultures that privilege democracy and civil liberties. After some years of improvement because of democratization around the world the general trends have been in decline. The authors report that 54 countries had registered declines in political rights and only 40 registered gains.
The reasons for these declines are interesting and the current conflict in Syria poses a particularly fitting example. The case of Syria is a typical model of authoritarianism that holds its power for a period of time through force and intimidation and then loses that power to violence and revolution (think Egypt, Tunisia, Libya). But even more interestingly the earliest mistakes are confusing violence with politics; that is, organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood or any other anti-government faction resorts to violence because there are no legitimate outlets of political expression and change. There’s a rather simple video you can watch which lays out the structure of the conflict in Syria and is actually a model for many other places. The video is brief and simple but is a template for any number of political situations. It is called “Syria explained in five minutes.” The decline in political freedoms is correlated with the political processes on display in the video.
Many of the losses of political freedom are associated with efforts to sabotage the Arab Spring. Religion and illiberal factions are reinforced for damaging democratic gains. And there is the very damaging influence of outside powers that imagine democratic gains as contrary to their own interests. Hence, countries like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have conspired to keep Assad in power. Moreover, the Middle East is no longer the worst scoring region of the world when it comes to measurements of freedom. Russia has increased the intensity with which it silences groups, denies rights to nontraditional groups such as gays and lesbians, and uses its oil clout to interfere with any political process that is contrary to its interests. Russia cracks down on NGOs, civil rights activists, journalists, and any political opponent who poses a real challenge.
Russia, China, and Venezuela light the way for authoritarian governments that dominate media, security, as well as legislative and judicial branches of government. They do this mostly by blindly supporting centralized authoritarian governments such as the military government in Egypt or of course Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Syrian opposition to Assad is highly fractionated and is composed of the Free Syrian Army (deserters from Assad’s army), numerous Islamic groups from more extreme (e.g., “Battalion of Truth”,), to less extreme (Liwa al-Tawhid “Battalion of Monotheism”). There are Kurdish groups and independent groups not to mention attempts to form organizations that are more inclusive such as the “National Coalition.”
Clearly, the aggressiveness of extremist Islamic groups keep democratic pressures at bay and their presence in places like Syria will prevent democratization for a generation to come. And, finally, perhaps even more disturbing is the paralysis of places like the United States. We have said little and played an insignificant role in Syria because there’s no group to identify with and support. Secretary of State Kerry has worked to broker discussion at the macro level but the US is less engaged then countries like Russia and Iran. This can’t be good.
For many people interspersed throughout the politics of the Middle East defending Ariel Sharon is an impossible task. Even bypassing for the moment those who considered him a “war criminal” and an aggressive and narrow minded defender of settlements, Sharon attracts a lot of emotional attention. He is easy to demonize and has been treated with more than his share of abuse and vitriol. He has been portrayed with swastikas and Nazi symbols of all sorts. Characterizing him as a hook-nosed version of Fagan or Shylock is routine for many media outlets.
I accept that Sharon was a tough guy who was a staunch defender of his country and took little reproach from anyone. But a closer look at historical events reveals that he’s been treated pretty unfairly. Again, I would not deny that Sharon was willing to do what he considered necessary but it is interesting to note how the truth or any justifiable interpretation about Sharon has drifted over time. There are three occurrences most associated with Sharon’s reputation for violence. They are the attack on the village Qibya, the second intifada, and the attack on Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Let’s strike up a little history lesson.
In 1953 Sharon formed a military unit that carried out attacks on Arab villages in retribution for the murder of Israelis. In the village of Qibya he and his unit blew up houses and killed 69 people. Most reports describe this as a mistake and certainly not part of Israeli policy. The attack on Qibya was condemned by Israeli authorities. Moreover describing what Sharon and his unit did as reprisals implies that this was government policy and uncontrolled violence. At the time Israel was responding to the fedayeen who were terrorists no different than today’s terrorists. Israel had a right to defend itself. But the forces around the Sharon’s violent image were building and the Qibya incident simply laid the foundation for future charges.
The Sabra and Shatila incident is most associated with Sharon’s reputation for violence and aggressive reprisal. Sabra and Shatila were Palestinian refugee camps that were the home to various terrorist groups. Those who are truly ignorant of the facts believe Sharon and the Israelis massacred hundreds of Palestinian refugees. But, of course, it was the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia who carried out the massacre. It was considered revenge killing for the assassination of the Lebanese president in a car bomb. Still, Sharon was blamed for “letting it happen.” Sharon had allowed the Phalange to enter the camp because they were supposed to be administrative changes of sorts. Sharon made mistakes and probably should’ve known what sort of violence was about to take place when the Phalange entered the camp. But it remains the case that he was regularly defamed and treated in a very discriminatory manner over the years by a constant drumbeat claiming that he “intended” to kill civilians.
Finally, Sharon was blamed for an intense outburst of violence in the year 2000 because he visited the Temple Mount. This was described as highly provocative and sparking the Palestinians anger because of the holy nature of the Temple Mount. Of course, the Temple Mount is equally as holy to Jews as it is to Muslims and even from a legal administrative standpoint Sharon had a “right” to go there. But, it is true enough, that Sharon visiting the Temple Mount was going to be extremely provocative and one wishes he had exercised more discretion. Yet again, Sharon was painted with a broad brush blaming him for the entire Second Intifada. More than a few Palestinians later explained that the Intifada had been planned for some time and that the violence resulting from Sharon’s visit could have been stopped by the Palestinians at any time. Arafat was more interested in provoking the Israelis than anything else.
Ariel Sharon was a magnet for misdirection and misinterpretation of issues. The reporting about him was often strongly biased and never missed a chance to blame him for something. But even though Sharon supported settlement development and was the father of many current Israeli problems, he will also be remembered in history as one of the “fathers” of the state of Israel.
Below are summaries of 3 studies that represent trends and progress in digital media and politics. They are of particular interest and represent highlights from 2013. More details are available from the Shorenstein Center.
The first study demonstrates empirically that the global village is increasingly a reality. Most twitter contributions are beyond the local geography and represent a new pattern of interaction.
“Mapping the Global Twitter Heartbeat: The Geography of Twitter” Study from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in First Monday. By Kalev Leetaru, Shaowen Wang, Guofeng Cao, Anand Padmanabhan, and Eric Shook.
One of the most comprehensive assessments to date about the effect of new technologies on human communications worldwide, this study examined patterns among more than 1.5 billion tweets from 70 million users over a one-month period in late 2012. It provides empirical evidence that the world is indeed shrinking: “There appears to be only weak geographic affinity in communicative link formation in that users retweet and reference users far away nearly as often as they do those physically proximate to them.” Further, on average people tweet news that happens locally and news about far-away events with about equal frequency. Twitter is “not simply a mirror of mainstream media” and has its own distinct conversational dynamics. The data also show that significant portions of the “world’s most influential Twitter users” were in places such as Indonesia, Western Europe, Africa and Central America. The overall takeaway is that where we live is beginning to matter less in terms of our knowledge, interests and social networks: “Geographic proximity is found to play a minimal role both in who users communicate with and what they communicate about, providing evidence that social media is shifting the communicative landscape.” – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/news-media/digital-media-scholarship-dozen-highlights-2013#sthash.AtZXGfyh.dpuf
The study below demonstrates that incivility online damages expert credibility and distorts the communication process. The study was responsible for a magazine shutting down its comments section.
“The ‘Nasty Effect’: Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies” From George Mason University and University of Wisconsin-Madison, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. By Ashley A. Anderson, Dominique Brossard, Dietram A. Scheufele, Michael A. Xenos, and Peter Ladwig.
The study, published in February, has the distinction of being one of the few to actually help change editorial policy this year at a publication. Popular Science cited the study in its announcement that it was shutting down its comments section to push back against a perceived “war on expertise.” There remained some controversy, however, about whether the study’s conclusions were broad enough to justify that editorial decision. The researchers used online surveys with embedded experiments to test how people responded to articles about nanotechnology; some were accompanied by nasty comments, others not. The study’s findings suggest that “impolite and incensed blog comments can polarize online users based on value predispositions utilized as heuristics when processing the blog’s information.” Further, the researchers note, “The effects of online, user-to-user incivility on perceptions towards emerging technologies may prove especially troublesome for science experts and communicators that rely on public acceptance of their information. The effects of online incivility may be even stronger for more well-known and contentious science issues such as the evolution vs. intelligent design debate or climate change.” – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/news-media/digital-media-scholarship-dozen-highlights-2013#sthash.AtZXGfyh.dpuf
The third study is an interesting and important summary of the role of the Internet and political campaigns
“The Internet and American Political Campaigns” From George Washington University, published in The Forum. By David Karpf. (Pre-print open version here.)
Part of a growing cohort of academics pioneering the subfield of online politics, Karpf provides a short, useful summary of the state of research in this area. For journalists, the works cited page alone is a valuable who’s who — fill up that contact list for campaigns 2014 and 2016 — but the narrative also underscores some basic truths: The web has not changed many forms of participatory inequality; polarizing candidates frequently win the small donations race; the “culture of testing” and analytics are changing how campaigns allocate resources; liberals and conservatives typically use technology differently for campaigns. One striking insight: “We are potentially moving from swing states to swing individuals, employing savvy marketing professionals to attract these persuadables and mobilize these supporters with little semblance of the slow, messy deliberative practices enshrined in our democratic theories.” But definitive answers remain elusive on many other fronts. “There is still, frankly, a lot that we do not know,” Karpf writes. For more insights in this area, see Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s response, “Messaging, Micro-Targeting and New Media Technologies.” – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/news-media/digital-media-scholarship-dozen-highlights-2013#sthash.AtZXGfyh.dpuf
Let’s return to the issue of biased images. Click on the link below and check out some of the most biased and obviously manipulated images – not necessarily from the previous year – and think a little bit more about how to protect yourself from such manipulation.
You can see that there are essentially four strategies to manipulating images. The first is termed deliberate staging. This is pretty self-explanatory and refers to using objects to increase the emotional intensity of the message or stimulate a particular conclusion that might not be warranted otherwise. It represents a blatant lie and the crude manipulation of an image by placing objects in the image that were not there in the first lace. The second strategy is called fauxtography. This is making something look like a photograph that really is not. So you can see in the one image how a fired missile was captured on the computer and reproduced to make it look like another missile was fired and increase the impression of military might and competence. This is particularly simple in the era of computer photography and Photoshop. The third way to manipulate images is through perspective and angles. Close-up shots of a few hands make it look like there are more people present then in actuality. Wide-angle shots give a different perspective than narrow angle shots. Finally, visual images can be recycled or reused. Pictures of injured or dead soldiers can be simply reused in order to make the scene appear more emotional or communicative of violence than actually occurred.
The ethics of digital manipulation of the news in particular are clear – it is unacceptable. There are debates about photo manipulation with respect to aesthetics or beauty. I have encountered the argument that enhancing beauty or engaging in numerous manipulations for the purpose of aesthetic enhancement only is acceptable. I can accept that. It is not very troubling that a movie star on the front of a magazine has blemishes removed and positive highlights. But a “news” story that is supposed to be telling some semblance of the truth is a different matter.
I have encountered the argument that enhancing a photograph through any of the four methods described above, for the purpose of what the perpetrator considers increased clarity and specificity, is acceptable. So, if a building is blown up and some children are killed then placing a baby’s toy in the center of the image enhances the significant emotional truth of the story. This is, of course, a weak argument that is dangerous since its acceptance justifies any sort of manipulation. Moreover, even if children were killed in an explosion there are numerous emotional and political issues that would be forced to the background because of an individual’s doctoring of the image. And although such an argument has been made is accepted by no reliable or trustworthy news organization.