Citizen Media Watch

januari 7th, 2007

"Gatekeeping is over" – new wiki enables anonymous leaks

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

WikiLeaks websiteA new wiki is being set up by Chinese dissidents in collaboration with mathematicians and startup company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa. WikiLeaks will become ”an uncensorable version of wikipedia”, according to the site.
The objective is to provide a place where people in oppressed regimes can leak documents without getting caught, thus promoting democracy. This will be accomplished by the use of anonymity and encryption.

The power of principled leaking to embarrass governments, corporations and institutions is amply demonstrated through recent history. Public scrutiny of otherwise unaccountable and secretive institutions pressures them to act ethically. What official will chance a secret, corrupt transaction when the public is likely to find out? What repressive plan will be carried out when it is revealed to the citizenry, not just of its own country, but the world? When the risks of embarrassment through openness and honesty increase, the tables are turned against conspiracy, corruption, exploitation and oppression.

But WikiLeaks isn’t restricted to leaks about oppressive regimes.

WikiLeaks will be the outlet for every government official, every bureaucrat, every corporate worker, who becomes privy to embarrassing information which the institution wants to hide but the public needs to know. What conscience cannot contain, and institutional secrecy unjustly conceals, WikiLeaks can broadcast to the world.

But how could it possibly be used as a journalistic tool? How does a journalist verify that the information is correct, that the documents come from where it’s said they are from? This could indeed become an efficient tool – for spreading misinformation and rumours. Though the documents are supposed to be scrutinized by the public, it is not necessarily so that the public knows much about the exact things being leaked – if they did, there would be little point leaking them.
Here’s what the site FAQ has to say on the issue.

WikiLeaks opens leaked documents up to a much more exacting scrutiny than any media organization or intelligence agency could provide: the scrutiny of a worldwide community of informed wiki editors.
[…]
If a document is leaked from the Chinese government, the entire Chinese dissident community can freely scrutinize and discuss it; if a document is leaked from Somalia, the entire Somali refugee community can analyze it and put it in context. And so on.

Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy has some objections against the project:

In the absence of accountable editorial oversight, publication can more easily become an act of aggression or an incitement to violence, not to mention an invasion of privacy or an offense against good taste.

”As we saw with the Saddam hanging video this week, gatekeeping is over”, responds Martin Stabe, and continues:

There is no way to require “accountable editorial oversight” as a barrier to entry to the public sphere anymore — a determined leaker will find a way to publicise their material online. But that doesn’t mean a responsible journalist has to cooperate with a project that carries a high risk of being used irresponsibly and seems to abdicate all responsibility for the actions of its users.


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december 24th, 2006

Mashups as a journalistic – and political – tool: Tunisia example

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

The Tunisian Prison map is a great example of how you can use mashups as a base for journalism or political lobbying.
Based on a google map, Sami Ben Gharbia has pinpointed Tunisian prisons and shows information about prisoners and what crimes they are convicted of. If you click on one of the pointers, you get an information overview, links to more info, and often a YouTube video clip about it.
One example – information about the prison of Kef:

2- Thecase of the Youth of Kef condemned for downloading an mp3 (See the flash animation here) of a HipHop song criticizing the brutality of the Tunisian police service (more info here and here)- (an other flash animation about the song).

In his blog, Sami Ben Gharbia writes:

Worse than a taboo the Tunisian penitentiary system is a state affair, a question of national security. All those who dared approach the topic, reveal its secrets or point fingers to its dysfunctions dearly paid their imprudence.
/…/
While in other countries the freedom of information includes the public right to access information detained by the public authorities, in Tunisia we are confronted with security obsessed reflex and a pseudo requirement of national interest, thus depriving the citizens from their elementary right of being informed. That justifies the lead cover imposed by the local authorities who, under biased pretences do no longer feel any obligation to publish categories of essential information about the country and hence the censure about divulgation of any information on the criminality rate or the number of prisons and its population… as if these information belonged to private heritage of the governing authorities!


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december 21st, 2006

The Lebanese ambulance attack and trust in citizen – and established – media

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

In August, a friend pointed me to the Red Cross Ambulance Incident fraud report at Zombietime. Today I read Ethan Zuckerman‘s recent post about the story.
In short, two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances were reported to have been attacked by Israeli forces on July 23. The fraud report claims that this never happened, and offers the following scenario.

Two ambulances that had been somehow damaged long before the July Israel-Hezbollah conflict even began were dragged out of a salvage yard, where they had been rusting for months or years. They were taken to a parking lot and smashed up even more, inside and out. Then fresh gurneys were placed inside one of them. An intentionally amateurish video was then taken of the two vehicles, in order to show the damage. That night, as planned, some Red Cross workers feigning minor injuries rushed into a hospital in Tyre, and recounted a tale of horror: their ambulances had been attacked by Israeli missiles. The media was notified.

According to Ethan Zuckerman, the claim ”was later repeated by Australia’s foreign minister Alexander Downer, who stated ‘it is beyond all serious dispute that this episode has all the makings of a hoax.'”

An excellent example of citizen media reporting. Or was it? Here comes the twist.

In steps Human Rights Watch, who go to Lebanon to set the facts straigth. This results in a report saying the attacks did happen.

They conclude that the ambulances were both struck by missles, one of which removed Fawaz’s leg, but that the missles were likely Dense Inert Metal Explosives fired from an Israeli drone.

Now, can we trust Human Rights Watch? They were the ones reporting about the attack in the first place. Do they just want to save face? Zuckerman writes:

HRW’s report does include a major correction – they no longer characterize the attack as coming from a manned Israeli aircraft, but now believe the attacks came from a remote-controlled drone.

Zuckerman in his analysis points to an important factor – time.

What’s disturbing to me about the situation is the timeframe. Zombietime and affiliated rightwing commentators got their story out very quickly, offering their analysis within days of the incident. HRW’s response is coming almost half a year later. This makes sense – HRW actually went to Lebanon and interviewed people who saw the incident, while Zombietime looked at press photos and offered theories. While HRW’s analysis is critical in determining what really happened on July 23rd and demanding accountability from the Israeli government, this report is hardly likely to call as much attention to the incident as it recieved when it was initially reported.

This story is just one example of a key issue in our current – and future – media world. Trust.
Everyone has an agenda. Future media consumers have to be very much aware of that.


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december 8th, 2006

20 million bloggers in China

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

The Chinese blogosphere is growing. A recent report states that there were 19.87 bloggers in China on Nov. 6, an increase by 24 percent in a year. Every blogger has 2,6 blogs on average, making the total 52,3 million blogs in China.
The report is only available in Chinese, but there’s a summary at the China Web2.0 Review.


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december 5th, 2006

"Censorship is flattery"

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

I just read an interesting piece on free speech online by Ethan Zuckerman at My heart’s in Accra. He reasons that the fact that different non-democratic governments try to restrict citizen media is in fact the greatest proof of its importance.

If governments are bothering to block citizen media, it’s because they the power and threat of this new media. After all, censorship is the sincerest form of flattery when you’re an anti-government activist.

Also read Ann Condi’s essay about the lack of interest in democracy among her colleagues in China, and Andrew Lih’s response on the similar lack of interest in the States, both discussed in Zucherman’s post and around the media blogging world.


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december 3rd, 2006

MSN survery: Male autority blogs most popular in India

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

A recent survey posed to 1000 Indian visitors to MSN’s portal has mapped Indian blog behaviours. Blogs founded by business leaders make for the most enjoyable read, writes The Hindu. Second in line are politicians’ blogs. Many also read blogs to get entertained.
Blogging in India is just on the verge of becoming as the new fourth estate in India, writes India Daily.
Indian blog readers trust what they read to a higher extent than elsewhere, though not even half of the respondees actually knew what a blog is. Blog reading is also tech-oriented, which makes sense in a country that has gone through such an enormous development over the past few years thanks to tech savviness.

A desire for self-improvement and personal development is found to be a key driver of India’s blogosphere with a large majority of online users reading blogs to stay informed about world events. They enjoy reading about technology the most, followed closely by news and education. Elsewhere, technology content ranks low.

One seventh of Indian net users blog, three quarters of them men.

Dina Mehta at Conversations with Dina rightly points out that the survey is only representative of MSN portal visitors.

This is by no means representative blogosphere in India – not many bloggers I know think highly of MSN or go to the portal at all.

Probably the percentage of women is a bit higher than the study indicates, and also the other percentages might differ in a more representative poll, but it is interesting none the less to see these trends.


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