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Cablegate: Gossip or Groundbreaking intel?

29 Nov

Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, looking remarkably pleased with himself

Wikileaks Julian Assange strikes again with the beginning of a release of over 250,000 Secret U.S. Embassy Cables last Sunday. The release, dubbed Cablegate by Wikileaks, and “an attack on the international community” by Hillary Clinton, has certainly caused a lot of media frenzy.

Some, like Gary Younge of The Guardian, are unsurprised by the content in the cables, and think that there aren’t that many people who should be surprised by America’s uncensored dealings with the rest of the world.

Others, notably The Economist, see this latest release as nothing more than gossip, the dreary who-said-what catcalling of diplomacy. New York Magazine went so far as to compare it to the (marvelous) high-school film Mean Girls(the picture in their article is copyrighted, but please take a look, it’s hilarious). It has to be admitted that some of the most salacious pieces of intel gathered from Cablegate, including the news that Libyan leader Khadafy goes nowhere without his ‘voluptuous blonde nurse‘ seem pointless at best, and media garbage at worst. However, the U.S. has responded almost too strongly to the cables, with leaders warning certain countries about embarrassment before the cables were even released.

So what is the story then? Is this just a media stunt, getting Assange yet more publicity, but exposing little of value? Or is there something to be learned from the growing pile of diplomatic correspondence, even if it is just that there are multiple layers to diplomacy, and they don’t always correspond with official press releases? But, really, didn’t we already know that?

Update: The majority of Fox-reading Americans think Wikileaks is a terrorist organization. What does that mean?


Whatever Happened to Darfur Anyway?

5 Nov

For this week’s blog, Publish First. Ask Later did a little bit of research on how many people remember the conflict in Darfur. It was a big topic on campuses a few years ago, but you don’t hear so much about it these days and we wanted to know where all that energy and activism has gone.

We filmed three students answering questions related to the topics of Darfur and African-connected celebrities and one young gentleman who identified pictures of celebrities related to the Save Darfur campaign. The pictured celebrities were, Barack Obama, who as a senator spoke at several Save Darfur rallies, George Clooney, who has been one of the most visible people campaigning on behalf of Save Darfur, and Angelina Jolie, who as you can imagine, not only accompanied her husband on some of his Africa-saving trips, but has in fact written several essays championing the cause. Last, we saved some photos of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, sporting some dashing headgear, to see if our interviewee could identify him.

Next we asked people our relevant Darfur/celebrity questions. If you watch the video below, you can see exactly how much people knew about what. That is to say, not much about Darfur at all, but quite a lot about some African-inspired singers whose hips don’t lie.

How effective is community media in creating civil society?

29 Oct

This Wednesday, October 27, 2010, a group of four groundbreaking digital activists came to The New School and presented their work and ideas.  These activists work with a range of mediums, from video and photography to radio and blogging, however they all were focused on the same broad goal, using media tools to empower those who have historically been silenced.

Liz Hodes, from Digital Democracy discussed a project where Haitian women were given cameras and asked to film and document gender-based violence, thereby giving these women a tool to speak out.  James Lebbie from Sierra Leone’s Cotton Tree News played a portion of an audio program named InsaiSalone, in which two women gossip about societal problems that the government can fix, such as corruption and infrastructure.  Lebbie described this program as the one “politicians fear the most.”  Lova Rakotomalala, the French Language Editor of Global Voices, an online blogging aggregator discussed how blogging had exposed the coup in Madagascar from last year.  Finally, there was WITNESS, a global video advocacy program presented by Pricila Neri.

Each of these speakers presented their programs with an air of optimism, but acknowledged that there were challenges and dangers to working in the human rights and advocacy field that might not be readily apparent to a casual observer. At one point Rakotomalala showed a global bandwidth map, which looked something like the one below, showing the fundamental lack of internet connectivity, or “internet penetration” in the Global South.  As most of these projects are internet-based, one must question how effective these initiatives are in creating real civil society among populations that do not have access to internet.  While mobile technology could affect this imbalance, can it really be a platform for substantive civil society discourse?








In our last post, we discussed real activism vs. ‘slacktivism’, the idea that clicking a Facebook ‘Like’ button can not replace offline actions for social change.  Malcolm Gladwell’s recent piece in The New Yorker , “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted About” caused quite a stir by claiming that social tools are ineffective at causing real social change. Gladwell claimed that real activism is caused by strong social ties, and that our new social tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, are driven by weak social ties. Pricila Neri, representing WITNESS, acknowledged this dilemma in her own work.  These organizations seemed to refute Malcolm Gladwell’s argument to some degree.  For example, Cotton Tree News, by giving ordinary citizens a space to publicly critique their government, has caused real physical change.  Additionally, WITNESS has been in existence for 18 years and allows victims such as child soldiers who have witnessed numerous human rights violations to record information, re-telling their stories and broadcasting those videos to targeted audiences to bring about change.  While questions about the effectiveness of community media still remain, the record of these organizations shows that with the right strategies and methods, offline change can occur as a result of dedicated individuals using mobile tools to pursue change.