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The Blogosphere The New Public Sphere? What Role for the State If Any?


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Paper presented at the 2010 Africa Media Leadership Conference in Dar es Salaam - Tuesday, September 28, 2010

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The Blogosphere The New Public Sphere? What Role for the State If Any?

  1. 1. A presentation by Dibussi Tande Panel Discussion / Debate Tuesday, September 28 Is The Blogosphere The New Public Sphere? What Should The Role Of The State Be, If Any? Successful Media Business Models in the Digital Age Dar es Salaam, Tanzania September 26-29, 2010
  2. 2. Overview of the Public Sphere <ul><li>“ A domain…where … public opinion can be formed [where] citizens... deal with matters of general interest without being subject to coercion...[to] express and publicize their views” ( Jurgen Habermas) </li></ul><ul><li>A place “where information, ideas and debate can circulate in society, and where political opinion can be formed‘” (Dahlgren) </li></ul><ul><li>An indispensable component “to the infrastructure required for knowledgeable debate, informed choices, and general transparency needed in a mature democracy” ( Tomaselli) </li></ul>Picture source : fdecomite
  3. 3. The Blogosphere as the New Public Sphere <ul><li>An aggregation of weblogs and their interconnections </li></ul><ul><li>A space for citizens “to reflect and publish their thoughts, provide opportunities for feedback and potential scaffolding of new ideas” </li></ul><ul><li>A virtual sphere for democratic deliberation, interactive information sharing, public opinion formation, & collaboration </li></ul>Picture Source: Data mining The Blogosphere “ A vital tool of political involvement and participatory, democratic activism“
  4. 4. What Role for the State in the New Public Sphere / Blogosphere? <ul><li>A hands-off approach? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Should the blogosphere operate, unrestricted and unfettered, free from all state control & interference? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>An Interventionist Approach? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The state arbiter? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The State as actor? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The state as regulator? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The State as moral authority? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The state as controller of dissent? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The state as repressive guarantor of “public order”? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Can there a middle ground? </li></ul>Picture Source: RFI
  5. 5. An Overview of the African Blogosphere <ul><li>A vibrant cyber-community providing alternative analyses & perspectives on African events, issues & governments </li></ul><ul><li>A space for social debate and political mobilisation </li></ul><ul><li>A space for promoting democracy and freedom of expression </li></ul><ul><li>A virtual community generally very critical of African regimes </li></ul><ul><li>A Diaspora-dominated Digital Public Sphere </li></ul>
  6. 6. How African Regimes View the African Digital Public Sphere (I) <ul><li>The blogosphere – a threat to public order and a potentially destabilizing force </li></ul><ul><li>A digital Far West where “unpatriotic” elements, mostly in the Diaspora, attack and tarnish the reputation of African “countries” [i.e., regimes] </li></ul>$100,000 The African Blogger DEAD or ALIVE
  7. 7. How African Regimes View the African Digital Public Sphere (II) <ul><li>“ The Internet has been used to destroy the image of Zimbabwe” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bright Matonga, (ex) Zimbabwe Deputy Information Minister </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ There is now a need to monitor what people are doing on the Internet to ensure that they do not involve themselves in unlawful acts” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Leckford Thotho (ex) Malawi Minister of Information </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ [Diaspora] activists have embarked on a systematic campaign of denigration and calumny against their nation… spreading rumor and fantasy” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Issa Tchiroma, Cameroon Minister of Communications; Spokesperson of the Government of Cameroon </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ The Government of Cameroon was the victim of cyber-terrorism. There was disinformation and intoxication from the Web” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Issa Tchiroma, Minister of Communications; </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. The 4Cs for Neutralizing the Blogosphere <ul><li>Control </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Extend existing “Social Communications” (press) laws to the blogosphere </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Establish new laws and regulations that target online activity/speech </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Create technology barriers – Internet filtering, digital surveillance… </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Co-opt </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Attempt to “motivate” critical bloggers (financially and otherwise) to either moderate their criticism or simply switch sides </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Contain </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Create counter-blogs with pro-government views </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unleash trolls to disrupt or hijack discussions on “dissident” blogs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Demonize bloggers as cyber-terrorists and traitors of the “nation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Discredit bloggers as fringe elements – an irrelevant “vocal minority” with an unavowed political agenda </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Coerce </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Detention (Ex: Jonathan Elendu, Nigeria) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Censorship (Ex: Sami Ben Gharbia’s blog, Tunisia) Intimidation/public and private threats (Ex: Cameroonian bloggers) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Murder (Ex: Khaled Said, Egypt) </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Snapshot of Repression: Cameroon Cybercrime Law <ul><li>Anyone who uses electronic communications to publish or propagate information whose truthfulness he or she cannot prove shall be sentenced to a term of 6 months to 2 years in jail and/or fined 5 to 10 million Francs CFA </li></ul><ul><li>This sentence shall be doubled if the offense is committed with the aim of threatening public order/peace  </li></ul><ul><li>The state shall leverage “international judicial cooperation and mutual assistance” to prosecute individuals who threaten public order from abroad </li></ul>Law Establishing a Legal Framework for the Fight Against Cybercrimes and the Promotion of Cyber Security Picture Source: RFI
  10. 10. The Way Forward – A Minimal Role for the State in the Blogosphere <ul><li>Why a minimal role </li></ul><ul><li>“ The public sphere is not set up by government, and not managed by government - it has to be separate in order to provide: 'counterweights to absolutist states...[and] mediate between ‘society’ and state by holding the state accountable to ‘society’” (McKee) </li></ul><ul><li>“ The benefits of the Internet far outweigh the dangers of misuse. In some countries, the Internet is the only source of pluralistic and independent information, even if Internet penetration may still be low” (Deibert et al) </li></ul>
  11. 11. What Minimal Role for the State? Creating an Enabling Environment <ul><li>Establish the framework for “people-centered Information Society” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Governments should foster a supportive, transparent, pro-competitive and predictable policy, legal and regulatory framework , which provides the appropriate incentives to investment and community development in the Information Society” (WSIS Declaration of Principles, 2003 ) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Governments should intervene… to correct market failures, to maintain fair competition, to attract investment, to enhance the development of the ICT infrastructure and applications, to maximize economic and social benefits, and to serve national priorities” (WSIS Declaration of Principles, 2003 ) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Involve digital activists and bloggers in drafting laws </li></ul>“ Freedom of Internet content is a myth… but the democratization of Internet control is possible”
  12. 12. What Role for the State? Promoting Participatory Democracy Online <ul><li>Change mindset from censorship and repression to one of transparency & collaboration </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Avoid non-transparent and arbitrary laws that specifically target free speech on the blogosphere </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Resist temptation to extend laws that criminalize press offenses to the blogosphere </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Encourage idea of blogosphere as a space for civic deliberation and democratic apprenticeship </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>View blogosphere as sounding board for government actions & catalyst for government transparency </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Be an advocate of a self-regulating / self-healing blogosphere </li></ul></ul>The balance between protecting free expression online and ensuring that the rights and dignity of others are protected is an extremely delicate one and must be applied carefully. Article 19
  13. 13. Revisiting the Role of Kenyan Blogosphere in the 2008 Post-Election Violence <ul><li>The Kenyan blogosphere generally cited as a textbook example of the blogosphere’s failure to function as a deliberative Public Sphere with a capacity for moderation in times of crisis/upheaval </li></ul><ul><li> – Used as a case study of how the Kenyan blogosphere became a platform for promoting hate speech and ethnic baiting, and inciting violence </li></ul>
  14. 14. Beyond the Fog – Mashada: An Example of the Blogosphere’s “Self Healing” Capacity <ul><li>Contrary to the accepted narrative, demonstrated the self regulatory capacity of the blogosphere: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Moderators instituted discussion guidelines that shun “Personal aggression, condescension, rudeness, racism, bigotry” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Forum was temporarily closed & traffic redirected to iHaveNoTribe… I am Kenyan a site promoting constructive dialogue that sought to diffuse the tension within the Kenyan online community </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Strategy succeeded and Mashada was reopened two weeks later </li></ul></ul><ul><li>While the Kenyan blogosphere and Mashada highlighted the divisive potential of the new digital public space, it also demonstrated the incredible ability of the blogosphere to self-regulate. </li></ul>The Mashada experience “elegantly demonstrated that one possible response to destructive speech online is to encourage constructive speech” [rather than resort to repression]
  15. 15. Out of Chaos… Ushahidi <ul><li>Ushahidi (Testimony) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Initially developed by Kenyan bloggers to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Used to map incidents of violence and peace efforts throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web and mobile phone </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Initial deployment of Ushahidi had 45,000 users in Kenya, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Two years later, Ushahidi is Kenya’s most popular export of the new century [used in Haiti Chile, Palestine, India, etc.] </li></ul></ul>Free from state interventionism the blogosphere becomes a zone for online collaboration and creative solutions
  16. 16. Fast Forward 2010 Kenya Referendum: Digital Public Sphere Self Regulates <ul><li>Launching of Uchaguzi (Decision) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>An Ushahidi clone </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Allows citizens and civil society to monitor and report incidences around the electoral process </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Establishing the Uwiano ( Cohesion ) Peace Platform </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Civil society organizations deploy 4,000 people nationwide to monitor & report the circulation of hate messages & use of hate speech in public </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Voice recorders , mobile phones & Internet as tools </li></ul></ul>Tools & techniques from the blogoshere used to tame &quot;predatory impulse[s] that deepen existing cultural divides “and to promote the “civic impulse for constructive and healing dialogue”
  17. 17. Navigating a Potential Minefield: Mainstream Journalists Using Social Media <ul><li>Washington Post Newsroom Guidelines for Use of Social Media </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ All Washington Post journalists relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ When using social networking tools for reporting or for our personal lives, we must remember that Washington Post journalists are always Washington Post journalists ” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Los Angeles Times Social Media Guidelines </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Integrity is our most important commodity: Avoid writing or posting anything that would embarrass The Times or compromise your ability to do your job.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Assume that your professional life and your personal life will merge online regardless of your care in separating them” </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Caught in the Social Media Minefield: CNNs’ Octavia Nasr “ A t this point, we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.“ Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president of CNN International
  19. 19. End Note: “The Greatest Menace To Freedom Is An Inert People” “ Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary... They believed that ... the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of ... Government” US Supreme Court Justice, Louis D. Brandeis
  20. 20. Thank you for your attention… Skype ID: Dibussi Email: [email_address] Blog: Twitter: Linkedin: Slideshare: Facebook: