Archive for March, 2012

The term “slacktivism” has been discussed a lot in relation to KONY2012. It is funny really, if you Google the word, most hits are connected to the KONY issue! So what is it really? One definition from Wikipedia goes like this: “Slacktivism (…) is a term formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other that to make the person doing it feel satisfaction.”

This definition puts the so-called “slackers” in a bad light, to be honest; I think the word “slacker” does so too. It basically says that persons not doing more than sharing a link about an issue is not doing this to support the issue but for the sole reason that he or she want to feel good about themselves. I actually do not understand why we have such a word, the more I think about it, I feel like we are having double standards. The rise of social media has been a hot topic in recent years and it still is. Everyone is starting to realize what power lies in the hands of “the people formally known as the audience” as (Jay Rosen). There are thoughts of mainstream media not being needed anymore because with social media we have created a more informative public sphere.  We have even witnessed regimes  fall to the ground due to use of social media (The Arab Spring).

What I do not like is that being an “activist” is seen as better than a “slacktivist”. Maybe it is mainstream media way of suppressing and badmouthing the new social media..? I would say that in both cases people are showing their support for a certain issue. When I first shared the KONY2012 video on Facebook I thought to myself that it would help spread the message, which were the point of the campaign. People tend to think that there is not much they can do to make a difference in the world, that they are just one person and that no one will hear them anyway. Clicking that one button to share something they find important might be the “only” thing they feel they can do.

Technology today is saying otherwise, it is saying that we CAN be heard, that we CAN make a difference. With media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, one voice can turn into 1 million voices in just a week. The KONY2012 video was, after my opinion, an online activist campaign. It definitely created awareness in the world, both good and bad, which is an activists goal. It created a reaction and according to the Herald Sun and CNN perhaps it also made someone take action. I think it is the new way of activism. Does it have to be rebellious, violent and messy before it can be called real activism? Everything is changing with the social media. Everything is going from being analog to being digital, so why not activism as well.

Sam de Brito wrote a column in the Sydney Morning Herald about slacktivism and the KONY2012 issue. I think it was really good and gives young people with good intentions some well deserved credit.

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“The Arab Revolution / الثورة العربية” is a group established on the website Flickr and is one amongst many different groups. The Arab Spring started in 2010-2011 and became a revolutionary time of protests and demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and more. Although the Arab Spring in itself is an interesting issue, something else rose under this revolution which will have my attention today; Social Media and citizen Journalism.

It is not many years ago since news was received in a “one-way-manner” from mainstream media, to us. At that time we were consumers. Passive consumers relying on the information given to us. The problem with this sort of information is that is has gatekeepers. Publishers, mainstream media and Governments censor the information they provide so that it “fit” in their way of portraying the world.

Social media and citizen journalism has been around for quite a while, but under the Arab Spring it showed the world what kind of power it has. Citizens of the Arab world took use of social media to share their meanings and stories regarding the revolution. They arranged meetings by communicating time and places via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. They told their stories by blogging and gave the world an honest and brutal view over what they were up against. In response to this the Egyptian government actually shut down the internet to put a stop to it, but was met with even more resistance when Google and Twitter arranged for a service enabling Egyptians to tweet via their phones. One by one we have seen the regimes fall apart, defeated by their citizens.

What does this tell us? Information is no longer given to us, but it is a shared dialog between everyone who wants to participate. We are no longer consumers but prosumers (Mitew 2012). The Internet has given us free access to an immediate flow of information and there are no filters or gatekeepers to “frame” the stories. I am thinking that if mainstream media is on its way out and the Governments no longer can rely on controlling the media, maybe democracy finally will be 100%. It sounds good, but is it all just positive? The credibility of the stories can be doubtful and it is hard to know if the stories can be trusted or not.

I find it hard to see the best solution. I think it is a relief that we have found a way to challenge our gatekeepers, but I am not convinced we can “be our own bosses”. We need to find a way where we all can participate and have a say, a way where we (the prosumers), the industries and the Governments all have power to influence.

References:

Mitew, T 2012, User empowerment, access and participation, lecture, BCM112, Convergent Media Practices, University of Wollongong, delivered 26 March.

Once again we seem to have been taken for a ride by the media. The funny thing is, it is our third time on the same issue! Can we really only blame the media? Or should we step a side for a moment and consider ourselves? I am thinking of the KONY2012 issue, where we all digitally stood up together, “hand in hand”, strong and united to rescue the African children kidnapped by Joseph Kony. We were all determined to do it, 1,373,480 likes on YouTube proves it.

That was the first time we jumped on the carousel. Persuaded by the manipulative, but well made, video produced by Jason Russel and “The Invisible Children”.

It did not pass many days, maybe two, before media started their filtering and tailoring to custom their news reports towards their audience. One by one, we all started to doubt the campaign, is it a scam? Where does the money go? And suddenly, the united digital army was no longer solid. What happened? Did we first believe the campaign, and then changed our minds because “the media said so”? Did we not think for ourselves?

So there, taken for a ride a second time, this time convinced by the media broadcasters.

Jason Russel, co-founder and filmmaker of KONY2012 “The Invisible Children”, had a public breakdown a couple of weeks after the release of the video. No wonder, I would say, after being world-famous in a day and questioned your beliefs and intentions by a world population. But the media did not seem to think of it that way. Al Jazeera English gave us this article, The Washington Post came up with this, France24 was not better and wrote this report, I could go on and on. I notice one thing with all the different articles; negative headlines, negative intros and a negative start on the actual new-story. They all have similar words like “public masturbation”, “running naked in streets” or “wrecking cars”. My point is that even if they mention later in the story the reason to why this may have happened, many of us only skim through the headlines and shape our knowledge of the issue with very little information. I will also dare to say that news channels tend to write their most important message first, so their headlines and intros have an intentional persuasion.

We really like this carousel; three is a charm, right?

It is sad to see how fast the public can turn from being supporters to becoming bullies in a couple of weeks. If you log into twitter these days, the hashtag #KONY2012 has changed into #BONY2012 or #HORNY2012. The media have a big impact on us, proven in this case, but sometimes I am surprised how little we think for ourselves.

Have a look at this article from The Atlantic, isn’t this a more likely story? Notice the difference on headlines, pictures and intros. This type of “persuasion” was not provided in the mainstream media. Maybe it does not sell or is or is considered boring, but it is a more neutral way of journalism.

I have earlier discussed the major conglomerates and their goal to gain total control over media content and users. At that point I was referring to copyright and how our rights as participants are being restrained. Most people today own a mobile phone and the opportunity of being online is constantly there, “our phones become an interface to the internet” (Mitew 2012).

Since we use our phones to this extent, should not the restrictions built into them worry us? Many industries today try to regain control over the market after the Internet came, and we should be aware of some of their ideologies. Look at Facebook or products from Apple, these are media platforms used by millions of people, and no one think about how controlled these mediums are. They are closed platforms, with “walled gardens of applications” (Mitew 2012), meaning that the producer decides what you as a user can do. They have taken complete control over the media-platform and the content in it. If you post something on Facebook which they do not like they will remove it, keeping you from the right to express yourself. It reminds me of the big media conglomerates.

Android phones and Flickr are examples of open media platforms. They give the user full control of the content and allow them to participate. Take Flickrs API page as an example. API stands for “application programming interface” and gives the user the possibility to create its “own program to present public Flickr data (…) in new and different ways”. Wikipedia (2012) states:

“The practice of publishing APIs has allowed web communities to create an open architecture for sharing content and data between communities and applications. In this way, content that is created in one place can be dynamically posted and updated in multiple locations on the web.”

There is a backside of many users being able to create and control, viruses for instance, but the way I see it we have two choices: Open or closed? I also see two ideologies: “The industry controls you or you control you own choices” (Mitew 2012). Our lecturer asked us this question yesterday: Which philosophy empowers users the most?

We are afraid that the media conglomerates will take too much control over us, why are we not more worried about the philosophy of Apple and Facebook? They are doing the exact same thing! They want to control you, control what you say, what you share, what you can do, what you buy, what you listen to etc. In the long run this can be a matter of freedom of speech, and that is a something that ought to concern us all. Freedom of speech is a human right and in a way all that we have. Wikipedia defines free speech like this:

“Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one’s ideas via speech. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.”

This is exactly what some industries are trying to prevent us from.

Reference:

Mitew, T 2012, Platforms, permissions & ideologies in technological convergence, BCM112, Convergent Media Practices, University of Wollongong, delivered 19 March.

Is the media giving us just one page of a whole book? It looks like we receive different news-angles depending on where we are, or at least who we are. Consider how many news channels there are:

  • BBC news (UK)
  • CNN (USA)
  • Al Jazeera English (Qatar)
  • Russia Today (Russian Federation)
  • ABC World (Australia)
  • France 24 (France)

This is only to mention a few. Combined with TV, radio and other web-based broadcasters the list of channels to choose from is long. Now think about where they are located, are their audience the same wherever they are? Are their target-groups the same? No.

People from different parts of the world have different issues which concerns them. While the western world might be worried about education, third world countries are concerned about having access to clean water. This example is extreme, but it is just to demonstrate what I refer to. Media broadcasters tend to “tailor” news according to the listener. A news channel based in USA knows an Americans concerns and will present their news in a way that touches upon these emotions. Another channel from another country is doing the same thing, except there the news are presented from a different angle, touching upon the emotions from another group of people.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) is the sister-channel of Al Jazeera Arabic and their main goal is to give “a voice to the voiceless”. AJE actually portrays their own mission like this:

“Our mission is to provide independent, impartial news for an international audience and to offer a voice to a diversity of perspectives from under-reported regions. In addition, the channel aims to balance the information flow between the South and the North. The channel of reference for the Middle East and Africa, Al Jazeera has unique access to some of the world’s most troubled and controversial locations. Our determination and ability to accurately reflect the truth on the ground in regions torn by conflict and poverty has set our content apart.”

Last week when the western media reported on the KONY2012 issue it was with consideration to a western audience. By following the public on twitter, Facebook, blogs etc they could easily pick up what was of interest and therefore the angle portrayed was; The Invisible Children ask us for money, are their agenda legit? Where do our money go? Are we being presented with the whole truth? Western media promoted their audience to be sceptical because they were asked to give something from themselves.

AJE took interest in another audience, the Ugandan audience, which had a whole other concern. A charity group showed the KONY2012-video to earlier victims of Kony and they reacted with disgust. AJE’s news-angle was; The Invisible Children-campaign makes the worst nightmare of Ugandan victims famous. Why would victims of Kony wear a t-shirt with his name on it? They also launched the Uganda Speaks project which highlighted the Ugandan people’s voice.

These are examples to how media can shape the way we think about world-issues in the way they portray it.

The Stop Kony campaign is still a hot topic in the media and it has had many different turns during the discussion. It started off with a “wow-factor” where everyone were stunned over how fast the Kony-2012 video spread on the Internet. Everyone talked about it, it was in the news, it was a trending topic on twitter, it went viral on Facebook and so on.

How did they do it? I am not going to be the judge to say if it was right in a morally way, but at least the Invisible Children knew how to catch, some would say manipulate, their audience. They used a method which every media outlet uses, they know their audience, they know who their target is and from there on they can easily tailor their “news”.

In this case makers of this video knew that most of their audience were teenagers and young adults. Therefore they made a video, knowing that most of their target group would not bother to read a long article about something they have never engaged in before. They made sure the video was easy to comprehend by simplifying the issue of Joseph Kony and starred only young people to level with their target-group. Maybe most importantly they played on emotions and empathy which are curtain factors to engage a teenager.

It is funny how all the media channels commented on this, because they all do the same thing! I don’t think they were entitled of an opinion but after a couple of days of “wow-factoring” all the opinions broke out.

BBC wondered if social media platforms were the correct places to start campaigns, The New York Times had opinions to how they made this video go viral, the Sydney Morning Herald speculated in the motives of the campaign, everyone had an opinion. Where do the money go? Is it all a trick to promote themselves? Do they have all the facts right?

All of these opinions gradually melted into criticism.The media found way to depress the Invisible Children like The Atlantic, which thought that since they treated the audience like children, the response they got was a childs short-lasting attention. Al Jazeera English started the “Uganda speaks” project and several Ugandans expressed their discontent to the Kony-video, that became the main neglect of the campaign; the undermining of Africans and the Ugandan people.

It is almost like a rumour out of control, people will judge and settle for opinions without being certain of the truth, only based on the rumours from the media.