Development and New Media

This week’s readings about development and new media brought up interesting ideas about influence of communication technologies on development, particularly mobile phones. While the papers showed that communication technologies are not necessarily a fix-all solution to development problems and come with drawbacks, it’s undeniable that these technologies have made significantly impacted the way federal agencies, NGOs and other organizations approach development problems. I would argue that for many, new communication technologies have made a positive impact, particularly as they relate to micro financing.

In a nutshell, new media technologies are bridging the gap between the developed world and the developing world, and one way this is happening is through micro financing. Last year, for example, I read a fantastic book called “Half the Sky” about the plights faced by numerous women in the developing world. The authors argued that improved education and economic opportunities could make a huge difference in these women’s lives, and at the end of the book, they listed several websites where you could help finance business loans for women in developing countries. The website, for example, lets you browse through profiles of projects, participate in a “team,” create a profile, etc. It blends the experience of social media with development projects. The site serves as a platform for communication, but it also offers people a way to transmit messages about their values and beliefs through the “teams” option. This type of engagement in development work would never have been possible thirty years ago, but thanks to new media technologies, it’s not only the present, but the way of the future. 

By Kira


Public Diplomacy and Moon Rocks

Public diplomacy has long been a tool in the arsenal of diplomats, to paraphrase Nye, and it’s easy to see why. Closely intertwined with soft power, it is a strategic way of imparting information about key policies and messages to other countries. The appeal of somemoon rock forms of public diplomacy are easy to understand – a female U.S. celebrity attending special an embassy event in another country and talking about women’s rights, for example, or a U.S. ambassador sharing a tweet to with thousands of followers. Recently, though, I attended a lecture about a far less obvious form of public diplomacy: moon rocks.

Yep, you read that right. Moon rocks. Now how on earth could a moon rock play an important role in the public diplomacy history of the United States? I was wondering the same thing myself a few weeks ago when I attended a lecture at the National Air and Space Museum about the moon rocks collected during the Apollo missions.

Although it sounds silly today, moon rocks carried a great deal of public diplomacy capital shortly after the Apollo Missions. At the time, a great deal of excitement and curiosity surrounded the rocks, which drew positive attention to the United States. The U.S. prominently displayed a moon rock at the 1970 World Fair in Osaka, Japan, where it was so popular that people would wait between four – seven hours just to see to it. I’m paraphrasing from my memory of the lecture, but one Japanese reporter apparently quipped that the United States needn’t have bothered to display anything else but the moon rock, and that people would have been grateful for the extra space to squeeze to see the aforementioned object. President Nixon also used the moon rocks as a public diplomacy tool. He distributed rice-sized fragments of moon rock to 135 foreign heads of state. The moon rocks were mounted on a wood plaque and looked fairly unimpressive, but this did not diminish their effectiveness as a communication tool. Part of the moon rock’s usefulness as a public diplomacy tool had to do with the scientific achievements that it represented for America and by larger extent, mankind.

While their popularity as public diplomacy tool eventually died, the moon rocks’ unusual legacy poses interesting questions about public diplomacy today. What kinds of public diplomacy tools do we have today, and are they more virtual than physical?  

By Kira

The Domestic Flavor of “International” News

Sometimes I wonder if modern news broadcasters ever look back at the seventies or sixties and long for the good old days, when the news cycle – though still quick – didn’t necessarily require minute by minute updates of events happening across the world, and definitely didn’t have an audience of people who would be irritated if those minute-to-minute updates would somehow prove to be inaccurate.

Take, for instance, the 2011 trial of Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy. The trial contained all the elements of a perfect international media storm: a pretty American student accused of a heinous crime, her murdered British roommate, sex, a popular tourist destination, and plenty of controversy. Now, thirty years ago, the verdict of this trial may have drifted into American newspapers the following day, or been reported on in brief. In 2011, though, people in Europe and the United States were eagerly awaiting a verdict. I was particularly interested in the case because I had studied abroad near the town in Italy where the crime had happened. CNN had set up a live blog with minute-by-minute updates about the trial and I recall refreshing the page, impatiently waiting to see how things would turn out for Knox. I had been following the story in the news and to me, it seemed quite obvious that she was innocent and the victim of a terrible legal system.

But here’s where things got interesting. I had a British friend who was also following the story and his opinion was completely opposite. News coverage had led him to believe that Knox was most assuredly guilty, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We argued back and forth about it for awhile, each referencing different news stories, until we finally came to a conclusion that was unrelated to the evidence but very much connected to this class: the American media and the British media were portraying the story in vastly different ways. The American coverage had tended to promote Knox, the American student, as the victim of an unjust legal system and bad luck. In contrast, the British media had focused on Meredith Kercher, the murdered British roommate, and zeroed in on Knox’s unusual behavior during the investigation and changing story. The result was two vastly different portraits of one international event.

After being in this class for several months, I’ve learned to be more critical of what I see on the news. Even so, I’m a little embarrassed to think of how I was initially so surprised by my friend’s opposite reaction.

Do you think that media coverage of international events is impacted by domestic views? If so, name an example.

By Kiraamanda knox


“Slacktivism.” We hear this term all the time these days, and the very name practically suggests that Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony and Jane Goodall have been replaced by a sad and sorry new breed of activists that can’t be bothered to leave their computers. It could be argued that the KONY 2012 movement served as Slacktivism’s new poster child (“Do your part by clicking the “share button!”) Yet as much “slack” as slacktivism gets, is it really such a bad thing? More importantly, how will slacktivism shape the future of social movements?

Our reading “Blogs and Bullets” went into depth on how media technologies have played a vital role in recent social movements (lookin’ at you, Arab Spring!). In today’s world, social media and political action fuel each other, and the former is a necessary tool in parts of the world where freedom of speech is restricted and physically “meeting up” somewhere poses real and present dangers. While some may not ask much more than a retweet from their supporters, this doesn’t necessarily hold true for all social movements. And perhaps more importantly, these social media interactions can have impact a person’s mindset. To quote “Blogs and Bullets”, “New media have the potential to change how citizens think or act, mitigate or exacerbate group conflict, facilitate collective action, spur a backlash among regimes and garner international attention towards a given country.” All of this, and you don’t even need a physical space to meet up. In many ways, this contributes to the strength and power of new media.

“Sure, sure, Kira,” I can hear you saying. “But what about slacktivism?” Well, even if your average slacktivist isn’t sounding the battle cry for change, the content that he or she may be interacting with online can still have an impact on his or her opinions. This, in turn, can help shape what decisions he or she may make at the polls or otherwise.

What do you think of slacktivism? Is it a force for good, or worse than nothing at all? 

By Kira

Mexico and Social Media

We have read a lot about the Arab Spring lately. Not only that, but more so the role that social media plays in contesting authorities, rising social movements and creating networks of networks. While we know the role of social media in the Arab Spring has been one of great benefit, we also must realize the disadvantages and dangers social media can bring. The reading titled “Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics” brings light to these aspects where scholars argue, “technologies may actually exacerbate conflict.” Social media also gives opportunity for “authoritarian regimes [to] monitor and police their citizens” (pg.). While we all know that social media has its place in the Arab Spring, I would like to discuss the role of social media in Mexico’s recent events, whether violence, the election or otherwise.

First, I want to focus on how social media has played a role in both escalating and mitigating the violence in Mexico. Social media has been used in several ways to combat the violence in Mexico. Besides speaking out against narcotraffickers and political players’ poor judgment in dealing with such, social media has acted as a form of communication among the people far from each other when notifying what areas to avoid due to shootings or violent road blocks. Clearly playing a distinct role compared to the Arab Spring, social media has acted as a means of survival for peoples bounded by fear of escalating violence, all the while sometimes creating a sort of panic (this is compared to the Arab Spring in that the latter is more about overthrowing a government). Social media users Tweet or post on Facebook what plazas to avoid, on what streets shootings are happening and more. This gives both the people and the media a heads up on what to avoid, or what stories to cover. The people relied on social networks and media for this crucial information. 

This, unfortunately, has also given users an opportunity to spread rumors about things they see, or don’t see. It gives them opportunities to speak their frustration against the government so much that the “Veracruz State Assembly made it a crime to use Twitter and other social Networks to undermine public order” (NY Times). However, social media has also given Mexican citizens a platform to rally against the narcotraffickers and the authorities involved. However, this has presented an issue in that it has led to more killings. Narcotraffickers have also used social media to locate people, those who are potential kidnapping targets and those who are speaking against their doings or revealing “secret” logistical information. At one point in time, and still today, many social media users in Mexico did not use their full name—they use alias names that might skew their identity.

NOTE: There is also another social media medium that many in Mexico use. The “Find My Friends” app, the app that literally does just that– “allows you to easily locate your friends and family from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch” has served as a safety mechanism for Mexicans to locate their family and friends should they be in danger or out and about during violent outbreaks.

Like all things, social media has both its advantages and disadvantages and often plays different roles in different contexts.


Pirates of the Internet

You’ve seen Pirates of the Caribbean. You know what pirates are like. They are unscrupulous yet charming n’ere-do-wells who sail around the Caribbean in search of treasure. They drink lots of rum and kill people and occasionally look like Johnny Depp. This is the stereotypical idea of a pirate –and yet the dawn of the 21st century has brought a new scourge to global society’s shores: audio-visual piracy.

Johnny Depp and privateers aside, piracy has historically been acknowledged as a bad thing for society and there are no benefits associated with it. This is certainly still true in some respects, but Tristan Mattelart’s “Audio-visual Piracy: towards a study of the underground networks of cultural globalization” offers some surprising evidence for pro-piracy arguments. He asserts that audio-visual piracy may act as a facilitator of cultural globalization. “The networks of the informal economy through which pirated goods are distributed are an integral, although often neglected, part of the transnational media system, and therefore far from immune to the relationships of domination on which this system is based,” he writes. Later on, he relates that “…it is true that piracy not only plays an important role in providing the population access to products and services which it would otherwise be deprived of’ but has also given rise, in Pakistan as in other countries, to quite a significant sector of economic activity.”

I am firmly opposed to audio-visual piracy, but I am interested in the impacts of audio-visual piracy on cultural globalization and vice versa. It seems that in some cases, the spread of audio-visual piracy is aided by the fact that viewers have no other way to see the content. This looks like a marketing failure on the part of the Western film industry and brings up interesting ethical questions.

By Kira

Thoughts About Global Governance

For me, the term “global governance” conjures up impressive images of the United Nations and world leaders. I don’t immediately think of communication – or perhaps I should use past tense and say that I didn’t always think of communication instead, because after reviewing this week’s set of readings, I understand that global governance and the media are closely intertwined.
It makes sense, really, that the rise of global media is evolving alongside global governance. As we learned in our chapters about communication theory, communication is integral to our daily activities and lives. It’s difficult to separate the two notions as separate concepts.

Fortunately, Siochru and Girard have identified some of the more significant communication impacts on the global governance arena. In particular, the relationship between the two entities has been affected by privatization, technological change/convergence, concentration of ownership and control, and globalization of media markets and industries.

Media globalization isn’t necessarily a recent concept. It has roots in the mid-19th century, when Havas, Reuters, and Wolff essentially carved up the world media market. Yet the size and immediacy of news today has shaped the media’s influence and impact on global governance.

By Kira