Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Facebook deliberately forgets to include the Swedish Pirate Party

To Diggers: I was not able to post a direct link to Facebook's blog which describes the new political affiliation tool they rolled out (since some idiot thought he was funny for joining the "Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization.") Here's a direct link to their blog. You should all contact their product manager, whatever that is.

The story behind this:
At first, when I found out about this political affiliation tool, like many others, I instantly wanted to take pride in seeing the Swedish Pirate Party listed under political parties in Sweden. It's a matter of wanting to fly a flag and salute it while bowing down to this party's genius. But when I found out my political rights of free expression were stomped on by Facebook, I was outraged, so much so that I did what any real political dissenter would do. I mean I really wanted to take steps that would shake Facebook to its core. So, here it comes... I posted a message on their blog. Yes, a message on their blog. I thought it might be going to far, but I went with it anyways.

But now this is where the real story comes in: they have not allowed my posting about the legitimacy of the Swedish Pirate Party to be heard! WTF? That is why I felt the need to post on this blog I haven't used in years, and direct the righteous users of the digg community to this complete and utter mishandling of the facebook political affiliation tool. Yes, there are starving children in Africa. There are people who still need to be rick-rolled. And yes, internet porn is still out there waiting to be seen. But this is a TRAVESTY beyond comprehension that requires the immediate, absolute attention of the digg community.

I am capable of just typing in the Swedish Pirate Party in the political affiliation box... but that is not enough! This must stop now.

Here's a link to the Swedish Pirate Party, which according to Wikipedia, claims to have more members than the Green Party which is included on Facebook's drop down menu.

Disclaimer: Just because you are a member of the party, it does not mean you engage in the practices of stealing movies, games, hamsters or... NIN Ghosts, for example..

I'll post some follow ups if this actually works out. This will probably be the next biggest coup d’état in history.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

The shifting ethics of journalism in a digital landscape

“… look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.”

- From Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Article of 2006

Journalism has grown up in an era where there were reporters, there were editors, and a continual checking of facts before the type was set and words were permanent. Today, Time Magazine’s editorial gatekeepers are facing massive layoffs[1], and a new concept of news is starting up through the internet. Perhaps Time Magazine is most in touch with reality by considering layoffs, and dubbing the person of the year in 2006 to be: “you.”

But what happens when the editors disappear, to be replaced by superstar columnists? According to some, like a writer for Market Watch of Dow Jones, “in order to compete, the monolithic traditional magazine, newspaper and television networks appear to be relying on reporters to move up the value chain and become brands themselves to attract the audience.[2]

When this happens, the issue of ethics comes directly into play. This paper looks into the consequences of online news and the new trends in media ethics. Some new media bloggers are actually rediscovering the value of ethics, while other bloggers are simply left ranting on their own webpage. Nonetheless, things are beginning to change online. This is an untraditional paper, since many of the sources for the paper are actually bloggers, internet columnists, and webpages. Though official scholarly work is included in this paper, a study of internet journalism is barely as prevalent as the flood of information online, as evidenced by only 99 results from a Proquest internet search[3]. In order to understand this shift away from traditional media study, and regular media gatekeepers – one must first understand the new media landscape.

The People Web

Nielsen Net Ratings provide context to the rise in blogging. According to an early 2007 press release, Nielsen’s Net Ratings showed online newspaper blog traffic grew 210 percent from last year[4].

A chart is on personal Weblog[5] of the founder of Technorati, the web’s largest blog tracker. The data shows that since March of 2003, roughly 55 million blogs have been created in the world. David Sifry, the founder, further explains that the doubling rate is getting larger, but is currently set at around every seven months. This could mean roughly 100 million blogs by 2008. Of these blogs, roughly 50 percent are continually active.

Sifry, breaks the data down further, and looks at the media landscape. Surprisingly, mainstream media is still in the lead in terms of page views – but blogs tend to take over the media landscape once one looks beyond the top 5,000 media outlets. As an example, Think Progress, a popular Weblog, beats out jsonline.com as a source of information according to Technorati research. Sifry explains it as, “This is partially because of the nature of the medium - that is, the traffic of sites further down the curve make significant staffing and revenue difficult. However, lower cost structures make individual or small group blogs operating at little cost quite efficient at these revenue levels.” As a side note, it should be said that Technorati ranks pages based on their “authority” or, the number of distinct blogs that link to it over the past six months.

That ranking used is significant. In comparison, sites like Alexa.com, the biggest webpage indexer on the web, simply search based on the number of hits a site receives. From there, it ranks sites in order. By browsing the top sites in the United States on Alexa.com, five of the top ten websites are founded on some kind of social networking or net participation idea. For example, Wikipedia is ranked eighth and Myspace and The Facebook are ranked third and seventh respectively. Blogger.com, the site allowing the free automated posting of Weblogs, is ranked as the twelfth most popular site in the United States. In other words, it seems that the top sites in America are those which essentially combine thousands of blogs into one main webpage. In comparison, CNN.com comes in as number 16 by itself – meaning its content alone competes against millions of tinier webpages that are banded together through one major website unifier. It is reasonable to expect then, that CNN also, may cave to the demands of Weblogs as a way to compete. And being the media giant it is – CNN has responded. One example can be the I-Report function on CNN, and the Exchange program, found at www.cnn.com/exchange. In these programs, citizens can create a blog, share a story, or submit pictures.

All of this is dubbed part of the “Web 2.0.” According to Wikipedia, Web 2.0 refers to “a perceived second generation of Web-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users.”

Therefore, weblogs by themselves, combined inside larger parent groups like Myspace, make up a fairly large presence on the internet today. As a result, there is not nearly one week that goes by without a major story bubbling up from the internet. Recently, an anonymous poster shocked the political world with a posting of a political ad connected to Barak Obama. Ironically, it was not a newspaper that eventually tracked down the source of the video, but it was the Huffington Post – an internet blog of massive popularity with connections in the tech community[6].

As the Barak Obama example shows, new grounds are being tried constantly with the internet and the various forms of action individual citizens can take through it in relation to journalism. Http://wikileaks.org/ is a new citizens website started up to build on the strength of the web – allowing users to post anonymous “leaks” exposing corruption, or hidden problems similar to what Enron was involved in. A similar site, http://www.liveleak.com/, already exists, and has been responsible for posting a number of major videos to break nationally – including a recent video of Haliburton trucks being ambushed in Iraq, due to lack of defenses and a U.S. Military escort driving away when shooting started. Wikipedia, the starter of the “anybody can edit” policy of information, is currently the third most popular information source, beating out CNN, and Yahoo News according to Nielsen Net Ratings[7]. However, that statistic only counts if you consider Wikipedia a trustworthy source – much like the other websites I have mentioned. In the world of rising and falling media moguls and ideas of media in general, this is where the discussion of ethics comes in handy.


What happens when a public relations firm, posing as a journalist online, “leaks” false information via wikileaks.com, for example? Or when a political party edits the Wikipedia entries for opposing political clients? These are real world questions, and the websites mentioned previously, push the ethical limit because these new innovations provide vast possibilities for misuse. In addition, blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies, have already pushed the limits of ethical theory.

To look at Web 2.0 first with traditional Teleological theories and Deontological ethical theories in mind, one can see that there is no right or wrong answer.

John Suart Mill first came up with the principal of utility, to basically seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Along with this theory, he believed certain values possess worth, like friendship, knowledge, and health. To many who believe in Mill’s principal of ethics, they would argue that blogs and websites such as the ones above provide opportunities for the greater good since blogs spread knowledge – though probably not every blog.

Deontologically, theororists like Immanuel Kant, contend that one must look at the action first and decide whether or not one would will the same action for everyone else as well. If not, the action should not be taken. In other words, Kant would likely say that since not everyone will always provide accurate and true information, there is a dangerous risk to society by allowing everyone to post blogs. Though not absolute on ruling against blogs, deontological theory would likely be stricter towards sites like Wikileaks.org since there is a greater chance that people will abuse the system. In effect, Wikileaks, for example, poses the same ethical question to a deontologist as saying one willed everyone in society to wear a mask and talk about each other behind their backs.

What then, is the real world reaction to Web 2.0 technology, ethically? It is best to look at some case studies, starting with the most untested and more extreme examples first.

Case Study: Wikileaks, the web’s wild west, and the need for an ethical defense.

All current staff, developers, or employees of Wikileaks are thought to be secret and unidentified as of January 2007 according to the New Scientist[8]. Their advisory board includes Russian and Tibetan refugees, reporters, a former US intelligence analyst, and cryptographers. According to their website, they have already gathered over one million documents to release when the website officially starts. An anonymous worker for the website has stated to CBC News[9], that the site will be, "an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis," adding that there will be checks in place to keep the "completely anonymous" system from being flooded with false documents, spam and unrelated things.

However, as the BBC News reports, “There is, of course, [a] problem. Everyone who leaks a document to the site will have their own agenda, and it may not be the obvious one.[10]” According to the same reporter, John Young, a Cryptographer and webmaster of a public disclosure website, even backed out of the project after being approached by Wikileaks. He was suspicious of the real motives of the organizers, as well as their ability to truly protect leaks.

“Historically the most resilient form of open government is one where leaking and publication is easy,” the wikileaks website says. “Public leaking, being an act of ethical defection to the majority, is by nature a democratizing force. Hence a system [that] enables everyone to leak safely to a ready audience is the most cost effective means of promoting good government.”

However, Steven Aftergood, head of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy wrote in his online blog that, “there’s a difference in unauthorized disclosure from an authoritarian state versus disclosure from a democracy,” he said. “In a democratic system, people have the opportunity to define their own disclosure standards. If you violate those standards or encourage others to do so then you are in effect undermining the democratic process.[11]” In effect then, Aftergood could also turn his point around into arguing that through a lack of ethical codes, Wikileaks is bringing down the moral standards of developed countries in order to supposedly “bring up” the ethical standards of other countries by establishing the concept of leaking freely.

Ethically, in this case then, a good regulator would be a clearly defined ethical code is needed as well as someone to at least hold accountable for fact checking. This helps establish Wikileaks as a trusted brand. In the case of journalism, editors are there to take the fall if a leak is not correct. Editors also have a code of ethics they must be responsible to.

So far Wikileaks has failed to provide this code, or a person to take the fall for inaccurate information. True, authoritarian governments may deny everything happened – but the point of a leak is to provide enough information so that a claim can be verified by a reasonable person. Therefore, without providing accountability and employing enough people to confirm these leaks, this Web 2.0 technology is at danger of inciting violence for the wrong reasons, or publishing a government’s damaging attempt to ruin another country’s reputation. Governments or other parties, will likely see this lack of ethics, and immediately attempt to flood Wikileaks with false information – immediately showing a lack of verification procedures by Wikileaks, and inherently destroying this model.

Wikipedia has already dealt with issues like this, and in the end, Wikipedia has caved a bit on it’s entirely free model of “anybody can post.” However, Wikipedia is also one of the most visited websites in the world. In actuality on Wikipedia, anybody cannot post. In some instances Wikipedia has banned internet addresses from modifying posts, and on controversial topics, like “Israel,” Wikipedia has sought to limit postings only to accounts posting accurately on other subjects for at least four days. Wikipedia also has an advanced editing policy, which has, “wide acceptance among editors and is considered a standard that all users should follow.[12]” They also have a staff actively tracking posts on the website, and they are ready to respond if needed, to potential abuses. This staff is far larger than the 30 devoted to Wikileaks.

Nonetheless, even though Wikileaks may fail ethically, the website also serves to show that the concept of ethics online is essentially in the form of what the wild west was decades ago – with a lack of order and real regulations. The burden is up to the individual citizen to execute his or her own wild form of justice at will. This shows that the concept of ethics online is just developing and is a very new issue – especially among new web ideas. Therefore, looking at blogging, an already established online concept, should be the next focus this paper takes. As this paper has concluded earlier, blogs are not going to disappear soon – and even the strongest news website is looking to integrate their content into their webpages. Perhaps weblogs can offer us a better ethical example.

Case Study: Blogging, the web’s newest settlements, and the establishment of order.

One ethical issue established news groups may face when integrating with blogs – is how one may best integrate a blog credibly. One answer may be employment of print journalists. However, if a community connection is desired, the only other option is if willing bloggers are forced into agreement to the media outlet’s code of ethics in order to post. Otherwise, the media outlet is limited in control, since unlike an editorial, editors are typically not allowed to edit content of postings or engage in fact checking with blogs[13]. In an interview with the Sacramento Bee’s Editor, David Holwerk explains (about his paper’s blog section) that the paper has, “not tried to force [bloggers] into our idea of more ‘responsible’ commentary.” He added, “that is what we’ve forced the letter writers into … [but] we’re not trying to change the blog tradition.” Part of this idea is that blogs are entirely a form of expression in themselves.

So how does one address credibility and ethical standards in the blog world?

“Let me propose a radical notion,” said Rebecca Blood, on her personal blog[14]. “The weblog's greatest strength — its uncensored, unmediated, uncontrolled voice — is also its greatest weakness.” Blood is an average person with a BA in English, who decided one day to write a book on blogging and propose a code of ethics for blogging. This code has caught on with many. Since she sees weblogs as having minor costs, she thinks they should not be subject to as many ethics codes as journalists working for major publications. Her ethical points are as follows:

  1. Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true.
  2. If material exists online, link to it when you reference it.
  3. Publicly correct any misinformation
  4. Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.
  5. Disclose any conflict of interest
  6. Note questionable and biased sources

But fellow blogger Martin, at blogethics2004.blogspot.com, feels these ethics are too grounded in function of blogs rather than in their form. Martin believes there are an “endless variety of bloggers with an endless variety of purposes for blogging or functions for blogs[15].” Martin is a winner of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s 2005 Professional Relevance Award. His main points are as follows (each point comes with sub-points that would make this summary too large to copy here):

  1. Promote Interactivity
  2. Promote Free Expression
  3. Strive for Factual Truth
  4. Be as Transparent as Possible
  5. Promote the Human Element in Blogging

Despite the more lax language used in this code of ethics, even posters to Martins page, such as Jessamyn West from Librarian.net, argued that there should be no code since blogging is simply a medium and not an “avocation or even a type of writing.[16]” Others, outright disagree and suggest a high level of accountability.

Cyberjournalist.net has posted their own stricter form of blogging ethics, which by admittance on their site, is essentially the same as a journalist’s code of ethics, changed slightly for the sake of the web[17]. Their explanation for the code is as follows: “Since not all bloggers are journalists and the Weblog form is more casual, [bloggers] argue they shouldn't be expected to follow the same ethics codes journalists are. But responsible bloggers should recognize that they are publishing words publicly, and therefore have certain ethical obligations to their readers, the people they write about, and society in general.”

Still, despite cyberjournalist.net’s authority and post on the matter, some commenting on their ethics post were not satisfied. Patricia Abbatoy, for example, said, “At most I see your list as 'Blogger's Etiquette'. Most readers can decide for themselves whether a blogger is reliable or not, and whether it matters. Many blogs are intentionally biased or slanted in one way or another; it's the constituency of a blog that decides whether the writer passes a reliability test.”

Some, like the “Portland Communique,” use both Blood’s ethical guide, as well as cyberjournalist.org’s code of ethics. In differentiating between which to use, the site’s “about” page says that a purposive difference must be made between writing intended to be journalistic and writing intended to be less than journalistic. In the journalistic case, the more involved cyberjournalist.org ethical code is required to be used. Portland Communique is a print and web publication intended to empower the citizen of Portland, Oregon by allowing them to publish their views online. Oddly enough however, the Portland Communique is actually hosted online by the City of Portland. Are ethics in place for that media outlet by choice? Or by necessity to hold participants accountable on a government site then? The reason this is called into question is that there are still very few blogs to have ethical coded posted.

Unlike Paypal’s verification system, a system where online bidders are able to check and see if their auction sellers are verified by the giant money transferring company – bloggers do not seem to be adapting a universal code of verification. There are no stamps on the blogs, like with paypal, to show willing cooperation with an ethical standard. There are no buttons either, linking to an ethical code for the most part. As a result, even despite blogs existing for quite some time and some progress occurring in terms of the discussion about them – there appears to be no major move forward in the ethical region. Blood herself even admits in an AP article, that she only knew of about 10 other blogs in 2005 which adhered to an ethical standard[18].

Perhaps blogging then is developing, though are still only in the same position print journalism was in the 20th Century. Jay Rosen, a blogger and professor of journalism at New York University thinks so. He took his thoughts a step farther by saying creating a new medium in today’s culture requires even more: “in some sense, bloggers already have informally adopted norms that go beyond what traditional journalists do,” Rosen said. “For instance, bloggers who don't link to source materials aren't taken seriously, while traditional news organizations have no such policies.[19]

The Ethical Solution

Though blogging and Web 2.0 technologies offer the ability to participate in a discussion, rather than performing a monologue with readers – this paper has contended that some ethical code is needed in blogs. An example of why can be provided in a conversation with close friends. In the conversation, friends may poke fun of another group of friends. Their justification for this? It could be something as simple as parts of a conversation heard, or even a guess made by someone, causing the words to be said. Either way, friends may be comfortable doing this because their words will not go far from their circle. However, when that conversation is transported to an auditorium, on a stage in front of hundreds of people – suddenly an insulter may bite their tongue. Suddenly, the burden of proof has jumped. Hundreds of people are demanding evidence, and now, the talker realizes that they could even damage the reputation of someone with hundreds of people, or establish themselves as a liar. All blogs are technically seen by millions if a searcher typed in the correct specifics in a webpage – and because of this, it is a blogger’s duty to subject every statement to a careful process of determining fairness. This is the very beginning of ethics.

An ethical wrench can be thrown in here however – since one can say the nature of blogging is simply to be a conversation. The contention though, is that the conversation is taking place on a stage to begin with – meaning not only should bloggers be aware of ethics, but commentors should be aware of a lesser form of ethics as well.

This borders on etiquette, but it is only the first step. Establishing some kind of loose ethic on both sides of participation spectrum however, should only be the bare minimum. Unfortunately this is currently the step many blogs are at now – starting to develop commenting editing processes, and content policies in the blog. It remains to be seen when and if blogs will advance further, ethically, as this paper has demonstrated.

There are incentives though to practicing better ethics, and posting a list of ethics, and alerting readers to your attempt to follow the ethics. As journalists have found out – credibility is the key issue. Credibility becomes more necessary as blogs rise in popularity and attract more traffic. Credibility also comes in handy when delineating an honest blog from a promotional blog like Engadget, and the Weblogs Inc. group[20]. Weblogs Inc. actually pays people to blog on topics of their choice, like cars, games, and other consumer goods. Basically, in a blog world that is just starting to be tapped by commercial interests -- credibility is key.

By separating oneself from commercial interests, biased reporting, and other ethical flaws – one is able to develop a stronger community of trust with the reader. A mission statement is also part of establishing an ethical form of trust with the reader, so one is able to tell what the website is about before getting involved and perhaps becoming disappointed or feeling tricked when a true bias is discovered in a blog. In the end, this trust and ethical responsibility, should drive more readers to a reputable blog. More comments will be generated, and in general a sense of community will develop on truth and factual statements. In the long run, this trust may attract credible advertisers through a larger community size, or a trustworthy platform of information sharing.

It is notable, that perhaps blogs are not really reinventing the wheel, but creating a new community which will be subject to the same developments already existing communities have gone through. For example – on many blogs, it is hard to tell advertising apart from non-biased editorial content. Today, groups like BzzAgent, which pays people to create blogs promoting products, are on the rise[21]. News journalism progressed in the same way though. Many early newspapers, like James Rivington’s famous New York paper, openly promoted obscure and blatant advertisements and editorials in the paper, which blended with news. In time though, print journalism started to separate editorial space from content. Eventually, the personal attack ads between columnists in newspapers disappeared, the libelous editorials started to disappear, and the 20th century saw a start to ethics based reporting. Time will only tell what will happen, but a start of ethical inclusion into the blog world is certainly a step in the right direction, which could help turn many blogs into reputable alternative media sources. A mission statement, and/or few sentences on commenting policies and posting policies on blogs is all it could take to gain a dozen more readers and perhaps the start of a new online community if one is truly interested in doing so.

[1] Iacono, Erica. “Time Inc. feels new media world's impact.” PR Week. New York: Jan 29, 2007. Vol.10, Iss. 4; pg. 12, 1 pgs

[2] Francisco, Bambi. “Inside out: Commentary: How consumers hijacked the media model.” Marketwatch. http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/how-consumers-hijacked-media-model/story.aspx?guid=%7B1762D7AA-1D53-4222-B112-10AEE5E13E0E%7D

[3] Proquest Internet Search. “Weblogs and Journalism: 99 results” http://0-proquest.umi.com.libus.csd.mu.edu/pqdweb?TS=1174706825&SST=4&sid=1&moreOptState=CLOSED&SSM=C&SQ=%28LSU%28%7BWEBLOGS%7D%29+AND+LSU%28%7BJOURNALISM%7D%29%29&clientId=55898&SSI=3&RQT=305

[4] “Online Newspaper Blog Traffic Grows 210 Percent Year Over Year, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.” Nielsen-netratings.com. Jan. 16, 2007. http://www.nielsen-netratings.com/pr/pr_070117.pdf

[5] November 6, 2006. “State of Blogosphere, October, 2006.” Sifry’s Alerts: David Sifry’s musings. http://www.sifry.com/alerts/archives/2006_11.html

[6]Marinucci, Carla. “Obama supporter owns up to video.” SanFrancisco Chronicle. March 22, 2007. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/03/22/MNGDROPM7G1.DTL

[7] Hafner, Katie. “Growing Wikipedia Refines its ‘anyone can edit’ policy.” New York Times. June 17, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/17/technology/17wiki.html?ex=1174881600&en=2ac4911ecebcbc01&ei=5070

[8] Paul Marks. “How to leak a secret and not get caught” New Scientist, January 13, 2007. http://www.newscientist.com/channel/tech/mg19325865.500-how-to-leak-a-secret-and-not-get-caught.html

[9] CBC News “Website wants to take whistleblowing online” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, January 11, 2007. http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/01/11/wikileaks-whistle.html

[10] Bill Thomposn “Who stands to gain from Wikileaks?” BBC News, March 13, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6443437.stm

[11] Daniel Friedman “Web site aims to post government secrets” Federal Times, January 4, 2007. http://www.federaltimes.com/index.php?S=2460843

[12] Wikipedia: Policies and guidelines. Wikipedia.org Accessed: 3/25/2007 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Policies_and_guidelines

[13] Acuna, Armando. “Public Editor: Worlds collide – and so do journalistic standards.” Sacramento Bee. March 25, 2007. http://www.sacbee.com/110/story/143162.html

[14] Blood, Rebecca. “Weblog Ethics.” http://www.rebeccablood.net/ Accessed March 25, 2007. http://www.rebeccablood.net/handbook/excerpts/weblog_ethics.html

[15] Martin. “C.O.B.E Revised: Form-Based Duties in Blog Ethics” Blogethics2004.blogspot.com March 27, 2005.

[16]West, Jessamyn. “Jessamyn West on Revised Code of Blogging Ethics” http://blogethics2004.blogspot.com/

[17] “A Bloggers’ Code of Ethics.” Cyberjournalist.net. Accessed 3/25/2007 http://www.cyberjournalist.net/news/000215.php

[18] Jesdanun, Anick. “Influence of bloggers raises ethical questions.” Associated Press, as published in: USA Today. January 22, 2005. http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2005-01-22-blog-ethics_x.htm

[19] Ibid.

[20] http://www.weblogsinc.com/

[21] Lasica, J.D. “The cost of ethics: Influence peddling in the blogosphere.” Online Journalism Review. http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/050217lasica/

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Nine Inch Nails' ' Year Zero' Review

I had a chance to listen to Nine Inch Nails' new album: year zero. The new album is really an amazing backtrack into Trent's industrial roots like you wouldn't believe. He makes great use of new tech to bring back the old style and expand on it even more. In today's world, it seems extremes are what people react to -- so I think it was a good call.

I think it gets a little rough around the edges sometimes, and some songs will probably make people uncomfortable -- but that is NIN -- it has always been rough, on the darker side of things.

Looks like Trent is beginning a story as well -- I strongly doubt that this won't be followed up by another part, which is probably more clear as this second phase of his career is realized more. It is also noticeable how Trent is getting more and more political in his songs. In one of this album's songs, he speaks in a dumb voice -- obviously trying to show his discontent with the current administration. (Though I think he kind of shows himself to be a little immature, and it detracts from the album experience) It's like Trent is growing slowly with every album that comes out -- though there is a lot of naivity, obvious in the black and white picture he's painting in this album. On the end, his lyrics finally have some humility to them for once, where he admits he fucked up for not being involved. I'll let you find that spot.

I do doubt now however, that this will go along with a movie. The songs just don't work, unless it's a music video. He's basically telling a story already, so a movie wouldn't work. I've yet to look at the art though that went with the album -- though I'm sure it adds to it all. Also, it might take you a week or so to get to the core of what this haunting/cryptic album is about -- but I like that. Yes, on the surface it's obvious, and Trent is not great at writing lyrics -- but there's always a little more to the lyrics than what meets the ear immediately... even in Trent's case.

Really, this album is a test to see who the real fans are. If you've been with NIN from the start you'll like this. You'll also notice the lyrics basically growing older and away from the confused or developing stage. There are enough highs and lows -- and plenty of very interesting segments that really make you wonder if a band can get any more talented in a more creative way. If you just jumped on the bandwagon since With Teeth, you're going to hate this album -- and I mean literally despise it. There are few radio friendly songs here. The album has evolved too, since the early days -- though Trent's writing ability is still bad, the songs seem like they have taken a modern style, which is good.

Anyways, that's my opinion. I'm not going to name favorite tracks since this album is best experienced looking at the art and immersing yourself in it. Take an hour and just enjoy it -- this is truly a unique experience, which is rare today. It's refreshing to see the exit of for-radio songs also.

Oh yea, one last thing: this will be an incredible album on surround sound DVD -- and even better if some good music videos are packaged with it.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

TelCO lawsuits, NSA revelation is old news, disappointment

I was discouraged to hear the news lately. I'm sure you all know by now. I'm not here to debate about whether or not it is right or wrong - that would be reverse progress. It is obvious how backwards and wrong this datamining is.

The obscure fact is however, this was predicted a few weeks ago at the very least.

Wired.com came out with a report that should have raised more questions:

"AT&T provided National Security Agency eavesdroppers with full access to its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the company."

Nonetheless, as usual, claims like this get ignored. But now that this allegation has legitimacy in America's eye, so now you too can sue your TelCo, according to thinkprogress.org's recent blog post. I'm sure the big three telephone companies are now a little concerned.

While I think a lawsuit may be extreme, and will eventually be absorbed by the consumer in the long run - I am more than willing to sacrifice a buck or two because of this for some security in knowing my telephone company actually has a backbone.

Qwest was the only phone company to withhold from the NSA their customers' data and I applaud them for this decision. The NYT is today posting an article explaining why Qwest withheld the info.

From the article:

"In a statement released this morning, the lawyer said that the former chief executive, Joseph N. Nacchio, made the decision after asking whether "a warrant or other legal process had been secured in support of that request."

Mr. Nacchio learned that no warrant had been granted and that there was a "disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process," said the lawyer, Herbert J. Stern. As a result, the statement said, Mr. Nacchio concluded that "the requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act."

The corporations in our country seem to lack any kind of values or integrity today. This can even be illustrated abroad, in companies like Yahoo Inc. who have notoriously given Chinese government officials the information to imprison journalists working towards freedom in China. These companies repeatedly claim they do not have any stance on issues - yet they cave to government demands rather than remaining neutral. Because of this pattern, we should have seen the recent data-mining by our major phone companies far in advance.

Not only was that corporate pattern of privacy destruction alarming, but while in office, George W. Bush has managed to trounce on more of our civil liberties than one could imagine. The Patriot Act should serve as a solomn reminder of when our country started reversing itself to the level of those who attacked us, all because we lack a strong leader who caves to the demands of ranking security officials craving blood, money and power.

Once again, we should have seen this all coming. To all of you out there, this should serve as a wake up call. Switch your service, start a lawsuit, write a letter to congress, impeach Bush.

Thank God we still have freedom of the press in America. In the future though, tell your congressman to wake up and smell the news of the day instead of having it handed to them.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Modernized Report about Chinese Blogging

Academic blogging studies of China merge best with real life situations...

[I publish this for the sake of scholarship. I am an undergraduate journalism major. This information certainly does no good sitting idle on my computer.]

Generally, blogging is best covered by bloggers worldwide who are familiar with the technology and language of blogging. Blogging changes constantly, and has loads of inaccuracy associated with it. These two reasons are not good motivations for academics to study blogging perhaps. A good analysis then of blogging, is best done by combining two approaches, as this summary attempts to do.

In a scholarly article associated with the book: China: Caged Media, the author claims bloggers are an annoyance to the 50,000 internet censors in China. An example of this is found in the story of Li Xinde, a rogue blogger who took his laptop and digital camera into the countryside and wrote stories about the people he found. He left the country so fast that nobody in the Chinese government could track him down.

This is perhaps blogging at its best. No printing presses are needed, and no editors with connections to the government can tear apart a real journalistic endeavor.

The problem however, is most people cannot just pack up and leave the country on a whim.

The article then points to more established blogging organizations like Bokee, that allows 2 million of the country’s estimated 5 million bloggers to have a blog webpage. By mid-2005, Bokee became so successful that they had over 200 staff, and some of the new staffers were consultants from major United States corporations like IBM.

The article also claims that Bokee does not allow much freedom. Founder of Bokee, Fang Xingdong, keeps a staff ready 24 hours a day to guard against “sensitive content, including anything critical of the Chinese government.”

Two examples of getting around censoring, according to the article, are found in the “Dog Newspaper” and the “Aggressive Little Snake” blog. These blogs gently conceal what they are doing by blogging about civil rights for canaries, in the Dog Newspaper’s case, rather than human rights. However, some may argue that this forces citizens of China to limit their discussion to trivial topics and then argue for credibility and about serious matters.

Generally, this is all the article has to say about blogging. However, the blogosphere in China is much more complicated and much more involved than this article suggests. Things change fast in a year on the internet.

For example, Ethan Zuckerman, whose popular blog is entitled, “My Heart’s in Accra,” [http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/] wrote about the weblog search engine Technorati which maintains a rankings page that lists the top 100 worldwide weblogs by total hits in that blog’s lifespan. He claimed the top 100 blogs were fairly static. However, three months later, Technorati changed their search algorithm, and that changed the top 100 rapidly. The new algorithm calculates total hits in the last 6 months.[1]

When this happened, some major trends showed up. Of the 20 new blogs that showed up in the top 100, 11 of them were written in Chinese. Tied with Portuguese, this is the best non-English representation in the top 100 list. Some current, but inconclusive studies by US bloggers, are attempting to ping blog hits themselves and find if there really are only 12 blogs in China that deserve being in the worldwide top 100[2]. Pinging a blog hit is essentially the action of tracking where a visitor to a webblog came from, or where a blogger posted. The problem however, is that Bokee blogs are not even showing up on the US side of the internet, and the only ones that are seem to be bokee blogs are ones cleverly linked through MSN Spaces blogs. Thus, these blogs are also not showing up on other websites such as Technorati, and the world blogosphere has trouble understanding what is really going on in China.

A recent study by Baidu, the Chinese search engine equivalent to the the US’s Google, claimed that there are actually 37 million blogs in China set up by 16 million bloggers[3]. This statistic throws the statistic in the article out the window. Research by Analysis International company, found the number of China’s bloggers will be at 33.36 million by the end of Q3 2005 and will literally double from the 14.75 million bloggers in 2004. A projection of 99 million bloggers is expected by Analysis International, by 2008, with an overall growth rate of 65%[4]. Analysis International claims it is the leading Internet based provider of business information about Technology, Media and Telecom industries in China, and claims 10,000 clients worldwide.

One common theme surrounding the blogs in China is censorship. John G. Palfrey, Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, recently testified about Chinese censorship February 15, 2006[5], in front of the House Committee on International Relations. He heads up the OpenNet initiative, a team of researchers conducting empirical testing of China’s internet filtration system.

They concluded that China’s system is “by far, the most sophisticated and extensive in the world.” Their group studied systems by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as well. China’s notorious firewall works differently as well, and on multiple levels of the internet. For example, while Saudi Arabia’s firewall openly blocks a site, deems it inappropriate, and offers a feedback link if one is disgruntled about the blockage. China, however, just makes it appear a site like Google for example, is unresponsive.

Therefore, with these conclusions, Palfrey suggested that it is in the best interest for US companies to enter China’s internet since China is just as capable of filtering internet content themselves. Palfrey claimed that if US companies did not continue entering, Bokee, the large blog provider in China, would simply become stricter and prevent users from saying things the State Security Bureau does not like. Bokee already blocks the publishing of certain words on their weblogs. MSN spaces is seen as the better alternative by some, according to Palfrey and various other blogosphere analysts.

MSN spaces, arguably one of the top 5 bogging providers in China, does not engage in active monitoring of their blogs, and rather have just announced an official policy of taking down blogs only if the government gives a “legally binding notice.” This does not mean MSN ignores government regulations however.

A posting by Zhao Jing on December 29-30, 2005 led the Chinese government to order MSN to remove “Anti’s Blog” according to the Washington Post[6]. The full detail of the post is available online, but the title of one of his posts should be illustrative enough to grasp what the blog was about: “The Beijing News is about to fall into enemy hands. The Guangming Daily wants to completely take control.” Essentially, “Anti’s Blog” wrote about Chinese media and was very controversial. Jing predicted this move and wrote that if the government rejected his blog, Microsoft would “sell me out,” he said. Immediately after Microsoft censored his blog, Zhao posted a message online cursing Microsoft and the young Chinese programmers who censor the internet. A few weeks later, he admitted that MSN Spaces is China’s most lightly censored blog. In a Washington Post article[7], he said, “In this political system, everyone has to compromise. It’s not black and white. Many of the people who delete my essays are also my friends.”

The Washington Post article is perhaps one of the best, personal examinations into the world of blogging in China by a US journalistic organization. It is NOT black and white after all. It appears that many in China are resentful at Microsoft for coming into their country, as one Chinese college student claimed in an essay to Zhao, urging him to use a Chinese blogging host. Xingdong, head of Bokee, also complains about MSN censorship; however his site actively blocks weblogs that may not appeal to the government before the government even looks at the webblogs. Isaac Mao, co-founder of one of China’s first blogging firms, suggested a boycott of Microsoft. This is all contrary to what appears to be the other millions of Chinese internet users like Zhao, who like Microsoft because more slack is provided.

Microsoft recently offered Zhao a copy of all his deleted posts on a CD, but would only send the CD to him if they could use an address outside of China. Therefore, it seems that to avoid the brunt of Chinese blogging censorship – one must leave China. It would only seem this way though.

New strategies are now emerging to break the grip China has over expression. One example is called bridge-blogging. Bridge-blogging is essentially posting a blog outside of China in a Chinese language and making it accessible to Chinese people as well as United States visitors. Bridge-bloggers often distribute web addresses and ways of getting to their pages through printed instructions – given to Chinese citizens.

Another possible way of breaking Chinese censorship is simply to use an “information broker” or a program such as Freegate, in order to break into the world beyond. Freegate lets people access sites beyond the firewall of China, and also changes it’s address constantly so China cannot block it or tract the user’s IP. Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, pay the founder of Freegate money to send out emails featuring links to their stories. Kenneth Berman, manager of the anticensorship office of the International Broadcasting Bureau to which Voice of America and Radio Free Asia belong, says the bureau pays about 5 million a year to combat internet censorship abroad[8]. Many people, such as Palfrey, believe information brokers were becoming very popular in China. The main problem with these forms though, is that one is essentially taking “a red pill,” and cannot communicate easily to others in the country who are still not plugged into the rest of the world. Bill Xia, a Chinese hacker in North Carolina and founder of Freegate, likes the Matrix analogy, and says the digital bad guy in sunglasses (referring to Mr. Smith from the movie) “guards the internet like China’s Public Security Bureau guards the internet.[9]

Bridge-blogging seems to be the best way of blogging, and information brokers are the best way of receiving information from the world in which to blog about perhaps. Susan Stevens, a Las Vegas graphic designer, belongs to an “adopt a blog” program[10]. She has adopted a Chinese blogger by using her own server in the U.S. to broadcast the blogger’s work. She said, “this is where technology excels. We don’t have to have anything in common. We barely have to speak the same language.”

In conclusion, unless directed to better academic examinations of blogging – it appears that blogging has been best explained by the popular press and other bloggers who best understand the information. It also appears that private companies are taking the initiative to investigate the matter due to speculation. A few non-profits relating to press freedom and information flow are also popping up with legitimate handles on the topic. This is not to say that academic study does not exist, but for this topic, it appears that best understanding the reality of the Chinese blogosphere needs the attention of all sorts of people from across the globe, in multiple professions. The intention of this article was to examine the Chinese blogosphere and also show how other bloggers and alternative sources of information may best work with traditional academic understanding of such a new concept as blogging is.

[1] http://www.technorati.com/weblog/2005/09/50.html

[2] http://datamining.typepad.com/data_mining/2005/07/24_hours_of_blo_1.html

[3] http://www.cwrblog.net/40/some-blogosphere-statistics.html

[4] http://english.analysys.com.cn

[5] http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/jpalfrey.html

[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/20/AR2006022001304.html

[7] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/18/AR2006021801389.html

[8] Fowler, Geoffry., Chinese Internet Censors face ‘hacktivists’ in U.S. Wall Street Journal February 14, 2006.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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“The Impact of Great News Events” Reviewed

[In the name of scholarship, I publish this. I am an undergraduate journalism student. Perhaps this will help someone out there. It certainly does me any good just sitting around.]

In an article entitled, “Global News and Information Flow,” by Kuldip R. Rampal, a number of global news sources are discussed. These sources share one major thing in common: they are all mostly Western news sources. This article, entitled, “The Impact of Great News Events,” by William A. Hachten and James F. Scotton explore the consequences of a Western media on the globe.

To start off, the article opens with an illustration of the Berlin Wall destruction and how this event emptied the supermarkets and video shops of West Berlin since East Berlin people were so happy to get West Berlin stuff. The conclusion then, is that the Western media had an impact on public opinion and played a role in raising expectations and breaking the communists monopoly on information and popular culture. People obviously were desirous for new goods not found in their country because they heard, somehow, that these goods were good.

It can be said, based on this article, that Western communication brought on the end of the communist press idea. Hachten however, does not go as in depth on this as he does in another article he wrote, entitled, “Changing Ideologies of Press Control.” In his second article, he describes the Chernobyl disaster as a way of showing how communist press fell apart. In the communist press idea, news itself is only “positive” and a nuclear meltdown was not relevant. However, the Chernobyl disaster really showed the communist media could not deal with foreign competition since foreign media were reporting on the death and problems while the communist media was resisting it – sacrificing the lives of their own audience. Needless to say, citizens did not take kindly to this ideology of the communist press.

In this article, Hachten looks primarily at television programs, and other factors of the consumer nature of the Western press as ways of enticing communist bloc countries to “convert” to Western media. The fact is, according to this article, that the communist countries were just not technologically advanced to meet the new demands the Western media was generating. In other words, communism was just not fit to compete against capitalism. Hachten would agree with this statement, since he sees the media as intrinsically tied to either capitalism and consumerism in the West, or the state in the East. Add this factor, to the problem of Russian news media actually endangering the lives of citizens as stated in the previous paragraph – and one can understand how the Western media really did have an impact.

This article focuses itself however, and looks to specific events to show how the media had an impact. In the revolutionary acts in 1989, the news coverage of these events did three things according to Hachten: The events helped report things are happening and times are changing; The events showed the world was watching; The events showed that anti-communist demonstrations were possible.

When coup attempters arrested Mikhail Gorbachev and closed down all media – they assumed a nation would like the changeover. According to Newsweek, as quoted by this article, “the coup leaders apparently relied on popular indifference and fear of authority. But those are not the attributes of people in the know. And last week, Russians proved that they have entered the information age.” The people rejected the takeover through unfettered news coverage according to this article.

This article goes onto suggest that the same type of mentality is prevailing in China – where China’s leaders assume the nation would agree with their authority. However, unfettered news access and lack of central control is slowly deteriorating the central authority.

China, in their acceptance of capitalism, as this article suggests, is actually accepting a freer media. As an example, the article points to the number of satellites in China. Satellites are allowing people to connect uncensored to the global village. Ten years ago, in China, satellite dishes were banned from use. Today, it is unenforceable. An estimated 500,000 roofs have them. The Chinese Government estimates about 15 million people there have access to unrestricted multiple channel devices.

This article however, also goes on to talk about the potential downfalls of Western news impact on the globe. For example, some people feel that the media is being used by the media. This can be illustrated by the Iran hostage crisis, according to this article. In the Iran hostage crisis, the Iranian government counted on the fact that American media would report on the crowds gathered outside of the embassy supporting the hostage takers in order to shed light on the Iranian desires. NBC news even gave into unethical terrorist demands just to interview an American hostage. Some feel the foreign journalists were simply becoming puppets of the terrorists. Fred Friendly, former president of CBS said (in the article) the worst errors in coverage had been caused by a “haphazard frenzy of competition” and the compulsion to obtain “exclusives:” “We have to learn that they (the terrorists) watch TV. We need to get across that you can’t shoot your way onto our air,” said Friendly.

On the other hand, the article also points out that foreign coverage is needed as without it, we probably weren’t able to grasp foreign perceptions of the US, and in turn – understand a major terrorist attack like September 11 was imminent.

One problem with this article is that it is only concerned with a Western media’s interpretation of global events – particularly, the United States’ interpretation, as all of these events mentioned involve the United States. While it is good to analyze our media’s impact on other people, we must also analyze other forms of media and its impact on others. For example, China’s foreign press’ media impact on its own people must be looked at, as well as India’s, or Pakistan’s, or a number of other countries if we are to look at our own media’s impact on ourselves. Yes, the majority of big media conglomerations are Western, but that does not mean they are the only ones that exist. Al Jazeer has a wide audience, and their coverage of events undoubtedly influences other people as well. In addition, European coverage of American events should also be examined. Do they simply mirror American press style? Many “Western” news sources are both European and American. Would it not help to untangle this mess of a word we call “Western?”

Another major flaw in this article is that it seems to make too many conclusions without understanding other elements that may have led to an effect. For example, to state that the Western media helped lead to the “electronic execution of Soviet Communism” is a bold statement that cannot be verified. More statistical data must be provided to show how the Western media alone caused the downfall of the communist state, or even the communist press – besides simply a generalized conclusion the author implies we will accept as fact. Proof needs to be provided, and until then, much of this article becomes a thought experiment – supplying conceptual framework without any legitimate studies or solid evidence in certain areas where evidence should be provided to support a conclusion. Nonetheless, this article gives one much to think about in regards to the Western media’s coverage of foreign events.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

To Censor Disaster? (Chinese Censorship Analysis)

There are some who believe China’s censorship of press freedom, and allegiance to the Communist party, has gone too far and may endanger the lives of Chinese citizens in crisis situations. Unlike in the United States press, reporting for the citizens and reporting for the good of the Communist party are considered part of the same job for journalists in China. Therefore, analyzing whether or not the government is overstepping its boundaries and blocking out valuable safety information to citizens in times of need is a respectable goal. The purpose of this paper is to compare recent reactions of the Chinese press and Chinese government in times of crisis, to determine if actual transparency of governmental information and action really exists. As the Chinese press is simultaneously the only check to the Chinese government and controlled by the Chinese government, I will consider the Chinese press and the Chinese government as one entity for the purposes of this paper.

China first received harsh criticism for its loyalty to the Communist party over the protection of citizens during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003. Initially, SARS was in China’s Guangdong Province only - but after attempts to cover up the disease, the disease spread to Beijing and other provinces, turning a regional disaster into a national disaster. In total, an estimated $48 billion USD was lost by China (Yu, 2003, p. 91). This cover-up was a problem because the Chinese government treated the SARS outbreak as a political problem and demanded that all news agencies in China (which are state operated) defend the country from damaging political press by not covering the outbreak. The fallout from this was damaging for China’s tourism industry, and was seen worldwide, as a callous strategic move by China (“Old habits die hard…,” 2005).

In an attempt to save face, China had their Beijing mayor and their health minister removed from office for mishandling the release of information (McGregor, 2005, p. 6). This was a step towards transparency, and an explanation for the bigger step which followed.

In fall of 2005, the bird flu epidemic was the chief concern of people worldwide. The United States spent billions on protecting its own citizens from such an epidemic. China, an emerging world power and home to a confirmed bird flu case, felt the pressure of the world on its back to control the epidemic, which was predicted by the World Bank to cost the global economy roughly $800 billion if not controlled (Roberts, 2005, p. 1). Nobody wanted another repeat of the SARS fiasco. "Bird flu has suddenly become a global concern," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing's People's University in Roberts (2005). "It's clear that how Beijing controls it will affect their international image."

Contrary to what some may have thought, China allowed its own reporters to have full access and ability to publish anything about bird flu. In Roberts (2005), according to Hu Shuli, editor of the Chinese financial weekly Caijing, "We have been playing a very active role in reporting this. This time the government seems to appreciate the role of the media." The government even issued public information kits on Avian Flu, with information about who to contact during an outbreak, and frequently asked questions (Roberts, 2005, p. 2). Regina Ching, assistant director of health for the Central Health Education Unit, said in Roberts (2005), “We've learned a lot since the SARS outbreak, and all this is what we call now risk communication." Perhaps, China had begun to shape up its full disclosure policies and coverage of crisis. Li Xudong, a PhD student at Beijing University agreed, saying in Roberts (2005), "The government has been more transparent, has acted earlier, and is proving more effective compared with SARS."

Most recently though, events have muddied the assumed progression towards transparency. In November of 2005, a chemical plant in Jilin China, off of the Songhua river, blew up and threw 100 tons of deadly chemicals into the neighboring Songhua river.  The Jilin government reported the environment had not been contaminated. Meanwhile, Jilin officials were releasing water from a nearby reservoir to dilute the concentration of toxins in the river. It eventually took one week for government officials to admit the river was contaminated and shut down the water supply to the down-river city of Harbin, with a population of four million.

Despite the government’s shady role in the cover-up, Chinese press was allowed considerable freedoms to report on the government. The China Economic Times reported, according to McGregor (2005), “If individual leaders tell lies irresponsibly, this is an extremely terrible crime against society, because any rumor could trigger a social disaster.” China Youth Daily asked, according to McGregor (2005), “Did they really have no knowledge (of the serious contamination) or did they deliberately conceal it?” These are harsh words for a country which censors its own press.

Some people currently believe that China has been progressing more and more towards transparency in crisis situations, arguing that without transparency, others in the world would not have even known outbreaks or chemical spills in China even occurred. Supporters of this position point towards the lax regulations on Chinese business newspapers, and English written news coming from China as well (Yu, 2003, p. 91). These examples should show evidence of foreign pressure and capitalism exerting itself on Chinese regulations. Those who see progress, claim that as the world becomes more interested in China, the transparency of China becomes clearer. This is evident in the SARS fiasco, and the treatment of Avian Flu. Had the rest of the world not been concerned about SARS outbreak spreading beyond China, there might not have been punishment of the mayor of Bejing and the health minister. There might not have been such an open approach by China with Avian Flu either, had other countries like the United States not invested so much in funding to prevent Avian Flu from spreading and threatened bans of Chinese poultry exports. In regards to the Jilin fiasco, those who feel China is progressing towards transparency will cite the fact that the news media was allowed a liberal amount of freedom in saying what it wished. This, supporters say, is sound evidence China is shifting towards transparency since now Chinese people know a mistake happened.

Others however, hold that China has not changed much. This, in turn, risks the safety of citizens by denying access to information: a key element to one’s survival. Pointing to the SARS outbreak and the lack of information flow – naysayers of Chinese governmental transparency believe China only reacted openly to the Avian Flu crisis to satisfy foreign demands and save their own economic future. Trade with the United States is vital - so any interest the United States has becomes China’s interest. People who say China is not transparent are drawn to the most modern tragedy of the chemical plant in Jilin. The fact that this situation is more modern refutes the idea of progress even if the incident with Avian Flu was one of true transparency. Chinese officials deliberately denied the fact a crisis ever occurred. Yes, journalists reported liberally, but the fact the chemical plant exploded was virtually undeniable, and after-the-fact reporting had to be allowed. It is also notable that China has a history of letting reporters speak liberally, and then snuffing them out when the public spotlight has turned off. For example, after the crisis of SARS had passed in Guangdong, the newspaper editors who published expose stories on the cover-up were either fired or demoted (McGregor, 2005, p. 7).

Whether or not an optimistic viewpoint of China’s transparency is taken – there can be agreement that friction exists between party control of the country and governmental transparency. This is the new age of Chinese informational sharing - where the traditional party desires, and the new age of information are coming together. No matter which position one thinks China is trending towards on the issue of transparency, one must agree that it is only a trend existing within a larger culture that censures information quite often. The debate is whether or not the censoring of crisis situations in China is heavy or light, with a ‘light’ dose of Chinese censure exceeding what many people in Western countries would be accepting of.

It also seems that China is beginning to see greater friction between the press and the government. Regardless of if one believes China’s press is more vocal or not, one will have to agree on the potential it now has to grow – with the influx of technology innovations like blogs, and other internet technologies which can outrun the guillotine of governmental censure. In addition, the rise of China into the global economy will undoubtedly put more critique upon itself from outside sources, digging for more information.

The future of China remains uncertain, and the strategy of information sharing during times of crisis that China employs can still be considered unknown in the present time. However, as more and more people become plugged in and tuned into China, more people both in and outside of China, will want to know just what is going on in a time of crisis. It is too early to tell for certain if political considerations will usurp individual safety, but perhaps the general awareness of two opposing positions based on modern events, will help give way to solid, contemporary theories.


Dexter, Roberts. (2005, November 17). This time, Beijing gets transparent. Business Week Online. Retrieved February 15, 2005, from Academic Search Elite (EBSCO): http://0-web10.epnet.com.libus.csd.mu.edu/.

McDonald, Joe. (2005, December 5). China clings to culture of secrecy; river disaster | embarrassment, criticism unlikely to increase openness, observers say. Seattle Times, P. A8.

McGregor, Richard. (2005, November 26). China media open up in aftermath of chemical spill newspaper have taken advantage of new leniency to criticize the government response to the disaster. Financial Times. P. 6.

Old habits die hard China’s heavy-handed efforts at damage control slow progress. (2005, December 2). The Fresno Bee, p. B8.

Yu, Sun. (2003, Winter). Lessons from SARS Coverage. Nieman Reports Vol. 57, pg. 91.