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Information is power: Silvio Waisbord on how digital technology changes the public sphere and notions of privacy

Roxanne Bauer's picture
How do digital media affect traditional theories of the “public sphere” and power? Are we living in a modern-day panopticon?

The notion of the “public sphere” is useful worldwide to consider how citizens can and do articulate demands to the market or to states. The public sphere is generally conceived as a place (figurative or literal) in which citizens can share information, debate issues and opinions, and restrain the interests of the powerful elite. This space is critical to the formation of public will and the transmission of it to official authorities.

In contrast, the Panopticon is a design for a prison or jail which allows watchmen to observe all inmates at all times without the inmates knowing whether they are being observed or not.  The idea has been used to discuss online privacy, as individuals are often unaware of how governments and companies collect and use the information they gather about them online.  Moreover, the revelation that governments and companies work together to “spy” on citizens, as revealed by Edward Snowden revived the concern that a modern-day panopticon might be possible.   

But these concepts raise another important question: How can the public sphere, which aims to limit excess power, continue to function if the state is monitoring citizen activity?  Much of the information that is collected and tracked online is willingly shared by individuals as they search the internet, use mobile apps, and contact friends and family. This activity is vital to the future of a public sphere around the world, but it also allows governments and companies to intrude in our private lives.

Silvio Waisbord explores these two evergreen, yet very immediate concerns. He argues that while digital technologies have improved the capacities of states and companies to track human activity, digital media can also be used for democratic purposes. 
 
The modern public sphere vs. The online panopticon

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

The World Press Freedom Index
Reporters Without Borders
Published every year since 2002 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states. Because it is well known, its influence over governments is growing. Many heads of state and government fear its annual publication. The Index is a point of reference that is quoted by media throughout the world and is used by diplomats and international entities such as the United Nations and the World Bank. The Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country. It does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking. Nor is it an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country.

Non-Western Ideas for Democratic Renewal
Carnegie’s Rising Democracies Network
It is commonly asserted that Western liberal democracy is losing credibility and that the international community must be more open to tolerating, and even encouraging, non-Western political models in developing and rising powers. Calls for non-Western forms of democracy have been around for many years but are now becoming louder and more ubiquitous. This trend can be expected to deepen as an integral element of the emerging post-Western world order.  The desire of people outside the West to contribute new ideas to democratic regeneration and to feel stronger local ownership over democracy is healthy. More needs to be done to nurture a wider variation of democratic processes and practices. 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

 

Development Co-operation Report 2015: Making Partnerships Effective Coalitions for Action
OECD
With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, the question of how to finance, implement and monitor these goals moves to the centre of the debate. Today, international development co-operation takes place in an increasingly complex environment, with an ever growing number of actors, policies and instruments involved. This complexity raises the stakes for achieving the goals, but also opens up new opportunities. Although governments will remain the key actors in the implementation of the new post-2015 goals, the role of non-state actors such as civil society, foundations and business is growing. Their association through effective partnerships will be key to the implementation of the post-2015 agenda. The Development Co-operation Report 2015 explores the potential of networks and partnerships to create incentives for responsible action, as well as innovative, fit-for-purpose ways of co-ordinating the activities of diverse stakeholders.

Women and power: overcoming barriers to leadership and influence
ODI
Around the world, women now have more power than ever before. Men still dominate decision-making -- but the number of women is on the rise in parliaments and cabinets, judiciary and police forces, formal employment and education. Increasing the number of women in political and public positions is important, but does not mean that they real power. Women in public life are often subject to sexism and prejudice. Women are less represented in the sectors and positions with the most power. This two-year research project on women's voice and leadership in decision-making, funded by DFID, set out to understand the factors that help and hinder women's access to and substantive influence in decision-making processes in politics and society in developing countries. The project also considered whether, as is often assumed, women's leadership advances gender equality and the wellbeing of women more broadly.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

How are social media changing democracy?
The Economist
Donald Trump may be unfit to be America’s president, but he clearly is a master of social media. His often outrageous tweets have earned the real-estate magnate-turned-politician more than 7m followers on Twitter. And most messages are seen by millions more because they are forwarded thousands of times and get extensive coverage in mainstream media. Mr Trump’s campaign is thus proof of how important social media have become to politics and all kinds of collective action. How is this changing democracy?  Political scientists have long pointed out that social media make it easier for interests to organise: they give voice and power to people who have neither.

Public Service News and Digital Media
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
How are public service media services delivering news in an increasingly digital environment? And what action do they need to take to remain competitive in a fast-evolving global digital landscape? A new Reuters Institute report looks at how public service news organisations in six European countries (Italy, Poland, the UK, France, Germany and Finland) are navigating an increasingly digital landscape. What are the idea conditions that allow a public service news organisation to flourish? And who is remaining competitive in a shifting media environment? The report explores differing approaches, and warns that without strategic action that prioritises digital media, mobile platforms, and social distribution, some public service news organisations risk losing touch with their audience – the public they exist to serve and which funds them.

Higher education matters to young people in Tajikistan

Jason Weaver's picture
Winners of the youth essay competition


Amidst the risk assessments, results frameworks, and implementation arrangements of any World Bank-financed project, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact that education projects can have on individuals, especially students and teachers. To launch our higher education project in Tajikistan, we used a youth contest to tie the project to personal success stories.  

We asked young people in Tajikistan between the ages of 18-25 to tell us in an email of 100 words: why is higher education important to you? How is it impacting your life? Entries could be submitted in Tajik, Russian, or English.

Since the contest was the first of its kind in Tajikistan, we didn’t know what to expect. To spread the word, we engaged the leader of a youth-oriented NGO in Tajikistan to email, telephone, and visit higher education institutions. Different universities posted contest details to their websites and social media pages.

Media (R)evolutions: Time spent online continues to rise

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Roughly how many hours do you spend online each day? How many hours do you spend on social media? If you’re like most people, you’re are spending more and more time online, and you’re spending much of that time on social media networks.

Each year, We Are Social collates key data from multiple sources to make sense of the digital and social trends affecting media and technology. Digital in 2016 is the latest report, and the following graphs illustrate data the organization obtained from the Global Web Index. GWI conducts annual interviews with 200,000 internet users across 33 markets in quarterly waves, each of which has a global sample size of 45,000 – 50,000 internet users.
 
Amongst the 30 economies surveyed, Filipinos and Brazilians spend the most time using the internet, clocking an impressive 5.2 hours per day on average. Together with Thais, Brazilians also top the list for the amount of time spent using mobile internet, logging an average of 3.9 hours per day on their devices.  Contrary to what you might expect, the Japanese and South Koreans spend the least amount of time on the internet each day, logging only 2.9 and 3.1 hours respectively. This matches previous years in which these countries have been at the bottom of the spectrum.

Time Spent online by We Are Social

Social media: Using our voice to end adversity

Bassam Sebti's picture
When was the last time you used your mobile phone camera? Yesterday, this morning, or a few minutes ago? How did you use it? To snap a photo of your child or pet, or maybe to identify a problem in your community to bring it to public attention?
 
Have you ever thought that your camera phone can actually capture more than the ordinary? Did you know that with just one snap you might be able to save lives and lift people out of hardship and poverty?
 
Yes, you can! At least one stranger in downtown Beirut believed so.

 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


The Global Risks Report 2016
World Economic Forum
Now in its 11th edition, The Global Risks Report 2016 draws attention to ways that global risks could evolve and interact in the next decade. The Global Risks Report 2016 features perspectives from nearly 750 experts on the perceived impact and likelihood of 29 prevalent global risks over a 10-year timeframe. The risks are divided into five categories: economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological. The report also examines the interconnections among the risks, and through that analysis explores three areas where global risks have the greatest potential to impact society.

The Quest for Good Governance
Journal of Democracy
Once of interest mainly to specialists, the problem of explaining how institutions change is now a primary concern not only of economists, but of the international donor community as well. Many have come to believe that history’s main lesson in this regard is “politics first”—that political institutions are decisive in shaping economic institutions and, with them, the course of innovation and investment that leads to a developed society. Yet there has been much less discussion about the key institutional change needed to bring societies to the point where they are capable of controlling corruption and achieving good governance. This is the shift from patrimonialism to ethical universalism, a transformation that I first explored in these pages a decade ago and have further analyzed in my new book The Quest for Good Governance: How Societies Develop Control of Corruption. 

If you see it, you can be it

Rosie Parkyn's picture

Rosie Parkyn explores the opportunities and challenges online media presents in addressing the gender equality gap.

 School girls gathering around a computer If you see it, you can be it’ could have been the unofficial slogan of the International Development Cooperation meeting on Gender and Media, where I was invited to talk about the opportunities created by the internet and online media to counter gender stereotyping, or the assignment of particular characteristics and roles according to sex. This is a theme touched on by our Policy Briefing, Making Waves: Media’s Potential for Girls in the Global South.

Much has been said about the need to achieve better visibility for girls and women in the media if gender equality is to be realised. This year’s Global Media Monitoring Project reported that women make up only 24% of people heard, read about or seen in news reporting. That coverage is often characterised by gender bias and extensive stereotyping.

So could the onward expansion of digital spaces fast track the process of ensuring girls and women are seen in a diversity of roles? The short answer is yes of course, it has transformative potential. But there are significant caveats.


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