In my last blog, I talked about governments will serve themselves and their citizens better if they do not take an adversarial stand against social media, and instead proactively use social media for good governance. In order to do so, governments have to be able to harvest and use social media data effectively. For social media to facilitate good governance a fundamental prerequisite is a quality search in the social media space.
In my last blog, I wrote about the potential of social media in promoting good governance, specifically participatory governance. The example I talked about – participatory processes used in President Obama’s “Race to the Top” - was in the context of a mature democracy, with enabling institutions, infrastructure and an engaged civil society, all of which contributed to the success of “Race to the Top”. However, even in an environment where these elements are not present, social media can still contribute to improved governance, although in a different and perhaps more limited way. Despite the lack of strong institutions, rampant poverty, limited infrastructure, and the ever-present threat of censorship, social media (often fuelled by mobile technology) has played a role in countries such as Bangladesh and Iran.
Earlier this year, the White House and the Department of Education announced the Race to the Top High School Commencement competition. They invited public schools across the US to compete to have President Obama speak at their graduation. In addition to the essay responses, applicants were encouraged to include materials like a video showing the school’s culture and character and data on key indicators such as attendance, and student achievement. Six finalists were selected by the White House and Department of Education. The schools were then featured on the White House website and the public voted for the three schools they felt best meet the President’s goal, on the White House blog. The three finalists included Clark Montessori Jr. & Sr. High School in Cincinnati, OH, Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, MI, and Denver School of Science and Technology in Denver, CO. On May 4, the President selected Kalamazoo Central High School as the winner from these three finalists. He will visit the winning high school to deliver the commencement address to the class of 2010.
A quick note from the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2010, happening in Santiago, Chile. This is a unique gathering of bloggers, citizen activists, and NGO representatives who have come together to discuss citizen media for two days. All of them enthusiastic about digital and social media and excited about all the great possibilities - you would think. In the very first session, discussing the citizen media landscape in Chile, the issue of access quickly emerged as a central problem.
The Global Voices crowd acknowledged that this kind of summit can only be held by the information elite, those who can't even imagine a life without Internet access (entering the conference auditorium, the only thing I saw in the gloom at first was the bluish glow of several hundreds of open laptops). For digital media to have real political relevance, and we all agree that there is a huge potential, the digital divide must be bridged. Otherwise you will have those people participating in public dialogue whose voices could have been heard anyway because they are members of a country's education elite, often interested in politics and willing to communicate with politicians.
If the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami off Indonesia in 2004 have shown us anything it is that large scale natural catastrophes are not rare. Calamities that claim tens of thousands of lives happen with regularity (about every four years on average). Many others claim a smaller number of lives but are equally devastating to local communities. The claims that these disasters are unique “100 year events”, which cannot be predicated and therefore cannot be planned for, are increasingly hollow.
A few weeks ago David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times, unearthed the roots of an important discussion that began with Cass Sunstein’s 2001 essay entitled “The Daily We: Is the internet really a blessing for democracy?” Brooks’ take on Sunstein branches in two directions: tension and composure. Tension because “the internet might lead us to a more ghettoized, polarized and insular electorate”. Composure due to recent work by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro called “Ideological Segregation Online and Offline” which presents a different take on our what Sunstein called “personalization”.
- East Asia and Pacific
- Europe and Central Asia
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Middle East and North Africa
- South Asia
- Information and Communication Technologies
- internet penetration
- social media
- Web 2.0
- ideological segregation online and offline
- Berkman Center for Internet and society
- Cass Sunstein
- David Brooks
- digital media
- Communications architecture
American college students today show no significant loyalty to a news program, news personality or even news platform. Students have only a casual relationship to the originators of news, and in fact don’t make fine distinctions between news and more personal information. Yet student after student, in a new ICMPA study, demonstrated knowledge of specific news stories.
How did they get the information? In a disaggregated way, and not typically from the news outlet that broke or committed resources to a story.
A few weeks I had a chance to return to Nicaragua for a brief visit. The Fundacion Chamorro invited me to talk about the role of the state in processes of media reform. As usual, I learned a great deal by talking to old colleagues and new friends about ongoing efforts to strengthen media democracy in the country.
What’s going on in contemporary Nicaragua shows the potential of smart media aid to be effective, if it dovetails with local needs and promotes wide-ranging efforts. It’s not just what donors think is important. It is what local activists with vast experience believe is necessary (and Nicaragua, to put it mildly, does have substantive experience with reform). It’s not simply about targeting one set of challenges. It is taking a broad, multilevel perspective on the challenges of media systems.
Often the best way to communicate information about some distant event, issue or trend is to embed the news in a story that focuses on the experience of an individual. Human incidents get the public’s attention—audiences identify with and react emotionally to stories about people.
Yet in the development sector, often the real news that needs to be told is not the human anecdotes but the statistics that have been collected. But how can a non-technical audience understand a bunch of numbers? How can the public see not only a trend, but a pattern, discover not just scale, but relationships?
The field of data visualization is exploding in importance as new technologies and software help government agencies speak to their constituencies, multilateral organizations to their member states, NGOs to their donors, media outlets to their viewers and readers. It now takes seconds to sift through reams of information and identify elusive patterns, locate important outliers, or confirm gut instincts. The connections that can be made are only limited by the creativity and insights of those who have access to the information.
Sometimes you go to a meeting and someone produces a moment of elegance, that is, a moment that neatly sums up an area of experience. I had such a moment recently at a meeting on Governance, Media and Accountability organized by the Salzburg Global Seminar. As often happens at such meetings, some of the sessions involve social media specialists educating 'digital migrants' like me (as opposed to the young people of today who are said to be 'digital natives') regarding all the cool new tools being developed. I always come away impressed, and happy to be educated on the subject, especially the tools that can deepen citizen engagement in policy and empower them to hold governments accountable. Some impressive possibilities are emerging, about which more later.