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On the geopolitics of "platforms"

CGCS's picture

Robyn Caplan is one of ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar. In this blog post, the evolving relationships between social and traditional media and between politics and information policy regimes are reviewed.

Map of the frequency with which people in different places @reply to each other on TwitterIn the last year, questions about the roles that both non-traditional and traditional media play in the filtering of geopolitical events and policy have begun to increase. Though traditional sources such as The New York Times retain their influence, social media platforms and other online information sources are becoming the main channels through which news and information is produced and circulated. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and other micro-blogging services bring the news directly to the people. According to a study by Parse.ly, the era of searching for information is ending—fewer referrals to news sites are coming from Google, with the difference in traffic made up by social media networks (McGee, 2014; Napoli, 2014).

It isn’t just news organizations that are finding greater success online. Heads of state—most famously President Obama—have used social networks to reach a younger generation that has moved away from traditional media. This shift, which began as a gradual adoption by state and public officials over the last several years, is quickly gaining speed. Iranian politicians, such as President Rouhani, have also taken to Twitter, a medium still banned in their own country. The low barriers to entry and high potential return make social media an ideal space for geopolitical actors to experiment with their communications strategies. ISIS, for example, has developed a skillful social media strategy over the last few years, building up a large following (which emerged out of both shock and awe) with whom they can now communicate directly (Morgan, 2015, p. 2). As more information is disseminated through these platforms, considering the role that technological and algorithmic design has on geopolitics is increasingly important.

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.
 

Beyond Propaganda: How authoritarian regimes are learning to engineer human souls in the age of Facebook.
Foreign Policy
Pity the poor propagandist! Back in the 20th century, it was a lot easier to control an authoritarian country’s hearts and minds. All domestic media could be directed out of a government office. Foreign media could be jammed. Borders were sealed, and your population couldn’t witness the successes of a rival system. You had a clear narrative with at least a theoretically enticing vision of social justice or national superiority, one strong enough to fend off the seductions of liberal democracy and capitalism. Anyone who disagreed could be isolated, silenced, and suppressed.  Those were the halcyon days of what the Chinese call “thought work” — and Soviets called the “engineering of human souls.” And until recently, it seemed as if they were gone forever. Today’s smart phones and laptops mean any citizen can be their own little media center. Borders are more open.

Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective
International Monetary Fund
Widening income inequality is the defining challenge of our time. In advanced economies, the gap between the rich and poor is at its highest level in decades. Inequality trends have been more mixed in emerging markets and developing countries (EMDCs), with some countries experiencing declining inequality, but pervasive inequities in access to education, health care, and finance remain. Not surprisingly then, the extent of inequality, its drivers, and what to do about it have become some of the most hotly debated issues by policymakers and researchers alike.

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.
 

Why don’t voters demand more redistribution?
The Washington Post
If you believe economic inequality is a political problem, these are trying times. As economic inequality increases in many of the world’s wealthy democracies, so does the disproportionate political influence of the rich. As a recent Monkey Cage post explained, even though economic inequality is on the rise, politicians around the world have grown increasingly attentive to the demands of the “1 percent” — and less responsive to the less well-off.  If you believe inequality is a bad thing, this trend is worrisome. The power of the rich to mute everyone else’s political voices could push economic inequality even higher, as the wealthy erect ever-higher barriers to policies that might work to reduce poverty and/or inequality.

Why Technology Hasn’t Delivered More Democracy
Foreign Policy
The current moment confronts us with a paradox. The first fifteen years of this century have been a time of astonishing advances in communications and information technology, including digitalization, mass-accessible video platforms, smart phones, social media, billions of people gaining internet access, and much else. These revolutionary changes all imply a profound empowerment of individuals through exponentially greater access to information, tremendous ease of communication and data-sharing, and formidable tools for networking. Yet despite these changes, democracy — a political system based on the idea of the empowerment of individuals — has in these same years become stagnant in the world.

Stealthy protest: Collective identity and the affordances of social media

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A computer class is conducted at the Female Experimental High School in HeratCGCS Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Emad Khazraee discusses his research project with Alison Novak on socio-political activism and women’s rights in Iran, featuring My Stealthy Freedom as a case study. Emad and Alison presented their project at the ICA on May 25, 2015. 

It is likely most Facebook users have come across a Facebook page supporting a socio-political cause. The popularity of these pages reinforces the need to better understand their affordances for socio-political activism. In an effort to address this issue, a recent research project I undertook with Alison Novak[1] studied campaign pages on Facebook advocating for women’s rights in relation to the dress code in Iran. One of the pages we analyzed, My Stealthy Freedom, acts as a strong case study. My Stealthy Freedom’s (MSF) page was created in April 2014 by Masih Alinejad, an expat Iranian journalist based in the United Kingdom. In an effort to digitally protest hijab laws that restrict women’s right to choose their own cover, Alinejad first shared a photograph of herself online, riding in a convertible without hijab, and then encouraged women inside Iran to share pictures of their own “stealthy freedom.” Soon women from inside Iran shared their own photos taken in a public space without hijab. These photos were often accompanied by a message providing the background stories, grievances, or opinions of the user. In the weeks that followed, MSF became an internationally recognized page and was followed by 500,000 users on Facebook, resulting in reactions both outside and inside Iran.

Five key findings on how people use social media in Qatar

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A new study of internet users in Qatar has examined the usage of emerging social media networks. Damian Radcliffe explains more.

In December 2014 Qatar’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQATAR) published some of the key findings from a new ground-breaking study into social media in the country.


Three discoveries in particular are of note for policy makers: 1) dramatic differences in usage by nationality; 2) the concerns of social media users; and 3) the plurality of ways in which these networks are used.

Many of these areas, such as drivers for usage, had seldom been publicly explored.

In addition to questions about older and resilient messaging applications, such as Blackberry Messenger (BBM), survey respondents were also asked about their use of emerging social channels. These applications, such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, had not previously been studied.

With fieldwork undertaken by Ipsos MENA, the Rassed team at ictQATAR,[1] the research is also remarkably current. One thousand adult internet users – fived hundred Qataris and five hundred non-Qataris – participated in fifteen-minute Computer Assisted Telephonic Interviews (CATI) between September 1 and October 16, 2014.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet
Quartz
It was in Indonesia three years ago that Helani Galpaya first noticed the anomaly. Indonesians surveyed by Galpaya told her that they didn’t use the internet. But in focus groups, they would talk enthusiastically about how much time they spent on Facebook. Galpaya, a researcher (and now CEO) with LIRNEasia, a think tank, called Rohan Samarajiva, her boss at the time, to tell him what she had discovered. “It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook,” he concluded. In Africa, Christoph Stork stumbled upon something similar. Looking at results from a survey on communications use for Research ICT Africa, Stork found what looked like an error. The number of people who had responded saying they used Facebook was much higher than those who said they used the internet. The discrepancy accounted for some 3% to 4% of mobile phone users, he says.

Time to Act on the G-20 Agenda: The Global Economy Will Thank You
iMF direct- blog post by Christine Lagarde
Implementation, investment, and inclusiveness: these three policy goals will dominate the G-20 agenda this year, including the first meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in Istanbul next week. As Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently put it: “Now is the time to act” – şimdi uygulama zamanı. There is a lot at stake. Without action, we could see the global economic supertanker continuing to be stuck in the shallow waters of sub-par growth and meager job creation. This is why we need to focus on these three “I’s”:

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
 
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 
2014 Corruption Perceptions Index
Transparency International
Poorly equipped schools, counterfeit medicine and elections decided by money are just some of the consequences of public sector corruption. Bribes and backroom deals don’t just steal resources from the most vulnerable – they undermine justice and economic development, and destroy public trust in government and leaders. Based on expert opinion from around the world, the Corruption Perceptions Index measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide, and it paints an alarming picture. Not one single country gets a perfect score and more than two-thirds score below 50, on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
 
The Fall of Facebook
The Atlantic
Facebook has won this round of the Internet.  Steadily, grindingly, it continues to take an ever greater share of our time and attention online. More than 800 million people use the site on an average day. Individuals are dependent on it to keep up not just with their friends but with their families. When a research company looked at how people use their phones, it found that they spend more time on Facebook than they do browsing the entire rest of the Web.  Digital-media companies have grown reliant on Facebook’s powerful distribution capabilities. They are piglets at the sow, squealing amongst their siblings for sustenance, by which I mean readers.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Focus on Migration: Rising migration is a myth
SciDevNet
Hardly a week goes by without media coverage of the fears, in developed nations, that immigrants from poorer countries are overwhelming them. A recent story in the British newspaper The Telegraph — describing how open borders, the “ravages of globalisation”, and a welfare economy have given rise to social resentment — is just one example. [1] Such narratives tap into the popular myth that globalisation has led to a one-way, free flow of migrants from poorer countries — making migration a political issue almost everywhere in the industrialised world.

Facebook is more important to news distribution than you think, and journalists are freaked out
Poynter
Facebook’s Liz Heron answered for a litany of perceived sins and slights last week during a conversation with The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal and attendees at the Online News Association conference in Chicago. Journalists are anxious about being left out of the loop about how Facebook works, and they want answers. Does Facebook play favorites in the News Feed Algorithm? Nope, according to Heron, the company’s head of news partnerships. In other words: If you want to be successful on Facebook, don’t get caught up in the nuts and bolts of what it favors or disfavors about posts (and it won’t tell you much about those nuts and bolts anyway, so that works out).

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

The State of  Broadband 2014:  Broadband  for all
Broadband Commission for Digital Development (I​TU and UNESCO)
The Broadband Commission for Digital Development aims to promote the adoption of effective broadband policies and practices for achieving development goals, so everyone can benefit from the advantages offered by broadband. Through this Report, the Broadband Commission seeks to raise awareness and enhance understanding of the importance of broadband networks, services, and applications to guide international broadband policy discussions and support the expansion of broadband where it is most needed. This year, the Report includes a special focus on the importance of integrating ICT skills into education to ensure that the next generation is able to compete in the digital economy.

Facebook Lays Out Its Roadmap for Creating Internet-Connected Drones
Wired
If companies like Facebook and Google have their way, everyone in the world will have access to the internet within the next few decades. But while these tech giants seem to have all the money, expertise, and resolve they need to accomplish that goal—vowing to offer internet connections via things like high-altitude balloons and flying drones—Yael Maguire makes one thing clear: it’s going to be a bumpy ride. “We’re going to have to push the edge of solar technology, battery technology, composite technology,” Maguire, the engineering director of Facebook’s new Connectivity Lab, said on Monday during a talk at the Social Good Summit in New York City, referring to the lab’s work on drones. “There are a whole bunch of challenges.”

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Facebook Reaches a Landmark 100-Million Users in Africa Through Mobile
AllAfrica
Thanks to mobile connectivity, half of Africa's 200-million internet users were accessing Facebook on a monthly basis in June 2014, indicating that the social media giant's efforts at penetrating emerging market are paying off. There's explosive growth and incredible momentum across Africa. "We now have 100-million people coming to Facebook every month across the African continent with more than 80% using mobile devices," says Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

UNICEF's Hidden in Plain Sight report details child homicides, domestic violence in 190 countries
Radio Australia
One in five homicide victims worldwide are children, a report by UN children's agency UNICEF has revealed. The Hidden in Plain Sight report analyses data from 190 countries and lists alarming statistics on child homicides, domestic violence and rape. The report found violence against children was most common in the home and with caregivers.  UNICEF spokesman for Eastern and Southern Africa, James Elder, said the report may not even capture the full extent of the problem.   "Violence is a very difficult thing often to detect, it goes grossly unreported, so one of the terrifying things from this report is knowing that in fact the numbers would be lower than the reality," he said.


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