Global Voices Summit: When Biases meet Biases

This panel focuses specifically on China (and the issue of Tibet) to explore what can be done to encourage dialogue in times of heated disagreement. The reason there was so much dispute in what went on in Tibet is because the international media could not report what was going on. There was widespread misinformation and accusations based on distorted information. What we saw in the Blogosphere was a polarization between bloggers in the West and in China. There was little compassion on either side for people’s views on either side of the issue, as depicted by the difference in connectivity between communication during the  run up to the Chinese Olympics and the 2004 Athens Olympics in the maps below created by Dave.

Dave says “I’ve argued, citing the words of the Dalai Lama himself, that if you

1) Believe in democratic principles and free speech
2) You believe the Internet is a tool for unfettered global communication
3) There’s something in China (or any other country) that bothers you

Then you ought to put some energy into communicating directly with Chinese netizens about the problem. For years now I’ve seen alot of Chinese netizens discussions be completely ignored or simply missed by English-speaking netizens, who too often think that Chinese netizens are all completely brainwashed. Well, guess what? Some of them think you are too. Instead of dismissing each other as fools, how about we try to talk? So I say, Tweet Back! Tweet in English, alot of Chinese people know some. If you know Chinese… what are you waiting for? I’ve been translating alot of Chinese tweets on Tibet this weekend, and alot of them break the stereotype of the frothing nationalist Chinese blogger. These are Chinese people who adopt alot of Web 2.0 applications alot of the time, they aren’t just blowhards in chat rooms. Some are journalists, professionals and students.”

CNN and Western media wrongly described Nepalese policemen beating Tibetans as Chinese, which was not the only mistake made in Western media coverage. This prompted Jin Rao, a 23-year-old Chinese student, to launch an Anti-CNN website, which documented all of CNN’s numerous reporting errors on the coverage using screen shots and on-line videos. Grassroots media has developed very quickly over the past 6-years in China, largely in response to the absence of a professional media in the country.

Ethan Zuckerman made a particularly interesting point (as he always does). Referring to the Obama campaign and the Reverend Wright issue. Wright is obviously a traditional civil rights activist who regularly reminds his audience that African Americans in the US remain marginalized and discriminated. This upset a large number of white communities in the US. But the point is that Wright was not speaking to this audience. In the past, the audience was more easily defined and captures. These days there are multiple audiences, including intendend and unintended audiences. This shift will continue to provoke controversies and “disproportional” reactions from unintended readers.

At the same time, we need to be able to continue talking differently about certain topics to different  groups of people. This allows for different perspectives and variety of views. There will be friction, but the question is how we can channel this tension in a productive manner. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have a history of inconsistencies. Rebecca MacKinnon, the other co-founder of Global Voices, also noted the importance of politics and history. Some communities and societies are more steeped in past (even distant) history. Others less so, and still others simply unaware of the context and where people are coming from. The question is what bloggers can do to correct for this?

Patrick Philippe Meier

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