Responding to Paul Curion’s Thoughts on Global Voices

Many thanks for the reality check, Paul. As mentioned, I tried to post this as a comment directly on your blog but kept on getting the following error message:

Precondition Failed: The precondition on the request for the URL /wp-comments-post.php evaluated to false.

So I’ve posted my comments on my blog instead:

Paul: “The echo chamber effect of the internet also suggests to me that it doesn’t matter much how many “moderate” voices you present to the world – the extreme voices will still be in the headlines.”

Yes, in the mainstream news, for sure. Hence the political-economy of the mass media. And hence the basis and need for citizen media such as Global Voices. To balance out, or to present alternative perspectives to social, political and economic events. And to shed light on those events ignored by the mainstream media. This is what deliberative democracy is about. And what Global Voices is about.

Paul: “Not only is the media – including the web – skewed towards extreme positions but human cognition is also skewed towards extreme positions.”

Me: Hence my interest in transparent, accountable and democratic processes. Citizen media, investigative journalism, the use of Web 2.0 tools to document instances of human rights violations, government corruption, etc. are ways to expose extremist actions. Oversight is an important element of any democracy. See, for example. This is just a first step, ie, empowering political activists using digital technology to increase their impact vis-a-vis pro-democracy initiatives.

Paul: “More to the point, the high visibility of these projects runs the risk of creating a public priority that skews towards advocacy (which is important) and away from legal action (which is more important – and is also what the advocacy should be leading towards).”

Me: Actually, the issue of legal actions was a point that repeatedly came up during the Global Voices summit.

Paul: “I can’t quite see how blogging is a “response” in any significant sense. One of Patrick’s key arguments is that current early warning systems – such as FAST, referenced here – are not sufficiently linked to policy and operational decision-making structures. With the case of the Kenyan blogging community, that charge is surely doubled – not only are they not linked to decision-making structures but there are no decision-making structures in sight. That’s not a criticism of “citizen journalism”, which is a worthwhile endeavor on its own terms – but let’s not pretend that its something it’s not.”

Me: Actually, one of my key arguments is that even if early warning systems such as FAST were linked to policy and operational response, there would still be no early response. Since they were at the front lines, I would recommend touching base with Daudi, Ory and Juliana on exactly how they used blogging to share information and respond *locally* in an informal and decentralized manner. Of course, this is not going to make the headlines; not going to be published in a peer reviewed journal, and so we all too often assume that this type of informal responses do not exist. I would highly recommend “Seeing Like a State” by James Scott in this respect. And also Bill Ury’s “The Third Side.”

“There are several dangers here. One is that if people who get involved in projects like these don’t see a return on their investment, they are unlikely to come back again – they’ll put their energies somewhere else.”

Me: I’m not sure I follow. What do you mean?

Paul: “Another [danger] is that there’s a limited amount of resources out there, and resources placed into one project don’t go into another project.”

Me: This is true of any project, Paul. But I’m not asking for more resources or shifting sources, am I? In fact, I’m asking for a more efficient use of existing resources. One reason FAST was not sustainable was because of the expenses incurred by having to pay for 60+ informants to code events. Which is why I’m suggesting that making use of freely available trusted citizen media blogs as a source for local information makes sense. Particularly as these networks are likely to report using pictures, YouTube videos, etc. Unlike FAST’s field monitors, GV bloggers also have a vibrant and pro-active network they can tap into. Hence the possibility of Ushahidi.

Paul: “Yet another is that the power of the web skews towards those with the best access, which means that organisations that might be doing better work suffer from not being as visible.”

Me: So I guess we should not make use of the web? I think the Internet allows more individuals to be visible to a larger audience. This trend is unlikely to change.

Paul: “Yet another [danger] is that by trying to move into a new – and admittedly sexy – area, projects like GVO will start to suffer from mission creep, diluting those elements which made them useful and attractive in the first place.”

Me: Where in my blog post did I suggest that GVO should move into new projects?

Paul: “And finally the peer-based nature of this interaction – which is fantastic in and of itself – but which does not necessarily reinforce the institution-based action which is essential for human rights framework.”

Me: See my note above. I’m weary of institution-based action (an oxymoron?), which is precisely why GV appeals to me–a decentralized network of activists who seek (often at their own personal risk) to get information out to the rest of the world based on their own values, which, by the way are democratic values.

Paul: “Global Voices is not a representative body; it’s not an accountable body; it’s not even a “body” as such. We like Global Voices because it reflects our own values – but democracy is not supposed to reflect our values only, it’s supposed to reflect everybody’s values.”

Me: I like the fact that GV is not a “body” as such. GV is far more representative than FAST’s field monitors ever were. In my opinion, GV is accountable. You have taken issue with some of my arguments and have had the freedom to respond accordingly. This is exactly what I was hoping would happen, dialogue across fields. Blogs are interactive, nothing prevents you from critiquing GV directly on the blogs they post. You can get in touch with the co-founders and voice your concerns. You can respond to any errors in their reporting by posting your comments on their blogs, letting others know that you dispute their account of events. This will only make the deliberations more democratic. The issue of accountability is certainly important, but not just for GV. How many NGOs in our field are really accountable? (Just trying to add perspective).

What are GV’s values? GV’s mission? I included this in my blog post by copying and pasting directly from the GV website:

At a time when the international English-language media ignores many things that are important to large numbers of the world’s citizens, Global Voices aims to redress some of the inequities in media attention by leveraging the power of citizens’ media. We’re using a wide variety of technologies – weblogs, podcasts, photos, video, wikis, tags, aggregators and online chats – to call attention to conversations and points of view that we hope will help shed new light on the nature of our interconnected world.

See also this blog entry by Rebecca, one of GV’s cofounders.

Finally, since I know you’re also interested in complex systems, I would highly highly recommend reading this piece by Benkler on the wealth of networks. I think it provides an important roadmap vis-a-vis the implications of the information revolution for our field.

Thanks again for the reality check, Paul, which is always (as far as I’m concerned) very welcome. I do really hope this conversation leads to a dialogue with the GV group—that would make my day, and then some.

Patrick Philippe Meier

2 responses to “Responding to Paul Curion’s Thoughts on Global Voices

  1. Pingback: » Here Comes… Somebody?

  2. My response turned into a bit of a monster, so I decided to publish it as a new blog post rather than choke up your comments box…

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