Second Response to Paul Curion on Global Voices

This is cross-posted in the comments section on Paul’s blog as well.

Paul: Patrick, I think your bias is showing. Your use of the word “extremist” looks dangerously close to being a euphemism for “things that I disagree with”; corruption, for example, is not an “extremist” action.

I completely agree, corruption is not extremist action (although it depends whether you are facing the direct consequences of such action). But you’re not responding to the main point I’m making (understandably since I have not been as careful as I should be in choosing appropriate words in formulating my responses to your comments, my apologies for that). 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 wrong doing. They are “new” sources of potentially important information for conflict early warning/response. We no longer have to rely strictly on state media or national media. I think that’s a good thing. This of course does not mean that citizen journalism will provide all the answers to continuing challenges in the field.

On the issue of bias, which you brought up more than once, I wouldn’t want to live in a world completely free of bias, there would be no learning, no creation of knowledge, etc. (the analogy I would use is entropy and the heat-death of the universe). But that’s just a side point, more of a philosophical issue which does not add to the conversation.

As regards legal actions, there was discussion about how bloggers could work together to start influencing change in legislation, but also how to use existing laws to expose governments as clearly violating their own laws. That said, I’m really hoping the GV folks will start contributing to this conversation, because the two of us could go on forever and I’m not qualified, nor is it my place, to speak on behalf of GV. I’m an outsider and they may very well take issue with some of my points as well. So I hope the conversation leads to more “global voices” participating.

But what is the response? I’m still not seeing it – not in the sense that it doesn’t appear in a peer-reviewed journals (I don’t actually read peer-reviewed journals…), but in the sense that I can’t see what the response could be. Let me be clear: blogging is a response, data visualisation is a response, but not the type of response that I think you’re talking about.

Indeed, blogging in itself is a response. The operational responses, which I hope our colleagues from Kenya will share with us in their own words, are more micro-level responses in the form of real time information sharing. Kenya’s bloggers filled a notable vacuum in the national media following the elections (I was in Nairobi during this time). I consider this an important response. FAST field monitors did not contribute to this type of information sharing. Events were coded and stored on servers in Bern.

I could be wrong, however. I get the sense that you believe that this activity is worthwhile simply for its own sake – as part of the democratic process – and I’d tend to agree. However what I read here – and in the other discussions around the summit – goes beyond simply blogging because it’s worthwhile. It has a programmatic element, a directional element – but that means that the bar is higher.

I completely fully agree.

Again, your bias is showing – who decides which blogs are to be “trusted”, and what does “trusted” mean in this context? How do you know that GV bloggers have a “vibrant and pro-active network”? And what about the voices on the other side – the “extremist” side, who may be “extremist” precisely because they lack a voice? These are deeper questions which I am sure were discussed at the Summit and elsewhere, but their existence should make you wary of proclaiming their superiority without at least some qualifications.

Biased Patrick: You decide which blogs are to be trusted, you develop your own community of trusted sources. The iRevolution is about you, the individual, who stands to be more empowered to make his/her own more-informed choices. There were some 80 GV bloggers in Budapest and I spent the better part of three days, from morning to dinner with them. They struck me as a vibrant and pro-active network. Much of this came from the side conversations during breaks, etc. As for the voices on the “extremist” side, they are doing really well in adopting new technology for disseminating their “extremist” points of views. Take Al Qaeda for example, they have a superb, first-rate communications department which has allowed them to make use of Web 2.0 platforms to increase visibility, recruitment and improve training.

Representative of who? I ask you because while I was reading David Sasaki’s excellent post on the GV summit, I was struck by the following passage:

As incredibly diverse as the global blogosphere is, the ‘blogger demographic’ tends to very homogenous. From Tanzania to Tasmania, most bloggers live in the wealthy neighborhoods of urban centers, most are well educated, and most belong to the majority groups of their countries.

which is something which I would have guessed in more general terms. I don’t know what the profile of FASTs field monitors was, but I’m guessing it wasn’t that much different to the current GV profile?

I misunderstood what you meant in your previous response, so I completely take your point. Representative of who remains an open question. But I also think that this misses the more important point that I was hoping to make. I don’t want to be cornered into arguing about what GV is or is not. What my original post argued was that we (the conflict early warning/response community) may gain from paying more attention to blogs as a source of local information for the purposes of early warning/response. Hence my contrast with FAST. Our colleagues in Kenya were blogging on a virtually real-time basis, providing up-to-date information on events taking place across the country. The point is that they delivered, and took it upon themselves to do so; regardless of whether they live in wealthy neighborhoods or not. Many of them were in the streets as events were unfolding. This is the kind of local information that I value.

Again, I understand that what you’re reacting to are my somewhat sweeping claims about democracy, etc. But I don’t want this to distract from the main point I’m trying to get across, ie, that our community has some things to learn from the GV community and vice versa. Hence my hoping that this dialogue will prompt our GV colleagues to contribute (and possibly correct some of my own statements).

What you’ve outlined isn’t accountability in any strong sense – all of the actions that you describe here are certainly part of a dialogue, but I’m not sure they’re accountability mechanisms. I may be being unfair in my accusation here – it’s hard to know what I want GV to be accountable for – but you can be certain that this will be an issue which it will face in future.

I grant you that my take on what constitutes accountability is not the traditional, institutional, centralized version. Perhaps I’m too biased (again ; ) given that I identify more with the open source, decentralized philosophy of the Web 2.0 generation. Again, the piece by Benkler will hopefully convince you that there is a real significant change occurring, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself vis-a-vis the probable impact for the conflict early warning community.

I wasn’t at the GV Summit, and I haven’t had the discussions you’ve had with people like Ushaidi, so I am not as well-placed as you to talk about their status and plans. However my complaint is that I’m not seeing the evidence that these projects are having the impact that they (you?) claim, and I just want to be persuaded of that impact before I make any claims about them.

We’re definitely on the same page vis-a-vis the critical importance of demonstrating impact. This has been the very basis of my criticisms with respect to the majority of operational conflict early warning systems. So I’m equally interested in identifying whatever impact Ushahidi has had. But that was not the purpose of my post. See this post on crisis mapping analytics where I ask the same question as you do regarding impact.

I’m going to give this thread a rest now in the hopes that our GV and Ushahidi colleagues may jump in with their comments. Thanks again for the reality-check, Paul.

Patrick Philippe Meier

2 responses to “Second Response to Paul Curion on Global Voices

  1. Pingback: El Oso » Archive » A critique of Global Voices

  2. Pingback: GVO and early warning debates « burning bridge

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