Opening up my Gmail account yesterday, I saw the following announcement across the top encased in a pink banner:
We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer. Protect yourself now.
As FP's Josh Rogin and others have reported, this is part of Google's new policy of warning users specifically of "state-sponsored attackers." It should be noted that Google's advice is essentially the same as it has always been -- follow good email hygeine and be careful about opening up attachments.
So, this warning doesn't really change things on my end all that much. I do wonder, however, if this will be yet another signifier that wonks inside and outside the Beltway will use to measure their "influence". I can all to easily imagine the following exchange taking place this morning at a DC Caribou Coffee:
WONK 1: So did you get the Gmail warning? Isn't that pink header a little creepy?
WONK 2: What pink header? What are you talking about?
WONK 1: You know, the Gmail notification saying that you account might be the object of a state-sponsored attack.
WONK 2: No, I didn't get that.
WONK 1: Oh.
[Long, awkward pause]
WONK 1: I'm sure it's just an oversight by the Chinese/Iranian/Russian/American authorities!
WONK 2: I can't believe this. My Klout score is higher than yours!
WONK 1: This just shows how inept the security apparatus is in Beijing/Tehran/Moscow/Washington.
WONK 2: Just you wait. After my Washington Post op-ed runs tomorrow, I'll be getting that pink banner!
WONK 1 [pats WONK 2 on the back]: Atta boy.
Of course, us academics would never have this kind of conversation. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to polish my cv.
... you have to write a very quick blog post saying "I have arrived safely in Shanghai" because that's the best way to inform friends and family of that fact, because I can't access Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ (intriguingly, LinkedIn is no problem), and Gmail is loading so slowly that I'd expect the Israel-Palestinian peace process to move faster.
That is all.
[Note to readers: we are pleased to report that Dan bout with Friedman's Disease appears to have passed quickly. Due to difficulties with accessing the FP site, however, he has sent us his latest blog post via Gmail. Given recent accusations, we can neither confirm nor deny that this post has been edited or altered in any way, which we print below without alteration. Enjoy the read!--ed.]
I cannot emphasize how hospitable and gracious my Chinese hosts have been at this conference. From the excellent logistics to the delicious food that I have consumed in massive quantities in a perfect demonstration of excessive American consumption, I have been made to feel like an honored guest.
The only annoyance, not surprisingly, is accessing the Internet which is so filled with sedition and lies with respect to the People's Republic of China. It's one thing to read about how ordinary Chinese are blocked from accessing Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and various Wikipedia pages out of concern than members of U.S. Congress do not use these pernicious social media to send lascivious photos to vulnerable, unsuspecting Chinese women, but it's another thing to confront that fact in person.
The odd thing is the capricious but nevertheless wise nature of the censorship. I can access the Financial Times but not the Economist because the latter is written in a much more condescending, supercilious tone. Even with baseball sites, for several days I could access Baseball Prospectus but not FanGraphs because the latter site's Wins Above Replacement statistic relies on dodgy defensive metrics.
In the end, the irony is that many English-language news-sites are accessible -- it's the social networking sites that are unavailable to encourage our students to pay attention in class unlike their decadent western counterparts.
With China's Internet entrepreneurs being forced to go Red so as to crush all treacherous curs, the Great Fireweall won't be going away anytime soon. Then again, from the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) perspective, in makes some sense. The repeated outbreaks of social unrest over the past decade -- or the past week -- leaves the CCP with no choice but to continue its censorship policies if it wants to keep its hold on power and guide Chinese citizens towards a peaceful, harmonious world with Chinese characteristics.
It is for this reason that I look forward to returning to the United States so that I might rot my midget brain even further with more blog posts about stupid, bourgeois zombie-themed news.
Jesse Lichtenstein's New York Times Magazine profile of the State Department's Jared Cohen and Alec Ross does a fine job of discussing the pros and cons of government efforts to use Twitter, Facebook et al in order to promote U.S. interests. FP's Evgeny Morozov is quoted liberally as the voice of skepticism.
What I found particularly interesting was the way that this kind of advocacy has turned Cohen and Ross into Internet celebrities:
On Twitter, Cohen, who is 28, and Ross, who is 38, are among the most followed of anyone working for the U.S. government, coming in third and fourth after Barack Obama and John McCain. This didn’t happen by chance. Their Twitter posts have become an integral part of a new State Department effort to bring diplomacy into the digital age, by using widely available technologies to reach out to citizens, companies and other nonstate actors. Ross and Cohen’s style of engagement — perhaps best described as a cross between social-networking culture and foreign-policy arcana — reflects the hybrid nature of this approach. Two of Cohen’s recent posts were, in order: “Guinea holds first free election since 1958” and “Yes, the season premier [sic] of Entourage is tonight, soooo excited!” This offhand mix of pop and politics has on occasion raised eyebrows and a few hackles (writing about a frappucino during a rare diplomatic mission to Syria; a trip with Ashton Kutcher to Russia in February), yet, together, Ross and Cohen have formed an unlikely and unprecedented team in the State Department. They are the public face of a cause with an important-sounding name: 21st-century statecraft....
One apparent paradox of 21st-century statecraft is that while new technologies have theoretically given a voice to the anonymous and formerly powerless (all you need is a camera phone to start a movement), they have also fashioned erstwhile faceless bureaucrats into public figures. Ross and Cohen have a kind of celebrity in their world — and celebrity in the Twitter age requires a surfeit of disclosure. Several senior members of the State Department with whom I spoke could not understand why anyone would want to read microdispatches from a trip to Twitter or, worse, from a State Department staff member’s child’s basketball game. But Secretary Clinton seemed neither troubled nor bewildered. “I think it’s to some extent pervasive now,” she told me in March. “It would be odd if the entire world were moving in that direction and the State Department were not.” Half of humanity is under 30, she reminded me. “Much of that world doesn’t really know as much as you might think about American values. One of the ways of breaking through is by having people who are doing the work of our government be human beings, be personalized, be relatable.”
I'm really not sure if network diplomacy will work, but these grafs highlight a looming problem even if it does work. Web 2.0 users succeed when they generate idiosyncratic, personalized content. Governments, on the other hand, are team operations, designed to harness different organizations into a common message. Ross and Cohen are clearly smart, talented people, but at some point they or someone like them in the government will commit an Octavia Nasr -- and what then?
Question to readers: is it possible for foreign policymakers to be good at Web 2.0 and good at traditional bureaucratese?
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Over at Reason, Ron Bailey offers an intriguing solution to one of these problems -- use the WTO as a crowbar to bring down the Great Firewall of China:
When China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 it agreed that foreign service companies would have the same access to markets in China as domestic companies do. Now the European Union and the U.S. Trade Representative office are considering an argument that the Great Firewall violates China’s obligations to permit free trade in services under its agreements with the WTO. Last year, in a working paper titled Protectionism Online: Internet Censorship and International Trade Law, the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) think tank argued that “WTO member states are legally obliged to permit an unrestricted supply of crossborder Internet services.”
Since 2007, the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) has been pushing the U.S. Trade Representative to file a case against China on the grounds that it has been violating its WTO obligations. CFAC argues that, among other violations, China discriminates against foreign suppliers of Internet services by blocking them at the border while allowing domestic suppliers to offer like services. In addition, China has violated its commitments not to introduce or apply non-tariff measures when it joined the WTO by blocking a number of imported products without explanation or justification. China has also not set up any administrative procedures through which foreign suppliers of online services could appeal the blocking of imported publications and content.
I'll defer to smarter law blogs for correction, but I really don't think this is going to work. First, I'm not sure the differences in national treatment are great enough to constitute a WTO violation (remember, the Chinese position on the Google controversy is that Google has to obey Chinese laws, which appply to both domestic and foreign search engines). Second, China can respond not by lifting the Great Firewall, but by setting up administrative procedures to handle complaints. Third, as Bailey acknowledges, if China were to lose such a case, one option would be to simply refuse to comply. The U.S. would be allowed to respond with trade sanctions, but I suspect China's government will take that bargain every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Simon Lester suggests that a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) would be a more useful crowbar -- which is great, except the U.S. and China don't have one. A BIT is being negotiated, and some experts are optimistic that it will be completed by this summer. Call me crazy, but I can't see the Chinese government negotiating anything that would affect their ability to censor.
Am I missing something?
In light of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's big Internet freedom speech this AM, I thought it would be a good idea to get a handle on how China is playing this whole Google controversy.
Well, according to the New York Times, it appears that China is downplaying l'affaire Google as a minor matter about business regulation:
The Chinese government is taking a cautious approach to the dispute with Google, treating the conflict as a business dispute that requires commercial negotiations and not a political matter that could affect relations with the United States.
Officials were caught off guard by Google’s move, and they want to avoid the issue’s becoming a referendum among Chinese liberals and foreign companies on the Chinese government’s Internet censorship policies, say people who have spoken to officials here. There have been no public attacks on Google from senior officials or formal editorials in the newspaper People's Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece.
Well, that settles that, I guess.... zzzz.... wait, what's with this Financial Times article by Kathrin Hille I'm seeing?
China has signalled a change of approach to the Google crisis, with state media describing the company’s threat to pull out of the country as a political conspiracy by the US government.
Accusations in two newspapers that Washington was using Google as a foreign policy tool were echoed by Chinese government officials on Wednesday....
Global Times, a nationalist tabloid owned by People’s Daily, the Communist party mouthpiece, ran an editorial with the headline: “The world does not welcome the White House’s Google”.
“Whenever the US government demands it, Google can easily become a convenient tool for promoting the US government’s political will and values abroad. And actually the US government is willing to do so,” the piece said.
In an accompanying news story, the paper quoted Wu Xinbo, a political scientist at Fudan University, as saying “the Google incident is not just a commercial incident, it is a political incident”.
NOOO... cognitive complexity!! Run away!! Run away!!!
Actually, it's not that complex. Indeed, this climactic clip from Chinatown (oh, the irony) addresses this question metaphorically, without the yucky incest factor. This is a public and a private sector dispute. Marc Ambinder's useful tock-tock on events from the U.S. side of things make this clear enough (also, check out this webcast featuring FP's own Evgeny Morozov, as well as this FAQ on the controversy).
The interesting question is what will happen over time. Usually, public-private disputes don't stay that way -- they go for "corner solutions." Either the private sector finds an accommodation with the host government (access to Japanese markets, for example), or the business controversy gets subsumed by high politics (Dubai Ports World).
Question to readers: which way do you think the Google-China feud will go?
The following is an exchange between myself and someone who had clearly taken over a friend's e-mail account, and was attempting to get me to wire money to them. All of the text is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent:
12:13 PM Scammer: hi thereme: Hello12:14 PM Scammer: how are youi?youme: OK... how's your daughter Bubbles? [Not her real name --DD]12:16 PM Scammer: did you got my message?12:17 PM me: No, is Bubbles OK?Scammer: yeah12:18 PM I need your help?12:19 PM me: What's wrong?12:20 PM Scammer: well i had a visit to a resort centerin Wales, England..got mugged by some hoodlumsall cash and credit cards were stolen12:21 PM me: Oh, noThat's horrible!12:22 PM Scammer: i need your help?thank GOD that i wasn't hurt and i still have my passport with meme: Well, sounds like things will work out then!12:23 PM Just call the credit card companies!Scammer: have already canceled my credit cards and my bank account was frozen due to security reason12:24 PM the mian issue is that i'm financially straned right now and my return flight leaves in few hours time but i need few cash to sort out some bills before coming overme: Have you contacted your husband Bubba?12:25 PM Scammer: we are both stuck together12:26 PM i need you to loan us few cash?will def refund it as soon as we arrive back tomorrowme: But surely Bubba can use the $500 he always keeps in his security pouch!12:27 PM What flight are you on?Scammer: Virgin Atlantic Airline12:28 PM me: Have you tried contacting them to advance the money? I hear they do that in situations like theseScammer: they can't do such thingme: Sure they can! They did it when I was mugged in Edinburgh last month!12:29 PM Scammer: i need your help?me: What do you need?12:30 PM Scammer: $1,000 is all we needme: In which currency?12:32 PM Scammer: 600 pounds is all we needme: Oh, dear....How soon do you need it?12:33 PM Scammer: we need it nowthe next available fluight leaves in 2hrs time and we got to be at the airport in 1hr time12:34 PM me: But I don't see how I could get money to you that quicklyScammer: you can have it wired to me vis Wetsern Uniondo you know any WU outlet nearby?me: Hold on, I'll check....12:35 PM Scammer: ok12:36 PM me: Why, yes! There is one right near Fahrfivgnugen, MA, on Swindler Street! That's only 5 minutes from here!Scammer: okwill you leave for the WU outlet now?12:37 PM don't really have much time to wasteme: Well, where am I supposed to wire it EXACTLY?Scammer: yeah!all you need is just my infoa sec...me: Which is?12:38 PM Scammer: wire it in my name to
5 King Street, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 1SZ, United Kingdomme: OK, I'll head out in two minutes...Wait, there's someone knocking at my doorOh, no, they've got a gun!!!12:39 PM Scammer: alrightme: Help!!!They're asking me for all my money and credit cards!!!I'm doing what he says!!!I'm sorry, now I have nothing.When you get back to the States, could you wire me some cash so I could get gas for my car please?Scammer: f*** you12:40 PM you kidding me???
I'm kicking myself that I didn't come up with something more original than that.
Any suggestions for the future? [UPDATE: thanks to alert reader S.C. for the link to this site.]
Consider two recent postings on the state of Web 2.0 discourse.
The first, optimistic one comes from Tyler Cowen on the utility of the blogosphere:
Chess players who train with computers are much stronger for it. They test their intuitions and receive rapid feedback as to what works, simply by running their program. People who learn economics through the blogosphere also receive feedback, especially if they sample dialogue across a number of blogs of differing perspectives. The feedback comes from which arguments other people found convincing....
Not many outsiders understand what a powerful learning mechanism the blogosphere has set in place.
Now let's consider FP's own Evgeny Morozov's
revulsion response to the twittering about balloon boy yesterday:
The amount of energy that had been exerted by the Twitterati to save the now infamous "balloon boy" would probably be enough to prevent at least a few dozen African genocides. They even started their own campaign with its own hashtag: #savetheballoonboy, which for a while was a trending topic on Twitter. That is, it was a trending topic before it turned out that the boy was hiding in his house and had not had any relationship with that balloon....
[T]his all-pervasive cynicism with which members of the slacktivist generation treat extremely serious social problems is very off-putting and disturbing. What was the reaction to the #ballonboy story after the boy's whereabouts were disclosed? Humor. Some of it the jokes were mildly funny; most of it them were in bad taste. For example, the most popular joke - which also became a trending topic on Twitter - was making fun of Anne Frank, of all people (implying that she had a much better hide-out space in the attic - all phrased to sound as it was coming from Kanye West).
Well, if a tasteless joke about one of the most dramatic symbols of the Holocaust becomes the most popular topic on Twitter, there is something fundamentally wrong with the taste and norms of that community.
So, blogs are better than Twitter, yes? Um, no.
The blogosphere can be a powerful learning mechanism -- but that hardly guarantees that it will be. In this way, the blogosphere -- and the Twitterverse, for that matter -- are simply alternative mediums, like television or radio. The content, or the consumption of that content, can be either good or bad. To use a famous constructivist turn of phrase, the blogosphere is what people make of it.
Tyler Cowen's blogosphere? I want to go to there. But I'm not sure everyone else does. And, just because a lot of people want to go to Morozov's dystopic depiction of the Twitterverse doesn't mean that everyone will.
Blogs have been around for a decade now, and Twitter has been in operation for a few years. Can we dispense with the broad-based characterizations of social systems that are way too variegated for such simple characterizations?
One of the biggest mistakes traditional academics make is to take all words equally seriously. That is to say, academics who do not write for a non-scholarly audience tend to assume that it takes an equal length of time and effort to compose a journal article, an op-ed, or even a blog post. In reality, it's kind of like circuit training -- each activity exercises a different set of writing muscles (that said, journal articles require way more reps than other forms of writing).
I bring this up because I have now joined Twitter, in a desperate, far-too-late-effort to catch up to my FP colleague Mark Lynch -- who is securely ensconced in the FP Twitterati Top 100. Right now he's crushing me in terms of followers, so I warmly encourage all my readers to start following me on Twitter -- and then feel free to ignore my tweets.
Somewhat more seriously, my Twitter postings will mostly be on matters that are other off-topic for Foreign Policy or things I don't have time to develop into the long, nuanced sentences required for blogging. So, just to clarify for those academics in the audience, here is the official Hierarchy of Drezner Publications -- from highest degree of effort to lowest degree of effort:
Also, just an FYI -- usually you can write off a technology the moment I embrace it. So if tech stocks go down today, that's on me.
Maureen Dowd has a column today entitled "Stung by the Perfect Sting." We're going to run much of this column through a little MoDo translator, partially inspired by Josh Chafetz's still-relevant discussion of the Immutable Laws of Maureen Dowd, and helped by a few other bloggers.
Here we go....
If I read all the vile stuff about me on the Internet, I’d never come to work. I’d scamper off and live my dream of being a cocktail waitress in a militia bar in Wyoming.
If you’re written about in a nasty way, it looms much larger for you than for anyone else. Gossip goes in one ear and out the other unless you’re the subject. Then, nobody’s skin is thick enough.
Translation: "I read everything about me on the Interwebs. Everything. And despite my bravado act, it hurts me sometimes. I'm brave for putting up with it, though. Ah, the first graf and I've already checked off the Fourth Immutable Law of Dowd: 'The particulars of my consumer-driven, self-involved life are of universal interest and reveal universal truths.'
Say, the militia crack was pretty funny, right? Right?"
“The velocity and volume on the Web are so great that nothing is forgotten and nothing is remembered,” says Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic. “The Internet is like closing time at a blue-collar bar in Boston. Everyone’s drunk and ugly and they’re going to pass out in a few minutes.”
Translation: "You know how, later on in this essay, I say that insulting individuals on the Internet is rude? That's only if you do it badly. If you insult broad swathes of people in a charming manner, that's just witty banter."
Those are my people, I protested, but I knew what he meant. That’s why I was interested in the Case of the Blond Model and the Malicious Blogger.
Translation: "Hah! Less than a third of the way through, and I've already checked off the First Immutable Law of Dowd: 'All political phenomena can be reduced to caricatures of the personalities involved.' Suck on that, Tom Friedman!!"
It began eight months ago when Liskula Cohen, a 37-year-old model and Australian Vogue cover girl, was surprised to find herself winning a “Skankiest in NYC” award from an anonymous blogger. The online tormentor put up noxious commentary on Google’s blogger.com, calling Cohen a “skank,” a “ho” and an “old hag” who “may have been hot 10 years ago.”
Cohen says she’s “a lover, not a fighter.” But the model had stood up for herself before. In 2007, at a New York club, she tried to stop a man named Samir Dervisevic who wanted to drink from the vodka bottle on her table. He hit her in the face with the bottle and gouged a hole “the size of a quarter,” as she put it, requiring plastic surgery.
Translation: "Did you like how I subtly compared the physical attacker to the blogger? That was pretty deft of me, right?"
This time, she punched the virtual bully in the face, filing a defamation suit to force Google to give up the blogger’s e-mail. And she won.
“The words ‘skank,’ ‘skanky’ and ‘ho’ carry a negative implication of sexual promiscuity,” wrote Justice Joan Madden of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, rejecting the Anonymous Blogger’s assertion that blogs are a modern soapbox designed for opinions, rants and invective.
The judge cited a Virginia court decision that the Internet’s “virtually unlimited, inexpensive and almost immediate means of communication” with the masses means “the dangers of its misuse cannot be ignored. The protection of the right to communicate anonymously must be balanced against the need to assure that those persons who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by this medium can be made to answer for such transgressions.”
Cyberbullies, she wrote, cannot hide “behind an illusory shield of purported First Amendment rights.”
Translation: "A judge is on my side! I'm going to quote her at length!"
[Side note here: will individuals also be able to sue those who write anonymously about them on bathroom walls soon?--DD]
The Internet was supposed to be the prolix paradise where there would be no more gatekeepers and everyone would finally have their say. We would express ourselves freely at any level, high or low, with no inhibitions.
Yet in this infinite realm of truth-telling, many want to hide. Who are these people prepared to tell you what they think, but not who they are? What is the mentality that lets them get in our face while wearing a mask? Shredding somebody’s character before the entire world and not being held accountable seems like the perfect sting.
Pseudonyms have a noble history. Revolutionaries in France, founding fathers and Soviet dissidents used them. The great poet Fernando Pessoa used heteronyms to write in different styles and even to review the work composed under his other names.
As Hugo Black wrote in 1960, “It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.”
But on the Internet, it’s often less about being constructive and more about being cowardly.
Translation: "I bet no one knew about this phenomenon before I discovered it today. God, my insights into this -- some anonymous blogging is good, some bad -- are really stunning."
Dowd conveniently ignores a few important facts. First, there are power disparities going on here. If, say, the New York Times published a story calling Cohen a "skank," I can see the need for a lawsuit. Same thing if the Huffington Post had done it. But who the hell read this post before the lawsuit commanded everyon'es attention? As Laura McKenna puts it:
This just feels like a lot of whining to me. If you're on the opinion page of the New York Times, you have to be able to take the heat. It's part of the game. If you're not up for it, then I've got a waitress job for you.
Second, in Dowd's closing grafs she manages to conflate and tar all anonymous commentary because some act rudely on the Internet. This is the functional equivalent of me saying that because George Will is occasionally shoddy with his fact-checking, the entire op-ed profession is worthless and slanderous. Attacking an entire medium because of what some individuals are doing seems logically incoherent to me -- and yet far too many media commentators do this when talking about the blogosphere.
If only that were still true of New York Times columnists.
UPDATE: For more on the legal intricacies of the motivating case, see this Dan Solove post.
Your humble blogger has occasionally prided himself as something of an authority on the intersection between celebrities and international relations. Which brings me to Jessica Biel.
Sure, the woman in the picture above these words seems pleasant enough, but according to McAfee security, she's not what she seems. This Reuters story by Belinda Goldsmith explains:
Actress Jessica Biel has overtaken Brad Pitt as the most dangerous celebrity to search in cyberspace, according to internet security company McAfee Inc.
For the third consecutive year, McAfee surveyed which A-list celebrity was the riskiest to track on the internet after Pitt topped the list last year and Paris Hilton in 2007.
Biel, 27, who shot to fame in the TV show 7th Heaven and most recently starred in Easy Virtue, was deemed the most dangerous, with fans having a one-in-five chance of landing at a website that has tested positive for online threats, such as spyware, adware, spam, phishing and viruses....
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who have featured on most celebrity list this year, were not at the top of risky public figures to search.
The Obamas ranked in the bottom third of this year’s results, at No. 34 and No. 39 respectively.
You can access the Top 15 list here. Some interesting tidbits:
A question to readers: if this were a truly just world, which celebrities should be at the top of this list?
Events in Iran have led to a lot of talk about how this is a Twitter revolution, and that Twitter has been the go-to source on real-time developments in Iran. Stepping onto FP's Evgeny Morozov's turf, however, I have to wonder we're exaggerating its effect juuuuust a wee bit here.
Twitter is serving two different purposes in Iran right now. Its first role is as a coordination device for Iranian supporters of Mousavi -- much like events in Moldova from a couple of months ago. On this dimension, to be sure, it would seem that Twitter has facilitated coordination.
Well, except for one thing -- the absence of Twitter does the same thing. According to the press accounts I read, Mousavi wanted to cancel yesterday (Monday's) demonstration because the Iranian authorities had refused to grant permission and warned of bloodshed. The thing is, since Twitter and other methods of quick communication were down, there was no way to communicate the cancellation messaage to supporters. In other words, had Iranian authorities not interruped mobile services and the like when they had, Monday's demonstration might have fizzled out. One wonders if the same dynamic will play out today.
Twitter's second role is as a source of information for outside observers -- indeed, if Dan Nexon's post is correct, that seems to be the more important function. It's not the only or even the primary source, however. Kevin Drum gets at this point:
I followed the events of the weekend via three basic sources. The first was cable news, and as everyone in the world has pointed out, it sucked. Most TV news outlets have no foreign bureaus anymore; they didn't know what was going on; and they were too busy producing their usual weekend inanity to care. Grade: F.
The second was Twitter, mostly as aggregated by various blogs. This had the opposite problem: there was just too much of it; it was nearly impossible to know who to trust; and the overwhelming surge of intensely local and intensely personal views made it far too easy to get caught up in events and see things happening that just weren't there. It was better than cable news, but not exactly the future of news gathering. Grade: B-.
The third was the small number of traditional news outlets that do still have foreign bureaus and real expertise. The New York Times. The BBC. Al Jazeera. A few others. The twitterers were a part of the story that they reported, but they also added real background, real reporting, and real context to everything. Grade: B+. Given the extremely difficult reporting circumstances, maybe more like an A-.
This matches my assessment as well.
Which, again, is not to diss Twitter. It's merely to suggest that life is a bit more complex than simple memes of "this new information technology is supplanting all prior forms of information technology!"
Earlier this week Facebook VP of Global Communications, Marketing, and Public Policy Elliott Schrage gave an interview to cfr.org that's worth reading. As you would expect, Schrage was pretty upbeat about the use of social networking technologies as a means for political action:
So, do I see Facebook as being an incredibly valuable tool for public diplomacy? Absolutely.
Some of the most interesting uses of Facebook have been for the purpose of social action, which is essentially political action, whether it's an extraordinary rallying of support by the Colombian community around the world to protest the terrorist activities of FARC-the Colombian militants-or whether it's students protesting bank fees and bank charges in Great Britain, or whether it's the Obama presidential campaign generating almost six million supporters on Facebook as a means of communicating his policies, his positions, and his campaign activities....
Frankly speaking, some of our greater successes are in countries where the means of distributing information have not been easy or without friction. So, for example, in Colombia we have remarkable market penetration. In Indonesia we have among our fastest-growing market share. Chile, I believe we have close to 50 percent of the online population now on Facebook. In Europe we're doing extremely well. And in the Middle East we've achieved very interesting degrees of penetration, and in fact just recently announced that we are launching right-to-left languages in addition to left-to-right languages.
There's an obvious PR element to Schrage's spiel, but then again, let's wander over to the Financial Times' Najmeh Bozorgmehr on how Facebook is being used in Iran's presidential elections:
As they struggle to compete against an Iranian president who enjoys the support of a powerful state apparatus, leading candidates in June’s election are resorting to Facebook to spread their messages....
“We are using new technologies because they have the capacity to be multiplied by people themselves who can forward Bluetooth, e-mails and text messages and invite more supporters on Facebook,” said Behzad Mortazavi, who is in charge of Mr Moussavi’s campaign committee.
He said the wireless technology of Bluetooth would be used “extensively” to send out speeches and photo slideshows. The supporters of Mr Moussavi have opened about 20 Facebook pages calling on others to vote for him and have attracted about 7,500 members so far.
Although Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s opponents on Facebook are not yet campaigning against his re-election, their posts may help strengthen the anti-incumbent mood among the elite.
A page called “I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad” has so far attracted more than 35,000 members, the highest number in all pages related to the president.
Yeah, the thing about that Facebook page is:
Question to readers: is the power of social networking real or exaggerated in "countries where the means of distributing information have not been easy or without friction"?
According to the report, officials at the White House first developed a method of searching the Internet to glean the political leanings of a candidate and introduced it at a White House seminar called The Thorough Process of Investigation. Justice Department officials then began using the technique to search for key phrases or words in an applicant’s background, like “abortion,” “homosexual,” “Florida recount,” or “guns.”Whoa!!! That's way too hi-tech for me to understand. The text of the report provides more detail. Apparently, White House liaison Jan Williams deployed (and then relayed to Monica Goodling) the following string for Nexis searches for DOJ candidates:
[first name of a candidate] and pre/2 [last name of a candidate] w/7 bush or gore or republican! or democrat! or charg! or accus! or criticiz! or blam! or defend! or iran contra or clinton or spotted owl or florida recount or sex! or controvers! or racis! or fraud! or investigat! or bankrupt! or layoff! or downsiz! or PNTR or NAFTA or outsourc! or indict! or enron or kerry or iraq or wmd! or arrest! or intox! or fired or sex! or racis! or intox! or slur! or arrest! or fired or controvers! or abortion! or gay! or homosexual! or gun! or firearm!
As the report later reveals, however, the darned Internet can trap the searchers as well as the searchees:
When we showed Williams this e-mail and the attached search string, she said she did not recall sending it to Goodling. She also said she did not recognize the search string, and that she did not know where the list of search terms came from. At the end of her interview, we raised the issue again and Williams repeated her assertion that she did not remember using the search string.
The day after her interview, Williams sent us an e-mail stating that she “thought about the research string and have some information that I want to share with you.” She wrote that there had been a political vacancy in the Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in December 2005, that a law professor was a candidate, and that Sampson asked her to research the law professor’s writings.Williams stated that she “called the researcher in the White House Officeof Presidential Personnel to get some research tips.” Williams said theresearcher sent her a “Lexis Nexis research string,” and that she edited the string to remove “words like homosexual” and then used it. Williamsclaimed that she only used the search string that one time, “never everused it to reach Immigration Judges,” and that the string she sent to Goodling did not contain “words like ‘homosexual.’”....
[W]e obtained information from LexisNexis that Williams used this search string multiple times on 3 days in November and December 2005 and January 2006. Williams used the search string to research 25 people, of whom 23 were candidates for the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women. One of the other two candidates was the person Williams referred to in her e-mail to us after we interviewed Williams. We could not determine the identity of the remaining person Williams researched using the search string. None of these people were candidates for IJ or BIA positions. All of the searches Williams conducted contained search terms such as “gay!” and “homosexual!” When we asked Williams about the LexisNexis searches, she stated that she did not recall researching the candidates for the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women or using the string search other than the one time discussed above.
For those readers concerned about what information the Interwebs possesses about you -- and whether you can remove it -- go check out this Alex Beam article in the Boston Globe.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.