Censorship on Public Diplomacy and Media Messages

The Internet is a great vehicle for public diplomacy and I would even argue the most significant platform used to promote a nation’s interests abroad. Often times it is information posted on embassy sites, whether cultural or informational, that give people insight on the views of a particular country within the borders of their host country. However, some countries have a skewed view of other nations based on Internet governance with strict censorship laws. Whenever a country has to deal with someone’s opposing opinions on touchy topics such as (but aren’t limited to) political views, culture and history, and human rights of another nation *cough* China *cough cough* they block it so it never gets the opportunity of entering the minds of their citizens.

I hate to talk about China, but who doesn’t think of this country as soon as someone says censorship? China’s censorship acts as an impenetrable force that doesn’t allow specific outside influences to be absorbed by the minds of their citizens. Unless they’re exposed to the free-flow of information on the Internet from other countries, than as far as China and may other heavily censored nations, public diplomacy efforts are going to waste.

It’s the same for media censorship in China. There are certain media outlets that are deemed “potentially dangerous” and can’t be viewed, especially during times of controversy. Bloomberg news and the New York Times are some of the many media outlets that have been blocked due to articles about government leaders that could lead citizens to question what kind of people are leading them. Even social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are not allowed to be accessed. Foreign correspondents often deal with the hassle of getting permission before they can even enter the country. China fears exposure and sensitive subjects like corruption so they control what international journalists say. If the correspondents somehow manage to get into China, restrictions are often placed on their reporting style, the government tries to intimidate them, and sometimes they’re placed under surveillance so the government can keep an eye on what it is they’re trying to report.

The value of public diplomacy and media/journalism decreases when it’s censored by other nations. Heavy censorship is a form of Internet governance that impacts the effectiveness of public diplomacy and media/journalism. If China and countries alike don’t loosen their grip on censorship and how they use it to “protect” their citizens from outside influences, in time it may cause even bigger problems within the country.




Is an Internet Civics Class a Good Idea?

2) A thought-provoking (and related question): Should there be some form of internet technology and governance literacy? Given how central the internet is as a platform for politics, cultural, and social life – does the Internet require a different kind of citizenship responsibility? 

Just this week, one of the “trending” things on Facebook was that the “Seven Sister’s Gift Exchange” is a pyramid scheme.

There’s an entire website, Snopes, built around dispelling internet rumors and urban legends.

Yet people keep falling for and spreading false information.

Every few months, there’s a new story about what information an app collects on you, and for a moment there is outrage.

A week later, everyone reloads the app onto their phone and nothing changes.

If what we’re proposing here is a sort of “internet civics” class, I think that is a wise thing for schools to consider. Educating citizens about how companies use their information, how to process and trust information, as well as the consequences of spreading false information all could make the conversation in the public sphere more civil and informed.

Would it work? I’m not as confident in that answer.

Even Jimmy Kimmel made a joke of how easily people believe what they see online with the “twerking woman catches on fire” video.

Most people access the internet in their own homes where they feel comfortable and safe. They access information from friends who recommend content and sites to visit. In addition, people see the front end of the design that gives them information and happiness. They don’t think about the other side because they don’t want to think about the back end of a website. They also don’t want to think about the idea that friends might give them false information.

So as much as we’d like to think that lifting the curtain to reveal the wizard would help improve the public sphere, I think frankly, average citizens don’t care and I doubt they would even if they were educated about it.

The internet is more than just Facebook and Twitter

It’s easy to assume that internet literacy is on the rise. With more young people getting hooked on to the internet especially from emerging countries, it’s natural to feel like everyone under the age of 18 is more in tune with the latest developments in the internet world than you. This is true whether you live in a developing or a developed country.

At first glance, this seems to indicate that formal internet literacy programs are a requirement of the past. “Kids these days don’t need to be taught how to use the internet. They know more than everyone else anyway.” However, this way of thinking may do more harm than good.

Firstly, what is so great about the internet that people need to use it? McKinsey and company have found that the internet accounts for a large part of GDP growth in most countries. The impact of the internet on economic, social and and community development have been studied and proven several times over. Given this, ensuring that internet access is worldwide is one of the most important issues facing us today.

Next, why is it important to make sure that people with access to the internet know what happens behind the scenes? We know from several articles that we have discussed in class that the internet is skewed in terms of its infrastructure simply because of the physical development of the internet in the western hemisphere. This is an important context to set for anyone who accesses information on the web. The principles of the internet most accurately reflect the principles of the west. While this seems simple enough to understand, it is a concept that needs to be taught to people from different cultures who might actually find it hard to fathom.

Apart from the need to inform young people about things like cyberbullying and cyberstalking, it is important to educate them about the cultural, sociological and power structure of the internet. These are things they cannot learn from spending hours on social media. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that heavy usage of social media does not imply a large breadth of knowledge about the internet itself.




Digital Citizen Programs for Kids

Internet governance is one of the most pressing global policy issues of our time. The way the internet is governed and the rights we have to access its infinite wells of information have an immediate and profound impact on how we define contemporary society as well as how we communicate, locally and internationally. The internet has allowed for widespread and immediate access to news, information, and exchanges from all parts of the world. It acts as a forum for politics, culture, business, and social life. In a more immediate way, it has become a new form of digital communication. Given its reach and the depths of its data the questions of how it is used, who is using it, and who controls it are central. In this day and age, societies around the world rely heavily on the internet for all manners of activities, making its governance a more and more important topic of consideration.

Alongside this, the question can be raised of what it means to be a digital citizen? What are the responsibilities and “rules” or “laws” associated with such citizenship? When communicating on a platform that allows for interaction and exchange between people from so many different nations all around the world, who sets the rules of acceptable use? How can laws span transnationally? This is where the issue of governance comes in.

One area where this seems particularly pressing is with children. In most developed countries, the current generation is being raised with a high level of internet literacy. They grow up using computers, interacting with touch screens, and having access to more information than could ever fit into the libraries of older generations’ youth. While this has many benefits, there are dangers as well. Children could inadvertently access content not suitable for their age, or, more often, use social media as a way to bully or taunt their peers.

After a quick Google search, I discovered that some middle, and even elementary schools are beginning to include digital citizenship training programs into the curriculums. One program, based in the Tampa Bay area, says it aims “to stop cyberbullying before it starts.” In the school’s Digital Citizenship program, schoolchildren as young as five begin to learn how to use the internet responsibly and safely. Certified counselors teach students about safe internet practices as well as responsible social media use. For younger children, the program explores how to ask for permission to use online tools, and who and who not to communicate with online.

Steve Williams, the school’s Director of the Office of Teaching and Learning explains, “We’re really challenging [the students] to think that their digital footprint has long-lasting implications.”
This is an interesting idea, and one that I think is very necessary. Youth today, especially in America and other “first world” countries, are being raised in an increasingly digital environment. Just as laws and rules of behavior in real life are learned in childhood, so must be the rules of digital citizenship. Given the widespread use of technology and the internet in education, communication, and social interactions among children and teens, it is necessary to give them the necessary tools to use these technologies safely and responsibly.

Behind the scenes of the Internet

Question: DeNardis describes Internet architecture as “arrangements of power.” What does she mean by this (and by extension, what does she mean by “architecture”)?

Langdon Winner’s article “Do artifacts have politics?” talks about the theory of technological politics which “identifies certain phenomena as political in their own right.” In her book, DeNardis refers to this article when she talks about the internet architecture as arrangements of power.

When people think about the behind-the-scenes workings of the internet, they think about the technological aspect of it. Not many give a thought about the public-policy aspect of the internet infrastructure. This is what DeNardis aims to bring to the foreground in her book.

According to DeNardis, it is important to acknowledge that technology both affects and is affected by real world socio-economics.By virtue of being its birthplace, the United States has had a large role in the way the internet has been shaped (both inadvertently and otherwise). The principles of the internet espouse that of the United States itself: free-communication, horizontal hierarchy, no boundaries, freedom of expression etc. Likewise, intellectual property laws on the internet also mirror that of the United States.

More significantly, the decision making process behind the allotment of web addresses is also political in nature. The power of organizations involved in the process of governing the internet is largely unacknowledged. I believe this is what DeNardis means by the architecture of the internet being arrangements of power.

The WSIS and a New Paradigm for Governance

The World Summit on the Information Society, or the WSIS, concluding its first phase in Geneva in 2003, offered a new paradigm for global governance, one that put issues of global governance regarding information and communication at the forefront and opened the stage for new, non-state actors.

The WSIS contributed to balancing power within information and communication governance by advocating for an increased role for civil society and its associated non-state actors. The previous governance structure, which had allotted almost total sovereignty to nation states, created inequalities in access to and use of information and communication technologies between the global north and south. When power was not equally distributed among actors in a global governance environment, it created imbalance in authority over who ruled these technologies, which led to contestation over the rights associated with accessing, owning, and using information and communication tools.

WSIS allowed the role of the nation-state in global communication governance to be partially constrained by non-state actors such as multilateral bodies, transnational corporations, and international treaties. Marc Raboy, in his paper ‘The WSIS as a Political Space in Global Media Governance,” frames this as a good thing, illustrating that national sovereignty is no longer absolute.

Raboy proposes that “civil society has already moved towards a new paradigm and has begun to articulate a new conception of society based on communication between human beings” (13). This insinuates that government to government communication, in this new paradigm, is being challenged by civil society, and that peoples and non-state actors are beginning to have a new and increasingly participatory role in governance. Raboy states that “the great achievement of civil society remains the great degree of coordination between the entities making it up, the development of networks, expertise and common projects, exchange of ideas and particular ways of doing this” (13). The WSIS, encouraging a new and more balanced strategy of participation, has facilitated this degree of coordination and cooperation between state and non-state actors. It has made space for a more active role of civil society and its associated entities, acting not only as observer but also as contributor.

Raboy also states that it is not a question of building a more equitable information society but of developing a communication society. The Civil Society Declaration Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs addresses this need for a new conception of information and communication. It is no longer appropriate to refer to an ‘information society’ but to ‘information and communication societies.’ This shift has occurred alongside the shifting power balance between government and civil society. The addition to communication and its associated rights more broadly encompasses media issues surrounding knowledge ownership, public domain, cultural diversity and the concentration and commercialization of media.

The WSIS proposes that there is no single information, communication or knowledge society, but instead there are many that exist on the local, national and global levels. There is also potential for cross-over between these levels as well. This requires a different consideration of the freedom of information vs. the right to communicate. The inclusion of non-state actors in information and communication global governance highlights these different areas of needs. For example, a government might wish to control or regulate certain types of information as well as how that information can be communicated and by whom. On the other hand, members of press groups such as Reporters sans frontiers or the World Press, what Raboy calls “partisans of freedom of expression,” call for different needs and rights with regards to communication. The separation of rights associated with information and communication, as well as the inclusion of communication in the framework of an information society, have been key debates when it comes to governance on state and non-state levels.

The WSIS was significant in that it provided a platform for these confrontations between opposing actors and views, leading to a new paradigm has come into existence in a new political space, prompted by the inclusion of civil society’s more participatory role.

Shifting Complex: From the Battlefield to Your Bedroom

Powers and Jablonski puts forth the idea (and warns) that the Information Industrial Complex (ICC) is the 21st century Military- Industrial Complex (MIC). The key characteristics to this claim is the ICC’s linkage to the political economy and the same elitist members of government, tech, and business . They coined this co-dependent trifecta the “silicon triangle”. While I can see how Powers and Jablonski could compare the two during the late 20th century, I believe that ICT has a broader market than defense companies. Therefore, I actually refute giving it the same analogy on the basis of the tech world, no being able to sustain without the cushion of government contracts and grants to invent new mechanisms and develop new products.

The Internet was created mainly through large federal grants in the 70s and grew 10 fold in the 90s through congressional deregulation and other favorable policies. These programs titled ARPANET and NSFNET were the precursors to the internet. While the DOD practically invented the internet, it has now grown into a global tool that is regulated at a national level by different countries. The fear of the ICC doesn’t just include the Internet but also telecommunications.

After 9/11, the US got into the controversial business of spying on its on citizens out of mass fear of terrorism. This is the point where I see the ICC as the new era for of the MIC. NSC, CIA, and DOD, have gone through great extents to develop algorithms and technologies to spy on conversations, web searches and other digital communications. The Chinese hack on OPM displayed that adversaries too have developed close knit relations with ICT. In fact, it is a major art of foreign governments. Now authoritative governments have crunched down on journalists and citizens online through social media channels.

Military attack is no longer just boots on the ground, ships at sea and fighter jets going head to head. Due to shifting technologies the battlefield has moved to boardrooms and bedrooms of domestic citizens and abroad.The internet and supporting technologies have opened up a new arena of control.

For economical reasons there has been major push to get the continent of Africa connected to the internet. It has been pushed through a lens of getting people to market and helping to stimulate economic government. However, much of it was for global markets to have new consumers.

Jablonski and Powers state that the multistakeholder governance is a myth. These organizations such as ICANN and ISOC, “lack diversity, stifles oppositions and displays high characteristics of cronyism”. The multistakeholder units are not the true public but are made up on CEOs in the ICT industry. On the surface the ICANN is an international working group but due to its members, it clearly represents US corporate interests.