Thursday, June 21, 2012

Social Media and Journalism

Tea Leaf Nation, a website aimed to "make sense out of China's social media" posted a great list of how China's Weibo, and social media in general, are changing journalism. After attending MIT's Knight Civic Media Conference, Tea Leaf Nation summarized some of the major talking points (below):

Some reasons Chinese social media matters: Weibo is the closest thing China has for free speech and free debate. This window into grassroots opinion in China can help inform the political decisions that other countries make.

Redefining the quote: One thing we are trying to do at TLN is to redefine the quote. Getting quotes used to be an extractive activity; you had to go out on the street and canvas. But with social media, people are projecting their sentiments out into the world, and all we have to do is read then.

Linguistic/cultural arbitrage: Because China’s Internet is still siloed culturally, linguistically and technologically, there’s a lot of inefficiency in Western coverage of China. Tea Leaf Nation stands in a unique place, bringing Chinese Internet content to the West. This could be called “language arbitrage,” or “cultural arbitrage.”

Local people set the news agenda, not journalists: It’s hard to miss the time when journalists had monopolies on what constitutes a big story, and a lot of trending stories within China got missed. It’s crucial to look at the top searched terms on Baidu, or the trending topics on Weibo—they can only be avoided for so long.

Breaking news won’t cut it: Journalism can be exhausting. If news breaks on Twitter, or Weibo, it’s only “breaking” for around 10 minutes—it’s an almost instantaneous process. The race to be “first” is no longer meaningful.

Lessons from Panhe: In February, TLN noticed tweets about an uprising in a village called Panhe. TLN then appears to have been first to report about Panhe in the West. Reporters who later braved the trip to Panhe were violently turned away. There’s no comparison between the courage and moxie of the “boots on the ground” reporters and TLN’s timely, but risk-free, reporting. No matter how futuristic things get, there will always be a need for journalists with the courage to go out into the field.

Why post on Weibo? When China’s netizens post on Weibo, it’s because they want to be heard. Fear not–Tea Leaf Nation is listening!

Source: Tea Leaf Nation

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Net Law

The Chinese government is working on a plan to change the definition of "internet service providers" to include blogs, microblogs, and forums in an effort to end illegal activity and develop "trust" online. Ultimately the plan would require that netizens register for these newly defined services using their real identities before being able to post content to the web. Also included would be provisions requiring these websites to hold onto their records and logs and cooperate when asked to turn them over to the police.

Full story from BBC News.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

OLLI Course

I was recently accepted to teach a course this at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UMass Boston this fall. My course, titled "How the Internet has Changed Political Participation in China," will run one night a week for six weeks.

Through my course I hope to allow students to delve deeply into the statistics and activism that is taking root on the Chinese internet. My research on the HFS will strongly influence this course. I intend to contribute three of the courses to examining case studies of HFS events and instances that will be discussed at length. I hope to discuss these cases in terms of anonymity on the internet, online activism, the Chinese government's response, as well as comparing these issues with the American internet in discussing if events of this caliber can occur with a different setting.

"How the Internet has Changed Political Participation in China"
Description: As social media networks continue to become commonplace and present in our digital lives, a metaphoric public square has been created where political participation and discourse flourishes online. In China, a nation with more internet users than the total population of the U.S., the internet is becoming a hotbed for political participation and online witch hunts that are fueled by the Chinese internet's sheer numbers. As the internet continues to expand in China, the Communist Party is aiming to hold users accountable for their online content. But who really controls the power on the Chinese internet? In this course, we will look at internet statistics, political movements, and case studies, allowing students to question the internet's role as China, and the world, moves deeper into the digital age.

OLLI website: here.

OLLI's mission statement:
OLLI's mission is to foster accessible lifelong learning, individual growth, and social connection for mature learners age 50+ by providing stimulating opportunities to enrich the intellectual, social, and cultural lives of members, regardless of educational background.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cleaner Carries Students in Rain

The Chinese media reports a story of one good samaritan where China's mircobloggers have dissected the story to critique the morals of Chinese college-aged youth.

Photos uploaded by a Chinese microblogger show an older cleaning lady who had rolled up her pants to carry college students across their partially flooded campus. Due to heavy rain, parts of the campus were under water and this kind woman carried numerous students on her back to the teaching building that was across the flooded path.

When asked why she was willing to carry those students, Wu Xiuying said, “I saw how inconvenient it was for what the students were wearing, so I thought of carrying them across. The students were quite reluctant/embarrassed about it and afraid of tiring me. I have a child too, so while I might be just an ordinary janitor, I am also their elder, and therefore I should take care of these students.” (translated by ChinaSmack)

Microbloggers commented on the woman's kind heart but also criticized the students for whom she was carrying:

(就用李斌): "Is this considered a good thing? Are those college students still in day care?"
(ilzdmj): "Are these students handicapped?"
(怎么昵称都被抢注了阿): "College students or society’s parasites?"
(陈志坚物流): "If who she carried were kindergarten kids, we should praise this auntie for having a loving heart, but she carried [college students]…That just makes me want to yell at people."
(有时憋不住): "From this day forward, those girls (the so-called college students) who were carried on the back of this auntie have lost their qualification to be future teachers of the people!!!"
(translated from Weibo by ChinaSmack)

This is a great example of the misinformation that spreads throughout the Chinese internet. As my research depicted for my paper a few years ago, misinformation thrives on the internet and even simple news stories can be mis-interpreted when netizens becomes passionate about a given subject. This was clearly evident in the case of Grace Wang, where Chinese netizens mis-interpreted the photo of her intervening in a pro-Tibet/pro-China standoff where she acted as a neutral mediator. Netizens instead saw a Chinese "traitor" who was supporting Tibet's independence from China. This led to her parents being harassed in China, as well as the Chinese media calling her "the most ugly exchange student."

In this article, it appears that netizens have acted to paint a picture of these Chinese college students being carried as spoiled, lazy girls. But in fact the woman volunteered to carry the girls on their backs, and it should have been a story of utmost kindness and a good deed. As the woman was quoted as saying, the girls were initially "reluctant" and "embarrassed" to be carried across, and netizens who were not present should not try to characterize these girls. By simply reading a news stories or viewing images of this event, one does not take into account the persistence of the old woman or the direness of the situation itself. Instead, netizens choose what they want to see which fuels their comments and online actions.