the Power of Blog

The most recent edition of The Humanitarian, the newsletter from the Australian Red Cross, contained an article titled “Can blogging save the world?” Saving the world is a somewhat large expectation to put on blogging, but there is frequent speculation about just how significant it is or might be in the future.

The clearest demonstration that blogging can be politically powerful is that many governments are making serious efforts to censor it. The latest example comes in this report from The Age on ” Fiji’s war on bloggers.

The military in Fiji is moving to shut down access to anti-government weblogs after unsuccessful attempts to find those responsible for the sites.Senior military commander Colonel Pita Driti has told Pacific Radio that access to the sites would be closed down this afternoon.

Internet technology in Fiji is provided through only one provider, Fiji International Telecommunications Limited (FINTEL).

A FINTEL spokesman confirmed he had met with members of the the interim administration this morning and been asked to shut off access to the weblogs.

He said they asked that access be cut off to the blog for “national security” reasons.

Fiji joins countries like China, Iran and Egypt, just to name a few, in trying to silence dissenting views that are trying to be heard online.

It would obviously suit me to push the line which sometimes gets argued that politicians using blogs are revolutionising politics and opening a whole frontier of democracy. I think this is a gross exagerration. Blogs and other web-based communication have the potential to provide the general public with more meaningful engagement with the political process, and I’d like to see some more genuine blogs by Australian politicians, but I don’t think people should overstate its potential as far as its use by politicians and political parties goes.

However, the area where I think blogging does have significant political value and potential is not for politicians, but for people outside the small group of political and media elites who try to shape and control political ‘debate’ and information. This is particularly important when opportunities to get different views aired are constrained.

I don’t think there is much value in trying to create some sort of contest between ‘old’ journalism and ‘new’ forms of so-called citizen journalism. There are infinite variations on how views are expressed and the medium through which they are communicated. A simple, stark way of demonstrating the overlap is this report from The Committee to Protect Journalists, which stated that “The number of journalists jailed worldwide for their work increased for the second consecutive year, and one in three is now an Internet blogger, online editor, or Web-based reporter.”

If people want to claim that blogging is starting to “make it” as a competitor to traditional media, I guess they could point to that statistic, but it’s not the sort of competition anyone would want to win.

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16 Comments

  1. i think that glogging is a very powerfull tool for ppl to use to seek out the truth on maters that interest them.
    thanks to ppl like andrew who give ppl like me the oppitunity to express my views and at times be given an alternative view on which to ponder.
    the truth will always find its way out throught this type of medea .
    i dont think that any govt can control it now because ppl are a lot wiser than they were a few years ago .
    if a blog site is closed down i think that most ppl who use blogs will find an alternative .
    at least now the politicians can have a look at what some ppl are thinking even if they dont know who or where whey are and what they saying.

  2. Andrew – I applaud your honest appraisal of the state of political blogging (ie by politicans).

    I’d like to think that more generalised blogging contributes to communities of interest, leading to communtiies of practice. Some of them may be giant echo chambers but they do start to build more links between people and between (actual) communities. On my current understanding I don’t think they will replace more traditional linkages and communities – at least I hope not.

    Any retaliation by governments simply underscores how threatened those governments must feel – nothing new there!

  3. Andrew it’s inevitable that in the early days of a totally new medium like blogging, we tend to evaluate its impact by referring to existing institutions like the MSM and party politics. However, I think blogging will take society into new places that we can’t guess at right now.

    Blogging could transcend representative politics as we have come to experience it over the last 100 years and restore a measure of genuine participatory democracy. Based on the crude Wikipedia model, it could be the means for decisions to be made about public affairs by large numbers of people informed about any one particular issue.

    Imagine, for example, a panel of 1,000 experts in all aspects of environmental management being asked to formulate a plan for the Murray-Darling in conjunction with the relevant bureaucrats. It’s a feasible proposition even with the existing technology – think of the possibilities that will open up within 20 years. We really haven’t even scratched the surface yet of the changes that 24/7, wireless connectivity will make to our lives and our institutions. Conventional notions of space and time are becoming obsolete.

    The establishment will resist all this vigorously of course so I expect that over the next few years it will take serious steps in all countries to regulate the content of blogs and force them into the market economy.

  4. Good on RC for offering his congratulations.
    The last two posts hint at something that is a phenomena just now.
    One aspect of this phenomena is the wide circulation of the debate throughout media, including many of the better blogsites, concerning blogging and the hostile response to it by vested interests.
    I’ve actually just come from Dr. Gary Sauer-Thompson’s blog, “Public Opinion”, where he’s had a thread running concerning the hostility he experienced from “real”(eg establishment) journalists, concerning his attempt to join the Australian press club as a blogger.
    Inevitably talk here has turned to the symptomatic response exemplified in the notorious, intemperate reaction by Glen Milne to Stephen Mayne of “Crikey” at the Walkleys. Not long ago at a press club luncheon televised by the ABC he was STILL angrily banging on, this time to the guest, Sen. Conroy, about legislation to “control” blogsites and bloggers.
    Sauer Thompson’s response was to cite one of Milne’s recent articles as a measure of socalled mainstream journalism as to its narrow focus in reporting political events.
    If blogging can shatter the corrupt hold of vested interests on the production of shaped (public) opinion, let’s hope Milne’s antics, amongst others, are indeed a promising sign!

  5. I think you are all getting ab it overly serious – “blogging can shatter the corrupt hold……” ” the nwe from of participatory democracy …. really!

    I think the current state of play is blogging is bascially something enjoyable to people and not a great deal more.

    Lets not foget that only 50% of the communiyt have intenet access, and of them even less for personal use.

    Thsi form of bloggin is largely an exchaneg of views between those already well informed and relatively affluent and educated – obviously there are some excpetions.

    An addition to the political debate fine, the new force to shape the world of democracy – lets not get to carreid away. Perhasp as time deveops, yes.

  6. I guess that was the general point I was trying to make Ken – I don’t see much value in exaggerating the impact or power of blogs in the context of normal day to day politics. I think it provides a good way for other views and information that don’t fit the mainstream media’s usual narratives or sources to get an airing – particularly from the public’s side of things – but I don’t see it shattering existing political paradigms any time soon, at least in Australia.

    However, I do think where it can already have real power is with its realtime, realworld portrayals in serious situations which would otherwise be suppressed or invisible. Which is I think is what the original article from the Red Cross magazine was inferring – blogs from warzones, dictatorships, etc can have an important impact, which is why efforts are made suppress and control them (along with other information over the net of course).

  7. I think a blog can have an impact during an election campaign if it is part of a comprehensive online presence but a blog on its own, particularly if it doesn’t allow comments, won’t have much of an effect.

    The best and most successful online political campaigns have used all the various forms of online communication – audio, video, blog, surveys, polls, email communications etc and put it all together with a well designed, easily negotiated, constantly updated, interactive and informative website.

    Especially a website that gives people plenty of opportunities to take action at their own level and in their own area.

    A blog can motivate and inspire people to get involved through participation in discussion but if the opportunity to then go take action is not provided – send an email, make a donation, attend an event, sign a petition, volunteer to do something – within instant easy reach you loose that moment of inspiration and people move on.

  8. Yulia,

    Whilst a blog may be an effective tool for the open exchange of ideas and dialogue, a blog’s ability to meet this aim can be severely limited in instances where a blogger has a policy of selective participation.

    Rather that motivating and inspiring people to become involved through participating in a discussion, the editing and filtering out of submissions can have the opposite effect.

  9. I couldn’t agree more, CU. That’s why I’ve encouraged maximum participation on this blog from the public and haven’t filtered out genuine comments, regardless of their political perspective, a key part of which is minimising comments that are deliberately inflammatory and/or persistently off-topic. The criteria I use for this participation enhancing oversight is openly detailed in my comments policy to ensure maximum transparency.

    Trolling behaviour discourages the majority of people who would otherwise be interested in reading comment threads and expressing their own views.

    I’ve been lucky that in the nearly 3 years I’ve been blogging, there’s only been a very tiny number of people engaging in juvenile behaviour – most of whom stop fairly quickly – so I haven’t bothered to ban anyone yet, but I suppose if someone was particularly persistent I probably would, just to save wasting my time having to persistently clean out the trash. It would leave me more time to be able to respond to and communicate with everybody else who understand how to communicate and participate in a rational manner.

  10. Exackly CU – that’s why Andrew’s blog is so good! The diversity of comments whether the authors agree with Andrew or not is refreshing and unusual among the few Australian politicians who blog.

    Given your sometimes negative comments towards Andrew it is nice to see you acknowledge that.

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