On 18 December Vietnam approved new blogging restrictions that aim at regulating bloggers’ content which the government deems sensitive or inappropriate. National providers are requested to report and remove posts which
- undermine national security,
- incite violence or crime,
- disclose state secrets,
- or include inaccurate information that could damage the reputation of individuals and organizations.
The booming blogosphere which is growing fast into an alternative newsroom has provided a wakeup call to the government which is resorting to drastic measures of censorship. State-controlled media in a communist state is no longer the only source of information with bloggers seizing power and spreading what is perceived as harmful. The language itself is subject to regulations which encourage bloggers to write in ‘clean and healthy Vietnamese’.
Outside Vietnam, traditional media is getting increasingly under pressure. The Financial Times titled on 22 December: ‘Plane crash geek Twitters from burning Denver aircraft, Philippe Naughton’. Real-time citizen journalism also played a significant role in the recent Mumbai attacks when users posted the events in 140 character messages into the online sphere. Twitter had come under attack for providing terrorists at the scene with information about the situation.
Giving away some of the power traditional or state-owned media used to hold is still widely perceived as inviting anarchism and social chaos. Societies and governments are going through the very challenging processes of getting used to listening to their people’s views – who’ve got a lot to say, it turns out. How to control this? When and what exactly is to be controlled? By whom? Currently, there are still far too many in control who are non-users of the new social media, those who neither blog, wiki, facebook or twitter. In short: those who actually do not have any expertise in the very field they want to regulate so desparately.
Successful ‘control’, i.e. such that is neither patronising nor does it trigger instant resistance but is adapted by users as enabling and empowering, may rather come from peers than in the traditional top-down manner. After all, bloggers and microbloggers are technically already able to remove messages and exercise self-moderation if required. Instilling a sense of responsible information-sharing while learning to produce quality content is the actual challenge at stake. Yet, with all the shifts in external control and regulation a review of internal mechanisms is to me the more realistic and sustainable approach: self-reflection and self-evaluation of one’s own contribution strengthen the sense of ownership and third party assessment. It is not just citizens who need to learn how to engage and publish with responsibility – it is also governments who need to learn to take their citizens seriously and work in collaboration with them on information-sharing in a globalised world.
Applying for a job in Barack Obama’s new team forced every applicant to dig deep in their own past: those who aim at high-ranking roles faced a questionnaire including 63 questions. Among many personal questions the links to blogs and Facebook pages were required. You may think this is taking things way too far. Such an intrusive approach may be detrimental to a fruitful collaboration. A German friend working in Human Resources argued similarly: they would not google applicants for “we trust people”. And of course, you will need the resources to conduct such research: personnel who are skilled and know what to look for.
It does seem many organisations are not taking social media very seriously. My friend pointed towards the age of corporate decision-makers. This might be one aspect, others may be related to power, hierarchical structures and a lack of understanding communication as a 2-way process rather than the still widespread top-down trickle. Not to forget cultural practices – some of them unconsciously practices and reproduced.
Using social media in times of financial markets in turmoil, drastic policy changes, lay offs and plenty of rumours does not seem to loom large on companies’ to-do lists. Micro-/blogging is frowned upon in circles which have not even arrived at websites that offer more than carefully choreographed content and a simple contact form: banking is certainly among the least transparent and progressive industries in this regard. Information is money, has to be money – and profit has to be quantifiable. Or?
Whistleblower Cityboy managed to shake up things a little by breaking the Code of Silence strictly enforced in London’s financial district. His blogging activites in Fear and Loathing in the City provide great entertainment, raised eyebrows and a few voices – but he did not manage to bring about change to the long established culture of scarce flows of information.
Now in the era of bailing out banks – as if they were hostages – one may think things could change and transparency would be imposed by help of governmental bodies – and the public who paid a high price for a slice of all those toxic assets. But no, this is illusionary, as some of the stakeholders may well have changed now but the corporate culture remained the same. In this context, “YES, I CAN!” is not the banker’s mantra.
Net presence and staff activism, corporate blogging in a proactive attempt to manage and control change, shape opinion-making and bring about change in a way remotely echoing Obama’s extensive use of platforms and channels in the sphere of social media is something the banking sector is not even ready to think about. Dismissing social media as lacking a sound business model seems to be right if taking the short-term perspective.
On the long run though, social media offers opportunities to manage relationships with customers as well as staff which may well pay off: the worst in times of financial crises is to leave image and status management to traditional PR campaigns and the local papers. Generation Digital Native is mobile and targeted by those who don’t sleep, they might also be much less loyal to parties, corporations and brands than widely assumed. I can hear their “yes, we can”…
When Michelle Obama’s twitter account was hacked it seemed to be a nasty nuisance, to some perhaps almost to be expected as a public figure in the final stages of the election. Post 4 November 2008 and the landslide victory of her husband we may want to rethink our ideas of what it means to activate an electorate in the age of social media and microblogging in specific. I have been following Barack Obama (and Joseph Biden) for quite some time and one of the most remarkable features of his settings or befriending politics involve equality – if you follow him, he follows you – and yes, it is auto-follow but at some point this was an option chosen consciously.
Equality rather than just a marketing trick as sceptics thought seems to have informed his choice. He managed what politicians around the globe have been dreaming of for centuries: mobilise the masses, engaging them by listening carefully to their very basic need of being taken seriously and therefore gain their trust, support – and passion. The speed at which tweets were forwarded, retweeted and commented on when they had been set up as status updates in facebook was unprecedented. And even though I was travelling that day in Germany and had only limited access on my mobile I felt I was part of the events to an extent I had never been before in any other election. Obama may have had an excellent and hard working team of skilled aides who were trained in capturing their every move in max 140 characters – but why are so many other politicians obviously entirely unable to follow suit and at least set up an account and start engaging with the electorate? The underlying issues may be little surprising: the widespread model of leadership which is more concerned with maintinaing power than solving problems and developing the hierarchy-driven societies towards transparent global communities of stakeholders has come seriously under threat thanks to one man who has proved that being media-savvy is not sufficient – listening skills and the ability to involve them rather than exclude until the day of ticking that box dawns are key to understanding his momentous victory. Now, what next for the 44th US president who has been greeted with plenty of doubt when it comes to capabilities of resolving the issues inherited by the past government? I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him pursuing that path further and getting citizens debate and participate in solutions by help of microforums .