Radical Instrument

IT is changing the exercise of power. Radical Instrument is picking up the signals.

Posts Tagged ‘YouTube

China’s turning off the (You)Tube again

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China has blocked access to YouTube, again – coincident to a denunciation of this video that appears to show the death of a Tibetan protester after a beating by Chinese police last year. This comes a year after a similar shutdown, again related to footage of Tibetan protests.

Given that the video in question has proliferated across multiple sites – and the probable un-blocking that’ll happen soon – there’s the question of why the Chinese government bothers to block YouTube at all. The footage, while brutal, won’t have the strategic consequences of, say, the Abu Ghraib photos:  I’d wager that international hearts-and-minds are resigned to the fact that the occupation of Tibet has been and will likely will continue to be marked by some measure of brutality. 

An article from The Register, dated from last year’s shutdown, offers a better answer:  this may be a means of keeping the lid on internal nationalist sentiment, or at least a means of taking away the tinder. In a year of economic disruption – disruption with profound global interdependencies – there’s danger in letting nationalism run rampant, especially over the echo chambers of the Internet.

Written by Mark

March 24, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Posted in Technology

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YouTube and the Vatican

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As reported by the LA Times and others, the Vatican launched a YouTube channel on Friday, with a goal of  evangelizing the “digital continent.” There’s an inkling of social media savvy in the announcement – Pope Benedict XVI called upon “young people” to “announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm” – tempered by concern over the addictive, anti-social qualities of cyberspace, a concern similar to those articulated by Nicholas Carr, among others.

But Vatican City’s still missing the point.

Why YouTube? According to the LA Times piece, the Vatican is seeking to both “expand the reach of the church and exert greater control over its image.” You need only look to any number of marketing ventures, not to mention experiments like the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s efforts at blogging, to understand the goals of reach and control are in fundamental conflict. If it wants to expand, the Vatican has to cede some measure of content control and creation to its proselytizers – imagine, for the sake of argument, a set of online tools that would allow Catholics to assemble a “neighborhood Mass,” similar to the parties you could put together using the Obama campaign’s online kits.

This won’t happen, of course. It requires the Vatican to change its nature as a rigid hierarchy, built on a doctrine that has no room for vigorous debate … and as long as that’s the case, the Vatican will continue to play catch-up with Pentacostalism, Islam, and (in Europe particularly) non-belief.

You’d think someone might have figured this out, after the Gutenberg press and that Reformation business.

Written by Mark

January 24, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Gaza and social media

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This article from Wired’s Danger Room is a little surreal and disorienting:  Israel is conducting an information campaign in support of the developing war in Gaza using Twitter and YouTube. As you might expect, there’s more out there in non-governmental channels as well – see this blog for a roundup on the Israeli side. Naturally, there’s a slice of the blogosphere representing the non-governmental Palestinian perspective (this blog, for example, serves as an aggregator), and Israeli media reported on Hamas’ use of a video-sharing service as recently as October.

I’m going to focus on the governmental (and let’s include Hamas in that) use of these technologies, since non-governmental use is really old news.

1.  There’s an inherent conflict between information operations and social media channels. Information operations are designed to control content. Social media are about ceding creation, contribution, and some measure of control to the audience. The IDF’s YouTube channel isn’t really social media, or “Web 2.0” in that respect – it’s simply the broadband version of the Pentagon briefings played out in the early days of the Iraq war. As for Twitter – isn’t omnipresent/always-on interest a precondition of using omnipresent/always-on media? I’m going to assume that anyone using Twitter to track events like this probably already supports one side or the other, with a passion. I’m not sure that you’d want to dedicate information operations to the choir. 

2.  Successful use of these tools depends on the goal, which directly relates to a political entity’s position relative to the international order. Hamas has a clear advantage here:  video-sharing and other forms of cheaper, more loosely controlled, and “instant access” media allow it to stimulate the so-called “street” against regimes in Egypt and other Arab states. Hamas also holds the advantage in content creation:  at a minimum, it can simply circulate graphic images of the dead (instant mental impression), whereas the IDF has the far harder task of using content to convince U.S. and EU populations of the legitimacy of its efforts (requires some degree of analysis). I’m not sure if this is too far removed from pre-digital pamphleteering – at least not yet.

Written by Mark

December 31, 2008 at 6:01 am

Terrorism and DIY media

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Wired’s Threat Level is reporting on the 15-year sentencing today in Florida of an Egyptian student who pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists. Highlighted is the student’s uploading of a video to YouTube, in which he provided instructions on how to convert a remote-control car into a remote detonation/ignition device – instructions which, according to the sentencing memorandum, were viewed approximately 800 times before being taken down.

My first thought on this was to go to Amazon, to see whether the Special Forces Handbook was still for sale. It was, and as the customer reviews confirm, there’s some stuff in that book on demolitions. In fact, under related items, there’s an entire separate handbook on just the demolitions topic alone.

So does the media channel make the terrorist? Not exactly. The sentencing memorandum is very careful to note that the student didn’t simply upload a how-to video, but clearly sought to incite violence, by advocating use of his techniques against Americans. That, and his active pursuit of bomb-making materials, clearly make him one to put away.

But that still leaves open the question of how the U.S. and other governments will deal with the instant access and use of mass-distribution media by terrorist organizations, or by anyone looking to incite violence (ref the use, earlier this year, of text-messaging in Kenya to distribute hate speech). Clearly, there’s a difference between a publication for sale on Amazon and YouTube – but there’s a whole slate of technologies in between – and technologies to come – whose use and misuse have yet to be figured out.

There’s also the question about the definition of terrorism in the wired, wireless, text-messaging, Facebooked, YouTubed, and blogged-twice-over age. It used to be that terrorist actions were planned, at least in part, around getting media exposure – the Munich Olympics and TWA 847 come to mind. If media access is available anywhere, anytime – well, I know there’ve been enough spilled bytes and opinions on this, but I’m still not sure about the answer.

Written by Mark

December 19, 2008 at 3:26 am

Posted in Technology, Terrorism

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