Skip to content

Social Media Mayhem in Mexico

I was reading about “Development Communication” and something on “technology appropriation” caught my attention. Now this is a concept that is new to me, I had not ever read about that phrase or heard it like that really until a few days ago, so I’m not necessarily sure that this blog post is about “development communication” per se.  Anyway, the article was a paper called ‘We use it different, different’: Making sense of trends in mobile phone use in Ghana, which was published earlier this year in the New Media & Society journal.

Early on, there ‘s a section in which she talks about ‘technology appropriation’ which the author (Araba Sey at the Annenberg School of Communication) offers as “the way that users evaluate and adopt, adapt and integrate a technology in their everyday practices”.   She writes about this concept in the context of discussing how technology can be an important asset to enhance ones ability to influence their environment.  She talks about adapting technology, technically or socially, to particular circumstances of one’s existence.   This reminded me of the fascinating situation in Mexico that is at once a good illustration of effects of technologies on improving society and quality of life, yet at the same time a little depressing.  The short version is that basically, initially, it was starting to look like finally, citizens could protect themselves, by collaborating to share safe-zones, hotspots, outing suspected gangsters, etc.  However, Mexican gangs are now hitting back in two ways–first by using infiltrators to themselves wreak havoc using social media, and also by doing this:

Zetas’ latest victim, a man who moderated the Nuevo Laredo En Vivo whistle-blowing website, was found beheaded at a busy intersection with a nearby note reading, “This happened to me for not understanding that I shouldn’t report on the social networks.”

The blogger is the fourth citizen journalist in the last months to suffer the same fate as others reporting on Zetas’ activities. In September, the cartel posted similar signs next to two men’s bodies warning, “This is going to happen to all Internet snitches. Pay attention, I’m watching you.”

….another twist to this, is that public officials are lukewarm to the use of social media as described.  They are paradoxically on the same side as the Gangs in that regard, as another blogger put it:

Narco gangs see social media as a threat to their hold on power, while public officials complain the new technologies spread rumors. In fact, several Mexican states are considering laws criminalizing the sowing of “panic” on social networking sites.

This paradox endangers ordinary Mexicans who often cannot turn to the traditional media for information on which “no-go zones” to avoid to stay safe. In many parts of the country, especially in the north, media outlets have implemented a self-imposed blackout of coverage of drug violence.

The spooky ironyhere is that there is a general sense, albeit one that’s hard to conclusively prove, that law enforcement in Mexico is infiltrated. The livelihoods of many Mexicans are in danger of being negatively affected if access to social media becomes a no-go zone for ordinary folks. It’s rather a sad story.  Social media should develop communities, here it’s causing chaos.

Here is what the Mexican gangs are trying to fight, and what the Mexican authorities are trying to discourage:


The United States of Awesome Possibilities!

So according to this article , the new slogan to promote the US tourism industry abroad is “The United States of Awesome Possibilities,” which, not to be crass, might just be the douchiest thing I have ever heard.

From the article:

“The campaign, set to launch next year, is the brainchild of the Corporation for Travel Promotion (CTP), a private-public partnership formed to encourage tourism, with a marketing budget of $200 million. The corporation calls the push “the first-ever coordinated global marketing effort dedicated to welcoming international travelers to the United States.”

The group said in a press release that the dots in the campaign’s logo, shown above, create a “21st-century brand” which “symboliz[es] the boundless possibilities of the U.S.,” as well as representing America’s “diversity.””

Oh, and they came up with an image too:

So are all those little dots the “boundless possibilities of the US?” Are the different colors of the dots the “diversity?” And that’s the best a giant marketing firm with a budget of $200 million could come up with?

This is a perfect example of using media incorrectly and of catering to the wrong crowd. Who outside of America really uses the word “awesome?” I’ve actually heard that it’s an irritating word, something Americans are mocked for. How unbelievably conceited does it sound to praise ourselves, in a time of debt and economic crisis, as the land of “awesome possibilities?” How is a collage of brightly colored dots (but not our country colors, oddly) supposed to attract interested foreigners to come visit our country? Give me three days and a free version of photoshop and I can make you a better image and slogan.

I think the question without an answer is, where did they go so wrong? These people are media professionals. How, HOW did they fail so badly with the simplest of marketing schemes?

On the flip side…

I’ve seen the “visit Iceland” posters all around the city. You know what I mean: “The best part of a trip to Paris is Iceland” or something like that. They’ve not only created really captivating images for their advertisements, but real, eye-catching incentives: a free stopover to or from Europe. I’m saying this as someone who never thought about Iceland a day in my life: I totally want to go! That is good advertising.


The point is, this is my last blog post. And taking an International Communication course is vital to being able to accurate communicate with people, both within and outside of your own culture. You learn to analyze and interpret and discuss how to use media to make a positive impact on the world around you. People over at CTP, take note. You need this class. (And to go to Iceland.)

How Republicans Talk About OWS


In class we talked a lot about how the media influences public policy and I can’t help but see this article as a classic example of such.  The Republican party is instructing their constituents to frame Occupy Wall Street in such a way that makes the public view the movement in a way that benefits Republicans.  Of course this strategy isn’t just used by Republicans, but this article just seems such a clear and obvious use of this strategy.  The language used–particularly the metaphors and euphamisms  make the American public view OWS in a way that becomes a threat to their core beliefs, and thus drives them to vote a certain way on larger issues of public policy.  I think my favorite from the list is #5: “Don’t  say ‘government spending’.  Call it ‘waste'”. 

In these private meetings, they are setting an agenda on their framwork, which then is transmitted through the media to the public, which then shapes public opinion and effects the way in which people vote.  Maybe this is political strategy, but I can’t help see some level of deception/dishonesty in what they are doing.


Internet Freedom At Risk

This post is part blog, part PSA.

The US State Department is trying to push through a bill that could strip away almost all internet freedoms.

The bill is designed as the Stop Internet Piracy (SOPA) bill, but it’s so much more than that. And, according to a article on Al Jazeera English,   “it gives corporations unprecedented power to censor almost any site on the internet. And more vitally, it threatens the very sites and human rights activists that the State Department has previously pledged to protect.”

Essentially, it will allow private corporations to stop and block any website suspected of showing copyright materials. Which means, basically any website with any video, image, gif, reference, quote, song clip, etc. It could mean Google, Youtube, Tumblr, Twitter,, Livejournal, Facebook, and yes, WordPress. It means that, under the guise of “protecting copyright,” the government will be able to block any website it wants. Does this sound scary yet?

“One provision in SOPA allows the Attorney General to cut off sites from the domain name system, virtually disappearing them from the web – the “Internet death penalty” as many have called it. Foreign sites would have to submit to US jurisdiction to contest the Attorney General, a costly and timely process many will not be able to afford even if innocent. Another provision allows corporations to directly force payment processors and advertisers to cut off an alleged infringing websites’ money supply – even if only a portion of the site is infringing. Still another provision gives immunity to companies who voluntarily cut off suspected infringing websites with virtually no oversight.”

I say this with all honesty and confusion: What is our society coming to? I don’t mean to turn this blog into a soapbox, but censoring the internet? Really? China does that, and we berate them for it, and yet…

I just don’t know anymore. I really don’t.

What I am going to say is: Help stop it! Sign a petition. Here’s another good article with some great links to petitions to sign. Tell the government they can’t censor us!

Ok, I’m going to step off my soapbox now.

Soft power + hard power = “smart power”

What is “smart power” and why is it important?

According to Harvard intellectual Joseph Nye Jr., “power in a global information age, more than ever, will include a soft dimension of attraction as well as the hard dimensions of coercion and inducement. The ability to combine hard and soft power effectively is ‘smart power.’”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made her support of “smart power” abundantly clear. During her confirmation hearing in January 2009, Clinton used the phrase “smart power” four times in her opening statement and nine times during her testimony, the New York Times reported.

Clinton said in her opening statement that the U.S. must use smart power, or the “full range of tools at our disposal – diplomatic, economic, military, political legal and cultural – picking the right tool or combination of tools for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of our foreign policy.”

Last month, Time magazine wrote a cover story about Clinton and the rise of smart power. Massimo Calabresi, Time’s Washington correspondent who wrote the Clinton cover story, explained the significance of smart power in an interview on CNN. (Click here for clip).

Calabresi’s explanation touched on many of the ideas we have studied in class. He said that we are moving into an era where power is seeping away from traditional centers towards networked individuals (Al Qaeda) and nongovernmental organizations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Essentially, power is locating elsewhere in the world.

The notion of smart power is coming up with ways of influencing other areas of power, such as using technology to reach out to women everywhere in the world, he said.

Clinton has shown a great interest in the use of social media and Calebresi said that one of her technology initiatives boosted funding for the training of dissidents and surveillance-evading software from $15 million to $45 million.

Related to this issue is the State Department’s press for global Internet freedom, which represents an exertion of “soft power.” Nye defines soft power as “getting others to want the outcomes you want” by co-opting people rather than coercing them.

Clinton gave two major speeches on Internet freedom in 2010 and 2011 and has called out countries, such as China, where Internet freedom is threatened.

Clinton’s February 2011 speech on Internet rights and wrongs also laid out the challenges to a free and open Internet, which included achieving both liberty and security, protecting transparency and confidentiality and protecting free expression while fostering tolerance and civility.

By framing Internet freedom as a U.S. foreign policy priority, Clinton is raising the visibility of the issue and exerting pressure on other countries to conform to international standards of openness. The Internet freedom speeches also put pressure on companies and innovators to think creatively about how to resist or combat censorship around the world.

While I think the State Department is making strides in the right direction, the U.S. government must remember that if it wants to promote Internet freedom globally, it also has to promote a freer Internet within the U.S.



Public Diplomacy


I did a little more research into the event I mentioned in class yesterday, and I got a few details wrong. The codeathons are separate events, the first happened this September at AU oddly enough. Basically the codeathon brought volunteer computer programmers and civil society experts together to address “challenges and issues related to open governance in both countries. The issues had been raised by civil society groups as part of the expanded dialogue between U.S. and Russian civil society organizations that is part of the Obama-Medvedev Bilateral Presidential Commission.” The American volunteers met in Washington and the Russian volunteers met in Moscow at the Yandex headquarters (an Internet technology company). They were linked by video which allowed the teams to interact during the event. The winning Russian team developed a prototype for an anonymous, fraud-proof, verifiable e-polling system, while the Washington winners produced a unique search tool capable of connecting citizens to legislation relevant to their interests and helping them to understand it. (For the entire article:

Clearly this event was an attempt at public diplomacy. Like we discussed in class, there may not be a clear cut message to an audience, but by hosting an event like this we are sending the message that we believe in sharing information, freedom of speech, open governance and collaboration between nations. I think events like these are much more useful expressions of public diplomacy than antiquated tools like Voice of America.

Public Diplomacy…2.0 or 1.x?

Disclaimer: My questions of Public Diplomacy in this blog post are within the context of use of New Media communication platforms.

One reason that I remain skeptical about use of Web 2.0 and new media by large organizations, is that I wonder how much actual interaction is going on versus how much of it is what I’ve seen referred to as a “glorified news feed”.  By that I mean, yes an organization has a facebook page, yes “they’re on twitter” and yes, they have a blog.  However, how much actual interaction is going on?  I’d posed a similar question as a comment on a blog post a few weeks ago that I read and I think someone from the state department said something to the effect of “they have people monitoring”.

Here are some twitter feeds by public organizations or state governments.  I’m not really seeing interaction (i.e. responses or retweets).  I picked random ones:  UNICEF , NATO , and Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs  .

I’m not trying to be obtuse here, but I’m hoping to shed more light on this.  Now perhaps it is not appropriate or possible for an organization to be talking to random citizens in public because of messaging issues…..but if that’s the case, there shouldn’t be the self-congratulatory vibes off of having a twitter account or a YouTube channel.

In his speech on Public Diplomacy in 2008, then Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, James K. Glassman in arguing against Al-Qaeda quoted an analyst that said, “…If Web 1.0 was about creating the snazzziest official Web resources and Web 2.0 is about letting users run wild with self-created content and interactivity, Al Qaeda and it’s affiliates are stuck in 1.0″    But as I’m harping on ad infinitum here, I’m not really seeing ” users runnin gwild with self-created content and interactivity” with public institutions.  Perhaps calling use of new media as it exists is more appropriately charecterized as minor 1.x update rather than an entire 2.0 transformation since that aspect is lacking? To be fair, in some cases, like the State Department for example, they do have a blog and they actually allow commenting on it (I’m assuming comments are not censored other than for national security issues/secrets), though I don’t know if the comments are read–many high profile blogs are notorious for (ghost) authors that don’t read the feedback received.  Nonetheless, all of this might be an inherent dilemna faced by public institutions, and as social media expert Clay Shirky says in the recent article Innovating Public Diplomacy for a New Digital World, it is problematic to imagine use of social media platforms like say twitter, due to conflicts between the type of transparency expected of social media and the inherently secretive nuanced nature of international diplomacy.

This is not just an issue with public institutions by the way.  I’ve seen similar issues with large corporations in the private sector.  Or is my skepticism misdirected, and is it audiences/consumers or the technologies themselves that are the problems?