Bloggers and Bullets: New Media in Conflict at the USIP

On Thursday morning/afternoon, I attended three panels that aimed to tackle the question journalists, activists and international policymakers have been trying to deal with since the advent of Facebook: How do we use new media to push good journalism and advocacy, and how are these tools currently being used?

Twitter exploded with discussion from the room full of media savvy, international enthusiasts. I participated in the discussion, posing a few questions for the Facebook representative and commenting on the discussion with international bloggers from primarily the Middle East.

Alec Ross, Senior Adviser for Innovation, Office of the Secretary of  State, discussed how the use of information sharing has been used throughout history to enact change in governments.

“The correlation between access to information and political power is nearly as old as time itself,” he said in reference to the 1979 Iranian Revolution when tapes were smuggled into Iran with Ayatollah Khomeini’s message against the Shah. The panel agreed that these tools are widely influential for both “good and evil,” as they put it. Terrorists groups, hate groups and authoritarian governments use the same tools the “good guys” use to push their message. The Taliban, for example, in Afghanistan is very media savvy and appeals to youth in the country through the same ways Western communication tries to reach them.

He referenced Hezbollah’s use of media to recruit people in demonizing Israel-video games that have you target Jewish people are being made and distributed to youths. Similarly, Golnaz Esfandiari did a piece on an Iranian game where the goal is to kill reformists.

Ethan Zuckerman, Senior Researcher, Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, discussed his report “Blogs and Bullets” that essentially said that the notion of a media-active community in conflict areas is a media myth.

He acknowledged its significance, however, when traditional media is blocked or expelled from areas of conflict.

“CNN got to the point where it said, “let’s read Twitter to you,” because they didn’t have anyone on the ground,” he said of the 2009 Iran protests.

Interestingly enough, he said his findings shows that not too many people INSIDE Iran–average Iranians, were Tweeting during the protests. A vast majority came from the diaspora outside the country. Golnaz echoed that point by saying only a few hundred people were Tweeting in Iran, and those that Tweet now discuss daily issues, poetry and social topics more so than revolutionary dialogue. Like youth in America, they talk about their breakfasts, funny videos and arranging social gatherings via social media.

She did a great article in Foreign Policy on the Twitter myth during the Iranian election protests that’s definitely worth reading.

A treat for me was the inclusion of blogger Hamid Tehrani, who I’ve been following for a while on Global Voices, a remarkable citizen journalism site featuring bloggers from every corner of the world. Tehrani has great reports (in English, thankfully for me) on Iran.


One interesting topic that emerged from the discussion was the idea of “slactivism,” or when a person blabs online about various political and social ideologies, but he or she does nothing to actively contribute to those issues. Within that definition, you could argue that journalists who report on conflict areas, human rights and politics are “slactivists” because they observe these issues but they don’t actually take to the streets and do something about them. I would argue, however, that the communication itself is doing a significant amount to influence issues.

For instance–I could pick up a picket and run in the streets with protesters who are campaigning against stoning (an issue I’ve been following in recent weeks). I can also do research and write a report spreading awareness of stoning that will reach a few hundred people if posted on Radio Free Europe. Which will have a bigger impact?

“So now people who weren’t empowered before are. but activist movements need to target these people and learn how to be participatory,” said Zuckerman.

At the same time, I remember reading a report that said an Iranian blog warned Iranians against listening to Western hype about the Green Movement. It essentially said that the West was being irresponsible by urging Iranians inside the country to go out and face the Basij. It said “while they sit comfortably at home, they’re telling you to go out and get killed. They aren’t looking out for you.”

Golnaz expressed similar sentiment about the role of Tweeters outside the country. She said most Iranians use Facebook much more than Twitter, and I’ve noticed that within my own Facebook sphere. Just on Facebook, Radio Farda has about 30,000 fans while the Twitter has much fewer.

The second panel was a nice treat, with one of my favorite bloggers and my favorite experts on Iran, Golnaz Esfandiari, on the international bloggers panel, joined by

  • Mialy Andriamananjar (Madagascar)
  • Raed Jarrar (Iraq)
  • Onnik Krikorian (Armenia) (farthest right, global rights)
  • Nasseem Tarawnah (Jordan)
  • Golnaz Esfandiari (Iran)
  • Hamid Tehrani (Iran)
  • Abu Aardvark (Moderator)

I was surprised to hear the report from Iraq: It seems that Iraq isn’t as technologically connected as places like Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.

“New media is painted in a way that makes it look like the force that will liberate. It’s sobering to read that it is yet just another tool,” said Jarrar. He said something like 2-5 in 1,000 Iraqis have internet access, so bringing “liberation” through Twitter simply won’t happen.

“The situation in Iraq is still very limited (in terms of new media). it’s the same because of the deterioration of its infrastructure and the lack of English speakers,” he said.

One message rang clear in both the bloggers and Facebook/Ebay panels: Mobile is the future. In America, companies are investing in mobile news and applications as a way to make money off of web journalism. Similarly, in less wealthy countries, mobile is HUGE compared to Internet access. Foreign news media need to make more use of mobile as a form of communication (like sending news as a text message) rather than building fancy websites or social media platforms.

  • Colin Rule
    Director of Online Dispute Resolution, eBay
  • Adam Conner

Facebook and conflict resolution: guy from Ebay. discusses every political dialouge I’ve had on Facebook has been disastrous. game on. no insight from that. move political dsicussions to forums that are more positive, bu even there there are difficulties. dont think of them just in the frame of conflict zones. EBy is a huge site, combined wiht Skype and paypal. global economic democracy discussion. that utopia has been tampered by reality. who woul dsay that fb twitter youtube is the epitome of what can be achieved? no one. mobile is the future.

The biggest takeaway from the last panel was on the use of Facebook: Yes, hate groups can use it to spread hate. Bickering rivalries can use it to yell at each other as they would in person. Governments can use it to hunt down revolutionaries. NGOs and rights groups can use it to spread positive messages and connect people. And…must we forget…friends can use it to stay in touch across borders.

“We built a tool to make the world more open. By improving the tool as a whole, all of these groups will benefit,” said Adam Conner, a representative from Facebook.

For more from USIP’s event, check out the Twitter feed.


Morning at Campus Progress National Conference

Ali and I at the conference!

Follow me on Twitter or the hashtag #cpnc for the latest from the Campus Progress conference. I just met a few of the CP staff and editor of Huffington Post college Leah Finnegan. Hope to meet other fellow journalists and activists as the day progresses.

After hearing a series of opening remarks from the CAP staff, Campus Progress sat down with a discussion on education with Martha Kanter, the Under Secretary of Education.

پراگرس = Progress courtesy of Ali, a friend of mine covering parts of the event for the Kojo show. If I get a full-time gig based on how much he has helped me in the past few weeks, I owe him a kabob platter from Shamshiri.

A Day with Progressives: the Campus Progress 2010 National Conference

I’m not sure what to expect tomorrow at the Campus Progress National Conference, but all I know is that I will be in a room with some of today’s youngest and brightest leaders who are making significant change in their communities. Some are campaigning for immigration reform, others are reporters, others are lobbying in Congress for equal rights and others are advocating the political party of their choice. I can’t wait to meet the Campus Progress and CAP team as well as some new friends at the Huffington Post and other publications.

I will be live tweeting and blogging the event, with a focus on the Afghanistan and journalism panels (two of my favorite subjects!) I’m not registered as press, but hopefully I can talk to a few of the youth leaders in between all the chaos.

Some of the main speakers this year include:

Van Jones is a leader in the clean energy movement. He is co-founder of three successful organizations — the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change and Green For All — and a former White House advisor to President Obama.

Samantha Power is Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council in the White House. She was the founding executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her book, A Problem From Hell, a study of U.S. policy and genocide.

Paul Begala was a key strategist for Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for the presidency and a senior White House adviser in the Clinton Administration. He is presently Research Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University and has been for years a leading commentator on CNN.

Other confirmed speakers include: Jamal Simmons, also a CNN commentator and a top political strategist; Under Secretary of EducationMartha Kanter, the Obama Administration’s point person on higher education;Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., President of the Hip Hop Caucus; feminist organizer Shelby Knox; Wonkette editor Ken Layne; and Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation magazine.

Among the many issues they will discuss are gay rights, immigration, climate change and the environment, reproductive and women’s rights, race and the economy.

I’ll be there all day with my friend, Ali, who will be covering the event for the Kojo show. Tune in with the #CPNC hashtag or my twitter account.

Why this is the worst week to be stuck with a paper

So I had to do the unthinkable this week: I had to tell my employer that I needed the entire week off to finish a paper that barely matters in the long run, but greatly matters right now. There are a number of interesting dialogues this week coming from international think tanks on Afghanistan and Iran, and there’s a hearing on the Hill tomorrow afternoon that discusses protection of journalists worldwide. This week also marks Campus Progress’s kickoff party and keynote speaker essay contest and TBD’s blogger lunch on Wednesday.

On top of it all, there are a number of huge news stories going on this week, like Helen Thomas’s resignation, the oil spill and two diplomatic sources told POLITICO that the United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on a new Iran sanctions resolution on Wednesday. Today, the Global Peace Index also came out, and as always, the Middle East, Russia and Africa are among the lowest peaceful regions. I also will start blogging for the Huffington Post’s college section on issues important to young adults and students.

So many stories, so many events, so many things to write! Until then, I’ll be nose deep in music copyright law reviews.

Worst of the Worst countries for political freedom and human rights

Freedom House released a report today based on their findings in the ‘Freedom in the World 2010” report released earlier this year. They chose the top 20 “Worst of the World” countries. Included in the report are 9 countries judged to have the WORST human rights conditions: including



Equatorial Guinea



North Korea





Tibet was also included. They received the lowest rankings for political rights and civil liberties.

The declines represent the longest period of erosion in political rights and civil liberties in the nearly 40-year history of Freedom in the World.

Check out Lisa Ling’s documentary on “Inside North Korea…it’s chilling and gives you an idea:

The Double Life of the Intern/Student: How do you succeed at both?

I’m having a bit of a problem.  I have less than a week to start and finish researching and writing a 25 page law paper (with proper legal citations…what does that even mean?) that will cap off my graduate degree. I haven’t started, and I’ve added more work to my plate. Come Wednesday night (after attending a gala I committed to weeks ago), I will likely be crying over a blank Microsoft Word document and a book on Napster.

I also have a job where I want to continue doing well, I’ve started testing the waters in the job market, my social media has skyrocketed and I’m picking up a few writing gigs to get my work flowing. This does not include the trips, visits, social obligations and other life responsibilities I have to accomplish this summer. I know if I was at home with just one job, I would be rattling my brain trying to think of new things to do. I usually end up torturing myself for a few days but making it out without much damage, which is why my pattern hasn’t stopped yet.

It’s a problem my mother always points out to me and has been an inherent part of my personality for years.

“Ladan…you overbooked yourself again. Cut out something so you have time for school!” she would say. As a college senior last year, I had the schedule of an executive–except worse (because I had homework!) I had a full class schedule, grad applications, I was the editor of a startup publication, mandatory sorority obligations, other extracurriculars and I had a long distance relationship that needed a lot of attention. This is the life of a grown up–someone with multiple types of responsibilities and an insatiable eagerness to grasp for more in life.

So what are you going to do if you’re a student trying to get good grades but also excel at your internship? Which is more important?

The truth is that both are extremely important, but one will always come before the other–Yes, you do need to do well in your classes, but not for the GPA–for the support of your colleagues and professors. You need to have work that you’re proud of that you can use when applying for a job later in life (granted, I will never see this evil law paper again…). At the same time, your performance at your internship will likely go much further when you’re applying for jobs.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind when playing this balancing act:

1) You can always combined topics to save time. THIS DOES NOT MEAN that you can re-use stories and sources. If you’re working on a story for work on the climate bill, why not write a story about local environmental groups for class? Different story, same topic, and you’ll likely have time to research both without looking like you’re working on school assignments at work.

2) When pressed for time, go for what’s most valuable to you. If you are in a program or class where professors are giving you vital tools and are offering their help post-graduation, it’s probably better to spend more time on your school projects. On the other hand, if you know spending more time on an assignment at work will get you published or on the air, go for it. Sometimes you’ll have slow days at an internship or you will have just done something spectacular–on those days, you can probably loosen up and dedicate more time to schoolwork.

3) A B doesn’t =Blew it. It’s ok not to get the perfect grade sometimes if it means going that extra mile at work or filling out that last application. In reality, when it comes to journalism, your grades will not get you a job–your CONTENT, NETWORK and SKILLS will. But also keep in mind, good grades often lead to scholarships and definitely matter when applying to graduate programs

4) Make meticulous lists so you reward yourself for what you do accomplish. It takes me forever to start a beastly assignment (at work and school) simply because I don’t know where to begin. I started making extremely detailed lists of what I had to do which #1) satisfied my need to be busy all the time by making it look like I had 10 times more to do and stopped me from adding more and #2) it helped me slowly but surely get through all the details with the satisfying swipe of the pen when I crossed them off. Separate them into categories like “work: social media  school: law class-find 4 sources by 11:00 tonight”

5) Look at the big picture. My friends can tell you that I’m the type of person who procrastinates because it’s hard for me to think of things long-term. When I see something I want to do, I do it even if I know I am putting off something that will come back to bite me. Nonetheless, things DO get done, even if you have to suffer a little, and you WILL get by if you think of the end result. What’s the end result of doing my law paper? A master’s degree and no more school! And the good news is that most of these assignments need to be completed within a week, so you only have to stress about it for a short amount of time.

Obama Signs Legislation in Support of Press Freedom Around the World

This story came from the L.A. Times by Michael Muskal

Essentially, Obama signed a statement in support of press freedom named after Daniel Pearl, a journalist who was brutally murdered on assignment in Pakistan. Reports after the signing say that Obama ironically didn’t take questions from the press after the event. The act would require the State Department to do a full analysis of press rights in a country when doing human rights reports. This should naturally be included and continues to be a key determinant of a country’s overall freedom. Check out this year’s 2010 Freedom in the World report by Freedom House–they include media too. And as always, go to CPJ for the latest on press freedom violations.

The story is below from the LA Times:

“President Obama on Monday signed a law designed to encourage the expansion of press freedoms — abroad.

Named after slain journalist Daniel Pearl, the law is designed to cast a spotlight on how foreign governments treat the media. The act requires the State Department in its annual human rights report to identify countries where there were violations of freedom of the press and what role the government may have had in the violations.

The measure “sends a strong message from the United States government and from the State Department that we are paying attention to how other governments are operating when it comes to the press,” Obama said at the White House signing ceremony. The law “puts us clearly on the side of journalistic freedom.”

Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was beheaded by militants in Pakistan in 2002. Attending the ceremony were his family, including his widow and their son, Adam Daniel, who turns 8 on May 28. Also attending were congressional sponsors including Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Adam Schiff  (D-Burbank).

The Obama administration has a had a bit of roller-coaster ride with the media over the last few months as a once pleasant relationship has cooled. Earlier this month, there were complaints at a White House briefing that Obama hasn’t had a recent formal news conference. After other complaints, the president visited with reporters on Air Force One during a Midwest swing.

According to the pool report on Monday’s signing, one reporter attempted to ask the president a question about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Speaking of press freedoms … ” CBS News correspondent Chip Reid began.”

“You are free to ask them,” the president said of the right to question. But he avoided the oil issue with, “I’m not doing a press conference today.”