Tag: politics

Iran: A New Media Watershed Moment?

CNN broke the mold and became one of the world’s most respected news sources during the first Persian Gulf War, as they were able to deliver amazing pictures and video of events on the ground, much more quickly than anyone else.  The tables are turning with the Iranian election and the subsequent protests.  I think we may be seeing a watershed moment in news gathering: a final, permanent switch from the old media to the new media.

Andrew Sullivan’s blog is probably the world’s leading source of news coming out of Iran right now.  Sullivan and his team have been aggregating video, twitter feeds, photos and comments from people inside and outside Iran, as is Nico Pitney’s blog on the Huffington Post.  I wrote about it yesterday and its fascinating.  The cable news networks are mostly useless, still debating Palin vs. Letterman and other useless drivel, while spending a few minutes on Iran, but not really digging deeper.  Another article in the Atlantic talks about the information disparity between people who are getting their news from blogs, Twitter and YouTube, while this exchange from Fox and Friends is pretty representative of what most mainstream media outlets are talking about on the air.

The Obama Administration and the State Department realize that the new, social media is incredibly important to the coverage and organization of the protests, prevailing on Twitter and its hosting company to stop scheduled maintenance that would have brought Twitter down.  Part of the reason this uprising is so digital is that Iran boasts the 3rd most bloggers in the world.

As I said, I think we may be at a watershed moment in media history, similar to CNN’s huge surge in popularity during the Persian Gulf War.  The information divide between what is available online, both from primary and secondary sources is so much greater and more informative than what is available on the news and in newspapers, its astounding.  Newspapers and radio have been struggling with news gathering and Iran’s  uprising might be the last straw, especially if the old media does not adapt.

Do you think this is a watershed moment in the development of new media?  What do you think about the coverage of the Iranian election?

Social Media and the Iranian Election

I wrote the other day about how Iran’s election could be swayed by Iran’s failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  When I saw the first results stating that President Ahamdinejad had been declared the winner by almost a 2-1 margin, I was a confused, as most polls before the election had the election being pretty close.

After the probably-rigged election, the government shut down foreign radio and tv, all text messaging, social networking sites and told Moussavi, the reform candidate, that he had won.  This forestalled massive protests, but not for long.  Iranians who believed that their votes had not been counted started to protest, using foreign proxy internet connections to connect to Twitter, social networking and other news sites.  While the BBC showed people how to view their feed and asked for pictures, videos and comments from people on the ground, most of the rest of the mainstream media has been pretty much useless. 

Since text messaging is down and many foreign correspondents have been kicked out, many Iranians have turned to Twitter to get their message out.  I’m a noted Twitter skeptic, as I think its mostly used by businesses, politicians and self centered, self indulgent people in America, but this is one of the times that Twitter is an amazing service.  Its amazing to see Twitter used as a tool to organize mass protests and get the story from the participants on the ground, as they happen.  I don’t have a Twitter account, but I have been following the feeds of lots of the organizers on the ground.  Here are a few messages, but you can view more here:

Tehran University dorm is heavily under attack people need HELP noone is helping, spread word #IranElection 

RT: To world press in Tehran: People have died tonight, be a witness at least. Don’t let them die in the dark #iranelection … 

Iran: RT: some students w/urgent need of med attn I’m calling out to all ppl who can come here don’t leave us #iranelection 

RT: have no more news from uni dorm. i must go to pray now. today we will need god. #Iranelection

I’ve been getting goosebumps watching videos and reading updates like these from people my age protesting for their rights.  Twitter had scheduled its “monthly critical update” which would have brought the site down for 90 minutes at about 10am Tehran time, but the pleas of the demonstrators and other interested parties persuaded Twitter to agree to postpone the updates.

Contrast Twitter’s response to the protests with Google’s.  Google partnered with China’s communist government to censor its search results and now its pulling Iran protest videos because they contain violence.  While the videos might be against YouTube’s terms of service, the videos are socially and politically relevant and important.  It’s interesting that a company who’s original motto was “Don’t be evil” is stifling politically relevant free expression.  The Boston Globe has some great photos available here as does Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

It will be interesting to see if the protests lead toward a revolution and if they do, how social media continues to play its part.  Which company do you think has a better plan to deal with the protests, Google or Twitter?  Do you think news reporting will move even farther from traditional news sources?

New Ideas to Reinvigorate Shrinking Cities

London’s Telegraph had an interesting story over the weekend about an innovative program that Flint, Michigan is using to combat its huge drop in population.  The article, titled US Cities May Have to be Bulldozed to Survive, explains that the program’s goal is to demolish tracts of vacant housing and return the land to nature, while moving the residents of non-vacant housing closer to the city center.

Flint, sixty miles north of Detroit, was the original home of General Motors. The car giant once employed 79,000 local people but that figure has shrunk to around 8,000.  Unemployment is now approaching 20 per cent and the total population has almost halved to 110,000.  The exodus – particularly of young people – coupled with the consequent collapse in property prices, has left street after street in sections of the city almost entirely abandoned.

Dan Kildee, the creator of the program, has received support from the Obama administration and a group of charities that want to expand the program to other cities, mostly in the Midwest and Rust Belt.  I was recently in Detroit and saw block after block of abandoned buildings, which created huge, rundown holes in the city.  It would be interesting to see this program in action there as well.

I think that this is a great idea and will have a decent chance of working.  The program should appeal to both Republicans and Democrats, as shrinking cities should lower costs and make cities more environmentally friendly.  Lately, we have not seen many new, innovative ideas coming out of our government.  Instead, politicians have mostly tried to push any big decisions toward the future and government has not gotten much done.  

The American model worked so well in the past because local governments and states acted as labs of democracy, creating new, innovative policies and programs.  Some failed and others succeded.  The successful ones often spread nationwide.  Hopefully, ideas like this that start on the local level and have a chance to spread will reinvigorate both our shrinking cities and our political process.

Cracking Down on Online Gambling Is Wasteful

In an apparent crackdown on online gambling, the US government froze $30m in online gambling winnings of around 27,000 people.  In the past, the government had only gone after gambling processors and betting companies.  Some how, legislation banning online gambling was attached to the Patriot Act following 9/11, forcing all of the online gambling sites to go offshore, mostly to Costa Rica and the Carribbean.  In 2003, PayPal had to pay a fine to the government for processing online gambling payments.  Since 2006, the US has been arresting online gambling executives if they come to the US.  These laws and crackdowns have not stopped online gambling.  In fact, online poker and sports betting has grown dramatically in spite of the legislation banning gambling.

Online gambling has grown into an even more shady industry as the payment processors and site opporatores have been forced into the shadows.  There have been numerous cases of payment processors simply walking away from their obligations and stealing gamblers’ money.  There are also questions about whether pokers sites are fair and whether the sites can be hacked.  In the most publicized case, someone was able to hack into a poker site to see everyone’s cards and win at unprecedented rates.  Players guessed it could have been the site itself or an employee, but they could not prove it.

Online gambling is one of the Internet’s biggest growth industries.  Its a huge waste of resources to go after this industry that has a clear demand in the US.  If the US legalized online gaming, it would be able to tax the $9-12 billion dollars per year that the companies make, plus the government would be able to collect taxes on gambling winnings that are not reported right now.

Opponents of online gambling say that gambling is addictive and its easier to become addicted and spend too much money if its as easy as inputting your credit card information.  They say that gambling is wrong and immoral.  If gambling were legal in the US, the government could regulate how much and how often a customer puts money into gaming websites.  They could also regulate the payment processors and gaming websites to make sure that they are fair and not in the hands of shady characters and criminals.  In the beginning Las Vegas was run by the Mafia and other unsavory characters.  Online gaming is at the same stage right now.  The US should legalize online gaming, regulate it and tax it.  It would bring needed revenue to the government at a time we are running record deficits.