If 2006 was about citizen journalism, what will 2007 hold?

Singapore Day 2
Nice, but I wish I didn’t have to deal with the Wireless@SG login screen…

For The Online Citizen, Gerald Giam published a seminal review on “The politics of Singapore’s new media in 2006“. In this colorful blog post, he highlights most of the main events this past year, including:
1. Election podcasting and vodcasting
2. The rise of mrbrown (think “Tur kwa” and his dismissal from TODAY)
3. Talking Cock in Parliament (pretty successful one I must add!)
4. The Wee Shu Min affair (Get out of my elite uncaring face!)
5. Self-regulation by bloggers (by blogger Dharmendra Yadav)
6. Use of the Internet by political parties (from SDP to P65 MPs)
7. Government awakens to the new media (traditional media “under siege”)
8. STOMP and citizen journalism (or the lack thereof…)

Gerald also believes that for 2007, both the government and Singaporeans in general will see the blogosphere as becoming a more credible medium.

By now we know how 2006 was really the year for grassroots media, that is where the emphasis is on us having powerful channels for broadcasting our thoughts (e.g. Blogs, YouTube). Perhaps it’d be useful to know the key trends we can see from the points mentioned, which are classifiable into:
1. The Rise of Sousveillance
2. The Role of Political Satire
3. Capitalism vs. Social Media

The Rise of Sousveillance
In my course of study, I’ve come across the concept of Sousveillance, which stems from the contrasting French words sur, meaning “above” (i.e. surveillance), and sous, meaning “below”. As explained on Wikipedia, sousveillance denotes bringing the camera or other means of observation down to human level, either physically (mounting cameras on people rather than on buildings), or hierarchically (ordinary people doing the watching, rather than higher authorities or architectures doing the watching). While sousveillance naturally seems to be a working of “us vs. them”, there are many forms of sousveillance which go beyond the anti-establishment idea. Take for example Philip Tiongson’s Organized Chaos: Singapore’s Auntie Adventures, which is a collection of vigilante Singaporean videos captured using camera phones. I think it’s an example of local forms of sousveillance where justice seemingly lies in the hand of the camera person. Then there are implicitly political messages when U.S. soldiers capture the experience of war with digital cameras and cell phones, which are later shared via YouTube (See ABC News: “The YouTube War”). Heck, even this 2006 roundup of 50 Things to do with Google Maps Mashups has a little of the sousveillance spirit in it since we are sometimes accidentally discovering things by cross-referencing different streams of information (i.e. data mining).

The Role of Political Satire
While Mr Brown’s Tur Kwa parody of the recent elections lost him his employment with TODAY newspaper, he’s gained a bigger following since. The same could be said of Talkingcock.com, which pelts out satire left and right, entertaining discerning Singaporeans locally and abroad. Understandably, Prime Minister Lee revealed the government’s distrust for the free-wheeling world of cyberspace as he told Singaporeans in a speech that “if you read something on the Straits Times or CNA (Channel NewsAsia) you must know it is real”. I’m afraid that there are two things wrong about this statement. First, the traditional news media can get their facts wrong just as bloggers can too, except that it tends to be less so given the editorial process involved. In place of an editorial board, established bloggers have a similar level of reputation at stake too, which ensures that they would try their best to ascertain facts just as journalists do. If not, there is redundancy since it is typical for loyal readers to alert these bloggers to their errors too. What bloggers can do better than their mainstream media counterparts is to report news faster and rawer, since they are less encumbered by nature. Second, in reference to his whole speech, some of these blogs / web sites never claimed to be factual news sources, but instead aimed at being forms of entertainment. As seen in A Conversation With Stephen Colbert, even Colbert mentioned how the news media tried to play him down as being untruthful when he never claimed to be. All that he does is to parody everyday politics, by being the comedic form of a zeitgeist.

Capitalism vs. Social Media
Last month, I wrote about the formal state of citizen journalism internationally. In brief, many have found that Korea has most ideal form of citizen media with their OhMyNews.com. Surprisingly, China come in with molive.cn, while Singapore trails in with Stomp. On the Western side, CNN has done it with I-Reports, and now Reuters and Yahoo have joined in with You Witness News. On STOMP and whether it is really a form of citizen journalism, I’d say it’s a pretty weak one. The so-called “news” is sloshed in commercials and promotions throughout the site, and mechanisms such as polls and comments are about it when it comes to having the citizen’s say. The use of Star bloggers worries me as well since glamorous media talents don’t automatically translate to noteworthy bloggers… the reputation from one system doesn’t naturally translate to another. As such, Stomp’s agenda would seem to be about getting traffic for their ads. Here in lies the danger of astroturfing, which is something veteran bloggers and readers can smell in a heartbeat. For more on this, see my earlier article: The Fake Phenomenon: Fauxtography, Astroturfing, and Fake Reporting and one recent case when Microsoft tried to buy new friends. Contrast Stomp with OhMyNews.com and you’ll see how editorial control is given to veteran writers for the community blog and that news is decidedly produced by people from all walks of life, just like the highly successful Wikipedia, but on speed.

Before we charge ahead for 2007, here’s a tidbit about anonymity… it’s never passe. I’ve always believed that it’s not who you are, but what you do that defines you. The who empowers those of authority, and in some cases, it can detract from it as well. The history of anonymous expression in political dissent is both long and honorable. In the case of the Federalist Papers published serially in New York City newspapers beginning in October 1787, they were anonymously authored. Without this public discourse on the controversial contents of the U.S. Constitution, sub-national agreements would likely have taken much longer as individuals worked through the issues. In The Infrastructure of Democracy, John Perry Barlow, Joichi Ito, and other US bloggers express a very strong support for anonymous editing as one of the basic requirements of open politics as conducted on the Internet. This partly why I feel that for some of us, anonymity and pseudonym are still of vital to our citizenry in Singapore. To aid in this, Ethan Zuckerman shares his security measures for hiding your identity online should you wish to blog silently. Includes the use of Pseudonyms, Public Computers, Anonymous Proxies, Circumventors and Onion Routing (think Tor). See his Technical Guide to Anonymous Blogging.

  • http://philiptiongson.typepad.com philiptiongson

    hi. found your blog through Quintura.Com. Somebody told me about “sousveillance” in my recent blog entry about the ‘aunties’ in Singapore – it’s quite amazing, isn’t it, how things have turned out with moblogs, mobile cams, and all. I guess, what really seals it – rightly or wrongly – is Time’s naming the “Person of the Year” to be “You”, as in “you the consumer, the audience, the people”…
    I was wondering, though, with all these things happening – with ‘camera-happy’ audiences – what happens to privacy? Will our concept about privacy freedom of expression change?
    When the internet ads started to explode, we were all concerned about “big brother” spying on us; we still are. But isn’t the bigger “threat” (if you can call it that?) our own friends? People who are secretly recording our moves and posting them without our permission for the whole world to see? People commenting about our thoughts and perhaps, even to the point of defaming us?
    I think the phenomenon of Sousveillance will be far more than just about people becoming citizen journalists – but in fact, a whole population of potential “big brothers”.
    The X-Files’ mantra of “Trust no one” (and here I reveal the generation I belong to) takes on a new meaning.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Philip Tiongson: I believe that person who commented on your post was me. I’ve got a good thinking cap on… while we are happily snapping photos of one another, we could inadvertently be serving as the eyes of higher authorities as well since our pictures tend to be publicly accessible. I think proximity-based jamming devices might get trendy soon… it was when I watched “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”. :P

  • http://theonlinecitizen.com theonlinecitizen

    Hey Kevin,

    Thanks for visiting theonlinecitizen.. :)

    Gerald indeed has done a good job. We are indebted to him.

    As for what has happened in the ‘Singapore blogosphere’, I feel that by and large, more good than bad has come out of it in 2006. There were very good sites which were set up in 2006 – like TheIntelligentSingaporean and SingaporeAngle.

    What is also encouraging is that the authorities have, generally, stuck to their promise of adopting ‘a light touch’.

    Personally, I do feel however, that Singaporeans have to keep pushing the boundaries back – even if they do step on some invisible “OB” markers.

    I am glad to see that Singaporeans are indeed doing so.. :)

    Happy new year, Kev..

    Regards,
    Andrew
    theonlinecitizen

  • http://philiptiongson.typepad.com philiptiongson

    Of course that was you! Sorry, have been a little “blur” due to the holidays.

    Sousveillance (and thanks for introducing me to that term, once again) is an interesting thing – amongst other things that the so-called “Web2.0″ has heralded.

    Cheers.
    p

  • Terry Johal

    Heyah Kev,

    I am singapore at the moment, drop me a line or give me a call [if you have my number]. talk soon.

    terry johal