Monday, September 19, 2011

The TweetWar Between NATO and Taliban Forces...

Every once in a while the Internet proves to be a valuable forum for conversations between enemies to take place when they otherwise might not. Charles Cameron from SmartMobs, in particular, has, in the past, highlighted a few instances of this in a security/terrorism context. But what happened last week wasn't constructive; it was a case where both sides simply brought their fight to the Web. And it was quite fascinating to observe.

The Guardian first reported on the TweetWar that occured last week between NATO and Taliban forces just after the Kabul embassy attack. Basically, a Taliban spokesperson (@abalkhi) and the public affairs office of NATO’s ISAF (@ISAFmedia) engaged in a direct and public conversation on Twitter where both sides hurled repeated digs at each other, arguing who was truly at fault (from their perspective) for civilian deaths, and which media sources could be trusted.

Leo Shane III storified it as follows...

There isn't necessarily a large significant point to be made here. It's just amazing how, when these dialogues between real-space enemies take place in cyberspace, we all get to be a fly on the wall.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Is a Country Really a Country If It's Not on Google Maps?

On July 9th, after decades of violent conflict, South Sudan gained its independence and became an autonomous nation-state. It has since been formally recognized by the United Nations and the entire international community.

So why is it still not recognized on the world maps of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and National Geographic? And perhaps more importantly, what role do these online cartographers now play in actually establishing default political borders in disputed regions?

Not only has this Google-mapping raised some eyebrows in the case of South Sudan, but in Libya as well. As RWW reports, during the recent popular uprising and overthrow of Moammar Ghaddafi, Google Maps restored the name of "Martyr's Square" in Tripoli - renamed "Green Square" by Gaddafi's regime - almost immediately after rebel forces retook Libya's capital from the dictator.

Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch to attach any level of significance to these developments - and not too much should be read into the fact that Google and its mapping cohorts seem to update politicized names and borders almost immediately in some cases while dragging their feet for months in others. Then again, with millions of users around the globe using these mapping services as primary tools, one could argue that they do, in fact, play a significant role in shaping public perception.

Out of curiousity, I went to examine the Google Map demarcating the borders between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Contrast that with these maps presented today in the New York Times by David Markovsky as possible negotiated borders in a peace settlement, AND contrast those with maps like this one which you still see today in the Arab world depicting the West Bank as remaining a part of Jordan, pre-1967, and the stark differences remind us of just how powerful maps can be in developing default geographic assumptions.

To complicate matters further, Google Maps performs many of its "updates" by using something called Google Map Maker. It's basically a Wikipedia-style system where, rather than the company itself maintaining their maps, ordinary users submit the updates - and this is especially prevalent overseas in small-market places like South Sudan. The increased reliance on this often-unreliable system is what's referred to as "The Deputization of the Crowd" (a play on the famous "Wisdom of the Crowd" phrase). In the meantime, since apparently nobody has yet submitted an updated map of South Sudan, the new nation remains in digital limbo - formally recognized in real-space, just not in cyberspace. Activists have resorted to an online petition to persuade Google to finally recognize South Sudan for what it is - an independent nation with soverign borders.

So where does all this leave us? Maps are important in shaping public perception, and mapmakers especially so. It's too far-fetched to suggest that Google Maps has any sort of meaningful impact on the resolution of political disputes, however, we also shouldn't completely underestimate the powerful influence that the mapmakers wield either.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Twitter Research at APSA...

A dominant trend at the American Political Science Association (APSA) Conference in Seattle last week was the number of research studies currently being performed on the role of Twitter in politics. Of course Twitter is significant, it was just interesting how many political science studies are now focused on it (just as Facebook was an equally dominant focus of research a few years ago).

Without breaking down the numerous panels and presentations in detail, I thought it might at least be worth noting a few of the statistics that caught my eye...

  • Republicans are dramatically adopting and using Twitter more than Democrats.

  • Congressmen's freshman-level status and age DO matter in terms of Twitter use, however education levels and how affluent their constituencies are DO NOT matter.

  • The political party in the minority uses Twitter more (both in the U.S. and in Great Britain).

  • During the 2010 campaign, 76% of "political tweets" promoted a candidate versus 34% of TV ads; 18% of tweets attacked a candidate versus 37% of TV ads; Only 4% of tweets contrasted two candidates versus 24% of TV ads.

  • The most "elite" or "influential" politicians on Twitter (as measured by algorithm):

    1. Sarah Palin
    2. Anthony Weiner
    3. Newt Gingrich
    4. Marco Rubio
    5. Gabrielle Giffords
    6. Nancy Pelosi
    7. Arnold Schwarzenegger

  • Who is following the politicians on Twitter? Average age 36; Race 88% white; 94% of them voted in the 2010 election; "Off-the-charts" in terms of political knowledge.
And just two quick WOW stats that are non-Twitter-related...
  • One in every 500 people in the U.S. is a "political blogger".

  • In 2010, 22% of Internet users used Social Media for political purposes.

There's an awful lot more in the pipeline...