“Ethan Zuckerman”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethan/2004/02/27#a138 has produced an interesting paper on blogging as a political force in the Third World – commenting on the enthusiasm for Internet-mediated political debate expressed by Jim Moore in an essay “The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head”:http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/jmoore/secondsuperpower.html and by Joi Ito in “Emergent Democracy”:http://joi.ito.com/static/emergentdemocracy.html. I blogged about the latter essay “some months ago”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_best_of_blogorg.html#000687.
He warns astutely:
“If that group [enthusiasts for ‘weblog democracy’] forgets that they’re outliers in terms of larger society and fails to include others in the shaping of these technologies, it’s unlikely that these tools will be useful to the wider world”.
He also suggests that bloggers can’t provide a critical alternative to the mainstream media when a region is not adequately covered:
“When journalists don’t cover parts of the globe, webloggers are like an amplifier without a guitar they have no signal to reinforce. There aren’t enough bloggers in eastern Congo to give us a sense for what’s really going on.”
He suggests that Third World expats writing about their own nations from abroad and (though he doesn’t explicitly say this) First World expats writing about the countries they are visiting or trying to help could help fill the gap in coverage of third world issues and give the rest of the world a personal view.
He notes the weakness of this proposal:
these discussions are open only to people with the access to the Internet (which cuts out people in countries who censor, people in unsderserved rural areas, as well as people who don’t have money to spend time online); primarily open to people who speak and write English well; primarily open to people who can afford to spend time online engaging in these dialogues (cutting out many people whose jobs don’t afford them the luxury of working in front of a CRT).
He highlights some interesting solutions to the problem of language and cultural barriers to mutual comprehension – “Blogalization”:http://www.blogalization.info/reorganization/, for example, encourages bloggers who can speak foreign languages to translate interesting posts and news items into other relevant languages (chiefly English) – acting as a volunteer news agency. “Living on the Planet”:http://www.livingontheplanet.com/about.html is similar (but only translates to English.
In the end, he acknowledges:
Generally speaking, though, in most developing nations, the Net is not the obvious place to look for political change. So few citizens are online, and those who are generally are atypically wealthy and powerful that the Internet is a poor way to reach the grassroots. Instead, it’s useful to think about what media are analogous to the Internet in developing nations. One likely parallel is talk radio.
He seems to suggest in his conclusion that the “solution” to ensuring that the third world can part lies with the toolmakers – a technical fix.
But a real solution, I suggest, would have to involve a lot of grassroots capacity building work to ensure that a broad range of people in these countries (not just the elites):
1) have access to the technology
2) have the time and literacy to engage with them and
3) are listened to by those with power in their countries.
Big (some might say impossible) preconditions but without them a Third World Blogosphere would be an elite echo chamber. I fear that if tech boosters succeed in persuading developing country governments to foster a burgeoning blogosphere in their countries it would just serve to further benefit the articulate middle classes and elites in those countries who already have influence.