Adonis Diaries

Part 2. The Second story of how social media changed

Posted on: September 25, 2012

Part 2. The Second story of how social media changed

If you wish to read part 1: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/how-often-have-social-media-changed-part-1/

Second story: China Earthquake and Obama campaign…

Last May, the Sichuan province in China had a 7.9 magnitude earthquake.  Massive destruction in a wide area, as the Richter Scale has it. And the earthquake was reported as it was happening. People were texting from their phones. They were taking photos of buildings.They were taking videos of buildings shaking. 

They were uploading it to QQ, China’s largest Internet service. They were Twittering it. And as the quake was happening, the news was reported. And because of the social connections, Chinese students coming elsewhere, and going to school, or businesses in the rest of the world opening offices in China — there were people listening all over the world, hearing this news. 

The BBC got their first wind of the Chinese quake from Twitter.Twitter announced the existence of the quake several minutes before the US Geological Survey had anything up online for anybody to read.

The last time China had a quake of that magnitude it took them three months to admit that it had happened.

China authorities might have liked to have done that here, rather than seeing these pictures go up online. But they weren’t given that choice, because their own citizens beat them to the punch. Even the government learned of the earthquake from their own citizens, rather than from the Xinhua News Agency. And this stuff rippled like wildfire.

For a while, 9 of the top 10 most clicked links on Twitter (the global short messaging service) were about the quake. People collating information, pointing people to news sources,pointing people to the US geological survey. The 10th one was kittens on a treadmill, but that’s the Internet for you.

But 9 of the 10 in those first hours were about the earthquake. And within half a day donation sites were up, and donations were pouring in from all around the world. This was an incredible, coordinated global response.

And the Chinese, in one of their periods of media openness, decided that they were going to let it go, that they were going to let this citizen reporting fly. And then this happened.

People began to figure out, in the Sichuan Provence, that the reason so many school buildings had collapsed during this school day,  is that corrupt officials had taken bribes to allow those building to be built to less than code. And so they started, the citizen journalists started reporting that as well. And there was an incredible picture.

You may have seen this picture on the front page of the New York Times. A local official literally prostrated himself in the street, in front of these protesters, in order to get them to go away. Essentially to say: “We will do anything to placate you, just please stop protesting in public.”

But these are people who have been radicalized:  thanks to the one child policy, they have lost everyone in their next generation. Someone who has seen the death of a single child now has nothing to lose. And so the protest kept going. And finally the Chinese cracked down. That was enough of citizen media. And so they began to arrest the protesters. They began to shut down the media that the protests were happening on.

China is probably the most successful manager of Internet censorship in the world, using something that is widely described as the Great Firewall of China. And the Great Firewall of China is a set of observation points that assume four parameters:

1. that media is produced by professionals;

2. it mostly comes in from the outside world;

3.  it comes in relatively sparse chunks, and

4. it comes in relatively slow.

And because of those four characteristics they are able to filter it as it comes into the country. But like the Maginot Linethe great firewall of China was facing in the wrong direction for this challenge: Not one of those four things was true in this environment. 

1. The media were produced locally.

2. It was produced by amateurs. 

3. It was produced quickly.

4. And it was produced at such an incredible abundance that there was no way to filter it as it appeared. 

And so, now the Chinese government, who for a dozen years, has quite successfully filtered the web, is now in the position of having to decide whether to allow or shut down entire services, because the transformation to amateur media is so enormous that they can’t deal with it any other way.

And in fact that is happening this week. On the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen they just, two days ago, announced that they were simply shutting down access to Twitter, because there was no way to filter it other than that. 

They had to turn the spigot entirely off. Now these changes don’t just affect people who want to censor messages. They also affect people who want to send messages because this is really a transformation of the ecosystem as a whole, not just a particular strategy.

The classic media problem, in the 20th century is, how does an organization have a message that they want to get out to a group of people distributed at the edges of a network. What was the twentieth century answer? 

Bundle up the message. Send the same message to everybody. National message. Targeted individuals. Relatively sparse number of producers. Very expensive to do, so there is not a lot of competition. This is how you reach people. All of that is over.

We are increasingly in a landscape where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap. Now most organizations that are trying to send messages to the outside world, to the distributed collection of the audience, are now used to this change. The audience can talk back. And that’s a little freaky. But you can get used to it after a while, as people do.

But that’s not the really crazy change that we’re living in the middle of. The really crazy change is here: it’s the fact that they are no longer disconnected from each other, the fact that former consumers are now producers, the fact that the audience can talk directly to one another.

Because there is a lot more amateurs than professionals,and because the size of the network, the complexity of the network is actually the square of the number of participants, meaning that the network, when it grows large, grows very, very large.

As recently at last decade, most of the media that was available for public consumption was produced by professionals. Those days are over, never to return. It is the green lines now, that are the source of the free content, which brings me to my last story. We saw some of the most imaginative use of social media during the Obama campaign.

For example, in the Obama campaign they put up MyBarackObama.com, myBO.com  And millions of citizens rushed in to participate, and to try to figure out how to help. An incredible conversation sprung up there. And then, this time last year, Obama announced that he was going to change his vote on FISA, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Obama had said, in January, that he would not sign a bill that granted telecom immunity for possibly warrantless spying on American persons. By the summer, in the middle of the general campaign, Obama said: “I’ve thought about the issue more. I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to vote for this bill.” And many of his own supporters on his own site went very publicly berserk.

It was Senator Obama when they created it. They changed the name later. “Please get FISA right.” Within days of this group being created, it was the fastest growing group on myBO.com; within weeks of its being created it was the largest group. Obama had to issue a press release. He had to issue a reply. And he said essentially:

“I have considered the issue. I understand where you are coming from. But having considered it all, I’m still going to vote the way I’m going to vote. But I wanted to reach out to you and say, I understand that you disagree with me, and I’m going to take my lumps on this one.”

This didn’t please anybody. But then a funny thing happened in the conversation. People in that group realized that Obama had never shut them down. Nobody in the Obama campaign had ever tried to hide the group or make it harder to join, to deny its existence, to delete it, to take to off the site. They had understood that their role with myBO.com was to convene their supporters but not to control their supporters.

And that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media. Media, the media landscape that we knew, as familiar as it was, as easy conceptually as it was to deal with the idea that professionals broadcast messages to amateurs, is increasingly slipping away.

In a world where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap, in a world of media where the former audience are now increasingly full participants, in that world, media is less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals. It is more and more often a way of creating an environment for convening and supporting groups.

And the choice we face, I mean anybody who has a message they want to have heard anywhere in the world, isn’t whether or not that is the media environment we want to operate in. That’s the media environment we’ve got. The question we all face now is, “How can we make best use of this media? Even though it means changing the way we’ve always done it.”

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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