Hakki Ocal works as the Internet Managing Editor for VOA Near East and Central Asia Division, which consists of the Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Kurdish, Turkish and Uzbek language services. Like many other broadcast services, VOA NECA division is also reallocating its resources into the new media and social networks. Although this is the case, not everyone understands and appreciates the necessity for staff to spend increasingly more time responding to user comments on articles and social media.
We were comparing notes about our grandfathers with a Bosnian colleague the other day: hers would also walk into a crowded room in his extended family’s house and change the channel on TV without even saying “Hello!” to anyone! This is a cultural element: every family has an elderly patriarch who would exercise autocratic authority over an extended family. Extend this idea to the whole society—you then start appreciating the importance of conversations on the social networks and the invaluable commentary boxes following a news item or opinion piece on a website.
The traditional and transitional societies understood the value of IP-based communication even before the modern world. So, how do you explain the inverse ratio of the numbers on Facebook in some countries that are not at the top of the international development indexes? (See links below to compare for yourself.) I am not trying to say some cultures are better than others; what I am saying is that the IP-based, peer-to-per communications (that covers almost all engagements: conversations and community-building efforts on the social networks, as well as non-traditional reporting) is complementing the traditional oral or formal communications.
Also they are enjoying what sociologists call “the latecomers’ advantage”. This means that in most of the traditional and transitional societies, the mainstream media is either under the authoritarian control of governments or have some other type of oligarchic filters. Today, any high school kid, tired of his grandfather’s control of the TV’s remote control, can start his own television station with a $500 computer and a $100 camera! The video and audio editing skills come with the kid, for free!
When we say the magic words “IP-based”, we mean a stream of information that no autocratic government has found a permanent solution to stop (yet). In some societies we sometimes see legitimate efforts to prevent some sort of communications that are deemed against their cultural and religious values or to prevent pornography. The inevitability of total control of the offensive material sometimes results in violence in these countries. If we compare the level of violence and areas where the violence spreads, we will see that those fatal reactions are replaced fast with tolerance. People in our neck of the woods are discovering that if you find certain communications offensive, the best way to counter it is by starting a new discussion about it! I agree that this process is slow; but we are living in an era that social permeability is much faster and the spread of tolerance is increasing.
The marriage of IP-based communication with mobile technology is even more promising. We received videos from smart phone users in Syria before our reporters in the field could send their reports using expensive satellite equipment. This is a country where, as the local saying has it, birds cannot fly without the government’s permission! How was it possible for the insurgents to send videos using their cheap phones? They were using the connections from the neighboring countries? How difficult could it be to bring a SIM card with you from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey to Syria? A Micro-SIM card is about 25 mm by 15 mm today. The next generation SIM will be called Nano-SIM and 12.3 mm wide by 8.8 mm high! Let’s not forget the ever-extending base coverage of the cell phone infrastructure.
It seems that grandfathers and regimes as paternalistic as they are soon will be left alone in that room with their control; everyone else will be on Twitter or in Odniklasniki chat rooms!
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(Thank you to Hakki Ocal for his contributions to this post. To contact Ocal: email@example.com)
(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)