Global Voices: Cyber-activism and citizen participation

by Paola D’Orazio

Global Voices OnlineRecent news reporting from Iran, Arab countries and Syria underlined once more the crucial importance of the presence of citizen journalists on the ground and also their online dissemination of live events. This combination is helping local communities to spread their stories worldwide, is creating a healthy information landscape and is promoting civic activism. Definitions like “Twitter Revolution” are certainly exaggerated — but in those countries where governments restrict freedom of expression, it is up to citizen and social media to provide a broader context and help people to better understand certain local dynamics (and their global effects).

As a result of such widespread activities, now the world is becoming aware of bloody tactics deployed by Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad against his own people, often in the roaring silence of the International community. Hundreds of people have died in the last months, including one US reporter and a French photographer, killed last week in the city of Homs, maybe after being located by their satellite phones. In response, Andy Carvin, well-known NPR media strategist, tweeted from Tripoli:

@acarvin: Killing reporters and citizen journalists won’t stop us from bearing witness. You can’t stop us. #syria #homs

Also important was the case of Razan Ghazzawi, a Syrian blogger and human rights activist, arrested twice in four months for openly voicing her dissent.

After the controversial referendum over the new Constitution, called by the President Assad last Sunday, February 26, protests in Syria are still on-going and the country seems hostage to political violence, blood and hard repressions. While waiting for a strong response from the international community, citizens worldwide are expressing their strong solidarity, something that is increasing with the upcoming anniversary of the initial Syrian protests. An initiative called Global March for Syria, being organized through social media and the Internet, is a call to citizens across the world to take the streets on March 15, 16 and 17 in support of this struggle.

At the same time in Russia, opposition parties tried to draw attention on the unpopular presidential policies of the last 12 years, even while Putin secured his election as the new president. The campaign of the last months was indeed riddled with indirect and self censorship , lack of pluralism and pro-Putin marches – with evidence of support and money provided to Putin “supporters”, as reported by local netizens at the Vladivostok’s “Puting”. A framework where grassroots information and global conversations are very important for the survival of democracy itself.

Therefore the main mission of Global Voices, a community of more than 500 bloggers and translators around the world, is to provide reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media. And the three panels organized by Global Voices at Perugia’s International Journalism Festival will offer one more opportunity to discuss such issues and to address the role of citizen journalim in a broader information ecosystem.

On Saturday 28 April, Andy Carvin (NPR), Julien Pain (France24), Matthew Eltringham (BBC) and Bernardo Parrella (Global Voices), moderated by Nicola Bruno (F5), will cover social media curation and verification and how this issues could provide better news-reporting and global conversation. “Digital and social publishing” is another core theme, discussed by John Oakes (OR Books), Maria Cecilia Averame (Quinta di Copertina) and Augusto Valeriani (Università di Forlì-Bologna): how to take advantage of the wealth of first-hand storytelling and content provided by netizens and activists? A response comes from some innovative projects based on social and collaborative publishing, such as Ping the World.

Public debates on current socio-political topics are mostly taking place online, where experts and citizens can often play a more equal role. How to ensure that this global conversation can actually flourish despite an over-crowded online environment? Is community-building a viable solution for advancing news media? These are some of the questions addressed in a Sunday 29 panel featuring Garret Goodman (Citizenside), Tony Curzon Price [director of Opendemocracy] and Antonella Sinopoli, coordinator of Voci Globali.

Give the broader framework of IJF12, these panels will offer another opportunity to share experiences and critical thoughts on the future of citizen journalism and social media — while also emphasizing the role of “social publishing” to improve the free exchange of information and citizen engagement worldwide.