October 19th, 2010

[LINK] "Campaign Offers Help to Gay Youths"

This New York Times article on the "It Gets Better" movement serves as a nice introduction to the ways in which modern social networking technologies really can catalyze pretty notable social movements. (I like the 21st century, did I mention?)

The videos are “a new way of using the technology at hand to save lives,” said Stephen Sprinkle, a professor at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, who posted a video to YouTube about the loneliness he felt before identifying as gay.

Some say the videos also represent an important moment for the gay rights movement. The sharing of coming-out stories has long been a tool of solidarity among gays as “a way to say that we understand each other because we had to come out under fire or because we struggled with it,” Mr. Sprinkle said.

The “It Gets Better” videos are different, he said, because they are both more public and more positive. “We’re able to look back on our stories and say, it really has gotten better,” he said.

Dan Savage, the sex columnist who started the project, concurred, saying in an interview that the videos were “helping gay adults realize that it’s gotten better for us,” but that “for teens, it’s been getting worse out in the boonies, in the exurbs.”

The “It Gets Better” idea came to Mr. Savage, 46, while he was riding the AirTrain shuttle to Kennedy International Airport last month and thinking about Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old from Indiana who committed suicide Sept. 9. The local news media reported that Mr. Lucas was bullied regularly.

Days earlier, Mr. Savage had blogged about the suicide, and a reader had written: “My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas. I wish I could have told you that things get better.”

Mr. Savage said he felt the same way. But how to tell them? He gives talks at colleges regularly, but not at middle schools or high schools. “I would never get permission,” he said, blaming a system of “parents, preachers and teachers” who “believe they can terrorize gay children out of being gay as they grow up.”

His realization was this: “I was waiting for permission that — in the era of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook — I didn’t need anymore.”

Mr. Savage and his husband put the YouTube page online on Sept. 21, and he promoted it in his syndicated column. The column quoted the politician Harvey Milk: “You gotta give ’em hope.”

For Mr. Savage, the responses have been “really overwhelming” — far too many for one person to watch. He is now preparing a permanent home for the videos.

[LINK] "Slowly, Internet and Communication Let the World In"

Inter Press Service's Yasmin Lee Arpon writes about the impact of social networking on the Himalayan monarchy/theocracy of Bhutan. It turns out that Facebook, particularly, is creating new spaces for discourse. How these spaces will be used is another question.

An introduction in Bhutan these days is usually accompanied by "I'm on Facebook!" Anjali Bista, 11, is no exception.

The outgoing Bista has made 71 friends on the social networking site. While that number pales in comparison with the hundreds or even thousands that other Facebook users have, consider this: she has not met more than half of them in person.

But one or two have visited her with gifts when they came to this Himalayan country, located between China and India, which had been isolated for centuries and today tries to manage its interactions with the outside world, including through limits on the entry of foreign tourists.

But the trickle of visitors coming into the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ also reflects how better communication, including Internet, is slowly opening Bhutan up to the world.

There are more than 32,000 users of the social networking site in Bhutan, according to estimates by Candytech, which specialises in marketing and developing applications for Facebook. That number is only almost 5 percent of Bhutan’s nearly 700,000 people, but 65 percent of its online population of 50,000.

The mostly mountainous terrain of landlocked Bhutan has made it difficult for the government to install telecommunication systems in rural areas. Most people live in the central highlands, which can only be accessed through rough roads or narrow trekking paths.

But the government and private sector are slowly building networks even in the most remote places, bridging the distance between the kingdom and the world outside.

Kezang, 23, who in October started a government course on business entrepreneurship skills development, plans to open a Facebook account soon. "Everyone's on Facebook," she smiles.

If the government approves her business proposal at the end of the one-month course, she plans to open her own restaurant – and may use Facebook to promote it.

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] What does the human flesh engine say about us?

The human flesh search engine has claimed a victim, this time within the law.

Mary Bale, a 45-year-old bank worker, was fined 250 pounds (US$400) after pleading guilty at Coventry Magistrates’ Court in central England.

Bale, who appeared close to tears during the hearing, was also ordered to pay costs of 1,171 pounds and banned from keeping or owning animals for the next five years.

[. . .]

Bale received death threats in August after closed-circuit television camera footage emerged of her stroking the four-year-old tabby before picking it up by the scruff of its neck and dropping it into the bin.

The video was posted on video sharing site You Tube and a Facebook campaign attracted tens of thousands of followers.

District judge Caroline Goulborn told Bale that while her actions could have caused substantial harm to the cat, in reality it had not been hurt.

She said: “The media interest in this case has resulted in you being vilified in some quarters and I have taken that into account.”

What's the human flesh search engine? It's a term, taken from China but applicable worldwide, describing the mass collaboration of Internet users to hunt down and punish malefactors.

The name refers both to the use of knowledge contributed by human beings through social networking, as well as the fact that the searches are usually dedicated to finding the identity of a human being who has committed some sort of offense or social breach online.[3] People conducting such research are commonly referred to collectively as "Human Flesh Search Engines".

Because of the convenient and efficient nature of information sharing on the cyberspace, the Human Flesh Search is often used to acquire information usually difficult or impossible to find by other conventional means (such as a library or Google). Such information, once available, can be rapidly distributed to hundreds of websites, making it an extremely powerful mass media. The purposes of human flesh search vary from providing technical/professional Q&A support, to revealing private/classified information about specific individuals or organizations (therefore breaching the internet confidentiality and anonymity). Because personal knowledge or unofficial (sometimes illegal) access are frequently depended upon to acquire these information, the reliability and accuracy of such searches often vary.

Earlier this year, the New York Times had an article examining the phenomenon in China, starting with a "crush" video featuring a woman somewhere in China who stomped a kitten to death with her high-heeled shows. Vengeance--justice?--was swift.

There is no portal specially designed for human-flesh searching; the practice takes place in Chinese Internet forums like Mop, where the term most likely originated. Searches are powered by users called wang min, Internet citizens, or Netizens. The word “Netizen” exists in English, but you hear its equivalent used much more frequently in China, perhaps because the public space of the Internet is one of the few places where people can in fact act like citizens. A Netizen called Beacon Bridge No Return found the first clue in the kitten-killer case. “There was credit information before the crush scene reading ‘www.crushworld.net,’ ” that user wrote. Netizens traced the e-mail address associated with the site to a server in Hangzhou, a couple of hours from Shanghai. A follow-up post asked about the video’s location: “Are users from Hangzhou familiar with this place?” Locals reported that nothing in their city resembled the backdrop in the video. But Netizens kept sifting through the clues, confident they could track down one person in a nation of more than a billion. They were right.

The traditional media picked up the story, and people all across China saw the kitten killer’s photo on television and in newspapers. “I know this woman,” wrote I’m Not Desert Angel four days after the search began. “She’s not in Hangzhou. She lives in the small town I live in here in northeastern China. God, she’s a nurse! That’s all I can say.”

Only six days after the first Mop post about the video, the kitten killer’s home was revealed as the town of Luobei in Heilongjiang Province, in the far northeast, and her name — Wang Jiao — was made public, as were her phone number and her employer. Wang Jiao and the cameraman who filmed her were dismissed from what the Chinese call iron rice bowls, government jobs that usually last to retirement and pay a pension until death.

“Wang Jiao was affected a lot,” a Luobei resident known online as Longjiangbaby told me by e-mail. “She left town and went somewhere else. Li Yuejun, the cameraman, used to be core staff of the local press. He left Luobei, too.” The kitten-killer case didn’t just provide revenge; it helped turn the human-flesh search engine into a national phenomenon.

It's not just China. Consider the aftermath of the suicide of Megan Meier, a Missouri adolescent who killed herself after the mother of a frenemy set up a MySpace account used to taught her. Suffice it to say that, once identified, her parents lost their jobs, the family was driven from town, and the mother prosecuted (unsuccessfully) on charges of creating a false account.

What do I think of this? I have to admit that my first impression is approval, driven by my personal experiences and inclinations. The idea of cat cruelty appals me, and my experience with depression is such that I've no tolerance for people who exploit depression in others. Then again, mob justice is never good. Worse, as the New York Times article notes, it's also the tactic of the weak an marginalized.

Rebecca MacKinnon, a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy, argues that China’s central government may actually be happy about searches that focus on localized corruption. “The idea that you manage the local bureaucracy by sicking the masses on them is actually not a democratic tradition but a Maoist tradition,” she told me. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao encouraged citizens to rise up against local officials who were bourgeois or corrupt, and human-flesh searches have been tagged by some as Red Guard 2.0. It’s easy to denounce the tyranny of the online masses when you live in a country that has strong rule of law and institutions that address public corruption, but in China the human-flesh search engine is one of the only ways that ordinary citizens can try to go after corrupt local officials. Cases like the Lin Jiaxiang search, as imperfect as their outcomes may be, are examples of the human-flesh search as a potential mechanism for checking government excess.

The human-flesh search engine can also serve as a safety valve in a society with ever mounting pressures on the government. “You can’t stop the anger, can’t make everyone shut up, can’t stop the Internet, so you try and channel it as best you can. You try and manage it, kind of like a waterworks hydroelectric project,” MacKinnon explained. “It’s a great way to divert the qi, the anger, to places where it’s the least damaging to the central government’s legitimacy.”

Of course we're stuck with it. Still.

[BRIEF NOTE] More on why China is not going to take over Siberia

Talk of Russia's Far East being taken over by Chinese migrants has been ongoing for a century, at least, most recently in the post-Soviet era as--as fellow Demography Matters blogger Claus Vistesen noted in 2006--the population of the Russian Far East is falling owing to unfavourable mortality and emigration trends.

This is not going to happen. I blogged about the reasons for this back in September 2009 and again this January pointing out that there isn't any reason at all to assume there's going to be any substantial Chinese migration to Siberia--the demographics don't work, the economics don't work, the reality doesn't work, basically. This August, actually, I argued that rising living standards in northeastern China may well attract some migrants from the Russian Far East, eager people willing to take advantage of the excellent opportunities available in a fast-modernizing, superbly-infrastructured, region. Anatoly Karlin, for his post, in his 2009 post "The Myth of the Yellow Peril: Overhyping Chinese Migration into Russia" went into excellent detail about the precise demographics of the Chinese migrants and why there just aren't enough, adding extra reality in his appraisal of the geopolitical situation.

The problem with this is that even if it were to succeed in conquering it, actually building up the infrastructure for human accommodation will take decades; the land is barren, mountainous and will remain very cold even after significant global warming. The actual war will be very costly for the Chinese because the Russians will almost certainly use their huge stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons to check the assault. Should the Russians lose, it's possible they will unleash their much superior strategic nuclear arsenal or even worse weapons on China - thus destroying their industrial infrastructure and precipitating a massive die-off.

Hence I believe that if, or more likely when, ecological problems reach a critical point in China they will expand into (by then collapsed) East Africa, using the mighty navy they foresightedly built up to forestall anyone who has a problem with that. It will also guarantee continued energy, food and resource flows into metropolitan China from Australia and Latin America. Eventually it is possible that Russia (and Canada) will fully open up their borders to immigration from the sinking and drying south, in which case the Far East will become Chinese. But this is all futuristic speculation.

Now, in his most recent post, Anatoly goes into much greater detail as to the political, geopolitical, and military reasons that China will not try to take over Russian territory. The costs to China of a war would be too great even if a Russo-Chinese nuclear exchange was avoided, while China's attention is focused on its overseas issues not on its North Asian frontiers, and both Russia and China are rational actors. Would that rationality prevail for all the proponents of this outdated fantasy..