Sensationalist Headlines And Chicken/Egg Arguments

Today’s Richmond Times Dispatch front page screams about how that evil devil music is leading kids to kill people left and right. Or, rather, how one kid may have been influenced by violent rap lyrics to murder four individuals:

Police: Lyrics may have played role in Farmville slayings
Investigators are trying to determine whether a suspect’s fascination with violent rap lyrics fueled the killings of four people found dead Friday in a Longwood University professor’s home.

Richard Samuel Alden McCroskey III (which is a pretty hoity name, if you ask me) was arrested at Richmond International Airport in connection with the killings. McCroskey was a big fan and singer/rapper or Horrorcore, which is different from regular rap in that it’s about doing awful things like killing people. Wait…

Anyways, the gem in the article is this:

One song attributed to McCroskey on one of his MySpace pages discusses committing murder in a rage, trying to get rid of the remains and driving a stolen vehicle.

So here’s what the RTD wants you to think.

McCroskey’s fascination with music, rap music in particular, horrorcore rap music specifically, may have led this guy to kill four people. Just look at the lyrics.

Anyone else see a problem with that “logic”?

It’s like saying bad literature may have led Charles Manson to be crazy. JUST LOOK AT HIS OWN ATTEMPTS AT LITERATURE!

It’s an attempt at sensationalizing the story in a matter that appeals to base emotions.

Books lead to violence.

Movies lead to violence.

Video games lead to violence.

Music leads to sex, drugs, and more violence. It’s like a hat trick for the Devil!


Really messed up crazy kid’s violent writings showed a mind that could comprehend doing horrific acts.

Now, this is certainly a slippery slope because it’s hard to say the lyrics showed a troubled youth who needed an intervention. I’m sure there are plenty of perfectly sane folks who are into horrorcore rap, so saying the lyrics are a sign of madness and anyone involved needs help is a bit of a leap.

Over the next few days and weeks I’m sure we’ll find out more about McCrosky and a lot more red flags will pop up aside from his fascination with writing violent lyrics.

But, really, Richmond Times Dispatch? Really?

No wonder no one buys your rag.

UPDATE: Ryan Nobles at NBC12 discusses the chicken and the egg argument with VCU’s Robin Diehl.

Tiananmen At Twenty

Tiananmen may have never happened in the eyes of the CCP.  But every day, every four minutes they have another one, somewhere else.  And the Chinese people see it, feel it, know it first hand.

Tank Man of Tiananmen by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press.

James Fallows at The Atlantic:

I am guessing that you will see no real-time TV reports from the Tiananmen Square area today, and little or no photography. This is based on personal experience there last night, China time, which also leads to personal advice for anyone in Beijing thinking of going there today.

During my time in Beijing over the past year and a half, I’ve often seen the square itself totally closed off to visitors, as it is at the moment. There are always plenty of security forces around — soldiers in green uniforms, various kinds of police in blue uniforms, and “plainclothes” forces who are pretty easy to pick out, like strapping young men in buzz cuts all wearing similar-looking “leisure” clothes. But I have not seen before anything like the situation at the moment.

Yesterday, Wu’er Kaixi, a former student leader during the Tiananmen Square Protests, tried to turn himself in to Chinese authorities after twenty years in exile.  He was detailed by immigration officials at the airport in China’s Macao territory.

The history of China as a nation is hard to nail down.  As dynasties changed through the years, each new emperor brought a rewriting of the nation’s history to best fit their familiy or their own legacy.  And the people went along or didn’t know better, being largely rural.

As a steeply traditional nation, even while under Communism China has found its historical roots hard to leave behind.  Some argue that Confucianism and its hierarchical system ingrained in the Chinese people a mindset that Communism was able to adapt to and co-opt as Maoism – a distinctly different form of Communism than found in the Soviet Union or even Cuba.

History is malleable in Chinese tradition.  “Barbarian” Manchu became “Chinese” when they took control of the country – something that not only allowed them to rule but gave the Han justification to claim Manchuria as Chinese when the Qing Dynasty came to an end.  Tibet is part of China now, thus has always been part of China.  The Chinese Communist Party was able to not only embody Mao but also hold up Sun Yat-Sen, a Democratic reformer, as a hero.

Historically China has been able to change its past to define its present.

It allows China to recognize the 90th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement as a pivitol moment when Chinese stood up against foreign imperialsm in the wake of World War I.  But now they take actions to ensure it doesn’t lead to another incident like the one twenty years ago.  Part of those actions are to ignore Tiananmen.

It never happened.

China is able to forget Mao’s Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward and the millions who lost their lives either through outright slaughter or starvation.  They remove it from history books.  They don’t discuss it.  It never happened.

Tiananmen is the same.  Twenty years ago China was still emerging from under the shadow of Mao.  Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms were turning China from a Communist economy to a more Westernized one, but still with restrictions and certainly with none of the political reforms that a free market invites.  Some within the CCP wanted farther changes.  They were purged.

Deng Xiaoping himself had faced purging from the CCP twice.  Deng was aLong Marcher who had fought with Mao to help bring the CCP to power.  In the late 60s during Mao’s Cultural Revolution Deng was sent to work in a factory in the Jiangxi province but was brought back into power in 1974 at the urging of then Premier Zhou Enlai.  Zhou was a reformer, regularly running at odds to leaders within the CCP, including Mao himself.  When Zhou passed away in 1976, public displays of mourning were brutally put down in the Tiananmen Incident.  Deng would again be removed, put under house arrest. But with Mao’s death in 1976, Deng was able to solidify his backing within the CCP and rise once again within the party and China.

With Deng’s rise came economic reforms that pulled China out of the economic gutter and led to it becoming what it is today, an powerhouse on the world stage.  Deng’s reforms were able to tap into the nation’s natural resources in ways Mao had never been able to.  But with the loosening of economic restrictions came pushing from both sides.

Hardliners saw a weakening of the central authority of the CCP.  Reformists saw an opportunity for political change in Beijing.

Deng proposed Four Modernizations: Agriculture, Industry, Technology, Defense.  In 1978 Wei Jingsheng tacked The Fifth Modernization to a wall in Beijing calling for greater individual freedoms.  Democracy Wall lasted a year before the CCP felt individual expression had gone too far in criticizing the Party.

But not everyone within party leadership was cracking down on demonstrations and individual expression.  Hu Yaobang was another Long Marcher but also one who believed in Deng’s reforms.  He was made Party Chairman in 1981 but was forced to resign in 1987 after being considered too tolerant of student demonstrations by leaders within the CCP.  It would be his death on April 15, 1989 that would lead to Tiananmen.

Crowds gathered and the Party got nervous.  Deng Xiaopeng, thought to be sympathetic to the student protesters, had his hand forced and on May 4th the CCP cracked down on demonstrators.  The rest, as they say, is history.

But not in China.

The Chinese government viewed the Tiananmen Protest as anti-revolutionary and a threat to their power.  While some attempts have been made to rehabilitate Hu’s image, at no point has the Party ever entertained reevaluating what happened at Tiananmen.  Chinese youth are not taught what happened, it’s passed over in favor of lessons on economy and globalization.

Yet in this era of the Internet and access to information world wide in an instant, China is having a hard time rewriting its history as it used to.  Now it is not just a simple matter of burning all old histories in the Forbidden City and writing new ones.  Information is now in the hands of everyone, no matter how big the Great Firewall of China may get.

But does it matter?

Bao Tong worked for Zhou Ziyang, reform minded CCP General Secretary who was forced to resign in the wake of Tiananmen:

Mr. Bao believes that an official reassessment of Tiananmen is crucial for China’s long-term stability. “You have to say it clearly: It’s not a good system, it’s a bad system. It has to be stated that the people who were killed [on June 4] were good people, and they shouldn’t have been killed. . . . We must announce that Tiananmen was a criminal action. That soldiers, from now on and forever, cannot oppose the common people. This gun cannot be pointed at the people.” He holds his fingers up in the shape of a gun and takes aim at the coffee table.

So is there a potential for another student uprising? Mr. Bao doesn’t think so. Although today’s economic turmoil is much more painful for China than the inflation of 1988-89, he believes the threat to the government’s stability is much less.

He first cites China’s tight grip on political discourse today, compared to 1989: “At that time, people could say Mao Zedong was wrong. Today, they can’t say Deng Xiaoping was wrong.” Although Chinese citizens have more ways to communicate today — especially via the Internet — these technologies won’t necessarily lead to calls for change. “The spread of the Internet is a good thing, but it is also a bad thing. Because in the hands of the government, it becomes a tool for brainwashing.” He sees government meddling behind online flare-ups of antiforeign sentiment.

Mr. Bao thinks the real key to Beijing’s control over its citizenry, however, is economic leverage.

As long as the CCP provides for its people, or allows its people to provide for themselves, it is in good standing.  Deng’s policies were ten years old in 1989 and China was still just emerging economically. Now it is the second largest economy in the world.  Its people are arguably much better off now than they were twenty years ago, certainly compared to thirty years ago before Deng’s policies began.

The next protests China sees may not be political but economic.  And they may be in the countrysides more than in the cities.  Because it’s easy to be concerned about politics when you don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from.  Rural China may be disproportionately impacted by a global recession.  This is something the CCP can’t block by firewall or by rewriting their history books.

By hiding Tiananmen from the people the CCP can hope to avoid the tough questions behind the events that led to the massacre.  But they feel they can not afford to allow protest and criticism for fear of losing control over the country.

“Every four minutes there is a protest with more than 100 people.” Mr. Bao cites a report that estimates China sees 100,000 protests per year, up from 80,000 three years ago.

Bao calls these “Little Tiananmens”.  And they impress upon the people exatly what the government wants them to forget.

The only freedom they have is what the Chinese Communist Party allows them to have.

Tiananmen may have never happened in the eyes of the CCP.  But every day, every four minutes they have another one, somewhere else.  And the Chinese people see it, feel it, know it first hand.

The CCP is holding onto the idea that history can be written by those in power.  But the people are starting to write their own histories and, with that, they are clamoring to have a hand in their own futures.  And without reevaluation of Tiananmen and the policies and events that led to the massacre, the Chinese Communist Party may find itself written out of history.

The Buzz Bin: Newspapers Are Like Department Stores

Geoff Livingston over at The Buzz Bin makes a great analogy – Newspapers Are Like Department Stores:

For department stores, many chains found their death in a trojan horse — the mall. With the rise of the mall, department stores were asked to anchor these megaplexes. But inside the smaller stores were more nimble, better competitors who specialized in deeper lines of products. Electronics, women’s shoes, hardware, whatever it was, from big box to pretzels chains took shoppers away from many department stores.

Ironically, like the mall, the Internet was supposed to be the future of newspapers. But for some reason the 90s passed and the opportunity was never realized. Perhaps that crack known as print advertising was just too good to give up. Or maybe, change was really that hard.

And he’s right.  Department stores for decades was the jack of all trades families turned to for one-stop-shopping.  But then malls came along, inviting specialist stores who then competed within feet of one another for foot traffic and business.  Department stores couldn’t compete – sure J.C. Penney’s has a shoe department, but it’s no Foot Locker when it comes to selection, brands and sometimes price (well, maybe not price, but still).

Specialization and one-stop-shopping met at the mall.

For over ten years now that’s been happening with the news on the internet: newspapers have come to anchor media coverage online but other operations have set up that specialize and do some things better than those aiming to do all things.  Sure the New York Times has a sports section, but ESPN is just a dot-com away.

So it’s adapt or die.  But how to do that?

Cover what you do best. Link to the rest. “

This changes the dynamic of editorial decisions. Instead of saying, “we should have that” (and replicating what is already out there) you say, “what do we do best?” That is, “what is our unique value?” It means that when you sit down to see a story that others have worked on, you should ask, “can we do it better?” If not, then link. And devote your time to what you can do better.

As I linked to in March (Newspapers: Adapt Or Die), Newsweek is already doing this

Newsweek is about to begin a major change in its identity, with a new design, a much smaller and, it hopes, more affluent readership, and some shifts in content. The venerable newsweekly’s ingrained role of obligatory coverage of the week’s big events will be abandoned once and for all, executives say.

“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”

If you can’t make it your own, focus on what you can make your own and hat tip others for the rest of it.

For some that may not be enough.  Sarah Lacy has advice at TechCrunch that’s a bit more aggressive but sounds like a perfect business model for succeeding online and off:

There’s an obvious option for these magazines, and I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about it: Ruthlessly collapse the print and online staffs, run everything online as soon as they write it, except one or two cover-length, long-form glossy pieces. Those will anchor the print issue, rounded out by the best stories from online. Then cut the money spent on trying to court new subscribers, shifting the entire marketing budget to promote the Web or real-life conferences and branded events. You could even use reader comments to flesh the online pieces out more for the print edition, driving more engagement in both the print and online versions. Voila! One publication, not two pretending to be one. And guess what? One publication is a hell of a lot cheaper, even if it’s printed on dead trees.

Give them something online many times a day, save the meat for the print and utilize your audience for filler when the magazine/paper comes out.  Now a reader can participate and have a vested interest in the success and invest in the media accordingly.

Not only does this allow media to remain relevant but also supports newspapers and magazines doing what they can do better than most any other blogger out there: WRITE ACTUAL ARTICLES.  Real meat, investigative pieces that take up 5-10 pages and really involves some journalism the reporting that they are better trained, equipped and financed to do.  Get a handful of kids fresh outta college to do your online content for $25-30k a year a starting, pay a couple veterans the bigger bucks to deliver the meat, groom the kids to eventually be able to do the same, and suddenly you have yourself a working paper on the relatively cheap.

This isn’t the way newspapers have worked, nor is it how they’re adapting.  Instead they’re cutting the bigger bucks veterans, stocking up on prospects on the cheap, and leaving them with no one to learn the real ins and outs of journalism from.  At some point its unsustainable, the kids don’t know how to provide any real meat and the hemorrhaging of money continues without anyone with the know how to stick their thumb in the dike.

Papers are going to keep failing.  Even if some make the harsh adjustments, it may be too little too late.  Just as many department store chains are now long and gone, so will many papers.  Others will survive, linger on as a shell of their former selves, or maybe convert and become something different, something better.

1:00pm UPDATE:

David Simon, creator of The Wire, gets it wrong:

Simon told the Senate Commerce Committee today bloggers don’t go to city council meetings, or know what the hell is going on if they do — a clichéd, out of touch refrain common among newspapermen who can’t be bothered to do any reporting on the assertion. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed from a Newark Star-Ledger columnist to this effect:

Don’t expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings… a lot of bloggers will be found gasping for breath under piles of pure ennui. There is nothing more tedious than a public meeting.

I found this argument odd, because as a newspaper reporter who spent a few years covering a town much like Baltimore — Oakland, California — I often found that bloggers were the only other writers in the room at certain city council committee meetings and at certain community events. They tended to be the sort of persistently-involved residents newspapermen often refer to as “gadflies” — deeply, obsessively concerned about issues large and infinitesimal in the communities where they lived.

The whole Gawker piece by Ryan Tate is good and has some fine examples of citizen journalism.

Links for 3/3/09

Mediabistro – Tired of Twitter?

Daily Beast –Twitter Jumped the Shark This Week

Twitter is not a business. I know its founders would like to think it is. It is, for the most part, a diversion. It’s part of the web 2.0 nonsense that believes if you build anything, venture capitalists will throw money at it and then some old-media dinosaur will buy you for a gazillion dollars. But, I suspect those days are over.

NYT –What Are You Doing? Media Twitters Can’t Stop Typing

Left alone in a cage with a mountain of cocaine, a lab rat will gorge itself to death. Caught up in a housing bubble, bankers will keep selling mortgage-backed securities – and amassing bonuses – until credit markets seize, companies collapse, and millions of investors lose their jobs and homes.

And news anchors and television personalities who have their own shows, Web sites, blogs and pages on and will send Twitter messages until the last follower falls into a coma.

Newspapers: Adapt Or Die

Sen. Chap Petersen chimes in on yesterday’s Washington Post coverage on the lack of journalists:

Should anyone care if news reporting dies out?

That’s a great question.  Not everyone is obsessed by the state legislature.  However, on a day-to-day basis, it has more impact on the lives of Virginians than any other political body.  We write  the criminal laws,  the health laws, the divorce laws.  We shape and fund public education.  We plan and build highways.

While press coverage dwindles in Richmond, the content inevitably “dumbs down.”

One could argue that the dumbing down came first.

What the Post and other media outlets seem to be trying to do is set the tone. You NEED these reporters, you NEED this coverage, so you NEED to either subscribe to us or bail us out.

The problem is, these reporters and this coverage isn’t cutting it these days. The current structure of newspapers is a failed business model that has failed to adapt over the last ten years as the Internet has exploded into their turf.  Newspapers need to prove themselves to the public if they can even hope to woo back the dollars they need to survive.  That involves a reevaluation of the way they do business, whether it’s changing how they measure the quality of their product (based on actual quality of content as opposed to sales) or whether it’s changing direction.

Newsweek is trying this.  In a NYTimes article, Newsweek editor Jon Meachum noted:

“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”

Newsweek loses money, and the consensus within its parent, the Washington Post Company, and among industry analysts, is that it has to try something big. The magazine is betting that the answer lies in changing both itself and its audience, and getting the audience to pay more.

Newsweek is hoping that it’s more opinionated and stylized take will create a fresh product that people may be willing to pay more.  While this isn’t entirely new – new for weeklies, old for journals like Foreign Affairs and such – it’s different enough that it might work.

But it’s change, it’s adaptation, and it’s an attempt to do something other than business as usual given that business has failed.

Specialization may be the key.  In a time when print is supposedly dying, Politco has not only expanded its news operations but increased it’s print circulation from 27,000 to 32,000.  What Politico brings to the table isn’t just fresh ideas and content but a targeted market that appreciates the quality of their product.  Politico knows what it does well – inside the beltway political coverage – and capitalizes on it, not just in circulation but in advertising revenue as well.  It’s easier to woo a potential advertiser when you can easily help them target a specific market.

Newspapers on the other hand casts a wide net but generates no real bang in any one market enough to really capitalize.  The jack-of-all-trades mentality of newspapers of old isn’t working.  A newspaper is not an expert at all things and does not have the staff to pretend to be so.  The newspaper can no longer be a Swiss Army Knife of news in an era of specialized websites delivering better information from experts in a more timely manner.

Newspapers need to find their niche, their market, what they do well, and tweak accordingly.  Is sure isn’t going to be easy and it might not make as much money as papers once did, but evolution need to happen.

If newspapers don’t adapt, they’re going to die and they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

Are Virginia Bloggers Journalists?

While that’s not the full question in play in Waldo Jaquith’s recent legal troubles it certainly is a large one as Thomas Garrett and his lawyers try to get information from Waldo about his commenters and their private information.  From the Motion To Compel:

[W]hile Virginia recognizes a qualified repotter’s privilege, see Brown v. Com., 214 Ya. 755,757 (1974), Mr. Jaquith has not introduced any evidence to prove that he is in fact a journalist. Since Mr. Jaquith asserts the privilege, he bears the burden of proving that the privilege applies to his communications. ,See Anderson v. Anderson,2g Ya. App. 673, 681-682 (1999) (“The party seeking to establish the existence of a privileged communication carries the burden of proof.”) Howevet, he has merely asserted “upon information and belief’ that the privilege applies (Mot. to Quash !f 4.), and has not offered any evidence in support of this assertion.

In any event, it seems unlikely that Mr. Jaquith would be able to carry his burden. Although it appears that no Virginia court has yet articulated a test for determining precisely who is a’Journalist” entitled to assert the qualified reporter’s privilege, cases from other jurisdictions have held that the law “does not grant status to any person with a manuscript, a web page or a frlm.” In re Madden, 751 F.3d 125, 129 (3d Cir. 1998). Nor does a person become a journalist merely by proclaiming that he or she is a journalist. Id. at 130. As one scholarly commentator has stated:

Any such self-proclaimed joumalist could unilaterally decide to place certain information offlimits simply by agreeing to promise confidentiality to a source. This would potentially exclude a huge amount of information from the legal system, and would result in substantial litigation costs as parties battled over the applicability of the virtually boundless privilege.

Randall D. Eliason, The Problems with the Reporter’s Privilege, 57 Am. U. L. Rev. 1341,1367 (2003). Nor is a person considered a journalist if he merely relies upon another party as his sole source of information, uncovers no story on his own, and does not independently investigate any of the information provided to him by that other party. Madden,151 F.3d at 130. lvfu. Jaquith therefore cannot benefit from the qualified reporter’s privilege inasmuch as the Article contains no information arising from his own investigative reporting but instead simply recites information provided or uncovered by others, including information provided by The Hook.

So even journalists can’t call themselves journalists if they cite sources that are not their own. Good to know.

So the question becomes how does one qualify as a “journalist”?  Must they be card carrying?  Is there a decoder ring? Do websites not qualify as a news medium and therefore anyone working specifically on a blog does not qualify as a journalist?

And, if Waldo was unoriginal in his posting of this information, then why chase after him or his commenters?  How is posting this story any different than a man telling the story in a bar, to which the crowd reacts in one fashion or another?  Are you going to subpoena drinking buddies next?
Beyond that, it’s a question of free speech and association, another point argued against when Waldo refuses to release IP information of commenters.  What Garrett’s lawyers argue is that some speech and association is more free than others:

In opposition to this request, Mr. Jaquith argues frst that these documents should not be disclosed because to do so would “threaten the exercise of fundamental rights” of the commenters, namely, their First Amendment right to anonymous speech on the internet, and that therefore the Subpoena “is subject to the closest scrutiny.” (Mot. to Quash fl 5.) However, the precedents cited by Mr. Jaquith in support of this position dealt with far more weighty constitutional matters than those at issue here. In bothNAACP v. Alabama,357 U.S.449 (1958) and Bates v. City of Little Rock,361 U.S. 516 (1960), governments in the former Confederacy had sought to compel units of the NAACP to disclose their membership lists, thus threatening members’ exercise of their First Amendment rights of free association, and perhaps even threatening their lives. The standard of “closest scrutiny” (sometimes referred to as “exacting scrutiny”) applied in those cases applies to speech only when it touches on prime matters of public political life, such as debate over the qualifications of candidates, discussion of governmental or political affairs, discussion of political campaigns, and advocacy of controversial points of view, in which case such speech is described as the “core” or “essence” of the First Amendment. See generally Mclntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n,514 U.S. 334, 346-347 (1995) (“When a law burdens core political speech, we apply ‘exacting scrutiny”‘).  By contrast, the comments posted on Mr. Jaquith’s article are almost uniformly tawdry, sophomoric, and spiteful, and touch upon no issues of public or political interest that constitute the “core” of the First Amendment, such as those at issue in NAACP and Bates. (See generally Exhibit 2.)

But clearly these comments are “controversial points of view” toward Garrett. So, protected.  And, as Waldo points out:

The enormous irony is here is that the comments that fit that description were posted by Garrett himself (or, at least, somebody who says that he’s Garrett and demonstrates an extraordinary amount of knowledge about the man), all of which were pretty nasty attacks on me, libelously accusing me of committing criminal acts. And in an effort to claim that I have contempt for the legal process (as a reader of my blog, you understand that precisely the opposite is true), Garrett’s attorney cites a comment left by James Young, in which he recites a joke about judges told to him by a judge. (James, as you may know, is an attorney who recently argued a case before the Supreme Court.)

Clearly what we’re seeing here is an attempt by an individual to squash any negative remarks about him and his character.  The argument seems less to be about the merrits of the comments and more about the rights of individuals to express them, at least where Waldo is involved.

The precedent that Garrett and his attorneys are seeking to set here is a dangerous one and could very well harm the ability for bloggers who take what they do seriously continue to do so.  This could be a huge setback given the gains bloggers have made in being accepted and respected as members of the “press” throughout the state.  To segregate that playing field, to create a situation where some have more rights than others merely because you think you can bully an individual who has no corporate sponsor or means to pay for a high end legal defense, well, that says a lot more about you as an individual than any article on The Hook or repeated by any blogger.

Virtual Democracy Could Kill Millions

Andrew Keen, author of Cult of the Amateur and previously mentioned on J’s Notes here, here and here, argues that Obama’s plan to provide all American’s broadband internet access could be very dangerous:

Imagine if today’s radically unregulated Internet, with its absence of fact checkers and editorial gatekeepers, had existed back then (in the 1930s). Imagine that universal broadband had been available to enable the unemployed to read the latest conspiracy theories about the Great Crash on the blogosphere. Imagine the FDR-baiting, Hitler-loving Father Charles Coughlin, equipped with his “personalized” YouTube channel, able, at a click of a button, to distribute his racist message to the suffering masses. Or imagine a marketing genius like the Nazi chief propagandist Josef Goebbels managing a viral social network of anti-Semites which could coordinate local meet-ups to assault Jews and Communists.

Keen sees parallels between the economic situation faced by the world and particularly Germany in the 1920s-30s and today.

The question is: In our democratized world of individual empowerment, how will the newly unemployed millions, the victims of the meltdown, react to their economic disempowerment? In a culture that prioritizes the personal, how will the masses vent their rage against a system that no longer personally works for them?

Keen displays a complete lack of faith not only in individuals to make right and rational decisions, but also in communities to do the same.  But this also smacks of a fear from those in power in empowering those without power, an argument that has been made against Keen for a while as he has argued that there is a need for “gatekeepers” for information.  When gatekeepers merely fact check this is not a problem. But if they seek to limit access to information, you deny people the right to be fully informed (or even mis-informed, such is life).

The largest issue here is the fact that access to broadband internet is already available – at a price.

Keen’s argument steers away from mere access to information to questioning the ability of entire classes of individuals to properly filter that information.  Broadband access by those that can afford it in New York or San Francisco is OK, but broadband access by those who currently can’t affort it in Nebraska or Arkansas is dangerous?

His examples are also faulty:

For another sneak preview of digital fascism, it’s worth looking at South Korea, another country with universal broadband infrastructure. In April, the new democratically elected South Korean President, Lee Myung Bak lifted a ban on imported American beef. This resulted in an eruption of anger on the Internet—first amongst teenage girls, then on the popular online portal Daum, and finally through teenage “citizen journalists” on blogs, videocasts, and social networks. The rumor spread that all the American beef was tainted with mad cow disease and an online petition for Lee’s impeachment got 1.3 million signatures in a week. And for an even more real-time example of digital fascism, take a look at the way in which this week’s raging anti government violence in Greece by the young and unemployed (already at over 9% in the Greek economy) has been coordinated by Facebook, Twitter and other viral digital networks.

In the South Korean example Keen ignores assorted pro-business reforms that Lee instituted and fed into this movement and huge protests as well.  This also shines a light on the inability of the South Korean government to properly inform and educate the populace with an alternate message.  In Greece, you’re looking at a simmering situation that reached a boiling point that, yes, was able to use the internet to coordinate, but lack of access to these services would not guarantee that this movement would not have happened.

As a counter to Keen: Just imagine what more Paul Revere could have done if he’d had Twitter and Facebook.

You do not empower and better a society by limiting it’s access to information.  By opening up the Internet, you allow people not just to find more information on what they already believe or what to hear (Cass Sunstein’s “Daily Me”) but also opens the door to the opposing viewpoint.
Certainly there is an argument to be made as to whether or not it is the responsibility of the government to provide broadband access when the free market is perfectly capable of determining it’s demand and production, but that argument can not be made on fear mongering based on elitism and a desire to keep the masses uninformed.

UPDATE: Another counterpoint, when accepting the Nobel Prize this past December, Jean-Marie Gustave said:

‘Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler’s criminal plot would not have succeeded – ridicule might have prevented it from ever seeing the light of day,’ he said.

Where Are The Gatekeepers?

Eric Fehrnstrom gives an account of what Republican candidates faced from netroots activists in 2008 and in closing asks:

Where are the online gatekeepers? Gatekeeping is the most important function for the offline media. Editors decide which stories get published. They make sure rumors aren’t printed. Sensitive information is double- and sometimes triple-sourced. Gatekeeping serves an important purpose in establishing the ethics of journalism. Sadly, it doesn’t exist on the Web.

What can be done? Citizen-journalists and bloggers need to provide links to websites that contain factual data backing up their assertions. These connections add credibility. And while Internet libel suits can be difficult to win, they should be pursued more often.
Moreover, it would help if TV and newspapers resisted the temptation to get edgier in their own reporting. If you can’t be “first” with the rumors, be first with the most comprehensive and factual account. In the current Wild West state of political reporting, you will be rewarded with loyal readership in search of honest and objective coverage.

He’s not entirely wrong, though I think it’s naive to believe that many bloggers and other citizen-journalists will put forth that extra effort to confirm the facts of what they’re writing before the jump.  And that no one expects it from the other side means they won’t raise themselves up to provide it on their side.  Fire with fire.  But we have got to break from that mold.

As the internet comes of age in how its used during campaigns, more and more people are going to be asking the same question though: where are the gatekeepers?  What has gotten blogging and online activism this far is the lack of a gatekeeper – thousands of voices shouting so many things that once in a while one sticks.  Or a bunch of people starting to talk about the same thing, creating a story where there wouldn’t be one normally.

The media has proven to be gullible to these tactics.  But they’re starting to get burned, and a lot of blogging talking heads who try to sound and act professional but end up putting their foot in their mouth are going to find themselves locked out.

Since blogging’s not about to go away, gatekeepers will emerge as people realize who make up the cream of the crop and those people are promoted.  These individuals will be the self-policiers who put function before form and seek out the facts before fame.

This may take time, though.  Blogging is still new in terms of impact on media and elections.  Everyone is still getting a feel for how it works and what place citizen-journalists hold in the conversation.

It’s up to the citizen-journalist to help properly define their role, not by words but by acts.