14 August 2008

From Great Firewall to Great Flamethrower

Brilliant analysis of why the Internet has not led to the huddled masses of China seeing "the light", but rather led to them seeing red over mistakes in Western coverage. Interestingly, it's specifically about Russia, but applies equally to China - which suggests that this is going to be an important technique widely used by authoritarian regimes as away of taming the Internet through stoking up an anti-Western nationalism:

One of the chief ways to create such a climate was to fund the proliferation of sites that would selectively pick reports from the Western media, translate them into Russian, and offer ample space for commentary, often resulting in many articles amassing thousands of comments from angry Russians. The primary pillars of this e-smear campaign in Russia have been sites like Inosmi.ru (a shorthand for "Foreign Media", owned by the infamous RIA Novosti agency) and, to a lesser extent, Inopressa.ru (a shorthand for "Foreign Press", it belongs to Newsru agency ).

These sites would typically pick a dozen articles from the foreign media - mostly American and British, but also that of the Baltic states and Eastern Europe - and translate them into Russian. Needless to say, they usually do their best to pick the most heinous articles, most of them full of bad reporting and stereotypes about Russia. This may seem relatively innocent but Inosmi has quickly gained a large following, which particularly delights in commenting on articles, mostly to report on inaccuracies in the articles and ignorance of their authors.

Sites like Inosmi do their best perpetuate the myth of the "great brainwashing" -- that the Western media is either utterly biased against Russia or simply incompetent - and that the Western public and policy-makers are being constantly kept in the dark as to the true nature of things in Russia (this in itself is quite comical, as Russians themselves squandered most of their independent media in the early Putin years; arguably, they are in much greater darkness).

Understanding this makes it easier to counter - for example, by translating articles in Chinese and Russian into English, so that people on the other side can see and comment on the slants in reporting. Of course, the best approach would be for Western media to check for blatant errors *before* publishing....

No comments: