Archive for the ‘The Web 2.0 Phenomenon’ Category

As you have likely read, YouTube has pulled selected videos featuring Anwar al-Awlaki under pressure from the American and British governments. Pauline Neville-Jones, the British Minister of Security, argued that the material is a major component of recruitment and radicalization, providing an impetus for acts of terror and should be pulled. In response, Adam Rawnsley of Danger Room argues that removing the videos “is a losing battle” and that “Britain and America would be better off addressing the content of jihadi media with similar urgency to its distribution.” Even if the material is made unavailable on YouTube, there will be other sources for distribution including sites dedicated to counterterrorism such as this one. Howard G. Clark of FREEradicals goes even further. In “10 Reasons Why Blocking Awlaki Youtube Speeches is Counter-Productive” (HT “Thoughts of a Technocrat“), he suggests that blocking the message adds credibility, prestige, and attention to individuals such as Awlaki. It is as if being blocked is itself a force multiplier. While I did not agree with all Clark’s points, two struck me:

6) Front page news will also make Awlaki seem like an ideological pinnacle to English speakers susceptible to radicalisation, when in fact his lectures—although slick, simple, and in easy-to-understand colloquial Americanized English—reek of academic slothfulness, lack of historical understanding, and a sophomoric education on Islam’s original texts.

7) Over the past four years over two dozen terrorist attack plotters were found to have viewed Awlaki’s videos before their planned attacks. But not in one case is there proof that his speeches actually inspired these conspirators. It may be more logical that those already considering violent extremism would naturally watch his and other videos. Listening to Awlaki may be a symptom instead of driver of radicalisation.

This made me wonder whether or not removing the videos was beneficial from the viewpoint of combating terrorism. In point 6, Clark implies that there an open space for constructing a counternarrative. By leaving the more radical Awlaki videos online, we can exploit the weaknesses in his argument and pose a viable alternative. In fact, simply removing the videos may sabotage our counternarrative from the beginning, giving radicals ammunition to say, “See, they talk about ‘freedom’ when all they really want to do is silence opposition [as they do in regime X, regime Y, etc.]” At the very least, we need to know what radicals are saying to combat their message. In point 7, he suggests that removing the videos constitutes a failure to address the underlying causes of Jihadi radicalization rather than a mere “symptom.” From a COIN perspective, American interests may be better served in acknowledging and addressing select grievances in Awlaki’s message rather than silencing the messenger. To me, removing the video seems to be the digital equivalent of counterterrorism without the COIN.

Many may object that the U. S. should not cede the Internet to terrorists. Certainly, I do not advocate ‘ceding’ the Internet. Rather, we should engage an ideological contest rather than ‘cat and mouse’ technological battle with terrorists doing what is essentially a denial-of-service attack against sites that host their message via lawfare, government pressure, or offensive ‘cyber’ action. However, I wonder if this approach isn’t one method to separate the population from insurgents in the 21st century. What, then, is the proper balance between denying terrorists a soap box and countering their message? What are your thoughts and concerns?

Feel free to post in the comments or at my thread at the Small Wars Council.


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Nathan Hodge at Danger Room has a great story on the Israelis use of YouTube and Twitter alongside their bombing campaign:

Among other things, the Israeli military has started its own YouTube channel to distribute footage of precision airstrikes. And as I type, the Israeli consulate in New York is hosting a press conference on microblogging site Twitter. It’s pretty interesting to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reduced to tweets of 140 characters or less (“We hav 2 prtct R ctzens 2, only way fwd through neogtiations, & left Gaza in 05. y Hamas launch missiles not peace?”; “we’re not at war with the PAL people. we’re at war with a group declared by the EU& US a terrorist org”).

The snippets on Twitter floored me–although I am not sure they should. If you ask me, cable news offers the same level of discourse.

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Add PACAF Pixels to the burgeoning numbers of military blogs. In Stars and Stripes, Natasha Lee profiles the new blog:

Pacific Air Forces has launched a blog site that allows airmen to share their stories with the world.

PACAF Pixels aims to create an informal setting where bloggers can post tidbits about everything from training with the Japan Self-Defense Force to an airman’s trip to an ice cave during a deployment to McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

“We’re not looking to just push out the company line,” said Col. Edward Thomas, director of PACAF public affairs. “We have more formal press releases and a command information program for that.”

Still, bloggers must get permission from their local public affairs office before posting. Content is monitored and screened to ensure postings don’t compromise security and are decent, public affairs officials said.

Airmen who upload videos on the Air Force’s BlueTube site follow similar procedures. BlueTube, a video-posting site connected to YouTube, launched in October and has had more than 30,000 videos viewed, said Air Force Capt. David Faggard, chief of the Air Force’s Emerging Technology division.

The division, which falls under the Air Force’s public affairs office, was created in August to develop creative ways to reach a wider, diverse audience, officials said.

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Many chafe at the phrase “web 2.0,” but there is no doubt there has been a cultural shift above and beyond corporate buzzwords and web apps. The military has felt this change a number of ways. Since their inception, sites like YouTube, LiveLeak, and Military.com’s Shock and Awe have provided the audio and video to accompany milblogging. Whether it is combat footage set to heavy metal or a heartfelt message to loved ones at home, these sites exploded the avenues soldiers have for self-expression. At the same time, they have given civilians an unprecedented glimpse into the lives of soldiers. The problem is that this view can be too intimate for the Pentagon. According to Stars and Stripes, the Department of Defense has developed its own video sharing site, TroopTube, to add greater military control of this phenomenon:

The main goal is still to collect family videos and messages from home, he said.

In May 2007, officials at U.S. Strategic Command blocked YouTube, MySpace and a host of other popular video Web sites on Defense Department computers, saying the media-intensive sites were a drain on the official network.

Morale, Welfare and Recreation computers connected to outside networks can still access the sites, and troops with personal computers receiving nonmilitary Internet access are still allowed to visit them.

Alex Castro, CEO of Delve Networks, a contractor who helped put together the new site, said the video compression system used on TroopTube creates less bandwidth drag on the Defense Department network than YouTube did.

The main advantage he sees is control over the videos and the offerings.

“This way, you don’t have 17 million streams of Tina Fey on ‘Saturday Night Live’ all going at once over the network,” he said.

While the site requires viewers to register before seeing videos, it has no authentication process to ensure users are in the military or related to a servicemember. Melnyk said the main focus is to regulate the videos on the site, not who views them.

The launch of TroopTube should not affect the Department’s use of YouTube for its own nonmilitary outreach efforts, he said.

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On September 20th, Las Vegas will host the 2008 Milblogging Conference at the Blog World Expo. A number of notable bloggers will be in attendance including the folks from Blackfive. So far, three panels have been announced:

Are MilBlogs Still Relevant? In the wake of a successful military surge in Iraq, waning media attention and an election year, are MilBlogs as relevant to the national conversation on war as they once were?

MilBlogging as a Community. A fascinating look at how the milblogging community was built, what it’s achieved and how deep and wide its reach has become. We’ll explore how milblogging gives a voice to supporters, parents and spouses of service members, and how that voice is effectively used to support an entire military community.

The New Cadre of War Reporters. Reporting from the Green Zone is not an option for this gritty band of milbloggers. Today’s technology enables milbloggers and embedded reporters to report directly from the battlefield. We’ll talk with some of these milbloggers about their experiences in the combat zone.

As someone interested in the milblogging phenomenon, I am going to try to make it this year–time and money permiting.

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BBC News reports that a record number of bloggers were arrested in 2007 according to the University of Washington’s World Information Access (WIA) report:

Since 2003, 64 people have been arrested for publishing their views on a blog, says the University of Washington annual report.

In 2007 three times as many people were arrested for blogging about political issues than in 2006, it revealed.

More than half of all the arrests since 2003 have been made in China, Egypt and Iran, said the report.

In many cases, bloggers faced significant jail time. The average prison sentence for blogging was 15 month, and the longest sentence in the report was eight years.

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A long-time critic of the U. S. military’s “stop-loss” policy, Colby Buzzell, author of war blog “My War,” has himself been recalled for his second deployment in Iraq:

On way out of my building two weeks ago, I checked my mailbox and found a letter from the Department of the Army with “Important Document” printed in all caps on the middle. I immediately felt sick, so I went back to my room, locked the door, grabbed a beer from the fridge and stared out my window for a while. People outside were all wearing sunglasses and walking about enjoying the sun. I took a picture.

Before receiving his latest orders from the Army, Colby has split his time between freelance journalism and photography classes thanks to the G. I. Bill. Besides writing for San Francisco Gate and Esquire, Buzzell has published his compelling memoir My War: Killing Time in Iraq. However, his future is now uncertain:

I know I won’t get any sympathy at all from the “you dumb ass you signed the contract!” crowd, which is fine, but I really was looking forward to applying my GI Bill to photography classes so I could learn how to take pictures. But now, thanks to not enough Americans volunteering for military service, I now have to worry about my picture appearing on the second or third page of my hometown paper with the words, “it was his second deployment” in my obituary.

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