Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 While the trials and tribulations of running Internet companies in China continue, Chinese citizens continue to express themselves online. Communities of shared interests have been instantly formed online, in part by the advent of a social innovation in Internet use known as participatory media, which include channels such as forums, newsgroups, blogs, wikis, RSS, tagging, social bookmarking, as well as photo and video-sharing services. Contrast this with the early 1990s, when we mostly consumed media in a linear and passive fashion. Traditional mainstream media operated mostly under a one-to-many communication structure, making it possible for governments to manage how and what is broadcasted, under typically elaborate licensing legislations. As such, such participatory media are often referred to as “many-to-many” media, where these media afford both social and technical symmetry between broadcaster and audience, which did not exist with earlier forms of mass media. As such, the power of participatory media lies in the active participation of the masses, which allows communication to be faster, wider and cheaper than traditional media. These attributes reflect those of Benkler’s peer production model.

Comment Icon0 Stemming from the advent of participatory media, came the recent concept of citizen journalism, which is the act of citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information”. As seen in “We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information” by Bowman and Willis (2003), the report noted how “the intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires”.

Comment Icon0 Breakthrough cases of citizen journalism in China were recently published in The China Post newspaper, under the title “ ‘Citizen journalism’ beating path through Chinese censorship” (Bougon, 2007). In one incident, this AFP-syndicated article mentioned a slave scandal in two Chinese provinces that local authorities were involved in. While human rights groups were on this case for years, the national press finally reported on the scandal after 400 parents of children working as slaves in the brickyards published a letter online. Beijing-based dissident Liu Xiaobo, one of the student leaders from the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests, noted how “every blog is a new platform for the spread of information”, typically for the marginalized population whose complaints were not addressed by the government-controlled press.

Comment Icon0 In a second case, Chinese blogs made a couple in the south-western city of Chongqing well known as the “Stubborn Nails” because they refused to leave their home until they received adequate compensation from the property developer who wanted them out. As seen online, the Chinese citizens admired these living symbols of resistance against greedy land developers and corrupt local authorities. In a third instance, the beating of flower sellers by city police charged with “cleaning up” the city’s roads (i.e. “chengguan”) was reported to local television journalists, but the story was never broadcasted. The incident only became known outside the city thanks to photos and stories published on the Internet, sparking anger among China’s netizens. As a testimony to the effectiveness of online communities, the Chinese President Hu Jintao recognized the growing “threat” of online communities and has since launched a number of online crackdowns.

Comment Icon0 In a cross-media approach to organizing and communicating protests against the construction of a giant chemical factory in Xiamen, hundreds of thousands bounced text messages between their mobile phones with the warning of environmental catastrophe. While just under 10,000 people walked in a peaceful two-day demonstration, citizen journalists sent text messages to bloggers in other cities, who in turn posted live reports for the entire country to see (Kennedy, 2007). In his new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, Shirky (2008) opens by stating that “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring”. In that sense, he observed that when the average person, not the early adopters, has access to particular communication tools such as the Internet, interesting uses start to appear. Such a moment is indicated by radically reduced costs of collective action for everyone, thus transforming the relationship between ordinary individuals and the large, hierarchical institutions which were a dominant force in 20th-century societies.

Chapter 2.3.2 – Battle of Participatory Media


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