Saturday, January 27, 2007

COM125 Week 2: The Rise of Political Blogging

The blogging concept has taken the world, or at least the cyberworld, by storm. For no charges at all, you are offered a flexibly customizable site of your own to display your thoughts to the world, with an online software to make inputting those thoughts child’s play. If you enjoy writing, or entertaining people, there really are not many reasons to refuse such an offer. And so it was that having your own blog became hip in 2002, according Hobbes’ Internet Timeline (Zakon, 2006). This boom set new heights on many different levels – a new way of socialization, a new form of entertainment, and a great source of income for some. But what I feel is the greatest, and possibly most unexpected result of the blogging boom, is its effects on politics.

As with the original concept of blogging, political blogging started out small, with few big names before 2001. 2001 was when ‘several broadly popular American blogs emerged’ (ed. Mmmovie, 2007), like AndrewSullivan.com, Politics1.com, Political Wire, and MyDD, all focusing primarily on politics. By 2002, the pervasiveness of politics in the blogosphere, as well as the influence of the blogosphere, was spectacularly shown when comments by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott were interpreted as approval towards racial segregation. Bloggers dug up documents and interviews suggesting that this was indeed true. Even though the media who attended the event did not pick up on the comments initially, the combined impact of the bloggers’ comments and documents turned it into a political crisis, and Lott was forced to step down (ed. Mmmovie, 2007).

Closer to home here in Asia, countries often do not get as much press or political freedom to say what they want. One popular way of sidestepping that is to satirize your comments, as Singaporean blogger Mr. Brown often does. Through podcasts, he often exaggerates political concerns into comic situations. Apart from avoiding trouble with the authorities, this method has, wittingly or unwittingly, gained Mr. Brown a huge readership.

The sudden suspension of his column in the Today newspaper (Straits Times, 2006) was a shock to everyone. The authorities had a right to respond, and did so in a fiery response letter that was published the following day. But they did not direct the suspension of his column, so why did the newspaper do it?

I see the reason behind the intensity of the Singaporean government’s response as similar to that of why the Chinese authorities spent so much time, effort and resources tightly censoring all media and communication. These two governments, among others of course, are very protective of the stability of their respective nations. The way they are running it now seems right, it is peaceful, and that is just how they want it to remain. They are, dare I say it, afraid of what might happen if issues raised in political blogs were to become a hot topic for the people reading it, and if sentiments were to run out of control. Chaos and resentment could break out, and this could well translate into riots or violent protests. As for the newspaper suspending the column immediately after the governmental response, I see it as disappointing display of self-censorship in the media. All the government gave was a hard response, and I do not recall Mr. Brown as having gotten on the government’s nerves like this before. There was really no need to have taken such a drastic measure.

On the other hand though, this only goes to show how influential blogs have become, especially in the political field. Governments are starting to pay attention to blogs now, or any other new media that comes along, and with good reason. Blogging seemed like a small thing, but it is changing lives everywhere today. If the government neglects any new medium of communication for that matter, it might well represent their downfall if it were to become the next big thing.


References

Zakon, R. H. (2006, Nov 1). Hobbes' Internet Timeline v8.2. Retrieved January 26, 2007, from Robert H'obbes' Zakon Web site: http://www.zakon.org/robert/internet/timeline/

ed. Mmmovie, (2007, Jan 2). Blog - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved January 26, 2007, from Wikipedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Blog&oldid=98042185

Straits Times, (2006, Jul 7). AsiaMedia :: SINGAPORE: Today paper suspends blogger's column. Retrieved January 26, 2007, from AsiaMedia Web site: http://www.asiamedia.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=48672

2 comments:

Kevin said...

Renhao: Interesting article, but you're the second student to have not read the assignment instructions. The key point being:

"1. Elaborate on a particular Internet technology from the year 1994 or earlier (e.g. newsgroups, IRC, email, hypertext),"

This week is about the history of the Internet, and you could have related earlier forms of weblog predating 1994 if you were to find sources to prove it. That would have been saving grace for your article. Decent use of APA formatted references.

Grade 1/3 for effort. Don't worry, there will be chances to make up for the grade. Be more careful next time.

Renhao said...

Ok. Thanks for that point.