Tag: new media

Plagiarism 2.0

The internet has exploded this afternoon with the revelation that Fareed Zakaria (a Harvard Government PhD 1993) apparently plagiarized significant elements of his Time magazine op-ed this week. As many in the media have noted, including Politico, several paragraphs in his piece about gun control are “remarkably similar” to paragraphs originally published by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker on April 22, 2012. Zakaria almost immediately owned up to the deed:

“Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 22nd issue of The New Yorker. They are right,” Zakaria said in a statement to The Atlantic Wire. “I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.”

As a result, Zakaria has been suspended by Time for one month, pending further review. CNN has also suspended Zakaria from his Sunday television program.

On Twitter, a number of people have speculated that a careless intern, research assistant, or even a ghostwriter might be the guilty party at the root of the plagiarism. For example, journalist Chantal McLaughlin just tweeted:

The buck stops with Fareed Zakaria yet I can’t help but think that an #intern may be involved #DontOutsource

Earlier, neocon writer John Podhoretz tweeted,

“The irony: Fareed could never admit that he had an intern write the column….worse than plagiarism perhaps…”

The potential carelessness of a third party does not make Zakaria less responsible for the words published in his name, but it certainly adds an interesting twist to the incident. Indeed, the entire affair has reminded me about an odd exchange during an interview I watched on “The Daily Show” back on July 23. Host Jon Stewart asked Zakaria if he wrote the latest edition of his own book. Check out this video at about the 1 minute mark:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Fareed Zakaria
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Transnational Politics, i(I)r(R) and the Information Age

Today I presented some thoughts on Henry Farrell‘s International Studies Association panel on “Transnational Politics and the Information Age.” The panel, which included Joe Nye, Dan Drezner, Marty Finnemore and Abe Newman, looked at the subject fairly broadly:

Public debates over the politics of the information age have been dominated by a battle between cyberoptimists, who believe that the Internet will lead to a fundamental transformation of social relations and cyberpessimists, who claim that the Internet will either have no effects or harmful ones. These debates partially map onto international relations arguments about the relationship between state power and globalization. Yet there is little work in international relations, which seeks to analyze the relationship between information flows and global politics. This is all the more remarkable given that information politics (whether the dissemination of sensitive government cables by Wikileaks, or the role of new media in the “Arab Spring”) seems to have direct, and sometimes dramatic consequences for central IR concerns. In this roundtable, we bring together scholars to examine in more depth the relationship between information technology and transnational politics. How has the rise of digital networks facilitated cross-border political organization or has it ultimately re-empowered the nation state? In either case, what points of variation exist in the political dynamics that have been unleashed? The distinguished participants offer a range of theoretical and empirical perspectives to this core debate concerning the relationship between information technology and global politics.

In honor of the conference theme, I uploaded my presentation to YouTube.

The discussion afterward ranged all over – topics included wikileaks, cybersecurity, pedagogy, etc. A fair amount of time was spent discussing Kony2012 though and one question that none of us really answered very well was what exactly makes videos go viral, and whether narrative structure matters. After the roundtable Michele Acouto sent me this TED video by tweet which I thought worth sharing.


Cutting Edge Research on Popular Views of War Law

My Rules of War class this past Spring was an Honors version of the course, and to challenge my students I asked them to do original research on popular conceptions of international humanitarian law, an issue the International Committee of the Red Cross takes quite seriously. The assignment was to identify a concept in the rules of war, gain a firm understanding of the law, then identify a set of data on how people see those rules, and use content analytic or discourse analytic coding methods to study how far apart the representations of the law in text are from the rules as understood or represented in reality, and in which respects. It was a tough assignment!

The students were at liberty to choose any kind of text data they wanted. Some chose blog posts. Some chose news articles. Some studied internal DoD memos to try to understand the narratives of policymakers as they tried to implement the rules of war. One scoured the Star Wars Trilogy screenplays for evidence of inaccurate portrayals of just warrior-hood (see below). All were required to attend a coding workshop, explain their methods and their findings, and draw inferences about the dissemination of humanitarian law to the public, media and policymakers.

Having graded many an undergraduate paper in my day, I was mightily impressed by the quality of the papers I saw and the amount of effort and detail many of these students put into their projects. Below the fold are short descriptions of the five best papers in the class, with accompanying visualizations. Working papers are linked below.

Dan Glaun snagged a summer research assistantship with me for this paper, in which he explores how news coverage of the Geneva Conventions themselves has changed since 9/11, in the context of agenda-setting theory. Dan tracks an increase in the overall salience of war law reportage in the US press, a shift in the referent point of the articles, and a corresponding change in the accuracy, precision and normative bent of the news coverage compared to war crimes reporting in the 1990s:

“In the two years preceding 9/11, there was not a single story which misrepresented the Conventions. However, only 11% of the stories were precise as well as accurate. The pre-9/11 newspaper reports tended to engage in generalities about civilian protection and war crimes, rather than citing specific sections of the Conventions or quoting significant excerpts from the texts. Post 9/11, however, the profile of accuracy and precision changed significantly. Accuracy declined from 100 to 65 percent, indicating an increase in media misrepresentation of the Conventions. Simultaneously, precision increased from 11 to 54%, including both accurate representations and specific, precise claims which were in actuality false. Among accurate articles post 9/11, 58% were precise and 42% vague. For inaccurate articles, 44% were precise and 56% vague. This demonstrates an acrossthe-board decrease in accuracy following 9/11. It also shows a universal increase in precision, both in accurate and inaccurate accounts.”

Christine Donovan examined jus ad bellum justifications for the Iraq war in not only press coverage but also US and British political speeches and statements. Christine examined both newspaper articles and political speeches for both countries and coded them not only according to how accurate, vague or misleading they were but also for what type of war law arguments were used to sell the war. She found that overall both press coverage and political rhetoric in the US was less misleading than in Britain (and also relied less on arguments grounded in humanitarian law, such as Hussein’s treatment of civilians). She also found that the media and the public were far more interested in international law aspects of the invasion than the politicians were in making international law arguments:

“While the positive interpretation of UNSCR 1441 (as well as 678 and 687) appeared to have been the soundest legal argument for the United States and the United Kingdom to make, it was not the main focus of political rhetoric. This may have stemmed from the belief that, perhaps, complicated legal arguments would not resonate with ordinary people as much as weapons of mass destruction or human rights violations would. However, the strong focus on international law found in the selection of newspaper articles, especially those later on in the war effort for the United States and consistently in the United Kingdom, suggest that the public cares more about international law and the legality of the invasion than originally assumed. Perhaps United States and United Kingdom officials made an error by not presenting this legal reasoning to the public in depth, as it might have improved public opinion.”

Wes Mason, who also worked with me on my Battlestar Tweet project, examined how well bloggers understood the law on cultural property as applied to both Iraq and Egypt. He finds some variation between Egypt and Iraq (discussed at more length) but also some general conclusions:

“My analysis shows that bloggers do not use particularly nuanced understandings of international law to make arguments about protecting cultural property in armed conflict, that they are far more likely to reference the Hague Regime than the Geneva Regime, and that they are even more likely to reference other laws outside the aforementioned regimes specific ally concerned with preventing the trafficking rather the destruction of cultural property.”

Sarah Wesley coded a random sample of 200 articles from the NYTimes, Al-Jazeera, WSJ and Huffington Post to explore to what extent the term ‘enemy combatant’ has come to be used interchangeably with ‘detainee.’ She found that the answer depended somewhat on the source – with Al-Jazeera six times more likely than the NYTimes to use the terms interchangeably, but also more likely to put the term ‘enemy combatant’ in quote marks when used, and far less likely to use it overall:

“On average, newspapers recognize there is a clear distinction between the terms ‘enemy combatant’ and ‘detainee’ and/or ‘prisoner of war.’ However interestingly, these news outlet did not often understand the differences between the terms.”

And last but not least, without doubt the juiciest paper of the entire lot was Shawheen Saffari‘s analysis of the Star Wars Trilogy, in which he finds a significant gap between portrayals of just conduct by the rebels and the standards of conduct required of actual rebels under humanitarian law circa 1977 and after:

“My analysis shows that the Rebels in Star Wars abide to war law in some cases but not all, including certain tactics that would be considered grave violations. While Rebels would generally follow law dictating accepted uniform and bearing of arms, the Rebels would frequently harm civilians in the majority interactions as well as show disregard towards civilian property that would be deemed culturally or religiously significant, violations specifically of Articles 13 and 16 of the AP II.”

Quick: how many war law violations can you find in this clip?

Bataille d'Endor Attaque des Ewoks VO by yan_solo2010


New book – Radicalisation and Media – out now

Routledge has published Radicalisation and Media: Connectivity and Terrorism in the New Media Ecology, co-authored by Akil Awan, Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin. The book presents results from our two-year ESRC-funded project on Radicalisation & Violence, which was awarded the maximum ‘Outstanding’ grade by the Economic and Social Research Council in 2010.
Our chief finding, in a nutshell, is that despite the potential connectivity between radicalising networks like Al-Qaeda and ‘vulnerable’ youth and ‘terrorised’ publics, there is in fact a profound and structural disconnection. Security policymakers, journalists and audiences have little agreed understanding of what ‘radicalisation’ might mean, but a residual sense of anxiety that there is something threatening out there, possibly close to home. That diffuse threat is often spoken about as radicalisation through the internet, over the web, which could happen anywhere, to anyone, “at the click of a button”. Such statements do not aid public understanding of how individual opinions are shaped by on- and offline experiences, nor offer any evidence base of how and why individuals have turned to violence. Caught in the middle of this confusion are mainstream Security Journalists who deliver to audiences spasmodic episodes of bombings, arrests and warnings, the occasional, subtitled glimpse of an angry jihadist, but little insight or explanation of how political and religious violence is generated or prevented. Such news contributes to assumptions about an enduring social mainstream and radical margin; this may indeed feed back into potential disaffection by those identified as potentially radical. In short, we suggest that discourse about radicalisation may be as significant for Western societies as discourses of radicalisation, i.e. actual jihadist propaganda.
The study offers a cross-section of global (un)connectivities across a series of critical security events since 2006 by integrating three strands of data: audience research from the UK, France, Denmark and Australia, an ethnography of jihadist culture, and analysis of English and Arabic-language news.
Please contact Ben.OLoughlin@rhul.ac.uk if you require further information or wish to receive a review copy from Routledge.

Identifying Groupthink

Many of the Journolist critics have expressed concerns that the listserv’s membership — you had to be political “center to left” to join — fomented groupthink.

Andrew Sullivan’s critique is succinct, but he’s hardly alone in leveling the charge: “It is this tendency to groupthink and exclusivity that concerns me.”

Reihan Salam, who was generally sympathetic to Journolist in an on-line piece he wrote last week, has recalibrated his argument to criticize J-list about the alleged groupthink problem:

What I meant to say, and evidently didn’t say very effectively, is that JList is inevitable. So the best we can do is criticize pernicious groupthink, which is where the tendency of “like-minded people become friends and start to think even more alike and help each other out” goes badly wrong.

The irony, of course, is that this widely embraced criticism (and a few others) — emanating mostly from opinion writers on the right, but resonating throughout the right-wing blogosphere and other media outlets — actually reflects the kind of pack journalism the critics purport to be criticizing.

Of course, critics have lept to this conclusion without any real evidence. Only a tiny fraction of the more than 10,000 Journolist emails have been reproduced publicly and no one has demonstrated that the listmembers (like me) unthinkingly mimiced any kind of ideological line in their public writing.

There is actually another important example of hypocrisy embedded in Salam’s latest piece as well, as the young writer reveals his early days in journalism:

I did work at The New Republic as an intern in 2001, and I spent most of my time there, and as a freelancer the year after, beating the drum for the invasion of Iraq.

Political scientists argued as early as the 2002 buildup to war that the Iraq war drums reflected groupthink. First impressions were apparently accurate — and the media played along with the dominant narrative.

As one final point, keep in mind that “groupthink” worrywart Andrew Sullivan embraced the Iraq war like my sister once embraced David Cassidy.


The Transmogrification of Scholarly Discourse: More Insights from ISA

Does a video blog post satirizing a scholarly debate count as a contribution to that debate? This is the question I meant to pose when I chose to preface my remarks with a YouTube clip about academic bloggers on the ISA panel entitled “Do International Relations Blogs Inform Practice? Theory? Both? Neither?”

Naturally, the equipment failed. So it wasn’t until Q&A when I had a chance to hit “play” – and then only in the context of a question about whether the kind of snark associated with blogging is good or bad for academic discourse. (The consensus position on the panel: a qualified “yes.”)

But in this post, I’d like to go back to the point I’d originally wanted to make because I think there really are some interesting questions about how the nature of scholarship and the media through which scholarly ideas are communicated, are transmogrifying due to the merging of academic discourse with new media.

Here’s the original video:

The context is a blog post in which “the author” attempted to summarize and satirize a debate afoot last year among IR scholars – taking place almost entirely in the blogosphere rather than in scholarly forums. As you may recall, it was sparked by an op-ed by Joseph Nye in the Washington Post and then by Dan Drezner’s blog response to it entitled “The Academy Strikes Back” and it was a debate about the extent to which the theory/policy divide could be overcome and who was to blame for it. Though this video may appear to be pure satire, I argued it actually illustrates two arguments about the impact of blogs on the relationship between the academy and the “real world.”

First, it substantively satirizes the reification of a gap between theory and policy – a reification we saw in Nye’s essay and the debate that followed it – and a reification we see in the title of the ISA conference itself (“Theory v. “Policy”). In my view, the erosion of the alleged “gap” between theory and policy is actually exemplified by the very medium – blogs – being used to conduct the debate described in this video. Academic bloggers are, of course, working at the very nexus between the academy and the policy world – and doing so rather successfully, if the anecdotes shared by my co-panelists are to be believed.

Yet for all the reasons mentioned on the panel (and in the background paper), that nexus is a tricky place to be professionally. Perhaps one way to interpret the blogosphere dialogue about Nye’s op-ed is as a reification of the theory-policy gap borne of a need to re-establish the conceptual boundaries precisely because they are so in flux.

Second, as a means of describing an academic debate, this video itself reminds us that the types of user-generated artifacts we might conceivably associate with scholarly output is expanding somewhat beyond that which we were socialized to accept as legitimate, due to the dynamic nature of Web 2.0 – just as academic blogging has expanded that conception over the past few years. Entire conferences have, in fact, relied upon YouTube as a means to disseminate academic ideas rather than conventional presentation formats. How long will it be before such means of expressing views in a debate become commonplace? How will this transform scholarly discourse? How does the ease with which users can generate such content affect what counts as legitimate academic discourse?

Now, let’s not overstate the case. I’m not saying that we are all about to give up writing conference papers and instead just create YouTube videos to disseminate our research or ideas. In fact, Darth Drezner and I have argued quite a bit over whether a video satire of an academic debate constitutes a contribution to that debate or not. And it’s true that although lots of scholars complimented me on the video, not many participants in the debate itself seized upon any of the points I was trying to make with it. So perhaps satire as a form of academic discourse is ahead of its time.

But I think that one of the impacts of blogs and other new media on the academy is that they are forcing us to have these discussions.


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