Global Voices Empowers Bloggers
Global Voices is an online alternative news source that provides an important resource, and an example of a new direction news is taking in a world where newspapers are starting to look like a thing of the past. While newspapers used to be the primary news source in the U.S they have been on a steady decline, the amount of newspapers dropping over 21 percent since 1940 (Pavlik 119). As television has become the most common news source for Americans, concerns have arisen that viewers are getting a more general, thinned-down version of the news than they would from reading an extensive local newspaper. But in recent years the Internet has begun to rival television, offering many more options for news sources than television does. Most newspapers now have online versions, but the Internet is also overrun with blogs and other types of “citizen journalism” (Pavlik 300) that provide alternative news stories, commentary and opinions. Global Voices combines blogging and journalism from around the world to provide an effective source, giving voices that might not appear in mainstream news or television a place to be heard.
Global Voices is a non-profit group that includes over 300 bloggers and translators from around the world. They work to bring the words of citizens of different countries to one and other, and to provide readers with first hand experiences of people from around the world, especially those that the media tend to ignore. The group was founded in 2005 by Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman, who had the idea at an international bloggers meeting at Harvard University. Since then they have grown successfully, supported by various grants and sponsorships, and are currently based in the Netherlands. Although they provide alternative views from the news media, their goal is to work together with other news sources rather than to oppose them. In 2006 Global Voices formed a partnership with the global news agency Reuters, who now publish Global Voices posts or links on their website. Global Voices recognizes that with the help of mainstream media their stories can reach a larger audience.
A recent story featured on Global Voices involves an attack by the Cuban government on citizen blogging, the very thing Global Voices promotes. While this story was also covered by mainstream news sources such as Fox News, the Global Voices story gives a more in depth and personal analysis, featuring excerpts from several bloggers, including the one who was directly pointed to in the Cuban government’s accusation. The story, which has unfolded over the past couple weeks, began on February 1st when a video of a presentation given by a Cuban government official was leaked on Vimeo. The presentation warned of a cyberwar being waged by the U.S. on Cuba, and accused bloggers such as Yoani Sanchez of using technology, with the help of U.S. organizations, to spark uprising against the Cuban government. On February 5th the video was uploaded on Penultimos Dias, a Cuban-focused blog in Spain, and the man in the video was identified as Eduardo Fontes Saurez, a cyber security official.
This photo of a young Fontes was posted on Penultimos Dias by a former classmate who recognized him from the video.
An article from the Miami Herald on February 7th confirms the identification of Fontes as the man in the video, and provides more background information on the man, as well as some translated quotes from the video. On February 11th a story on the video was published on FoxNews.com titled “Protests in Egypt Spark Fears in Cuba Over Growing Internet Opposition Movements.” Fox News is a subsidiary of News Corporation, one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, created and partly owned by Rupert Murdoch. As a multi-billion dollar company, Fox News of course has different motives for providing news than the non-profit Global Voices. They are often more concerned with reporting breaking news than presenting an especially in-depth story. Fox News’ article contains lots of important information about the video and its context, but does not provide the multiple views of citizens that the Global Voices articles does.
The Fox News article opens by describing how the Cuban government has been cracking down on dissidents in response to the uprisings in Egypt. It legitimizes this claim by quoting from a member of the Cuban Transition Project, who says that the crackdowns are “a direct sign from the Cuban government that this is something that will not be tolerated on the island.” The article references the video as proof that the Cuban government fears social media is one of their greatest threats. However the Cuban government seems prepared to meet this threat with their own use of social media. The article quotes Fontes from the video saying that “They have their bloggers and we will have ours. We are going to fight and see which of them will be stronger.” The article goes on to say that the Cuban government has much tighter control of the Internet than Egypt does, and in reality they probably have little reason to fear an online uprising. It supports this with statistics of how of how few Cubans have Internet access, and by quoting a Latin American expert on the subject. The article does a good job of addressing some concerns of the Cuban government through Fontes’ video, but doesn’t do much to question the actual purpose of the video, or how Cuban citizens and bloggers feel about the issue.
Global Voices published their article on the story on February 16th, after the video had already been circulated and discussed for some time. The reason that they picked up the story later than other media is probably because they were more interested in the citizens’ reaction to the video in the following weeks, rather than simply reporting the breaking news of the video being identified. The story, titled “Cyberwar? Video Sparks Debate, Anger, Skepticism” takes an entirely different angle, questioning whether the video presentation and the leak were actually “real,” or if the video was intentionally made and leaked by the government for the purpose of sending a message to Cubans. This issue is not mentioned at all in the Fox News article. The beginning of the article explains the facts of the story, imbedding links to the video, and to an English translation of it to provide evidence. It goes on to give the responses of various bloggers, many of who are skeptical of the video’s claims. The article provides the original text from the blogs in Spanish, followed by an English translation. Yoani Sanchez is a blogger who is directly mentioned in the video as using social technologies, with the support of the U.S, to spark uprisings. Sanchez responds by insisting that what is said in the video is fabrication. Several other bloggers point out that what Fontes says in his speech could not have been true, noting for one thing that “The alternative Cuban blogosphere is not a creation of U.S. imperialism.” Other bloggers believes that the video was “created and intentionally released (under the guise of a leak) in order to send a message.” Cuban novelist Zoe Valdes notes that it is no coincidence that the “leak” of the video coincides with the Egypt uprisings, and that the government is using it to threaten anti-government bloggers.
The Global Voices article concludes that there is a strong online presence of dissident groups that the Cuban government does fear, and that whether or not the leak was real, it provides useful insight into how the Cuban government thinks about these issues. An earlier Global Voices article, referencing cables released by WikiLeaks, confirms the power of dissident bloggers on the Cuban government. The article quotes the government as saying that bloggers are “its most serious challenge.”
The Fox News and the Global Voices stories each present different and useful facts about the leaked video, but Global Voices has a more interesting presentation. Especially in a story regarding blogger’s rights, it seems relevant to include the responses of Cuban bloggers, as Global Voices does. While the Global Voices article does leave out some information provided by Fox News (such as statistics of internet use in Cuba), Global Voices provides another level of insight to the story. As Global Voices recognizes, it is not their goal to replace mainstream news, as they have different agendas, but simply to provide different views and tell stories that mainstream news does not. Contrasting these two articles gives an excellent example of how Global Voices empowers bloggers and citizens by providing an outlet for their opinions and voices, voices that are often not heard from in mainstream coverage of similar stories. As consumers of news start to rely on Internet sources more and more, sites like Global Voices may become increasingly useful and in demand. Citizens are starting to search for opinions that have not been influenced by corporate mainstream media, and Global Voices provides just that.
Pavlik, John and Shawn McIntosh. Converging Media: A New Introduction to Mass Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.