OII Day 2

Posted on: July 18, 2007

So I have fallen a bit behind on my OII blogging because of being generally busy and also very tired at the end of the day. I am about one day behind in the blogging at the moment, and hoping I won’t get too far behind the rest of the week. Sunday will be my catchup day for anything that I have missed.

Internet Filtering presented by Jonathan Zittrain and Rob Faris

The second day was started off by Jonathan Zittrain and talking about internet filtering. This talk was a very interactive discussion on methodology. We talked about the What, Why, How, Challenges, and Implications of studying internet filtering.


  • Discovering which websites are filtered due to demand or influence of public authorities
  • Discovering or developing means to circumvent internet filtering and also assessing the effectiveness of circumvention

Why test for internet filtering:

  • Compare Internet filtering to censoring of traditional media
  • Understanding filtering around the world can reduce it (censoring bad; human rights good)
  • Conceptualizing changes in today’s Internet versus tomorrows


  • Technical enumeration: “20 Questions”: come up with a list of web sites or web URLs to test; test them from two places; one free and one unknown
  • Contextual studies: legal, historical, cultural, institutional


Representiveness: What web sites to test? How can we say that one state filters ‘more’ than another?


  • Right of sovereigns to determine internal affairs vs universally vindicated rights
  • When one sovereign [ought to] [has a right to] try to influence another
  • To what extent does control of communication facilitate control of other institutions/tool/ect?
  • To what extent control of communication a priority for a given authority?

After this discussion, Rob Faris presented his work on the OpenNet Initiative, there was a lot of discussion around the maps presented on the web page, which attempted to convey the pervasiveness of filtering around the world. My biggest concern, from a cultural studies perspective, is the very Western-centric view of both this research as well as its presentation. For example, if you look at the ‘political’ map, the gray area (which includes the most of North and South America) indicates areas where the study was not even conducted. Therefore, much of the study was clearly concentrated in the Middle East. To me, this indicates Western imperialistic tendencies to believe that “our” way is the best. Although I personally believe in net freedom, I do feel a need to be respectful of other people’s culture and beliefs. The Muslim religion, which is prevalent in the areas with the most filtering, could be one of the major reasons for the filtering. I do not believe it is necessarily wrong to filter based on religious grounds. Additionally, the maps and research presented attempt to separate the political and the social/religious filtering, which for the Middle East, might not pose as much of a clear distinction. The researchers of this project did address these criticisms and basically stated that they are not attempting to be neutral in this respect but are advocating for an international open internet.

The Impact of Information Technology on Presidential Campaigning presented by Sunshine Hillygus

The majority of the talk concentrated on the ways in which IT has impacted political candidates and the ways in which they conduct their political campaigns.


Impact on Media

  • Changes in format, changes in nature of news – greater availability of video
  • Increased competition – greater pressure for media to run stories that people will buy (ex: constant Paris Hilton coverage in Paris); on the Internet, the audience size determines survival
  • 24 hour news cycle – less emphasis on long term stories; shorter deadlines; greater reliance on press releases and on the government for news

Impact on Publications

  • People who use Internet for politics are already politically interested
  • Increases engagement among those interested
  • Increased info sources widened gap in political knowledge – more tv channels and web sites allow people to ignore political news

Impact on Politicians

  • Changed how communicate with the politically interested
  • Changed how raise money
  • Change how make it into political news

Sunshine argued that today IT has changed who politicians talk to and what they are willing to say. This is due to the fact that candidates have more information about individual voters then ever before, and utilize the communication technologies to persuade those voters through very targeted, personalized messages.

The hyperinformation environment enables candidates to microtarget different messages to different voters. This also enables candidates to take a stance on a very large number of issues. In 2004 the candidates took position on 75 different issues. This is a product of the explosion of IT and proliferation of information, which makes it more difficult than ever to be fully informed about candidates.

This talk really made me think of the commercialization of the political campaigns. Voters are no longer selecting a candidate, but rather consuming a brand that is polished, packaged, and customized for each individual (also comes in fun-size!). So in our consumer culture with microtargeting and candidate branding, are our votes just purchasing a candidate simulacrum?

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Alla Zollers

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