What Journalists & Politicians in Canada Misunderstand About Twitter

Via the CBC’s The National the other night, they discussed Twitter and it’s use by politicians and journalists in Canada. Just Twitter. Like it was a single, solitary, lonely social media channel, the only channel. A separate comment aired by Stockwell Day, a bright, former politician, focused just on Twitter. The “Insiders Panel”, all senior political party strategists, nodded and focused on Twitter. Just Twitter. They made some very good points, including how politicians get into verbal spats often unnecessariyl. And that both journalists and politicians focus too much on Twitter; that is very true.

Twitter is not an Isolated Channel or Medium
I was disappointed however, to hear the pundits focus on Twitter and the “twitterverse” as a singular, disconnected channel. In addition, they downplayed it’s relevance thinking that not many Canadians actually use Twitter for political discussion and those that do they essentially downplayed as trolls or provocateurs. It became sadly apparent that these “pundits” and by default most likely their communications teams and parties, utterly misunderstand the nature of Twitter.

Twitter is a Highway With Many On & Off Ramps
In reality, while there is some dialogue and commentary on Twitter, they are usually brief (hey, you’ve only got 140 characters to fiddle with!) and most importantly…link to other channels. One might think of Twitter as a massive autobahn that runs extremeley fast, but has many on and off ramps; those are the “links” to pictures, memes, websites, blogs, YouTube and Vimeo, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, news media sites, Reddit…and well, I suppose your getting the picture. Maybe a journalist or political hack might as well? It would help them tremendously if they did.

Where The Real Discussion Happens
The real dialogue, the chatter where educated and intelligent arguments happen, is far more often in these other spaces. Yes, there are the “trolls” and various cynics and nasties in those other places, But often the content that is pushed onto the Twitter autobahn is from somewhere else and goes somewhere else. Twitter connects. Dialogue on Twitter is brief and when politicians get into a digital fistacuffs, it is the voters, their very constituents, who simply sit back and watch, maybe laugh, maybe howl in rage, but say little or nothing back. In addition, journalists and politicians, fail to appreciate the “network effect” of Twitter and other social media channels and services…the message spreads, it has legs longer than24 hours and it never goes away.

Journalistic Trap
Unfortunately, one of the results of Twitter and the speed of social media has been for editors and publishers to exort massive, unecessary and unfair pressure onto their journalists. They demand the reporter get the story out ASAP, they rush to beat their competitors; we’ve seen the results and they are often nasty and hurt the reputation of the news media outlet.

All in all, politicians, political party PR teams, strategists and journalists, should better understand Twitter by now. This failure to understand the ripple effect of social media channels, it’s many tentacles, can lead to missing an opportunity to better engage with the citizens, the voters. After all, it is the voters that matter. Regarding Twitter in a silo is disrespectful to citizens and an insult to journalists and we need good journalism better than ever before.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why Facebook as a Banker is a Brilliant Move

Google has Wallet. Then there’s PayPal and the Square and Tile and others piling into the financial services sector. But Facebook has a much smarter approach and likely doesn’t much care about the Canadian, American or European markets…they want the developing world. This is an extremely clever move and is going to give Western Union a run for their uhm, money.

Remittance Market is Massive
According to the World Bank (here) the global remittance market topped $440 BILION in 2010 and it has been on the rise for years. Out of that, they estimate around $325 Billion went to developing nations…that’s a lot of diaspora in Western, developed nations (the Global North) sending money back to friends and family in developing nations (Global South.) Within this of course are the various fees charged by the banks and services that transmit the funds. The global leader is Western Union, who does not disclose the profit they make from remittances.

The remittance market is largely made of people from developing nations like the Philippines, Nigeria, Ghana, Namibia, Honduras etc. who go to work in a wealthier nation to support their families back home. Now that mobile device adoption is global and services like Kenya’s brilliant use of M-Pesa for mobile phones, just makes it easier for Facebook.

First The Address Book Now The Balance Book
So it is a brilliant way for Facebook to build loyalty and capture market in developing nations. One can expect that a mobile app or form of capability will quickly tie into their service.

But Developing Nations Non-Elites Aren’t Online!
Anyone who still believes that developing nations aren’t actively engaged in social media and the Internet must be suffocating from the sand around their head at this point. In my time at MediaBadger we consistently proved to government foreign affairs departments that even in supposedly illiterate and extremely poor countries, there was an active online population beyond the usual elites.

Facebook is very clever. They will no doubt build a highly secure, safe way to transfer money. Then, with other programs to bring Internet infrastructure into developing nations, they now have a way to help monetize that capital cost. I’d lay odds that within two years of launch, Facebook will be the largest provider of remittance fee services in the world, potentially worth hundreds of millions. This will also place Facebook in an interesting place when it comes to the global financial system and diplomatic affairs.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 5.03.35 PM

Posted in Diaspora, Geopolitics, Social Networks | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

SoundCloud Enters The Fray As A Citizen Voice Tool

The Canadian province of Quebec is in a provincial election right now. A key battle in the war of perceptions is the media and Liberals pushing the “separation” issue, that the Partis Quebecois if taking a majority government, will pursue a referendum seeking separation of Quebec from Canada.

SoundCloud As A Voice of Democracy?
Most consumers will associate SoundCloud as a place to share and discover new music. Artists post their music to gain audience share and perhaps some revenues and ultimately a recording contract.

But here is a clip of a Quebec resident (so it would seem) who recorded his interaction at an election poll in Quebec. What is obvious is that he’s not being allowed to register to vote (this fact cannot be verified), and it would appear he is getting the run-around from the elections officials. It is interesting when it is stated (at 7:47) by the lady that “we’ve been loaded up with English students…”. The Elections lady at a few points indicates they cannot “interpret the law” though they are obviously doing so, and also states the website for the electoral authority is confusing.

While we cannot verify the rules and regulations of the Quebec elections act, what is obvious is that there is some disingenuous bafflement underway. The lady making statements indicates there are “hundreds” of people with these issues and then goes through a couple of examples of residents but doesn’t qualify. She also indicates “we are getting many emails from students…” so it begs some interesting questions on what is happening on the ground.

The comments in French suggest the entire interview was “faked”, yet provide no insight as to how, why or when. This posting comes via AnonMcGill it would seem; this also cannot be verified, while it might be “faked” it would seem rather a difficult task to complete, so it is possibly quite real. If so, it poses some interesting questions.

Is this indeed an act of “voter suppression” in Quebec?

Monitoring The Separation Issue in the Quebec Election on Social Media
At Envoy Centre we are monitoring the online discussions taking place (in English) around the Quebec election. On Twitter we are tracking #polqc, #CAQ, #qc2014 and quite a few keywords and phrases. Informally at this point, we are seeing a significant trending of people outside Quebec (n=10,000 cleaned) that believe Marois will call a referendum if elected as a majority government. The discussion in social media is quite rampant and will no doubt grow as we enter the final phase of the election.

Voice Recordings Playing A Role in Online Election Dialogue
The use of SoundCloud as a tool to record interactions is interesting. For the most part in the past few years (Arab Spring et al) we’ve been focused on visual elements (YouTube, Flickr etc.) to provide proof, but digital cameras and cellphones can be very obvious as a recording device…holding up your SmartPhone is an obvious recording signal that people will avoid….bringing in a handycam or large video camera, well that’s slightly more obvious. But getting voice recordings is incredibly simple and subtle. There are a number of free and paid apps in Android, iOS for Apple and BlackBerry that can be used. Microphones in mobile phones are of increasingly better quality and can be hidden away easily.

The Montreal Gazette and Twitter Mood
Interestingly, in 2012 the Montreal Gazette ran a Twitter “mood-o-meter” on the provincial election, but is not doing it this time (the link. It could be expense (an easy message to cite) or it could be a perceived lack of interest. Although that is suspicious given the national attention in Canada on the issue.

The Quebec election is showing quite a national interest across social media, and there is definitively a lively social media discussion taking place. At this point we largely see national coverage coming from CBC with secondary from CTV and a sideways glance from GlobalTV. The Globe and Mail has some speculations and the National Post a more business oriented set of views. So far, our analysis would indicate national news media is giving little voice to Marois and her party, focusing on the separation issue and ignoring the provincial aspects…not entirely unusual. But given the implications to a country, the general non-coverage of the social media discussion volume is interesting. That poses a few questions: is Canadian English news media strangled by budget constraints to analyse French discussion? Do they think just a focus on the separation issue is enough and only warrants general headlines? Are they extricating themselves from the issue?

That SoundCloud has been chosen as a platform outside of Twitter and YouTube or Facebook as the “usual suspects” points to the growing sophistication of citizen advocacy groups to add new channels…with provincial and federal governments missing these new channels entirely?

Implications for Social Media and the Canadian 2015 Federal Election
While the Canadian Liberal, NDP and Conservative parties have well entrenched themselves in the “usual” social media channels of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and grudgingly Tumblr, this may indicate that new successful, but still slightly underground channels, will play a subtle yet important role in the next Canadian federal election.

More to come on this issue. Let us know your thoughts…

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 10.02.44 PM

Posted in Elections, Government, Peace, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia, Ukraine, Putin & Believability in 2014

Not a few journalists these past few days have had a slightly “ironic” tone to their reporting as they lay out Russia’s formal messaging around the Ukraine crisis underway. Russia, via Putin and his diplomatic and media cadre have issued a variety of statements. So we decided to conduct some quick analysis of their key claims. Because well, it reminded some of us (who are older than we want to admit) of the RealPolitik type of statements we heard from the USSR during the Cold War. If people weren’t the least bit skeptical then, they are certainly more so today.

Who Believes Russia’s Statements of Pure Sweet Innocence?
Not many it seems. Our overall sample size was n=50,000 and we winnowed it down from there to take a quicker snapshot of sentiment (running 2 third-party tools) over the three main claims made by Russia as a token of it’s intent to be principled in it’s action. Looks like no one really believes these statements doesn’t it? Kind of like Cold War Soviet Rhetoric?

Russia Ukraine

The three main statements have been a) exercises conducted [at strategic locations) over the weekend were just “routine”, b) It is actually independent “local militia” guarding Ukrainian military bases in the Crimea and c) the “ICBM test” was simply “routine” today. Overwhelmingly, these are seen as untrue statements. The sample size represents English speaking comments in social media in the USA, Canada, UK and Germany.

So What About All Out War?
We then wanted to look, quickly, at what people think may happen in terms of war from social media and news media comments (we polled [scraped for text data, no blobs] BBC, MSNBC, NBC, CBC, Globe & Mail, The Guardian for commentary to analyse) then did regression analysis down to 2,000 comments. Seems most people (we covered gender) don’t think war will be a result.

Ukraine War

Actual Outcomes of the Ukraine Crisis?
Our Big Data analysis (social media and news media) would seem to suggest, out of a review of n=50,000 text points that most believe Russia will end up annexing the Crimea and controlling it. Russia will likely also end up controlling parts of the eastern Ukraine but leaving other parts to the new government. Strategically this would also seem highly logical. If, as has been reported, Russia is supplying the Syrian regime through the Sevastopol port with arms (i.e. via the Crimea) and wants to have a naval buffer against the EU and Western interference, the Crimea offers a perfectly accessible point and leaves the majority of the Ukraine as a geographical buffer in case of greater conflict. Of course, Poland becomes another matter, but is currently staying very, very quiet.

Ukraine Social Media Crisis

So. What do you think? Is this Putin stuck in the miasma of Cold War Soviet-style rhetoric or does he perhaps have a case?

Posted in Big Data, Diaspora, Geopolitics, Government, Twitter, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What The Nuland Case Says About Russia and eDiplomacy

No doubt that after the Nuland case last week in the Ukraine and Russia’s posting of the audio on YouTube, the halls of the State Department in Washington are simmering. While in the Kremlin they are grinning. But what does this situation really say in the world of digital diplomacy? It says that Russia understands how to shape the narrative through manipulation of public perceptions; nothing new for Russians. They’ve just elevated it to the digital world.

Shaping The Narrative Online to Offline
What the Russians clearly understand is the world of perceptions. I suspect that the general public of most democratic countries rarely think of their diplomats swearing. That image isn’t one we’ve seen on TV or the Internet really. Usually it’s smiles and shaking hands. Diplomacy after all, is a full-contact sport. What Russia understood, or at least presumed, was “shock factor” in the Nuland case. The aparatchiks that coordinated and broadcast this message knew they stood a good chance of creating some shock value that would potentially impact Ukrainians views and even those of Americans at home.

The Russian Perception Strategy?
While it’s impossible to determine just what Russia’s true strategy is, it is obvious that they understand the impact of social media and shaping public perceptions. They are working to create a narrative and one might guess their goal with social media content and communications is to make America look like the bully, shifting attention away from their actions regarding not just Ukraine, but Syria and other hot spots. So far, they’re proving rather effective at that. Arguably, digital diplomacy is a “soft power” tool, but it would appear to be becoming a very useful tool in shaping perceptions and thereby attempting to form the narrative in news media and citizen’s minds. One might suspect Russia simply views social media engagement as key tool in their toolbox of tactics.

Look Forward to More
The quality of the audio posted to YouTube suggests, as news media have reported, that Russia is very sophisticated in it’s surveillance techniques. They sent a secondary message by publishing that transcript – that is that they have some very good surveillance tools and that they are prepared to exploit diplomatic communications. I think we can guess there will be more of these instances. What do you think?

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 11.44.51 AM

Posted in Government, Peace, Social Networks | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

eDiplomacy & The Sovereign State of Facebook?

There have been more than a few comments and quips made by pundits on the topic of “if Facebook were a country..” But perhaps, in some ways, it is a bit of a sovereign state, a Cyber State if you will. And the latest rumbles around Facebook deleting or censuring Syrian opposition groups brings out some further questions around the actions of a Cyber State. So what are some of the characteristics of a sovereign Cyber State like Facebook? When does a social media channel that was created simply to be a business, suddenly take on state-like characteristics? And what channels other than Facebook are taking on those characteristics?

Characteristics of a Cyber State?
We posit these for discussion/debate. More research will be needed to place a more defined set of characteristics. These are the characteristics we use within the think-tank to define when a social media channel takes on state-like characteristics.

International Reach: The channel reaches and is used in multiple countries (regional or global) and has diaspora communities and is multi-lingual.

Sole Right of Terms: The channel has a developed set of terms and conditions that give it the sole discretionary power in regards to the type of content placed there, acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, in it’s sole view (i.e. governing body such as a parliament, but unelected by civil society, establishing it’s own rule-of-law.)

Resources to Monitor and Act on Threats: The channel has available resources (human and technology) to monitor activities on it’s platform and take action such as deleting, blocking or suspending use it deems violates it’s terms of service (i.e. state police, justice system.)

Operates Defence & Security Systems: The channel has active, dedicated resources to defend it’s digital frontier (e.g. against hackers or theft etc.) and can take unilateral action against those types of dangers electronically or through legal means in any international court (i.e. defence forces/military.)

Controls Access and Engagement: The channel completely controls, through terms of service, when, how and who can access it’s services (i.e. customs and immigration)

Economic System: Has some form of economic system by which it can operate (subscriptions, advertising etc.) to provide “free” service. In that the cost to the user is to a)provide personal information that can be used to sell advertising b) provide sufficient information for the channel to establish social network connections, again for economic gain of the channel, not the user.

Based on these characteristics we define the following social media channels as “Cyber States”: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, WordPress (community), Blogger (maybe the Google ecosystem?). Facebook is the largest of these Cyber States, followed by Twitter and Google. There are some more regional Cyber States, but we’ll leave that for another post.

The Mitigating Factors
For the most powerful of these Cyber States, they are based out of America. They can of course, be shut down by the real government, or regulations be put in place to control them. But this is fairly extreme and before that happens, a lot of damage can take place. Shutting out activist groups is not uncommon for Facebook. They simply deem the content inappropriate or violating their terms of service and block them. Twitter has been more open in this regard, but is not innocent.

So what do you think? What would you add or how might you define a “Cyber State”?

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 3.20.39 PM

Posted in Government, Research, Social Networks, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Big Data for Big Diplomacy

In 2012, German complex systems scientist Tobias Preis with colleagues used Google Trends to show how Internet users from countries with a higher per capita gross domestic product (GDP) are more likely to search for information about the future than information about the past. The result was the Future Orientation Index. Think how governments might use Big Data analysis (i.e. unstructured from social media) to identify certain trends and issues in other countries when considering their foreign policies, from development of a policy through to taking action on current or emerging situations.

Such analysis of open source Big Data (see a footnote below on this) could help governments develop much more effective digital diplomacy strategies but also understand how to engage their citizens in explaining their approach to a foreign policy issue when they need to. This isn’t espionage at all. This is simply looking at large, complex data sets of citizen conversations in a large way…an individual is completely irrelevant and actually quite useless. It does not help a government in any way to consider the views of one, two or even a hundred people or even just a few activist groups. But looking at macro trends from a higher level, it can be extremely useful.

The Upsides of Big Data for Foreign Policy & Dialogue
In fact, a government in a developed nation like Canada or America, could look at such trends and issues in developing nations not only to inform it’s own foreign policy actions for a target country, but could share those insights with the target country. What a wonderful way to say to a developing nation “hey, you’re citizens are getting very upset over health care issues relating to cancer, you should pay attention…” The receiving country might then be able to address an issue quickly. As well, IGO’s like the UN or WHO might be able to more effectively target aid and relief programs, saving time and money and avoiding a crisis. There are many more examples once your mind starts to explore them.

The Downsides of Big Data in Foreign Policy & Dialogue
There are of course downsides and they should be considered. The country that is able to analyse open Big Data (e.g. social media) of the developing nation, could end up with some fairly vital intelligence. The analysing government may choose not to share it for foreign policy objectives of their trade and commercial interests, or for other more nefarious reasons.

It Will Happen: Considerations for the Future
Some governments are already analysing open source Big Data and for some very good reasons to benefit not just their own objectives but others. Developing policies and approaches to how research is conducted and how it is a) shared, b) implemented and c) managed are considerations perhaps for the UN, WHO and similar IGO’s. Perhaps it is at the hands of the UN to set forth guidelines? But they are guidelines. We can safely assume governments are doing this now (they are) or are considering potential projects.

What do you think? How can we approach Big Data research for policy development and what are the implications, good and bad?

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 6.07.42 PM

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment