Featured in National Journal Cover Story

I was featured in the cover story of this week’s National Journal. The article, by Paul Starobin, is principally concerned with whether new media will constrain repressive regimes.  My quotes (both from an interview and from my writings on DigiActive.org) are below.  You can read the full article here.

The National Journal is a weekly news magazine that seeks to be the leading source of nonpartisan reporting on the current political environment and emerging policy trends. It is aimed at Washington insiders, such as members of Congress, Capitol Hill staffers, Executive Branch agencies, think tanks, and lobbyists.

      Skepticism abounds about the credibility of the United States as an actor in foreign countries, Mary Joyce, a co-founder of DigiActive, a nonprofit that helps train global human-rights activists in using online media, said in an interview. With respect to any Washington-backed program to combat Internet censorship, “anything that the U.S. could do would be encumbered by the views of the audience that the U.S. is trying to help,” she said. Joyce, who is based in New Delhi, was the manager of new-media operations for Obama’s presidential campaign.

Calling herself a “cyber-optimist,” Joyce said she believes that, in the long run, efforts by regimes such as China’s to censor the Internet are bound to fail, with or without Washington’s involvement. “Filtering will be so ineffective that governments will stop doing it,” she said, “and eventually citizens will win out.”

In the end, moreover, the images generated by citizen journalists and digi-activists may not turn the culture away from the tabloid style of presentation that has taken deep root in the mainstream media. The tabloid style is all about capturing the sensational in a condensed, raw form — as easily done in an amateur’s video snippet as in a photograph displayed on the front page of the New York Post.

Consider how the presentation of the death of Neda, the Iranian protester, has become an object lesson within the ranks of digital activists. “Neda’s transformation from a person into a symbol” is “a story of citizen media,” Mary Joyce wrote in a blog posting on digiactive.org, her group’s website. “What are the lessons for activists who wish to use citizen media to frame a public issue? First, the media should be clear and emotional. Neda’s video — the most spreadable form of media about her story — was raw and visceral. Without understanding the words of the men trying to help her or knowing much of the story, it was possible to empathize with her and feel the pain of her injustice,” Joyce wrote.

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