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January 9, 2008

Hillary Clinton would have a government blogging team

Filed as News with 6 comments

During her closing campaign rally in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton spoke of the need for greater government transparency, fully embracing the Internet and blogging.

“I want to put everything on the Internet! I want you to see the budget of every agency. I want you to track everything that goes on in your government — you pay for it, you should know about it!” she said.

And of blogging?

“We should even have a government blogging team where people in the agencies are constantly telling all of you, the taxpayers, the citizens of America, everything that’s going on so that you have up-to-the-minute information about what your government is doing, so that you too can be informed, and hold the government accountable.”

I’m not an American citizen, but I’m not sure that I’d want the British Government to be “constantly” blogging about what’s going on. Transparency is one thing, but blogging isn’t a catchall solution to… well, most things.

Nice bit of lingo, though. Apparently, she’s also now embracing Facebook.

(Via WIRED)

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January 2, 2008

First Saudi blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, arrested

Filed as News with 12 comments

The BBC reports that Fouad al-Farhan is the first blogger from Saudi Arabia to be arrested, allegedly for the content of his blog.

Though it can’t be proven that he has been arrested as a direct result of what he blogs about “searching for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation and the other lost Islamic values”, the Saudi authorities say that he is being questioned for “violating non-security regulations”.

However, his blog is highly political, and it would not be a surprise if his support for a group of political reformists who were arrested last year has landed him in hot water with the authorities.

The BBC estimates that there are some 500 bloggers in Saudi Arabia, most of whom blog anonymously and under pseudonyms.

Though Farhan was arrested on 10th December last year, it took the authorities two weeks to acknowledge that he was being held.

Yet another case around the globe where blogging can seriously affect your personal freedom.

(Via BBC News)

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November 27, 2007

Three Steps to Building Your Own Conspiracy Theory

To complete this series on conspiracy theories and blogs, I’ve invited one of my dearest friends, Nancy Bixler, a public speaking teacher and doctoral candidate in Rhetoric, to help you learn how to develop your own conspiracy theory, or keep one going, on your blog. I chose her because she abhors bad reasoning, but enjoys explaining the inner workings of a good conspiracy theory. Nancy offers a three step plan for building your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

By Nancy Bixler

Do you want to put forward a conspiracy theory of your own on your blog? Perhaps you suspect that the CIA and U.S. government, in an unholy union with Muammar al-Qaddafi, are, for nefarious reasons of their own, raising the taxes of middle class U.S. citizens to fund AIDS research in Libya. Or that the Catholic Church, environmentalists, the PLO, or [fill in the blank] are working underground to [fill in the blank] put hallucinogens into the local water supply, make burping in public a capitol offense, or suppress a cure for warts. No doubt they have their methods and motives.

It’s your job, as a buddying conspiracy theorist, to find some troubling elements of life that, so far (in your opinion) lack an explanation and point out the ways the hidden conspirators plan to achieve their aim. With tongue firmly in cheek, let’s look at how to create a conspiracy theory, and if all else fails, you can make your own conspiracy theory with a conspiracy theory online.
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November 23, 2007

Finding Conspiracy Blogs… and The Truth

Snopes and Urban Legends are specialists who debunk the urban legends, myths, and conspiracies that plague us worldwide. I highly recommend anyone with email or a blog check the facts before forwarding or blogging.

Snopes offers a constantly updated Hottest 25 Legends (with a feed) page, which currently features the most popular myths, urban legends, and conspiracy theories like Barack Obama and the National Anthem, The Golden Compass (anti-religon), ‘Life Is Beautiful’ Virus, Strawberry Quick (drug-filled candy), and Vicks VapoRub on children’s feet stops coughs.
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November 22, 2007

The Economics of Conspiracies

Last year, Sam Vaknin Ph.D. wrote in “The Economics of Conspiracy Theories” on the American Chronicle that many are profiting from conspiracy theories, writing books, selling magazines and television shows, even movies, becoming a celebrity for their conspiracy plots as the source or participant. In and of itself, the business of making money with conspiracies might be a conspiracy in itself:
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November 20, 2007

There is Nothing Like a Good Conspiracy

While many bloggers can spout a conspiracy theory once in a while, there are some blogs that specialize in conspiracy theories, from making them up (okay, to be fair, investigating and proving them) to debunking them. The top post on one such conspiracy theory blog, Above Top Secret, is The Coming Revolution:

Back in the 1940s the governing forces on this planet were warned by certain parties not from this planet, to change the course of the direction they were headed in, so that the peoples of Earth could unanimously have a better and positive future. Not only did the governing forces of this planet ignore the issues that they were warned about, they irrationally reacted by interpreting this warning as a declaration of war. They then diverted all their attention to developing interstellar weapons and systems to prepare for an interstellar war. They also systematically developed highly advanced technology that would control the populations of the world in every area of life. The governing forces were helped by certain extra-terrestrial intelligences that supplied them with the specifics of technology that this civilization was in no way prepared for.

This technology was used with the specific intent of controlling the minds of every individual on the planet…

You may laugh, but some take this very seriously, finding evidence all around them to support their positions. Read their evidence long enough, and you may start to see pieces of the puzzle clicking together as the irrational and disconnected are brought together in a way that makes sense.

As part of this ongoing series on Blogs and Conspiracy Theories, let’s look at how conspiracy theories get started and developed. They begin by trying to make sense of the puzzle pieces.
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November 19, 2007

I Want To Start a Controversy

Stirring the pot. Mixing it up. Making noise. Creating controversy. Attracting attention. Driving traffic stats up.

If you want to get a lot of attention, create a controversy. This has been true for thousand – maybe millions of years – of human history. It started the moment language developed into the art of storytelling. Along with stories came gossip, and rumors, and then conspiracies.

Having spent a long time living in the Middle East, I learned a lot about conspiracy theories, and the truths and lies that lie behind their creation. After all, a good conspiracy isn’t worth much unless it has a measure of truth, or at least believable fiction, within the lies and falsehoods. It helped that I’ve long been a fan of some of the best conspiracy theory fiction authors, especially authors who specialize in taking current events and exposing the dark bellies underneath the events. True or not, who cares! It makes for great reading late at night when the mind keeps asking “Why do these things happen?”, “Why me?”, or telling yourself, “They’re out to get me!”

This week, I’ll look at some of the famous conspiracy theories, on and off blogs, and how many bloggers are using conspiracy theories to attract attention and traffic, the economics of conspiracies, blog-specific conspiracies and hoaxes, and offer tips you need to know if you are going to start your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

A conspiracy theory can be anything, involving any one or any subject. There are conspiracies about war, drugs, politics, governments, health, medicine, science, history, religion, sex, economies and investments, space, animals, and even weather.

Conspiracies in History

Some of the best of Shakespeare’s work dealt with conspiracies. What was Romeo and Juliet all about if not for the underlying conspiracies. What about Hamlet? Othello? Oooh, those were conspiracy theories within conspiracy theories, who-done-its of the highest magnitude. Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, another historical classic, was a mine field of conspiracies in and out of court, still capturing our imagination after all this time.

As a storytelling (and in some cases “newsy”) communications tool, conspiracy theory is typically defined as the bringing together a wide variety of arguments, not necessarily related, and connecting them together as “evidence” to support a theory to justify, or excuse, an event, belief, or action.

In the CBC’s report on recent conspiracy theories, they cited a historical example of how a conspiracy theory was used by Philip IV of France in 1307 to bring about the downfall of the wealthy and popular warrior monk group, the Knights Templar. His accusation that the Knights were guilt of “heresy, ‘homosexual vices’ and idol worship” ensured they were blamed for the loss of Jerusalem in the sacking of the “holy land” in the Crusades, even though blame was spread all around. Hey, in war it’s always better to blame someone else other than the responsible ones, right? A good conspiracy scatters the truth with finger pointing in the wrong directions.

The article questions why conspiracy theories continue to be popular:

Some sociologists describe conspiracy theories as illegitimate and pathological, threats to political stability. Others dismiss them as entertaining narratives, as populist expressions of democratic culture.

Some have pieces of supporting evidence, some can be discredited with only a little digging, yet continue to endure.

While conspiracies are rarely true, they last because we love a good story. A well-told conspiracy makes for a great story. Add some mystery and mayhem and it’s even juicier. And gets better with the retelling.

JFK, Martin Luther King, Elvis, O.J., Princess Diana, 911, Katrina, Watergate, Irangate, Gitmogate, and something about a cigar and a president – we’ve all experienced great conspiracy dramas within our own recent history that fill the news for months and months as everyone tries to guess whose right, and whose wrong, and what’s the real truth behind the truth. These conspiracies are part of our culture.

In the newly released version of the movie Hairspray, dragged to the television to watch something “amazing”, the mother says to her daughter’s best friend, “I read all about it. It’s a big Hollywood set… you want me to actually believe he’s really up there…” referring to the popular conspiracy theory that in its rush to get into outer space and to the moon, NASA faked it. This conspiracy theory is a part of our recent collective memory, so it’s familiar, and funny.

Graphic copyrighted by Lorelle VanFossen - the truth is out thereTelevision shows like The X-Files entertain the world with conspiracy theories every week, even in rerun. What better story-telling device than an ongoing conspiracy which involves governments and aliens. A very popular conspiracy theory movie and book, The Da Vinci Code, continues to incite the imagination with “what if” mixed with “hey, it’s possible”.

Bloggers are not exempt from the need to take two or more disparate facts and bang the drums of conspiracy in order to attract attention to their blogs.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover some examples of some conspiracy theories and why we are so fascinated by them, then later, I’ll cover the economics of conspiracies, how blogs use conspiracies as part of their blogging purpose, and finish with tips on how to write your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

Article Series on Conspiracy Theories and Blogs

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October 4, 2007

Have You Found Your Blog Topic for Blog Action Day – October 15

is October 15, and the founders of the event are asking bloggers around the world to blog on the topic of the environment.

Similar to the April 30, Day of Silence, when many bloggers around the world didn’t publish anything but a sign honoring the day in protest of personal violence, Blog Action Day asks you to turn your blog into action by blogging about the environment on that day. You can choose any topic, as long as it has to do with environmental issues.

The idea behind Blog Action Day is to use the power of united voices to call attention to an issue. This year, Blog Action Day is dedicated to the environment. Next year, they may have a different subject.

With millions of bloggers writing about the environment, readers can’t help but be exposed to the news and information just from the numbers. This type of unified action often speaks louder than the small chorus.
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September 19, 2007

UK politician wins party’s blog of the year award

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While US political blogging is very much on the radar, less is spoken about British political blogging. However, a Liberal Democrat activist, James Graham, has won the UK political party’s annual blog of the year award, winning the opportunity to interview party leader Sir Menzies Campbell.

James works for a non-governmental organisation, Unlock Democracy, said he was delighted to scoop the top prize. Perhaps not hugely prestigious, but surely an appropriate prize for a party political blogger.

“Generally I try to be independent but not unnecessarily critical of the party,” he said. “The Liberal Democrat blogging community is very much a community. It’s much more a sense of people getting together through their dialogue and the debate can be quite exciting at times.”

A ceremony took place in Brighton, with Mr Graham picking up a glass globe.

Will Howells, Liberal Democrat internet campaigns officer, said Mr Graham’s blog was “a very good mix of a bit of humour, while writing seriously about detailed policy issues in a very readable way.

“He’s not afraid of being independent from the party and he will slag off policy if he doesn’t agree with it. It’s the best example of Lib Dem blogging.”

Mr Howells said that there were now over 130 Liberal Democrat blogs.

“It’s a really good way of getting the views of members, activists and MPs across to other people in the party,” he said. “You can tell if there is a controversial announcement in the party because you get an immediate reaction from the blogs. MPs are seen as normal human beings, rather than away in Westminster going on junkets. We know what they are up to.”

(Via BBC News)

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June 28, 2007

Political Bloggers and Candidates Have a Legal Right to Lie

If you haven’t noticed the political season is on in the United States, you will soon. The Blogosphere will soon be overrun with political blogs and blogs promoting US presidential and other candidates.

For me, this is a time when freedom of speech and objectivity in journalism clashes with the blogging spirit. It’s a mess no matter how you look at it.

I recently stumbled across an article written on the popular Fact Check site called False Ads – There Oughta Be a Law which applies even today:

Here’s a fact that may surprise you: Candidates have a legal right to lie to voters just about as much as they want.

That comes as a shock to many. After all, consumers have been protected for decades from false ads for commercial products. Shouldn’t there be “truth-in-advertising” laws to protect voters, too?

Turns out, that’s a tougher question than you might imagine.

For one thing, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” and that applies to candidates for office especially. And secondly, in the few states that have enacted laws against false political ads, they haven’t been very effective.

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