(Posted on Saturday at Personaldemocracy.)
The role of blogs and other forms of online citizen's media in spreading first-hand accounts of the tsunami disaster and in mobilizing relief aid has been phenomenal. Bloggers deserve to pat themselves handily on the back.
Bloggers rock. OK. Now what?
Can this new model of citizen-journalism and aid coordination be extended to disasters and human tragedies that don’t get so much mainstream media attention?
What can we do for Darfur, other victims of war and famine in Africa, and AIDS victims? What can we do for the victims of yearly natural disasters - earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, doughts, etc. - for whom U.N. agencies have such trouble raising money?
How can we help organizations like Doctors Without Borders bring aid every day to the millions around the world in danger of dying deaths every bit as tragic as the tsunami victims? What can we do for the suffering people of North Korea?
As Suzanne Scholte of the North Korea Freedom Coalition points out: “the deaths caused by last month's Tsunami are less than 5% of the deaths caused by Kim Jong-il's man-made famine disaster and the deaths in the political prison camps. In other words Kim Jong-il and his policies have killed 22 times the number of people that perished as a result of the Tsunami."
What about places like Myanmar (formerly Burma)? Or Kazakhstan, or other places we never hear about? Or anti-democratic practices in places like Pakistan - with which the U.S. government has good relations?
How can we help people like Human Rights Watch bring more urgent attention to the fact that so many people on this planet are dying every day at the hands of their fellow human beings, while our media is more interested in Michael Jackson and Lacey Peterson? Do we only care about Tibet when Richard Gere talks about it or Hollywood makes a movie?
How can we help environmental activists prevent the deaths of many millions more due to environmental mismanagement? How can we help the majority of ordinary, peaceloving moderate citizens of the Middle East keep extremists and terrorists from grabbing all the headlines and dominating politics?
This is what we need to figure out. Worldchanging is working on that question. So is the Digital Divide Network, and new Global Voices movement. And Bloggers Without Borders. So are people at the Open Society Institute, so is the OneVoice movement. And many many others. Now is the time for cyber-activists to reach out to the old fashioned bricks-and-mortar activists who have been toiling for decades trying to bring more attention to human rights abuses, civil wars, environmental outrages, urgent public health problems and constant natural disasters – most of which have never been the mainstream media’s breaking-story-of-the-month.
As Ethan Zuckerman has pointed out in his blog attention research, bloggers have one big failing right now: we are much too inclined to take our cues from mainstream media when deciding what we blog about – and thus what we and our friends should care about.
At Bloggercon III, a group of us got excited about building something called BloggerCorps – a service that would help activists and non-profit/non-governmental organizations find volunteer bloggers in their area who can help seasoned real-world activists make the most of the new tools for cyber-organizing and online citizen journalism. We are still trying to figure out the best way to do this technically (see links here and here). But we believe this is important. It’s time for civil society to set the agenda for media attention. Until now it has been the other way around. And that’s just wrong.