Thursday, November 29, 2007

Who's Behind That Blog?

An assignment in a Media and Democracy course I teach at Penn State invites students to select a telecommunications advocacy web site for analysis. I want my students to decode the message and attempt to identify whether a bias exists and who financially supports the site. The exercise typically fails miserably.

Too many students accept at face value a web site's pledge or representation of independent analysis. Most students cannot infer that a site that advertises books by Ann Coulter trends to the right and one that talks about social justice trends to the left.

However, I cannot blame my students entirely. How are they to know that a noble sounding site seeking truth, justice and the American way is an "astroturf" (fake grass roots) organization fronting for a particular set of stakeholders? As a researcher in the network neutrality debate I risk personal attack, misrepresentation of my work, and assorted snarky debating tactics befitting a food fight. It would be an understatement to say it chills my desire to engage in the dialogue. Indeed it's not always a dialogue, or debate as the conference session or blog discussion gets nasty.

I should reiterate that I receive no funding from stakeholders in the network neutrality debate and that my view expressed in this blog are entirely my own.

No wonder telecommunications and information policy accrues suboptimal results in the United States. The process has become so partisan, political and doctrinal. There may come a time--not too distant--where people will recognize that the U.S. lost its best practices leadership in telecommunications infrastruture, because the stakeholders spent more time funding web sites and blogs as well as foolish litigation in lieu of doing what's needed to install and operate next generation networks.

5 comments:

Ben Cramer said...

I observed the classroom exercises described by Dr. Frieden. I would submit that students who appeared the most cynical and partisan during classroom discussions were often the best at locating those same qualities in the websites they analyzed.

Perhaps our modern political discourse is so distorted that being cynical and partisan is all that works anymore...

number said...

Thanks to the owner of this blog. Ive enjoyed reading this topic.

Anonymous said...

"The exercise typically fails miserably."

It's dismaying to see an educator with so little faith in his students.

Raju said...

Thanks for the nice post.

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