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The New Cold War: Information Policy and Political Rift

January 10, 2013
12:00PM - 01:30PM

Annenberg School for Communication, Room 500
3620 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, 19104

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Categories: Seminar

There is a new Cold War starting. It does not involve opposing military forces, but it does involve competing ideas about how political life should be organized. The battles are between broadcast media outlets and social media upstarts, organizations that have very different approaches to news production, ownership, and censorship. In several countries, this war pits the ruling elites who dominate broadcast media against the civil society groups who flourish through social media. These are not simply information wars between political elites and persecuted democracy activists. There is a deep structural rift between the organization and values of broadcast media and those of social media, and this rift has become a defining feature of political culture in many authoritarian regimes. Digital activism is on the rise globally, and the impact of activist projects grows more impressive year by year. Political tension between the institutions of broadcast media and the new organizational upstarts of social media is significant, yet plays out in similar ways in Russia, Venezuela, and China. Political elites tend to defend the media organizations that already exist, but almost all of the exciting and innovative civic innovation happens online.



Philip N. Howard (BA Toronto, MSc London School of Economics, PhD Northwestern) is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. He directs the Digital Activism Research Project, the World Information Access Project (wiaproject.org) and the Project on Information Technology and Political Islam (pitpi.org). These research projects—supported by both the National Science Foundation and Intel’s People and Practices Group—investigate patterns of technology diffusion between and within developing countries and the role of new information technologies in political communication systems around the world. His most recent books include Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012), Castells and the Media (London, UK: Polity, 2011) and The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010). He is the author of New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), about how digital information technologies are used to manipulate public opinion in the United States. His books have won praise from across the social sciences, with awards from the American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, and the International Communication Association. He has edited Society Online: The Internet in Context (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004, with Steve Jones) and the Handbook of Internet Politics (London: Routledge, 2008, with Andrew Chadwick). He has authored numerous journal articles examining the role of new information and communication technologies in politics and social development, including pieces in the American Behavioral Scientist, the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and New Media & Society. He has worked on several NSF projects, serving on the advisory board of the Survey2000 and Survey2001 Projects, and co-managing a project about Information and Communication Technologies in Central Asia. He teaches courses on research methodspolitics online, and international development. Howard has been a Fellow at the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington D.C., the LSE’s Stanhope Centre for Communications Policy Research, Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and is currently a fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy.  His website is philhoward.org and he tweets from @pnhoward.