Blogging and it’s impact on society

Blogs have impacted people’s lives in many different ways for many different reasons. Although some people may never have heard of a blog and indeed not knowingly have been affected by them; others have had their lives completely changed or even taken away as a result of participating in the “blogosphere”.

The blogosphere is what bloggers (blog authors) call their ever expanding cyber-community. Under this broad umbrella term there are hundreds, possibly thousands of smaller communities or “blogosphere’s”. Communities generally spawn around special-interest or topical blogs, and members are often highly affected by their blogs. Many of the best examples of blogs impacting on society come from the “Iraqi Blogosphere”, a collection of Iraqi and non-Iraqi blogs based around the war in Iraq and its far-reaching effects.

There are now millions of blogs out there.

Most are used as pass-times or a way of interacting with and finding friends – from all across the globe. These blogs tend to contain jokes and personal memories or tales, and can be equally as enjoyable and time-consuming to read as the more hard-hitting blogs. My younger sister Cassie is 12 years old and has her own blog, as does my 20 year old girlfriend and some friends from university.

Amongst “Internet veterans” (those with 6 years or more of internet experience) this kind of blogging has is quickly becoming a common pass-time (Pew Internet & American Life Project., 2005a). For these people there are limited impacts, mostly in the way of wisdom learnt from each others experiences, shared memories and the like. Others however have been impacted differently.

The Iraqi Blogosphere began as a group of Iraqi bloggers determined to have their versions of life under invasion and occupation heard (S. Pax., Riverbend., R. Jarrar., 2003), and rapidly evolved into a community of thousands all deeply concerned about the future of Iraq. Every member of the community participates for different reasons and has differing views and opinions about Iraq. Still there seems to be a strong bond even between those with competing opinions, a need to protect each other and a sense of pride and a respect for one another.

This sense of community developed through actions such as blog-based charity; an example of such organized by the Jarrar family in late 2003 had distributed a first batch of basic medical supplies to civilian victims of the “siege of Fallujah” (April 04) by early May 2004. A second batch worth in excess of $14,000 started to be distributed through-out Iraq in June 2005(R. Jarrar, 2005). All money came from bloggers and blog readers, and the whole distribution process did also.

Opponents and supporters of the occupation alike agree on one thing in the Iraqi Blogosphere: attempting to make the best of every opportunity in regard to helping the Iraqi people. This common-ground binds the community together so when something goes wrong the whole community responds.

Khalid Jarrar an Iraqi friend of mine and a blogger, was wrongfully detained after a non-English speaking Iraqi Mukhabarat (secret police) man found him reading the comments section (in English) on his brothers’ blog “Raed in the Middle” (K. Jarrar, 2005a). His family did not know what had happened to him, until he managed to sneak an illegal phone call 4 days after being detained. He was released after 13 days and found innocent of “terrorist activity” and “participating in terrorist websites”. Undoubtedly this impacted the Jarrar family in a many ways, like moving from Iraq to Jordan for fear of their own lives.

This event impacted on others too; the “Give us our Khalid back” campaign was supported by thousands from all around the world (Liminal et al. 2005), because Khalid was highly respected in the blogosphere. Those like Khalid who had their lives physically affected seem to inspire and unify the rest of their respective communities. Other actions can inspire the community as well and there are many examples of positive developments coming from the blogosphere.

Sunshine is a 14 year old female blogger from Mosul is an asthmatic, but is allergic to the propellant used in common Ventolin inhalers. She had been using Pulmicort and Terbutaline (Bricanyl) twist-inhalers, but since they are no longer produced in the Middle-East she and Iraq was under strict sanctions, she could no longer obtain them.

Thus she had been increasingly having problems with her lungs as pollution gets worse with the continued war and electricity crisis in Iraq- diesel generators are being used, new cars are not driven and aircraft/helicopters patrolling the skies leave heavy residuals in the air (Sunshine, 2005a.). She posted all this on her blog and it caught my eye, because I knew I could help (L. Skinner, 2005a.).

I am an asthmatic and have access to prescriptions for asthma medication, so I organized to get the correct inhalers; by saying I was allergic to the propellant as well. I then sent them off to her via her aunt in Dubai (L. Skinner, 2005a.). The inhalers recently arrived to her grandparents in Baghdad, from where she will get them soon (Sunshine, 2005b). Not entirely legal, but definitely an important impact of blogging and a positive sign for blogs and their future role in society.

There are some who have had their personal or professional lives truly hurt by blogs and would like to see them censored. This is one of the big challenges facing bloggers currently, with bloggers in countries across the globe being arrested and told to stop writing. Mojtaba Saminejad an Irani has been sentenced to two years in prison for reporting about fellow Irani bloggers who had been arrested (Committee to Protect Bloggers, 2005a.). Another Irani blogger, Omid Sheikhan got one year in prison and 124 lashes for “morals related” charges, after being arrested and tortured last year as a result of his blog (Committee to Protect Bloggers, 2005b.). Despite this some of the worlds most (in)famous pieces of news have spawned from the blogosphere.

The Bill Clinton and Monika Lewinsky affair was first broken by Matt Drudge, on his link-based news blog called “The Drudge Report” (BBC world, 1998.). Some reporting from New Orleans after hurricane Katrina was crude, unprofessional or completely fabricated. Stories about cannibalism, rape and murder committed by poor black people in the Superdome which spread through the main-stream were contested and later proved incorrect by bloggers (M. Fumento, 2005).

The US Food and Drug Agency seized 400,000 supplies of NATO military food rations for donated to Katrina victims and had them incinerated. This was pushed into public light by determined bloggers (L. Skinner, 2005b). Even the US congress has not avoided the influence of demanding and determined bloggers.

Motions in US congress demanding George Bush answer questions about his decision to invade Iraq have come-to pass as result of a blog-based campaign. The campaign centred on the “Downing Street Memo”, the memo of a meeting between a top British intelligence official and Tony Blair months before September 11, in which they clearly discussed Bush’s intention to invade Iraq (Congressman J. Conyers, 2005).

Congressman John Conyers (a blogger), after reading the memo posted in its entirety on many blogs began his search for the truth. He found the memo was real and the campaign evolved from there. Despite these obvious and far-reaching effects, blogs have yet to fully impact on the whole of society, and face many obstacles before they can do so.

Who has not been impacted by blogs? In one way or another almost everyone has, but the majority of the world is still unaware of their existence.

Blogs have grown exponentially in size since the last in-depth survey of how many and who they are, but blogs are still largely undiscovered among the common internet user. Internet “veterans”- those who have been connected for 6 years or more accounted for more than 80% of bloggers and blog readers in January 2005(Pew Internet & American Life Project., 2005b). Blog censorship has recently become an issue, though I can find no credible sources to suggest any new censorship laws are being drawn up specifically to encompass blogs.

Internet literacy and availability of reliable internet services have limited many bloggers in the past, and totally prevent whole impoverished populations from participating in the blogosphere (Pew Internet & American Life Project., 2005b). Participating in any blogosphere is very much a time consuming activity, and some just do not have the time to do so. For those with eye-sight problems, or who just can’t stare at a computer screen for long periods of time, blogging is also impractical. Blogs also face other problems.

While the Iraq War still rages, Iraqi bloggers will always be outnumbered drastically by their readers, but what about in 10 years- will the interest remain high? “Trolls”, or groups who post derogatory comments on other peoples blogs can sometimes totally annihilate a blog, simply by damaging the author’s enthusiasm to write. This could be one reason bloggers feel the need to protect each other. Still the future looks positive for the development of the blogosphere as a whole.

Business and advertising companies have begun to awaken to the possibilities of using blogs in the last year- their future looks like it could go anywhere (Blog Business World, 2004.). The world’s major media companies also began paying attention to bloggers on a much more regular basis this year, with bloggers like Khalid Jarrar being interviewed for their stories. Another blogger Salam Pax the “Baghdad Blogger” received a fort-nightly column with “The Guardian” in the UK (Salam Pax, 2004.)

Blogs have in many direct and indirect ways had an impact on society. It’s true to say that many in society are totally unaware of blogs and the majority is still yet to (knowingly) be affected by the blogosphere, though this looks to change. Some in society have definitely been affected more than others; such is the case for Iraqi Bloggers and their non-Iraqi counterparts in the Iraqi Blogosphere.

Some individual bloggers have even had their lives taken from them or physically endangered as a result of participating in the blogosphere. Others like Moslawi girl Sunshine have had their lives changed for the positive. Myself, I feel I can finally be heard and can help people in Iraq- whatever the challenges may be.

Originally written late 2005.

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