Soundtracks For Autocrats

Posted March 26th, 2012 at 1:37 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

And Dialing Back On Kony 2012 And Virality

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Periodically we like to share a few of the stories and posts from across the web that caught our eye.  There are no editorial threads implied connecting these items together, other than being interesting.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and wife Asma, on another shopping spree?

#1: What’s Playing On Bashar’s iPod? Over the last few weeks, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been dogged by several high-profile and embarrassing leaks of personal information and secret files. First, London’s Guardian newspaper began publishing what is says are a large cache of personal emails sent to and from the Syrian autocrat. Then this week, Al Jazeera obtained a separate set of what it says are top-secret documents prepared for Assad and allegedly spirited out of the country by Abdel Majid Barakat, who was until recently said to be a trusted aide.

The secret files, dubbed “The Damascus Documents” by Al Jazeera, contain alleged intelligence briefs and plans to maintain control of the Syrian capital and suppress protests in Homs and Aleppo, with violence if necessary. The emails deal with far less weighty matters, but are at least as embarrassing; if not for the entire regime than for President Assad himself. As VOA’s Cecily Hilleary notes over at “Middle East Voices,” among those emails are one containing a photo of a mostly-nude woman (unidentified,) details of his wife Asma’s latest shopping excursions – $6,000 for crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutin shoes in Paris par exemple, purchased while Syria’s military shelled civilians in Homs – or Bashar’s taste in downloaded music. Among his recent purchases: Blake Shelton’s “God Gave Me You,” New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” (an oldie but a goodie) and “Don’t Talk Just Kiss” by forgotten one-hit wonder Right Said Fred.

We leave it to you to read in whatever these downloads may say about the man trying to hold onto power in Damascus.

#2: Kony Video and Viral Rumors. Also over just the last few weeks, an old nemesis, and a new video, have burst onto the international stage. The man is Joseph Kony, the brutal Ugandan leader of the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army. The video is “Kony 2012“, created by human rights campaigner Jason Russell with the goal of finding Kony and bringing him to justice at the International Criminal Court.

Produced by the non-profit group “International Children”, Kony 2012 quickly went viral – as did, it seems, some of the press accounts. News reports suddenly started calling it “the most viral video ever” and social media consultants breathlessly extolled it as a model for any future marketing campaign. Yet as with many things at first blush, things weren’t quite always as they seem.

Film maker Jason Russell in better days

With 84 million views on YouTube, there’s no denying Kony 2012 is very popular. But even now it has a long way to go to match truly viral videos such as  “Charlie Bit My Finger” which clocks in with 433, 284, 296 views (and still counting.) And while Kony2012 did, in fact, spread quickly once released on YouTube, weeks earlier International Children had released the video online on other sites like Vimeo, priming the viral pump and extending the time line for its distribution.

Finally we were reminded, yet again, that “going viral” is a sword that cuts many ways. Just a week after grabbing headlines for his film, Jason Russell himself went viral after several people filmed him  in a naked, obscenity-laced rant on a southern California street corner. Not only did those videos go viral, so too did rumors in Africa of just what lead to the film maker’s breakdown: African blogs and message boards quickly filled with the rumor that Joseph Kony “put a hex” on Russell as retaliation. for the record, his family says Russell is suffering from “brief reactive psychosis,” a short-term psychotic break spurred by excessive stress.

#3: Iran’s “Electronic Curtain.” Last week, President Obama released a video online in an effort to reach out to Iranian citizens directly. Billed as a Nowruz message, Mr. Obama said his administration wanted to engage with the Iranian public, but that an “electronic curtain” had fallen around that nation, isolating it from the rest of the world. His hope, he said, was to help lift that curtain.

This is familiar territory for VOA. Iran has long tried to keep us behind that curtain, jamming our radio and TV broadcasts, interfering with satellite transmissions (in violation of international covenants) and doing their best to block our websites from curious eyes. And for just as long, we’ve been working on finding new ways to talk with Iranian nationals. To help, the White House recently relaxed export limits on a variety of online communication tools to Iran, such as Skype, GoogleTalk, Flash and others.

It’s a good start. Wrote VOA Director David Ensor about President Obama’s outreach: “During this season of Nowruz, we call on the Iranian government to end these dishonorable practices, and to draw back its “electronic curtain,” restoring the freedom of information to the Iranian people.”

Bonus #4: Enemies of the Internet, 2011. Each year the non-profit free-speech organization Reporters Without Borders releases a comprehensive survey of online freedoms and restrictions of expression in a report dubbed “Enemies of the Internet.” Recently they released their overview report for the year 2011, and the results, much like they are each year, present a mixed bag.

We could give you the thumbnails, but VOA’s Suzanne Presto does a much better  job in her feature report, so here’s our encouragement to check it out.

One response to “Soundtracks For Autocrats”

  1. […] Soundtracks For Autocrats Periodically we like to share a few of the stories and posts from across the web that caught our eye. There are no editorial threads implied connecting these items together, other than being interesting. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and wife Asma, … Read more on Voice of America (blog) […]

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