Mark Bernstein quotes a question by Karin Tzschenktke from the BlogTalk press conference: How do we keep weblogs from becoming merely a channel of propaganda?

Mark thinks this is an interesting question but answers by speculating about intrinsic motivations of weblog authors, that fundamentally are against propaganda and that the attention economy will filter most things out. But he also thinks there is danger of online mobs!

The nature of any historic propaganda is that there are no alternatives available for the receiving end of the message and that messages are twisted according to a political agenda. I think weblogs have been invented to conquer these phenomena – so in that regard propaganda is pretty dead once “personal publishing” is in.

The weblogs during the presidential candidate race in the US were all about propaganda. After reviewing the results I don’t think one can say that weblogs have been effective in manipulating opinions. They have been effective to get attention and that is a completely different thing. They have the potential to mislead about the real impact (see Exiting Deanspace by Clay Shirky).

Countries that run on propaganda do not foster weblogging. There is not enough control and the message waves in the blogsphere are to fragmented to follow a single agenda.

If you were a political leader that wants to turn weblogs into a tool for propaganda, what would you do? Control the blogsphere? How? Set the agenda of the majority of weblog authors? How? I think answering these questions could shed some light on the issue.

So another question could be: How can we help webloggers in countries that want to control the message flow and decide who may become a weblogger?

The embedded journalism was propaganda, because without the alternative there is only one message delivered. And it was “one side of the story” by design. China is developing the IPv9 protocol so that it is able to logically seperate the net traffic and control the flow on a deeper level of the ISO/OSI network model. Iran has tried to block webloggers from the national backbones. Internet Cafes are available almost everywhere but too costly for those people that would benefit most. Anti-democratic agendas are incompatible with personal publishing. If anyone wants to turn weblogs into propaganda he would have to manipulate the blogsphere as a whole.

I think there is a much greater danger coming from a “hidden disconnect” effect of media overload: On the one hand people might feel being well connected to the discourse when in fact they aren’t. There are only few or no cues that tell weblog authors about how well they are groking the discussion. Comments, trackback and hit counts are too simplistic helpers for this. On the other hand people might become constantly puzzled by noise and thus bored and suddenly turn to just watch the local news (if at all).

But if one just watches local news while he could watch international reports, he may be proud about living in a free country and having the option but effectivley he opted for his own China: the difference is just that the propaganda may not be political all the time (just sometimes so nobody really notices the difference and feels the urge to switch to another channel). The problem here is that the “personal agenda” is not challenged with a political agenda anymore. People stop voting (BTW: the overall voter turnouts in the European elections last month have dropped to a 45 percent low record).

The question of Mrs. Tzschenktke seems to suggest (I don’t say that she suggested it) that the established media (like Der Standard) represent the authority that actually values the democratic principles and that the amateurism of weblogging makes the blogsphere vulnerable to manipulation. I don’t think that this will turn out (we’ll need to wait a bit for that).

The weblogging trend may in part be a symptom for the devaluing the socio-political engagement in favour for an individualistic reality construction: “Why voting anyway? I already blogged it!”

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