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Science

Prize-winning bloggers glimpse into the past and present of social media

Blogs and other social media have shifted the power among governments, the media and ordinary Internet users. That means a louder voice for some and a larger threat for others.

Winner of the award for Best Weblog Arabic, Osama Adel Al Romoh

People are using blogs to make noise around the world

Erik Hersman, founder of crowd-sourcing platform Ushahidi.com, has a basic idea about what makes blogging important. "Bloggers make noise," he said.

Blogger Erik Hersman holds up his BOB for best blog

Erik Hersman said blogs have an impact on who gets heard and who listens

Hersman's remark came during a press conference at Deutsche Welle's Global Media Forum, where he was honored with an award for Best Weblog in the annual BOBs (Best of the Blogs) competition. He received the award alongside winners from other categories including winning bloggers from Brazil, Indonesia and Morocco.

People now use blogs to make noise in practically every corner of the globe. That's true in countries as diverse as Brazil, Indonesia and Morocco, where blogs are having an impact on who gets heard and who is able to listen.

A coin for Prita

"Most Indonesians make their blogs the way blogs were originally defined - as a personal diary and a personal log," said Antyo Rentjoko, winner in the BOBs Indonesian category.

Rentjoko is skeptical that citizen journalism could take hold and displace traditional media in Indonesia. Internet access remains a luxury for many Indonesians, who inhabit more than 900 islands in a country consisting of over 17,000 islands. Traditional media outlets like TV, radio or newspapers are more widely available.

But although citizen journalism plays less of a role in Indonesia than elsewhere, Internet users are still harnessing blogs and social media to send messages to the government in new ways. That was apparent last year during a campaign sparked by the arrest of a mother named Prita.

Prita claimed to have been misdiagnosed during her stay in a local hospital. She wrote about her experience to friends in an email that later made it to Facebook. The hospital then sued her for libel, and she was jailed, facing heavy fines.

"Bloggers and Internet users were very angry and made a movement named "Coin for Prita." The money raised was used to pay the fine of the court, and I think the experience was a big pressure to the prosecutors, to the judge and to the government," Rentjoko said.

Screen shot of blog fisica na veia

Blogs are an effective way of bringing information to the masses with text, pictures, video and sound

Hearing voices

While bloggers put pressure on officials in Indonesia, social media users in Brazil are creating an alternative to powerful media conglomerates there.

"In Brazil, the media was heavily concentrated into two or three groups. Now, you see another kind of influence from people outside of the mass media groups," said Viktor Knijnik, a Brazilian blogger and BOBs winner. "This is so positive because we have other voices that can talk with the people."

One group in particular has benefited from the rise of social media, said Knijnik. Known as the "C class," they are Brazilians from the lower-middle class and make up a significant part of the country's populace. According to Knijnik, the C class has enough money to be online regularly, but its members often lack the social clout of the middle and upper classes.

The traditional outlets for journalism are not the only media companies affected by Brazil's shift toward social media. Music is also becoming less dependent upon pricey distributors.

"Nowadays, people who produce music in Brazil have their own radios and their own music style. They don't need the rich people to consume their music," Knijnik said. "The funk music and the "tecnobrega" are two music styles very popular in the C class. They're on the web - they're not in the music store."

Red lines

The need to offer an alternative to traditional media outlets helped motivate a third BOBs winner to work on his site. Hisham of "Talk Morocco" told Deutsche Welle that the outlook for journalism in Morocco is troubling.

Brazilian blogger Viktor Knijnik

Blogger Viktor Knijnik said social media users in Brazil are creating an alternative to powerful media conglomerates

"There is less and less freedom of speech in Morocco, so the traditional media is avoiding talking about some topics - red lines, as we call them in Morocco," Hisham said. "In Morocco, it is commonly known that if you're a journalist, you'd better be very careful when you talk about the king, when you talk about Islam and when you talk about Western Sahara, because these are the three main sensitive topics in Morocco."

Hisham said that although his website addresses sensitive ideas, none of the authors have faced government backlash for what they have published on "Talk Morocco." The site also remains unblocked and accessible throughout the country.

Unrestricted access to the content may be allowed because "Talk Morocco" is published in English rather than Arabic, the nation's official language. Nonetheless, the decision to publish in English was essential for editors Hisham and Jillian.

"The founding idea of Talk Morocco is to be able to bridge the gap between those Moroccans who write in Arabic or French and make it available for an international audience."

Author: Greg Wiser
Editor: Mark Mattox

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