Plugging In and Speaking Out: the Internet, the Public, and Policymaking

Thursday, October 19, 2006
Joe Trippi
Trippi & Associates; former Campaign Manager for Dean 2004
Lee Rainie
Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project
Drew J. Ladner
General Partner, Clasis Capital

OCTOBER 19, 2006

DREW LADNER: Good evening. If you can sort of grab your food and drink and get settled, we will get going.

I'm Drew Ladner, and welcome to this evening's Council on Foreign Relations meeting. In our effort to preclude one way the Internet can impact foreign policy, or at least a discussion thereof, please turn off your cell phones, BlackBerrys and other wireless devices on which you might be doing e-mail, instant messaging or videoing a friend.

I'd like to remind the audience that tonight's discussion is on the record. And with that, why don't we dive in and introduce our speakers.

To my right is Joe Trippi. We know, of course, Joe as the man that the New Republic said reinvented campaigning with his pioneering use of the Internet in online fundraising in the Howard Dean campaign. And before that, of course, Joe had been involved in a lot of presidential politics and as the current author of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything."

And then on my left is Lee Rainie, who is the founding director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which since 1999 has examined a real range of how Internet use affects American life, from families, to health care, to education, to political life and many other subjects. The Project regularly reports on just a range of subjects, which you can read in his bio. The Project is nonpartisan. And before the launch of the Pew Internet Project, Lee was the managing editor of the U.S. News and World Report.

So we have with us some terrific experts to guide us on the discussion tonight.

So the first response might be: Sure, sure, yes, yes, the Internet has changed everything including foreign policy, but really what does that mean?

And one thesis that we might put forward as a framework is the following. In the postwar period the U.S. was certainly a very powerful player. When Uncle Sam spoke, other countries listened, frankly because there were few alternatives, whereas now Washington finds itself amidst the cacophony of voices given the proliferation of media due to the communications revolution. And the question is, how does this impact U.S. foreign policy makers? And we might explore tonight whether that demands a lot more focus, a lot more discipline and a very different way of communicating U.S. policy and executing that policy.

So what we thought we'd do tonight is first start with a bit of a look at the landscape of the Internet and how it's affected society both here and abroad, dive more particularly into electoral politics, look at some themes around national security as well as some other foreign policy issues before getting to Q&A, where we can get everyone engaged.

So with that, let's dive in, and let me start with you, Lee. The growth of the Internet and the adoption of the Internet as a ubiquitous medium has become sort of a truism. What do we see as the drivers of that, and how are we seeing those drivers played out in other countries as other countries begin to change like the U.S.? And specifically I'd be interested in maybe your contrasting the role of the penetration of the desktop as a means to get to the Internet here in the U.S. versus maybe mobile devices.

LEE RAINIE:  Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

I always begin any talk that I make now by asking who's blogging me, who's blogging this talk right -- plans to do it tonight on their blog or who plans to re-blog about what is said here tonight. This is a very rare group. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

RAINIE:  (Laughs.)  And this is an open-source medium, so we'll be on the record and conversational.

Ithiel de Sola Pool, one of the great American communications scholars, wrote a book in the early 1980s called "Technologies of Freedom," when he anticipated essentially the electronic media revolution and said that there would always be a tension for the foreseeable future between several models of the way communications had taken place up to that point and the way he foresaw things developing in the future.

He said there was a print model in America, where most communications were governed by the First Amendment; lots of chatter, lots of unrestricted communication going on. Then there was the common carrier method of communication which evolved with the telephone system, where you had to sort out how to regulate the infrastructure but not regulate what was happening over the infrastructure. And then there was the broadcast model, where you regulated pretty much everything. Airwaves were regulated. The content of what went out in broadcast models was regulated.

And he worried that that broadcast model would be applied to the Internet, where he preferred the print model so that the technologies of freedom could be deployed as widely, as broadly and as ubiquitously as possible.

Just in the past week -- almost every week there are things that remind me of de Sola Pool. In the past five days we've seen the government of Iran shut down broadband connections because it was worried about the ability of its citizens to access material and access citizens outside their borders, but at the same time, in the past five days we've seen the government of China allow, for the first time, access to Wikipedia, which had been a blocked site for them for months for reasons which they never explained in the first place, and the unblocking has never been explained.

So the tensions the governments face related to these are enormously interesting and important. And Americans, particularly those of us who have grown up with a free-speech model in our heads, ought to care about which new regulatory model gets applied to the Internet -- (inaudible) -- around the world.

The drivers of Internet growth start with the personal computer, which broke down the model of command and control, organizations and structures and the big blue model of computing, and handed to people the power to work with information on their desktops. Well, once the computers got to be wired, and specifically when they got to be wired in ways where they could begin to talk to each other through a wonderful thing called the World Wide Web, and the thing that allowed the World Wide Web to be rendered in an easy way for the rest of us to understand, called browsers.

So the big drivers of the Internet up until the early 1990s, it was an absolutely elite of the elite technology where it was literally only college professors and their grad students who were sharing e-mails and doing all sorts of communicating with their data, but once the Web and browsers came into being in the mid 1990s, and once the control of the American Internet was handed off from the Pentagon to the private sector, people started going online crazy. E-mail was the number-one driver. It was a wonderful, flexible, adaptable tool for communication. And once the Web went into being, a tremendous amount of content started being poured onto the network, and that made it much more appealing as a place to go gather information as well as post information.

The early-adopter crowd in the '90s was still very high-end, people who were well to do, young guys, a lot of education and stuff like that. But as the Web changed in its character, as more information became available online and the network effect and the value of being online grew, a lot more women, minorities, people of middle and working class incomes, other kinds of groups came online and the Internet population in America, at least by 2000, was a very mainstream population.

In other cultures, though, the technologies were not wedded to the desktop. They were mobile. And so in developing areas now, the availability of mobile communications is much more widely embraced then the desktop computing model.

So right now, or at least the most current data that sort of pulls all the world together, at the end of 2005 the CIA Fact Book says that there were 1 billion, 18 million Internet users around the world. By the end of 2004, they said, and that's the most recent data, there were 1 billion, 752 million cell phone users in the world, and everybody expects by now that that's surpassed the number 2 billion.

Now, the big thing about it is that this has now become a realm where people can share information and get news. It is a privileged place of gathering and sharing news. It is also a place, most importantly, where people can create their own stories and make their own news and become actors in that communication environment that they hadn't been able to be before. You don't need barrels of ink and a big truck fleet to get printed product into people's hands. You don't need a broadcast license anymore. You can get a $30 piece of equipment and you can become a radio broadcaster. With a $200 piece of -- a camera, you can become a broadcaster.

That has changed the power relationship in all sorts of industries, including government industries; that people have gotten the power in their own hands to tell their own stories, find their own news, share their information across borders.

Maybe I'll stop there.

LADNER: So Joe, Lee's talked about technologies of freedom, the breakdown of command and control. You've been monitoring, sort of, the power shift and power shifts in a lot of emerging markets, other countries. Tell us what you've been seeing, and specifically at the grassroots level, and what might the impact of some of those activities be.

JOE TRIPPI: Well, I think the most significant thing that Lee points out is that we're not talking about just a change in communications, we're talking about a real shift in power; I mean the most disruptive shift in power, I think, since maybe the printing press. And, you know, it's empowering people at the bottom. And top-down institutions -- parties, governments, corporations -- just are not ready or understanding how this technology is changing, particularly in an electoral sense in politics, all over the place. And it's different by culture and country, for a lot of the reasons Lee pointed out.

In countries like Mexico, where there is at this point only 13 percent or so Internet -- computer and Internet penetration, everybody has a cell phone, and you're starting to see the parties create not only Internet campaigns, but importantly text-messaging campaigns using cell phones. And young people are driving the change there.

South Korea, with OhmyNews and mobile technology, there actually we saw pretty much an election that was totally impacted by the shift in technology in the bottom-up sort of smart mob. Howard Rheingold, who wrote the book "Smart Mobs," predicted this was going to happen. But you first started seeing it in South Korea just slightly, just before the Dean campaign. In fact, we went to school on that campaign in South Korea to figure out how we were going to try to do something like that in the States, and so we embarked on that as the model.

So you're seeing the bottom, and I don't mean -- I'm talking even within a party. Within the parties in Mexico, within the parties in other countries, the bosses are finding out that there is something else going on, a lot like the way you saw it sort of in the Democratic Party here in 2003-2004. The establishment sort of had its understanding of who the top candidates were, and the bottom started picking somebody the establishment thought was crazy. I worked for him. (Laughter.) But that's beside the point.

So my point is that you're seeing this change happen everywhere. And the interesting thing is that it takes a while for it to build. So in countries like the U.K. or a lot of European countries, where the parliamentary systems and the way the elections are called are kind of short term -- you call the election and 60 days later it's happening -- they are just now realizing, "Oh, we've got to start building this now, and then when the election happens we can unleash it." 

Instead, the last cycle, what I watched happen in the U.K. was sort of a, "Oh, my gosh, how can we make this happen here? We have 60 days. Can you tell us how you do that?" And you'd go like, "Yeah, you forget about it." You know, you can't do it. But the interesting thing was the party apparatus was deeply -- understood. They've seen enough of their own members starting to blog in the U.K. and they saw what was happening and the conversations happening without them and they wanted to get in front of it.

So I think you're going to see in all these different cultures and different systems the same thing is happening. It's bubbling up from the bottom. It's going to change politics in a lot of different ways.

And here if you look at what happened in 2004 -- I want just to show you just one fact, but how it starts applying is -- if you ask people in this country which party raises more money from people who give $100 or less, it's not the Democratic Party, it's the Republican Party. If you ask them $1,000 or less, it's the Republican Party; $10,000 or less, it's the Republican Party; $100,000 or less, the Republican Party. If you ask them who raises money from more people at $1 million or less, it's still the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party led in only one category, checks of $1 million or more. I mean, that's a fact, absolutely a fact going in 2003. Right? What happens overnight? Bang, hundreds of thousands of -- John Kerry suddenly has as much money as Bush. And it's not from the Pioneers and Rangers, it's from $77 -- you know, the Howard Dean bunch of people, hundreds of thousands.

This same kind of change is going to happen all over the place, and it may not be money, but it will be people now have the ability to connect. I think when you think about -- dealing in terms of thinking about foreign policy, we're used to dealing with the top. Foreign policy generally is conducted top to top. And I think increasingly what you're going to see with this change is you've got to figure out what's happening at the bottom as well, because the consequences of only dealing with the top, not understanding what's going on at the bottom and really understanding that it can now connect and go in a totally different direction than the country's leaders think they're taking it or think that this is going to go, is going to have deep and abiding implications for how not just politics but policy's conducted in the future.

LADNER: So Joe, what are the kinds of issues you think that will be more conducive to being addressed by the bottom across borders? Is privacy one of those? Is privacy the kind of issue that can get the sort of momentum that environmental issues have gathered across borders, or what other issues would you identify as being prospective issues?

TRIPPI: I think privacy is definitely one, but I think we're likely to see it on -- environmental stuff is a clear one. I've used this before, and foreign -- you know, people who do what you guys all do kind of go like that sounds weird.  But you come to a point here where somebody somewhere -- I mean the problem is that anybody with a $29 website -- you know, hosted website -- can publish anything.

And you look at somebody out there, a leader -- and I use the example of a leader in Finland who says that there's only two countries that haven't signed the Kyoto Treaty, U.S. and Australia -- and if I've got that wrong, I'm sorry, but I think it's those two -- and we're calling on Americans to sign the treaty in their own name. Don't wait for your government or your president. And we're putting it up on the website and you send that out.

Well, what happens when 10 million Americans sign the damned thing? Or 20 million? And it's not legally binding or any of that stuff, but its starts to have -- how did Finland ever affect Americans signing -- putting pressure on the U.S. government to sign a treaty before? Finland? Are you kidding me?

So what I'm saying is that I think the way that power is going to evolve and sort of cross borders on issues like global warming, privacy issues, which are going to be big as we get into China, and other situations, I think is going to have deep implications.

RAINIE: Can I take a stab at that? I think that a broad cluster of issues related to human rights and human conditions now goes global and across borders, and there are innumerable examples of that. Darfur would not be on the national agenda without NGOs, citizen action groups, other activists who are completely disconnected from government bringing it to the agenda.

I just -- I think this is my job, is helping people waste time in their jobs -- I'm going to give you some websites that are fun to scroll around just to see some -- (laughter). Go to the Smart Mobs blog. Joe referred to the book called "Smart Mobs" by Howard Rheingold. It's a new, sort of social forum that is being created. But it's a wonderful blog.

One of the top posts yesterday was the Archbishop of Canterbury is visiting the officially sanctioned churches in China. He was bringing a press contingent with him. And apparently some local citizens were able to get the attention of reporters who were traveling with him and talked about -- they fed to a reporter from Sky TV pictures that were taken on their cell phone video cameras of the destruction of unregistered churches in the province of Hangzhou in a Chinese crackdown on churches there. So go to Smart Mobs. There's all sorts of fun stuff like that.

Another great website to waste your time on is a place called Global Voices. It's a completely blog-dominated aggregation of bloggers from around the world. It started in Africa, but it's in all kinds of places now.  One of the fun things that's on there today is how young people in Belarus are, in order to get around government bans on assembly, are using text messaging and their phones and stuff like that to form what might be thought of as illegal assembly. It turns out they're telling each other to go buy ice cream at the same place. But it always inevitably draws police and authorities' attention, and the students who are there eating their ice cream are also filming the thugs from the government who are filming them and roughing them up because they're assembling in an “illegal” way. It's a post that's on the top of the Belarus blog posting from this Global Voices project.

So there's a sort of new activism, new journalism in the cause of human rights. And there's this unbelievable story that came out from a network website yesterday. You might have heard about it.  Some Western mountain climbers were forming at the base camp of one of the sixth-highest peaks in Nepal, Cho Oyu. Is that how you pronounce it? And as they were there with their sherpas, they witnessed the Chinese government -- the Chinese soldiers beginning to open fire on some refugees who were trying to cross from Tibet into Nepal.  They literally were innocent people. They were trying to get across, obviously. They were fleeing the Chinese authorities.

And a Romanian climber named Sergiu Matei came forward on a website called It's just a place where mountain climbers can post their sites. And he described the scene. It was actually the Chinese militias hunting Tibetans into the glaciers. They were shooting Tibetans like rats, dogs, rabbits, you name it. And just the power of that post and the community that's built around the thrill of mountain climbing, had nothing to do really with news, but that community got the word out, and it's now being covered in the Western press. So it's all this new form of citizen journalism around the cause of human rights and so on.

And the final place you can waste your time, as you have to do, is download Google Earth. If you haven't already done it, it's a fabulous satellite map function from Google and gets to the impact of these technologies on foreign policy. You can become your own intelligence now -- own intelligence agent now thanks to Google Earth. You can see the spot in North Korea where they did the nuclear test. And people did that. They told the networks where to go and how to find it and stuff like that, and that's why it got covered on TV the way that it was.

So I would say human rights and human rights abuses would be the number-one thing that this elevates in a way that it had never before been elevated.

LADNER: Another issue is sort of national security, and certainly in recent months we've seen sort of that trademark feedback from the blogosphere and from lots of media on the Internet commenting on the use of data by the NSA and just a lot of national security issues over the last year. Is there that kind of intense feedback due to the kind of political nature of national security, or will we expect to see that kind of feedback in a lot of other areas as well?

RAINIE: It's ubiquitous. A phrase of the blogosphere -- excuse the way I'm going to put it, but this is what they say to each other -- "We fact-checked your ass." And every journalist in America knows that the bloggers do that, every NGO in America knows the bloggers do that, and certainly every national security agency knows that it's going to do that.

The forensic power of blogging to link to original documents, to share information, compare sources and stuff like that -- I mean, Dan Rather isn't sitting in an anchor chair tonight because of stuff like that. The bloggers have a lot of functions. It's sharing information, it's being in conversation and stuff like that, but they take it as their business to keep alive information and stories that they think mainstream media has sort of passed by.

The cycle of information in the news cycle now is ephemeral. When I used to be in the news business, you printed the paper one day and it was gone the next day. Well, now the record, the archive is there, and the bloggers, if they care about it, will keep a story alive and pounding on it and fact checking it even when the sort of news culture has moved away from it, and will often call back the attention of the news culture. So, that's what bloggers do.

MR.LADNER: So, moving from national security of the U.S. to the national security of China, Joe, what sort of role should U.S. foreign policy makers have in the whole debate around the use of Google data in China, or the attempt to regulate Google by the Chinese government? Should that be something that U.S. foreign policy makers get involved with, or should that be left to the management and executives of a company like Google? How should they do that?

TRIPPI: Well, I think if you -- we see what happens when you leave it up to management of the companies. They're competing with each other and they're all going to cave to not close down the market, or pretty much.

So either the U.S. gets involved somehow or -- I mean, it's not working the way it's working now, I don't think. And I think that means that policymakers are going to have to get involved and start thinking about it. But that's going to have all kinds of different -- I mean, you never had to deal with China on those kind of issues before, so it's going to change -- just policy along those lines is going to change.

But the problem here is --

LADNER:  But specifically what's not working? Could you kind of unpack that?

TRIPPI: Well, I think what's not working is, I think, these companies are going to have problems here. Getting back to what Lee just talked about, if human rights are being raised because of this medium and you've got people here who use Google who are going to stop using Google because of what it's doing in China, but they can't stay in China unless they do what they're doing in China, then somebody -- U.S. policymakers have to jump in and try to protect Google and help clear the way for them or we're going to have some really weird different problems.

And what I mean by weird different problems is a whole lot of bloggers, websites around the -- bringing up the China abuse, bringing up the human rights, bringing up how Google, MSN, whatever are playing games -- playing with the Chinese government, playing along with it and to the detriment of the Chinese people. And, that in the end is going to not work. 

There's got to be something else, some policy intervention there, I think. But I'm not a policy interventionist, so that's what you guys figure out, how you do it. But I'm just saying I think -- there's no doubt in my mind that it gets to what you were talking about.

When you look at these issues that are sort of bubbling up from the bottom, that's what's going on. I mean, Cisco. I was out on the West Coast, and they're getting dragged into the whole China thing, and they're just the pipe. They're just routers. And every time there's a story about U.S. companies helping the Chinese do their thing, Cisco gets thrown in there with Google.

And the bloggers, for some reason, have really latched on to Cisco, really picked them out as one of the really bad guys and keep jamming them on it. And they're, like, "How what do we get the hell out of this?" Who's going to get in there and figure this out, because they can't. They're having a tough time dealing with that government and dealing with the rest of their consumer base.

So I think if you leave it up to the market, they're going to try to muddle through somehow and go probably subterranean on us and they'll just try to do what they can. They're not going to brag so much about China anymore in their quarterly reports for a while. But I think there are going to be policy implications to all this stuff.

LADNER: Okay. Well, with that, why don't we now invite Council members to join in the discussion. Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. And please don't forget to stand -- or in our context here, you can just sit. (Laughter.) State your name and affiliation. That's what I get for reading the teleprompter here. And also if you keep your questions and comments brief and to the point as much as possible, that would be appreciated.

So, why don't we go ahead and start. Jerry?

QUESTIONER: My name is Jerry Johnson and I'm with American Capital. I'm very interested in, both Lee and Joe, your viewpoints on the role of mainstream media, particularly the networks and large newspapers, if any, for the next 10 years given the emergence of the blogosphere as well as the cost of technology going down. You're starting to see a lot of issues with NBC, for example. Now news media, they don't necessarily have news on a timely basis or even the highest quality news, so given their competitive advantage eroding, what's their role?

RAINIE: One thing that's clearly happening is that they moved away from the denial stage -- you know, this isn't going to happen to us, or this isn't necessarily important to us -- and they moved even past anger and are now in interesting ways trying to accommodate this new citizens' media environment.

The most dramatic example of that in America was how the TV stations and newspapers in New Orleans invited bloggers and vloggers -- video bloggers --- and podcasters into the news environment. They hosted their material; they posted it. They knew that they were important contributors to the news flow.  So in many respects, if you watch how they deal with individual components of the Internet sphere, there's sort of a hybrid model where sometimes they now feel, at least some organizations now feel that there is value to be added from citizen media to the things that they do.

In other cases they are now sort of tepidly putting their foot into the market of posting material on YouTube. That's the video site where, you know, everybody can upload stuff and download stuff and check it out, where once the default position was this is copyright infringement, we're going to sue to get it taken off. But there are some networks that have cut deals.

There's a very sort of symbiotic relationship that the environmentalists in the room will understand is an ecology. The blogosphere and citizen media contributors of all kinds are now part of the news environment, and the smartest news agencies are making accommodations to that.

They're still the megaphone of our culture. They still do a lot of agenda setting and they certainly, the mainstream media, the mainstream media still do a lot of framing of what the issues are. But the bloggers are now infringing somewhat on that territory too. They're not going away, though. They're still the biggest megaphones in our culture and they're going to be for a long time.


TRIPPI: There's a difference too in different medium. The print media, newspapers are really in -- their business model's in a lot of trouble. (Laughter.) No, but it's for a bizarre reason. It's not because of the bloggers. I mean, it's not just because of that. I mean, a lot of the newspapers in this country, a decent chunk of their money comes from classified ads, and people aren't putting their bikes in the classifieds anymore; they're putting them on Craig's List or they're auctioning them off on eBay.

So, I mean, it's not just sort of the issue of a blogger catching one of their reporters saying -- with phony documents; like the Dan Rather thing in print. That's happening too, but there are some bigger implications there in terms of how they make their business models work.

What was fascinating was, when I was at El Norte in Mexico and I sat down with them and they were talking -- that's one of the bigger papers down there. I think it's one of the four major papers in Mexico. And they were bemoaning the fact that the Internet's only 13 percent and it's not as powerful here as in the United States. And I said, "Do you have any idea what the New York Times and the Washington Post and the L.A. Times would do to be able go back to when there was only 13 percent penetration, realizing what Craig's List and -- you know, go start your own -- have you thought about starting your online classified thing now in conjunction with your newspaper now?"

So I think other countries, sort of looking at us, have the ability to sort of go back to the future, try to rethink maybe how their business model can work. But I think print's in trouble because of the business model.

The real problem with video -- the interesting thing about the networks is that you look at Yahoo and Google and some of these big search companies that are trying to really take the lead in video search because they look into the future and believe there's going to be a million television channels, or what we would think of as a million television channels. And so, Joe Trippi's going to say he wants to see everything that has to do with Bush and Iraq that's out there today; or that's funny about Bush and Iraq; that's serious about; and it's just going to create my own channel and see it.

So how, in that million-channel world, do the -- I mean, you're looking at -- exactly right -- NBC today, with $750 million in cuts, talking about going to reality-based TV and killing shows like "Friday Night Lights" because that's 2.1 million bucks a show, when reality TV, they can put a show up on prime for much less money.  And most of the cuts, they think, are going to be in the news department. So you're getting to more, like, what's the cheap, fast way to get there.

Now, the other thing, though, I think, is synergy. There's massive synergy between citizen journalism and these news agencies, and the ones, I think, that get that sooner rather than later and try to figure out what the mechanism is can incorporate that citizen energy into the reporting. Today every American citizen or just about every American citizen, with their cell phone, photo phone -- picture cell phone, has the ability to commit, quite by accident or on purpose, photo journalism, an act of photo journalism, being standing on the corner when the accident happens. Kids reporting on their high school football game and actually the New York Times actually using its website to let those kids report about their high school football game every Friday, and then taking the best couple of them and actually putting them in the paper. Taking some of the top bloggers in the country -- instead of having George Will tell us, pontificate -- just one day a week, just one day don't have George Will, and actually have -- (laughter) -- one right- wing blogger and one progressive blogger.

So I think there's all kinds of ways to integrate and use the synergy, but in the end it's going to be business model that's going to change somehow. And I agree with Lee they're going to be here. I think they're here to stay and they're going to help frame things, but I think how that business model looks in 10 years will be completely different from what it looks like today. I mean absolutely, whether it's still advertising-based or what, it's going to be a completely different animal.

LADNER: Okay. Great. Dan.

QUESTIONER: I'm Dan Prieto --

LADNER: Wait for that mike.

QUESTIONER: Dan Prieto with the Reform Institute. Can you talk a little bit about the challenge of the Internet to government? The Internet is challenging all sorts of hierarchical organizations. And can you talk in particular about the intelligence sphere? Terrorists use the Internet as an operational planning tool. Intelligence cycles are very batch process, linear. It's like writing books to get these reports out, and clearly by the time it gets out the back end, maybe it's out of date.

How does the government adjust when it is bad at technology, when the checks and balances make it not nimble? And how does the government keep from being wrong, slow, in the dark or ineffective going forward?


LADNER: Anyone? (Laughter.)

TRIPPI: Welcome to my nightmare. No, I -- (laughter) -- it's going to be a problem.

RAINIE: In some respects that's one side of the equation, that the volume, velocity, veracity of information is all sort of changing, on one side. But the tools to monitor, assess, apply some level of intelligence – either technical or human intelligence -- are also growing. We can watch now what terrorists are saying to each other and how they're thinking. And yes, can there be disinformation embedded in that? Absolutely. But I've talked to government officials who think this has been a real boon to their life, that they now can see the kinds of conversations that they could only hope to have infiltrated in the best days of their pre-Internet lives.

And so the metaphor of the Internet that's very powerful, that applies to government and business and everything else is -- it came out in a wonderful book called "The Cluetrain Manifesto," written in 1997, and it talked about markets as conversations. They are no longer places just where transactions take place. That you are in conversations, in the intelligence case, with your adversaries, and there are ways to learn from that. 

I don't envy the people that have to do the interpreting or even just trying to figure out what's the wheat from the chaff, but they're not sort of naked in that encounter anymore. There are interesting new powers that they have.

TRIPPI: Can I just add one thing, too? I was joking at the top of that, but there's some interesting things. I mean, if you think about -- people complain -- like, right after the elections there were all the complaints that were all over the blogs about the machines that were stealing votes, the voting machines and they were rigged and all that stuff. And the blogs just kept driving it. In the past, that conspiracy would have gone -- the conspiracy theory would have gone unnoticed. No one would have known about it. The New York Times wouldn't have reported about it because they couldn't see it, getting back to what Lee is talking about.

But the conversations would have been happening at the water cooler. I mean, at the water cooler there would have been a guy saying, "You know, I think they stole Ohio. You know they stole it, right? You know those machines stole it." (Laughter.) Well, the difference now is, you can actually see the conversation that was happening around the water cooler on the Net talking about they stole Ohio.

Now, the important thing for government is to actually look at that and say, "You know what? If 20 million Americans are saying -- or if all these conversations are going all over the Net talking about they stole Ohio, maybe we ought to do something to try to prove, to try to at least address the notion that the election was" -- in other words, to let it go, to not respond, to not think, to not try to enter that conversation or at least understand that that conversation's going is a big mistake. It's the same thing with intelligence or anything else.

And what I think, what's happened -- what's been happening is, government and most of the top-down institutions have tended to look at those conversations and -- I'm not talking so much about intelligence now because I know like everybody's wanting to try to find that -- but to sort of look at these conversations and going, like, "It's weird, these guys who think about all these conspiracy theories" or whatever the conversation is. But those conversations are real, and millions of Americans or Chinese or Italians are having them and you get to listen in and try to figure out what's the best way to address it.

RAINIE: The other thing that some agencies have done is literally embrace the distributive intelligence model. When the space shuttle went down, NASA immediately put up a pod on its site allowing citizens who had seen or taken photos of the splintering of the shuttle to post them online. Apparently in one of the big caches of documents that GIs found in Baghdad, I think, finally the CIA finally put all those documents online and let a lot of people have at them to figure out what was going on. It wasn't just dependent on the GS-13s to do all the analysis.

LADNER: So distributive intelligence in an open-sourced approach, you know, contributors, which, of course --

RAINIE: Transparency.

LADNER: -- Dan Prieto knows a fair amount about as well, the questioner.

Next question. Sir?

QUESTIONER: I'm Bruce MacDonald with Provectus Technologies. This morning I was fascinated to read in the New York Times the story about North Korea. And the thrust of the story was about sort of the crumbling, even in North Korea, arguably one of the most hermetically sealed countries in the world, that even in North Korea, that their information, through a variety of technologies, is leaking through and suggesting that it's having some impact.

And so I guess I'd like to ask our distinguished panelists what they see, in terms of political stability, what the future is for strongly repressive governments. You know, it would be simple-minded to say, well, it could mean the end of dictatorship as we know it. That seems a little too glib. But it's clear that this is, as you're suggesting in sort of a Western context -- the reference to Belarus, I thought, was interesting, but does this seriously threaten dictatorships and highly repressive regimes, or does it just mean that they'll figure out some way to adapt and we'll have repression as usual in some of the typical countries?

TRIPPI: I think you're not putting the genie back in the bottle, and I think it's really going to be hard -- this kind of empowerment at the bottom and sort of the human rights connection that Lee talked about earlier, where people would be rising up. Once, I think, these movements start to really happen about human rights abuses around the country -- I think Darfur is another example -- I mean, it's really hard then. Even the rest of the world community at the top have to start paying more attention and actually take it on. It's not just the bottom, at that point, in country that's moving, you actually start to move the rest of the leadership and top.

So I think whether it's the -- days are over kind of thing, that may be a little too early, but I think definitely -- look, I don't think -- it's not just dictators. I think every top-down institution, from press -- when I wrote in the thing, when the subtitle was "Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything," I meant it about the overthrow of everything.

I don't mean because I'm like some revolutionary who just wants to overthrow everything. I think most of the top-down organizations are going to have to radically change the way they communicate, the way they operate. Whether it's a party, a government, whether it's a democratically elected government or a dictatorship, it's got to change -- it's going to eventually have to change the way it communicates and how it deals with the bottom. It has to. Now, that doesn't mean they can't be -- there can't be an end around and figure it out, but it's going to have to change. It can't stay the same.


QUESTIONER: Thanks. Jonah Blank -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a former journalist and current adviser to policymakers, I'd just like to play devil's advocate on the optimism here because really, as a progressive, I hope that this really is empowering the grassroots. But in the journalistic sphere, when Lee and I worked at U.S. News and World Report -- right now journalism is much, much easier than it was when we were there. You can check most of the things you need by going to Google or Wikipedia or whatever you want rather than to the newspaper morgue, and yet journalists are lazier now than when we were -- (laughter) -- at U.S. News. On Darfur, we all know that there's genocide going on there, and nothing's happening.

On the political side, I really -- I love the blogs. I read them every day. I'm glad they're out there. And yet I don't believe that we're going to have a fair election on November 7th. We're going to have all kinds of voting irregularities. And I think the possibility of a progressive being elected president, I hope it happens in my lifetime, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for it to occur.

So I guess my question is, has the revolution not arrived yet? Or is this it, and this is as good as we get, and it's already been co-opted?

TRIPPI: No. I tell people, look, I think the first moment when people should have realized that television was going to change everything was the Nixon Checkers speech. Right? I mean the guy's dead; gets up there, tells a sad tale about the little puppy and his daughter loving it. (Laughter.) Says, you know, she named it Checkers, and I don't care what the press says about those mean, dirty lobbyists, we're not giving Checkers back.

And like, America teared up, and like, the guy saved his career and went down years later. (Laughter.)  But that's when everybody should have realized that TV -- you know, now what did TV become?  Five hundred satellite-delivered stations with time-shifting TiVo devices and all that other stuff, and politicians raising a ton of money to nuke each other on television, so that nobody voted. I mean that's what happened.

The 2003 election politically was -- the Dean campaign wasn't anything. The Dean campaign was just the Nixon Checkers speech. That's all it was. It was the first moment when everybody in this room and out there should have said, you know what? This technology might just change the way politics happens. Same way. People who listened to Nixon on radio in the Nixon-Kennedy debate, they thought Nixon won. They saw Kennedy on television, they were sure Kennedy beat Nixon's butt.

But it took -- if you'd done that election in '56, Kennedy probably doesn't win, because radios still -- were at the very infant stages of this. And when you see the power -- these are the very first tremors that you're seeing. Dan Rather going out the window? That was just a little 1.1 on the Richter Scale. Howard Dean -- I'm telling you that it's going to be a little blip.

But what you're seeing is, when you look at just that little tiny tremor knocked out an anchor and his four producers; when you see what the community activism out there on Darfur has done, which it wouldn't -- the only reason that there's any movement on Darfur is because -- I think -- is because of the citizen activism and citizen journalism and the blogs and a lot of the stuff that's being moved out there. So, you're just seeing the very beginning stages.

The one thing I can tell you, that it took from the Nixon Checkers speech until about 1963, probably Kennedy assassination, when we're finally -- television owns the world by that point, and it's only going to own a lot more of it as we get into the '80s and '90s. It took something like 11 years to get to full power and to do the whole evolutionary thing. This stuff's moving way too fast.

I mean, you look at the best Internet campaign in history was McCain 2000. Forty thousand Americans signed up for that guy and he raised a couple of million dollars, and we all thought that was the most ingenious Internet thing we'd ever seen. I mean, I know I did. Three years later it's 650,000 people, $59 million. We raised more money than Clinton did, and not when Clinton was running as governor of Arkansas. We raised more money than Clinton did when he was running for reelection in 1996. And with all due respects to the president, we didn't have the Lincoln Bedroom to rent out at 100,000 bucks a pop to do it. (Laughter.)

So when you start to see just that, by the time we get to 2008, it's going to be that same -- 40,000 to 650,000, it's just going to keep going. And it's spreading now. I'm seeing signs of it in Mexico, in Europe. I don't know quite how fast it will all move, but it's moving very, very quickly.

And we didn't have -- McCain didn't have meet-ups, the meeting. We had 195,000 people meeting every -- the first Wednesday of every month, off line. We didn't have -- blogs didn't really exist in 2000. I mean, they were starting to.

So just like Dean didn't have YouTube, and you're seeing what that's doing to George Allen with macaca, and I mean just different candidate gaffes now, and all of a sudden there's a couple of hundred thousand people looking at it on YouTube and you don't have to care about whether MSNBC runs it or not. Actually, once that happens, then MSNBC does do it.

So I'm just saying you're going to see these changes happening, get more powerful, and I think they're going to happen everywhere. I mean, it's not just going to stay contained in South Korea or in the United States or in -- and I think that that's the thing, is that we've never had the -- we didn't have really the ability to connect with each other as Americans the way you can now. We certainly didn't have the way to connect with each other as globally as we can now. That has to change -- I mean that ability as those networks start -- the social networks don't just expand here in the United States, but globally.

When MySpace goes global, Space Book -- in other words, the next generations of it, there's going to be some powerful things happening out there that are going to change the way we all do business. And again, if you've been used to focusing on the top -- I mean, that's what I'm saying, we've been all -- I mean, I think we tend to come up -- in our society we tend to use, and in foreign policy in particular, we tend to deal with the top. I think the bottom, you've got to figure out how you're going to pay attention to that.

LADNER: Okay. Let's get to the next one. Sir.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, hi. Jay Parker, Center for the Study of the Presidency. Marshall McLuhan once stated, "I'm absolutely opposed to change in any form, but I'm determined to understand the juggernaut that's about to roll over me." Not everybody at times of change like this shares that opinion, and there's a tendency, when there are changes like this, to hang on to the old ways even though you're using new tools.

Given that the last time we went through something like this was post-Guttenberg, and we had such delightful occurrences as the Hundred Years War and all the other spillage there; and given that you can already see lots of industries, governments, organizations determined to use these new tools with absolutely no clue of what it means for how they have to change how they think, how they have to change, how they have to structure; you've got mythology out there greater than the mythology about what TV could or couldn't do, I wonder if you could talk a little bit more -- you've already started down this path -- about the dark side of this inevitable phase of transition from one media culture, one media frame of reference writ large to another.

RAINIE: My word on this, and the printing press revolution -- (off mike) -- too, is that not only did it give us the Hundred Years War, but it gave us the scientific revolution. So in the long haul I think anything that helps people communicate with each other and share information redounds to our benefit, but it might take longer than we hoped.

There are a couple of -- there are lots of things to talk about the dark side. In the political context, there is great concern about the Internet -- McLuhan talked about the grammar of technology. And the grammar of the Internet is still in communities. And the communities come in all flavors.  They can be communities that help you cure the disease that your loved one is suffering, but it also can be communities that hate, communities that exploit people, communities that do great damage to people and stuff like that.

And there's social science literature on a thing called selective exposure that worries people. If you can create the daily -- (word inaudible) -- using the Internet, only get the information that matters to you and matches your lifestyle and political belief systems, only deal with the people who share your views, there is some concern that over time, you harden your views and you become more extreme in your views. Our research doesn't suggest that yet, but we're way in the infancy stage on that and it's something to be concerned about.

Our research at the moment shows that the people who are most likely to be online most intensively, most likely to use the tools of the Internet to customize the information for them, just happen to bump into all kinds of information and are more likely to bump into stuff that disagrees with them than people who are lighter Internet users or non-Internet users. There's more stuff online, you bump into more stuff and you're aware of more stuff.

So selective -- so balkanization at that level isn't necessarily occurring yet, but it's certainly a big concern to have. When pedophiles can't necessarily have a 12-step meeting in their community but can meet each other online and affirm each others' views and talk about the legitimacy of that lifestyle, that's affirming and that makes it more likely that they'll think, okay, this is a good thing to do.

The second thing is, of course, the technology doesn't give any privilege to good guys over bad guys. And so the same mechanisms of communication and propagandizing and just (the vividness ?) are available to the worst elements in society as well as the best of them. And then the question becomes what do policymakers do about that?

And what we get in our research is that, particularly from the most active Internet users, the most accomplished technologists, is that you're in information -- (inaudible) -- and that the worst response is to shut down. That you are -- that in effect, you're in an information market. And what you're empowered to do with these new technologies is get your stuff to the top of the market and to have people buy into it, and over time, although it often takes a lot of time, the better stuff has a chance of rising to the top.

But anyway, that's the dark side stuff. And, you know, it's not clear.  The Internet privileges the motivators, no matter whether they're good or bad, and they've got a lot more tools in the tool kit now than there used to be. 

TRIPPI: But the thing is that the dark side is going to use it, for sure. And so the reality is how do we -- it's our responsibility to build the communities that are going to be for the common good and be for the greater good and be for what we're trying to accomplish. Because I mean, in other words, it can do both. The technology works both ways. And if you, like, you shut down, the most dangerous thing is just shutting down, and then, yeah, it's all that's going to happen because there's no -- who's building the community, the community of the common good in this country or more globally? So that's what I've been out there trying to figure out how to do because I think that's the key.

But we've had all these kinds of problems with every medium that we've ever had. I mean telephone -- I mean all of it allows the bad guys to do stuff, and then we develop the technology that can listen in on the bad guys, and you hope that they don't use it to listen in on people that aren't the bad guys. But that's neither here nor there. I'm just saying the technology will catch up with that.

But one thing is, on the disinformation, the same thing with disinformation. You know, we've had that since the horse. I mean, Jefferson and Adams are running against each other for president, and Adams' guys can't figure out how the hell they're going to go negative on the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence. It's tough. So they get a bunch of guys up on horses and they run around the early states screaming, "Jefferson's dead!"

And if you've been in Delaware -- (laughter) -- and you haven't seen Jefferson for a couple of months, and the last time you did see him, he didn't look that great -- (laughter) -- you think he's dead. (Laughter.) So what did they do? This gets to something.

What did they do? Jefferson's guys, consultants, you know -- (laughter) -- they get together and they put a bunch of guys on horses and they run around screaming, "Jefferson lives!" But they didn't have the technology to take a picture of him holding today's Washington Post so they could show that around.

So what becomes important at that point? Well, do I know the guy on the horse? Do I trust the guy on the horse? Building that community of peers -- my friend just told me that Jefferson's dead, I'm likely to believe him. The guy I've never met, or who had no credibility on his blog or his website over time, I'm less likely to believe. I mean, you can fool me once, I'll buy it. And I'll read your blog, and I actually thought that Jefferson was dead. Well, he is dead, so -- it's bad now, now the metaphor's not working.

But anyway, my point -- (laughter) -- but my point is, credibility is going to change. I think that actually one of the bigger problems we're going to have as institutions is that the credibility of an anchor, the credibility of a politician, the credibility of a leader, credibility of the State Department, all that stuff is going to start to lose -- as media fragments more, as this medium takes bigger hold and these communities grow, more credibility is going to devolve to the peer and to somebody you actually know and on a totally different level, and how you develop that community in a different country, even. If you're trying to deal with the -- talk with credibility to the citizens there, how do you do that, how does that community happen, are all kinds of -- community of credibility, I think, are things that we have to think about how you build.

LADNER: Well, on that note of community across borders, we'll have to bring it to a close tonight.

Many thanks for taking the time to come out tonight, and many thanks to our speakers for your comments and insights. (Applause.)







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