Another passing-on-a-link post here. Via Jodi Dean, I just came across a great essay on Ethan Zuckerman’s Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism. Basic principle:

Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers.

Web 2.0 was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats.

… Any sufficiently advanced read/write technology will get used for two purposes: pornography and activism. Porn is a weak test for the success of participatory media – it’s like tapping a mike and asking, “Is it on?” If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test – if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable.

Its well worth reading the essay in full, and the events in Iran over the last few days make it even more pertinent right now.


I found the discussion of China particularly interesting: not only because of the kind of punning that would warm the cockles of Professor Silverstein’s heart; also the observations on the acceptability of certain forms of censorship (politics yes, cute cats no).

Some Chinese bloggers have responded by being extremely creative in their use of images. Some Chinese bloggers began posting images of river crabs on their blogs. The joke is that the term for “river crab” sounds very similar to the word “harmonize”, a term that had become slang for “censored” – “My blog just got harmonized.” The term “harmonized” became so popular that it became blocked. So Chinese bloggers began to refer to their blogs as having been “river crabbed”. The watches are a pun on “the three represents“, a political philosophy put forward by Jiang Zemin. This is also a commonly blocked term, so has been rewritten as “wears three watches”… which explains the oddly dressed river crab.

Here’s the thing – for the vast majority of Chinese internet users, they’re encountering a much more free information environment than their parents experienced. Michael Anti argues that Chinese society is much freer than the US in terms of personal behavior, especially around premarital sex and homosexuality. The vast majority of young Chinese are enjoying these personal freedoms and are willing to accept a world in which political freedom is somewhat constrained.

China’s censorship genius is that they’ve found a way to let people have their cute cats and have censorship as well. While China will block sites like Human Rights Watch, they won’t block domestic Web 2.0 sites, and hence the collateral damage from blocking banal content doesn’t draw non-activists to become aware of activist issues.

Just thought I’d share this straight up as I’m going to be taking a few days to mull over all that’s in there. Any thoughts from people more up-to-date on the crypto/censorship world?

[Soundtrack to this post – sorry, couldn’t resist]

This from Jodi at I Cite.

Paul overheard a discussion among several college students in the cafe at Barnes and Noble.

One young woman had been wondering whether a pack of 40 lions could take down a t-rex.

She went to the zoo, to the ask the lion expert. A lion-keeper was there, but she didn’t feel fully qualified to answer the question.

So the student googled paleontology and found the name of an eminent scholar. She emailed him her question. His response: lions don’t hunt in packs of 40.

This completely annoyed the student. The guy wasn’t an expert in lions, so why was he talking about the lions? Why didn’t he talk about what he knew, about the t-rex? He was clearly avoiding the question.

Her conclusion: experts are really just advocates. No one wants to spend their time studying a loser animal.

This made me chuckle a lot. But I’m also pretty impressed at the student. I have trouble “cold call” emailing even semi-eminent academics who are in the same field as me, and who I have a fairly legitimate reason to harass. I need more guts. Maybe I should get in practice by emailing Chomsky and asking him what he thinks about Burning Man.