When Biases Meet Biases: GVO Summit Day 2, Session 3

Session 3 of the second day of Global Voices Citizen Media summit focused on the state of “conversation” (or lackthereof) in the world today, when both sides speak, but neither of them listens or tries to understand. The session which carried the name “When Biases Meet Biases” featured Isaac Mao, John Kennedy and Rebecca MacKinnon.

With all three speakers being experts on China, the most prominent example to brought up was the latest controversy over the Tibet riots in China, and what followed that of reactions from the western world, and from China. Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices Online, gave an overview on the background of the issues at hand, and argued that we are not seeing the West and China interlinking, but rather what we are seeing is different realities in different areas. Citing arguments of, “who's more brainwashed than whom”, and “If only we could get them to break down their wall and agree with us, then they'd be free”.

John Kennedy who is based in China, and covers the Chinese blogosphere for GV, asked some really important questions in relation to the controversy. Questions that challenge the over-simplification and categorization of the conflict into two groups of “Us” and “Them”. One of the questions John brought up was “What is it YOU disagree with in respect to the Chinese view(s) on Tibet?” and “Which China do you disagree with?   One thing that's come up is the Hong Kong perspective; would some people consider HK citizens’ views of what happened in Tibet more valid?”. John also presented an earlier post on GV about Chinese bloggers supporting the monk's protests in Burma last year, and drew parallels between that and what happened in Tibet this year.

Mao Isaac (from the Digital Nomads project, China), argued that while the internet plays a role of improving understanding and compassion between people, in this case the Internet was pushing things to extremes. Reflecting on that, Ethan Zuckerman, commented on how the media fails to understand that it is now speaking to a global audience.

Context, is the key word. The comments from the audience seemed to agree that there was a lack of historical memory in the West. When discussing something, it must be put into their true context, and bloggers may have a real role into bringing more understanding on all sides about where people are coming from. Some of examples that were brought up were the Danish cartoons controversy, French headscarf ban and the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.

In the end, everyone seemed to agree on the conclusion that it is important to give a platform for people who are saying things that are not quite mainstream. The feeling of being heard, empowers individuals and gives them more courage to express their opinions, thus bringing more ideas and enriching the conversation.

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