Tibet and the Information War

From EastSouthWestNorth

Rebecca Mackinnon of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre in Hong Kong does a great job of looking at how Chinese are increasingly skeptical of Western news agencies’ perceived bias about what has happened in Tibet:

Hopefully most of China’s netizens will draw the obvious conclusion: that in the end you shouldn’t trust any information source – Western or Chinese, professional or amateur, digital or analog – until and unless they have earned your trust.

She provides some great examples including the apparent cropping of photos on CNN.com to shape the story. It’s well worth a read.

Ethan Zuckerman takes issue with one BBC reporter who, he says, take all the criticism of coverage he has received as coming from government stooges: “In other words, there may be angry Chinese citizens contacting BBC reporters to complain about their coverage, but they’re being controlled by Chinese state media.” (There’s no link for the report so I can’t follow this up.)

This is a fascinating discussion, because it represents something of a watershed in different ways:

  • What was originally perceived to be a crisis for China’s image of itself in the world may end up being something else. Too early to say yet;
  • The first big international story that may, in the final analysis, be defined not by the (Western) mass media but by an online debate (kind word)/’information war’ (probably more accurate word);
  • The extent to which a country/nation defines itself is drifting from an official function to an informal, online one. An online fightback, and one which is done by its passionate and angry citizen, has much more credibility than a state-sponsored one.

‘Stories’ are shaped early on and it’s a brave journalist who defies preconceptions and refuses to pander to them. (Brave usually because their editors will yell at them to provide copy and content to match their competitors, but also because they face viewer/reader harrassment.)

The Tibet story, which has not yet played itself out and may have more twists to come, is one of those stories any media should be mature enough to cover in a nuanced and unbiased way.

RConversation: Anti-CNN and the Tibet information war

People’s Daily Most Read: Tibet


The annoying thing with social media is that you can’t really control it. If you insist on having a section listing the most-read stories, say, you can’t really fiddle with it without making it pretty meaningless.

The English-language version of the People’s Daily website, for example, doesn’t have any story on Tibet displayed prominently on its front page (at least now; it did before) but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just check out the Most Popular box near the bottom on the right hand side:


Three out of five stories on Tibet, two of them unpatriotically above a piece on the NPC:

Tibet regional gov’t: Sabotage in Lhasa masterminded by Dalai clique
Death toll rises to 10 in Lhasa riot
Dalai-backed violence scars Lhasa

Of course the stories themselves, let alone the headlines, aren’t exactly paragons of journalistic objectivity, but I’m guessing you don’t read the People’s Daily for that.

It’s kind of funny. I wonder whose idea it was to include a ‘Most Read’ box on the site. And how long it will be before the feature is quietly dropped, or some filters applied. 

People’s Daily Online – Home Page

Fake Photos-A Thing of the Past?

image from WSJ.com

You may have already heard about the Chinese antelope that weren’t: This, from WSJ’s Jane Spencer and Juliet Ye:

Earlier this week, Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, issued an unusual public apology for publishing a doctored photograph of Tibetan wildlife frolicking near a high-speed train.

The deception — uncovered by Chinese Internet users who sniffed out a Photoshop scam in the award-winning picture — has brought on a big debate about media ethics, China’s troubled relationship with Tibet, and how pregnant antelope react to noise.

The photographer and editor involved have since resigned. But this took two years to out; you look at the photo now and you just know that it’s not real. And this, of course, is not the first time photos have been doctored by news organisations that should know better (there’s Reutersgate, as it’s sometimes called, when Lebanese freelance photographer Adnan Hajj was caught allegedly duplicating flares, buildings and plumes of smoke for Reuters. More on photoshopping at Wikipedia). How can we avoid this?

One option is to be a bit more discerning about the pictures we see, whatever their provenance. Another is to turn to technology. Academics Jessica Fridrich, David Soukal and Jan Lukáš looked at

detection of a special type of digital forgery – the copy-move attack in which a part of the image is copied and pasted somewhere else in the image with the intent to cover an important image feature.

Their paper [PDF] investigated the problem of detecting the copy-move forgery and described what they called “an efficient and reliable detection method”. John Graham-Cumming, best known for his work on Bayesian spam filters, made it a reality with an algorithm that implements automatic detection of image alteration using copy/paste. (OK, he did it because he wanted to win money in a spot the ball competition, but it’s still good work.)

A guy called John Wiseman has made a few modifications to the code so it works faster, and has shown how it works well in detecting the alterations in Adnan’s photos:



The blue and red bits are where there are duplicated pixels. The code didn’t work very well on the Chinese antelope picture because that involves splicing two pictures together more than copy/move. But it’s worth a look.

Is this going to bring to an end Photoshopping? Probably not. But it might make us more skeptical, and if tools like this are readily available, more likely to run suspect photos through the wringer until we’re sure that what we see actually happened like that.

China Eats Crow Over Faked Photo Of Rare Antelope – WSJ.com

Another Way to Measure Fame

Here’s another way to measure how famous you are on the Internet: egoSurf – ego surfing without the guilt (via MicroPersuasion and Mashable):

egoSurf helps massage the web publishers ego, and thereby maintain the cool equilibrium of the net itself.

We, the publishers of this here internet thing, need the occasional massage, the odd stroke. We aren’t paid. We aren’t recognised. Our sites hit count used to be enough, but no longer.

Enter your name and URL (or URls) and you’ll get an ‘ego point’ ranking for the number of links of your name to those URLs, as well as a cute meter (or bank of meters if you’re searching more than just Google):


This is cute, and has some nice features (like RSS feeds of your ranking) but not new. There’s Preople, who have been doing something similar for a while. Preople does a slightly different calculation, whereby they

visit a few search engines, search for your name, get the number of times your name is found online and perform a complicated calculation to extract a Preople Rank. We guard this formula with our lives because it is what makes our service, and your Preople Rank, unique. We know you are curious but don’t even ask us to disclose our formula!

Just in case you’re interested, I have a Preople ranking of 68,700, which puts me somewhere outside the top 100 (the Dalai Lama is at 99 with 6,490,000) and come out at 9161, or a couple of notches outside the fame belt, on Egosurf. For WSJ.com readers, I wrote something about Preople and Internet fame (subscription only, I’m afraid) a few months back.