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New Media in the South Caucasus: Engaging publics in unstable regions

Had a great time yesterday giving a presentation on New Media in the South Caucasus at the Foreign Service Institute. I've put my presentation up on Slideshare if you want to check it out.

The conversation centered on public media 2.0 principles and then branched out to look at various case studies of emerging new media projects in the South Caucasus region. In the South Caucasus, the evolution of public media 2.0 is complicated by the historic role played by state-run media. Our Public Media 2.0 white paper notes that, "What is needed for the future of high-quality content is at least partial taxpayer support for the many existing operations and for innovative new projects." However, in a region where many of the public media 2.0 projects are in direct opposition to government repression, we cannot expect taxpayer funding to contribute. However, new digital user activities of, "choice, conversation, curation, creation and collaboration" are still evolving.

How successfully are publics in this region forming via new media tools and platforms? Here are a few examples we discussed; see the presentation for more:

1. Free Emin and Adnan Movement

A youth nonprofit Ol! in Azerbaijan created a farcical YouTube video criticizing the Azerbaijani government's repression. The video was an instant success among youth in the country and allegedly contributed to the subsequent arrest of the two bloggers, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade. They now face up to five years in prison for trumped-up hooliganism charges. The public that has organized to free Emin and Adnan continues to grow everyday. The central online hub is a video blog where new support videos are uploaded weekly from human rights activists around the world. Emin and Adnan are currently on trial; you can follow updates on Melissa_Y's Twitter.

2. Project Harmony DOTCOM

This project began in 2009 and is working on two levels. First it is introducing and training Armenian and Azerbaijani youth to use media tools such as blogging, filming and journalism. In addition, it offers an online forum for youth to dialogue across Azerbaijan and Armenia's closed border.

3. Facebook Hate Groups

In this presentation, I wanted to address another phenomena that is on the rise with the use of new media tools growing in the region. While such platforms can be used to create publics to solve a social issue, they can also be co-opted to spread fear and hatred. Since Turkey and Armenia have signed protocols on increased cooperation, we have seen a push-back online. Turks and Azeris that do not want to see peace with Armenia are creating Facebook hate groups. The aim of the groups is usually to deny the recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians. It's difficult to say what kind of effect this is actually having on either the policy level or the community level, but it is important that as we analyze new media tools we do not ignore the potential harmful effects they can have on publics as well.