Category Archives: Politics

Journalism Professor Analyzes Role of Political Cartoons, Social Media During Syrian Crisis

Journalism Professor Analyzes Role of Political Cartoons, Social Media During Syrian Crisis
By Mike Krings

Political cartoons aren’t just for newspapers any more. A University of Kansas professor and her students analyzed how political cartoons were presented on Facebook during the Syrian uprising, the themes they explored, reactions to them and what they can tell us about social media use in Syria.



When Syrians rose up against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, the government began a severe crackdown against its people. Hyunjin Seo, assistant professor of journalism, and doctoral students Goran S. Ghafour and Ren-Whei Han archived and analyzed 164 political cartoons from the Comic4Syria Facebook page, a site devoted to posting cartoons from professional and amateur illustrators about the conflict and the suffering of the Syrian people. The researchers examined cartoons from July 24, 2012, when the page opened, until Nov. 23, 2013.Seo and her co-authors analyzed the images to understand more about the topics of the cartoons, the frames they used, characters depicted in them, how they depicted men, women and children and which types of images drew the most reaction from viewers.

Examining political cartoons from Syria in a digital age served several purposes, as social media has allowed more people to share political opinions freely. The medium is also undergoing transition from being the domain of newspapers, especially in countries such as Syria with significant media censorship.

“As the platform has become more democratic, I think there are a lot more studies that can be done about the role of political cartoons,” Seo said. “Their use in Syria was very interesting as the landscape of Syrian opposition is very complicated.”

The researchers analyzed the structure of the cartoons to determine common features. Of the 164 images studied, 81 percent featured Arabic only, while 11 percent featured English only and about 8 percent featured both Arabic and English. Nearly half, 47 percent, of the cartoons featured both male and female characters, 39 percent featured only male characters, and only 1.8 percent featured only female characters. The rest featured characters whose gender was unclear or did not feature human characters at all.

Of the cartoons featuring human characters, 60 percent featured only adults, while 28 percent featured adults and children, while 3.7 featured only children, and the remainder were characters whose age group was unclear.

Syrian cartoons averaged more than 243 “likes,” with the highest number of likes reaching 1,531. Comments made on the images averaged 11.77, ranging from zero to 110. The images were also shared frequently, including one that was shared 3,237 times.

The researchers examined frames used in the cartoons and identified six: freedom, oppression, international influence, hypocrisy, media influence and sectarianism. Oppression was by far the most common frame, at 52 percent, while freedom and international influence followed at 14 and 12 percent, respectively.

The president’s regime was by far the most common topic, featured in 89 percent of analyzed comics. Mental torture and physical torture were also common, featured in more than 50 percent of the cartoons as well.

The most common topics and frames did not necessarily draw the most viewer reaction.

“There were cartoons examining media effects and how they were distorting facts and supporting al-Assad’s propaganda,” Seo said. “Those were the cartoons that received the most likes.”

Cartoons with a hypocrisy or oppression frame followed media influence in most likes generated. Freedom and sectarianism received the fewest. Media-influence cartoons were also the most shared, followed by international influence and hypocrisy. Those patterns held true for cartoons that generated the most comments as well. Media influence was once again at the top.

In terms of cartoon topics, martyrdom was the most effective, generating more likes and comments than others such as mental torture, al-Assad’s regime and others. However, in terms of which topics were more likely to be shared, mental torture rated the highest, followed by martyrdom, international influence and the Syrian regime.

When examined by types of characters featured, those with political leaders of other countries received the most likes, comments and shares.

Seo and her co-authors will present their research in May at the International Communication Association Conference in Seattle. The research is part of an ongoing line of work in which Seo has analyzed the role social media can play in social change. She has studied social media use during the Arab Spring, Twitter images used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Internet connectivity in the Middle East. She is beginning a new grant-funded study in which she’ll analyze the Facebook use of al-Assad and opposition forces during the ongoing uprising and civil war. She was also selected as an emerging scholar by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in recognition of her work.

The analysis of Comic4Syria images not only adds to visual communication studies, it helps provide a deeper look at how Syrians viewed the uprising, especially important in a region of the world in which media censorship is common practice and crackdowns were common against both Syrian and foreign journalists.

“Social media has emerged as an important channel through which Syrian civilians document the Syrian revolution and people around the world get a glimpse of what was happening in Syria,” the authors wrote. “By analyzing political cartoons posted to the Comic4Syria Facebook page, this research helps provide a more nuanced understanding of digital media-facilitated communication practices in Syria.”

Mike Krings is a public affairs officer in the KU News Service.

Turkey Shuts Down Twitter

Turkey Shuts Down Twitter
By Emma Sinclair-Webb

In the run up to the March 30th municipal elections, the government of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has closed down Twitter in the country.

On March 20th, Erdogan made an election speech in the western city of Bursa in which he threatened to “eradicate” what he called “Twitter Schmitter”. Then his office complained in a statement that Twitter had failed to abide by Turkish court orders calling for the removal of links in some tweets and that this might necessitate closure of the whole site.

Shortly afterwards, at around midnight local time, the Telecommunications Communication Directorate went ahead and closed down Twitter’s website in Turkey. The page that appears on the Twitter website states that the Directorate has applied a “protection measure” (closure order) on the basis of a March 20th Ankara prosecutor’s decision. Three earlier court orders are also mentioned and represent decisions to remove particular content following complaints without providing any detail.

This is another fundamental blow to the freedom of expression in Turkey and the right to access information, and the closure order should be immediately lifted. The move further signals that the Turkish government has taken an anti-democratic turn which significantly sets back its human rights record.

If in practice it is easily possible to get around the ban and access Twitter by using proxy servers, that should not be regarded as a comfort. Prime Minister Erdogan’s move spells the lengths he will go to censor the flood of politically damaging wiretap recordings circulating on social media. These implicate his family and government ministers in corruption, reveal his willingness to press media bosses to censor news coverage, and show one of his close aides ordering the arrest of a journalist. Such material has been surfacing as links on Twitter accounts such as  @haramzadeler333 and @başçalan in the wake of a corruption scandal that broke on December 17, 2013, and led to the resignation of four ministers.

The government has dismissed the corruption allegations and wiretaps as part of an “international conspiracy,” involving the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen and his followers inside the judiciary and police, to overthrow the prime minister.

Conspiracy or not, limiting freedom of speech is no way for the Turkish government to tackle a political crisis.

Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher with the Europe and Central Asia division, joined Human Rights Watch in 2007. She has worked on issues including police violence, accountability for enforced disappearances and killings by state perpetrators, the misuse of terrorism laws, and arbitrary detention. She was researcher on Turkey for Amnesty International from 2003-2007, and previously worked in publishing as a commissioning editor on books on history, culture, and politics in the Middle East and southeast Europe. She has degrees from Cambridge University and Birkbeck College, London, and speaks Turkish.

The Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy’s (CICT) Comments On Silicon Valley’s Reform of Government Surveillance

The Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy’s (CICT) Comments
On Silicon Valley’s Reform of Government Surveillance
By Jeffrey Eisenach

First, the principles laid out by the coalition are hardly radical ones, but rather common sense expressions of rights most Americans surely thought, until recently, they already had.  If folks in the national security establishment have problems with any of these, they ought to explain what and why.

Second, based on what we know, it seems clear that many governments, including our own, have been violating at least some of these principles. The political problem facing the U.S. – as is so often the case in privacy matters – is the violation of expectations, which is another way of saying that the U.S. national security establishment appears to have been operating in a political vacuum, either imagining that its surveillance activities (e.g., the NSA’s 1.5 million square foot Utah data storage facility) would never be publicly revealed (Really?), or completely clueless to, and unprepared for, the reaction once they were.

Third, it would be interesting to assess the list of companies joining the coalition based on two variables:

(1) Government contracts as a percentage of revenues; and,

(2) Extent of operations in heavily regulated markets.

All of these companies, I’m confident, rank very low on both metrics.  I’m not criticizing anyone here, just noting that there is a relationship between a company’s ability to stand up for freedom, on the one hand, and its economic dependence on the state, on the other. (Imagine if John Hancock had been CEO of a publicly regulated utility and you get my drift.) That’s something civil libertarians who favor more government spending and regulation ought to keep in mind.

The debate will go on, and finding a sensible middle – one that protects our security without compromising our freedoms – will take some work.  Is it too much to ask President Obama, our Constitutional-Law-Professor-in-Chief who has presided over everything that is now coming to light, to consider getting out in front on this one?

Here are the five points from the firms’ statement:

1. Limiting Governments’ authority to collect users’ information
Governments should codify sensible limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data that balance their need for the data in limited circumstances, users’ reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the Internet. In addition, governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications.

2. Oversight and accountability
Intelligence agencies seeking to collect or compel the production of information should do so under a clear legal framework in which executive powers are subject to strong checks and balances. Reviewing courts should be independent and include an adversarial process, and governments should allow important rulings of law to be made public in a timely manner so that the courts are accountable to an informed citizenry.

3. Transparency about Government demands
Transparency is essential to a debate over governments’ surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers. Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly.

4. Respecting the free flow of information
The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust 21st century global economy. Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country. Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.

5. Avoiding conflicts among governments
In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty — or “MLAT” — processes. Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict.

Jeffrey Eisenach is a visiting scholar at AEI. Eisenach has served in senior positions at the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of Management and Budget. At AEI, he focuses on policies affecting the information technology sector, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Eisenach is also a senior vice president at NERA Economic Consulting and an adjunct professor at the George Mason University School of Law, where he teaches Regulated Industries. He writes on a wide range of issues, including industrial organization, communications policy and the Internet, government regulations, labor economics, and public finance. He has also taught at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.