Category Archives: Politics

Brooks Introduces Social Media Bill to Increase Public-Private Collaboration

Brooks Introduces Social Media Bill to Increase Public-Private Collaboration 

As Chair of the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications (EPRC), Representative Susan W. Brooks (R-IN5) introduced the Social Media Working Group Act of 2014. EPRC Ranking Member Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ10), Vice Chairman Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS4) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA15) are all original cosponsors. The bill – H.R. 4263 – expands both the membership and influence of the Department of Homeland Security’s Virtual Social Media Working Group. The new group will include representatives from the private sector and will be required to file a yearly report with Congress.


“During the recent tragic explosion in East Harlem, we once again witnessed the powerful role social media plays in disseminating information and coordinating response and recovery activities during a disaster,” Rep. Brooks said. “Last week, people were logging onto Facebook and Twitter for links to local news stories and to view firsthand accounts of damage. City residents were checking social media for vital information such as street closures, where to get assistance and also taking to social media to share their thoughts, and comfort fellow New Yorkers. Social media is not a trend, it’s a new reality.

When used properly, it can save lives and mitigate damage during very challenging situations. In 2013, the Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications Subcommittee heard testimony from cutting edge corporations like Google and Palantir, as well as state and local stakeholders on the topic of social media in emergency management. We learned the potential for greater success is within reach, but there needs to be greater collaboration among all parties involved. By adding representatives from the private sector to the working group, this bill will allow a wider range of stakeholders to share best practices and make recommendations for improvements to government partners.”

The Virtual Social Media Working Group has held meetings since 2012. By requiring the group to file a yearly report with Congress, the legislation ensures members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have an opportunity to review findings and address areas of need. It will also ensure local officials receive more information on using social media to effectively disseminate critical information.

“Far too many local officials lack the understanding of the importance of social media and need guidance on how to use it most effectively in a government setting,” Brooks said. “The working group will provide much needed guidance when it comes to strategic planning and staffing for local communications personnel.”

The legislation expands the diversity of voices providing expertise and offering solutions. In addition to the current chair of the working group – the DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology – the new working group will be co-chaired by a state or local official. The bill also requires members from the working group to come from outside of the federal government. This will include representatives from state or local government, non-profit disaster relief organizations, academia and the private sector.

The new working group is required to hold its first meeting within 90 days of the enactment of the legislation. Its yearly report must address several factors including best practices, recommendations for improving the use of social media and information sharing, and a review of the training available on using social media.

Congresswoman Susan W. Brooks is a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana and Deputy Mayor of Indianapolis where she focused on public safety issues. For more information on Congresswoman Brooks, please visit To read her recent op-ed in Social Media Monthly, click here. To learn more about the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications, click here.

Vietnam: Blogger Pham Viet Dao Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison

Vietnam: Blogger Pham Viet Dao Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison

FIDH and its member organization, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), strongly condemn the 15-month prison sentence imposed on March 19, 2014 on blogger Pham Viet Dao. A court in Hanoi sentenced him under Article 258 of the Criminal Code on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the State” for posting online articles that “distorted, vilified, and smeared the senior leaders.”

The imprisonment of Pham Viet Dao once again calls into question the Vietnamese government’s stated commitment to respecting human rights. In fact, Vietnam continues to behave as an authoritarian government that perceives every freedom, including freedom of opinion and expression, as a threat to its rule,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. Vietnam must end the harassment, arrest, and imprisonment of dissidents and immediately release the more than 200 political prisoners it holds,” Mr. Lahidji added.

Pham Viet Dao, 62, is a former Inspector in charge of corruption issues in the Ministry of Culture. He is also a member of the Vietnam Writers Union. After his retirement, Pham Viet Dao started an internet blog critical of Vietnamese government leaders and their policies with a focus on the ongoing territorial disputes with China. Pham Viet Dao was arrested on 13 June 2013 at his home in Hanoi. Analysts deemed his arrest, which took place six days before Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang made an official visit to China, as a gesture of friendship to Beijing.

Pham Viet Dao is the latest blogger to be imprisoned under Article 258 of the Criminal Code. On 4 March 2014, a court in Danang sentenced blogger and human rights defender Truong Duy Nhat to two years in prison under the same law for posting articles online that were critical of the government.

Vietnam currently holds the largest number of political prisoners in Southeast Asia and its press freedom ranking is the lowest in the region,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. The international community must keep the release of political prisoners and the amendment of draconian legislation as its most urgent and pressing issue whenever it interacts with the Vietnamese government,” he urged.

It is estimated that there are over 200 political prisoners behind bars in Vietnam and many more are under house arrest. Those incarcerated include lawyers, bloggers, land rights activists, Buddhist monks, journalists, writers, singers, labor activists, pro-democracy campaigners and members of ethnic and religious minorities, including Buddhist Khmer Krom and Christian Hmong and Montagnards.

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.