What Does Blogging Mean To You?

Blogging… one word that can encompass enormous diversity. People blog to share thoughts and opinions, others to create and inspire, some blog about social events or political change and policies, whilst others blog about corruption in politics. Whether you blog about coffee or communism, blogging can influence ‘democratization, transparency and autonomy’ (Maynor, 2009). Blogging allows every day citizens to engage in an online community, allowing their voices to be heard. However it is apparent that blogging in different countries crosses various political, cultural and social values and the impacts of freedom of speech and cultural idealism vary significantly.

Blogging according to Pinterest. Source https://www.pinterest.com/pin/68117013089566893/
Blogging according to Pinterest. Source https://www.pinterest.com/pin/68117013089566893/

Blogging in a Western nation

I get up in the morning to the sound of my iPhone chiming away. I put on a cute outfit, not complete without a statement hat, lipstick or pants. I make some brekie, smashed avo on sourdough bread with a wedge of lemon and cracked pepper. My toast is getting cold but I need to instagram it first. I sling my MacBook Air under my arm and head off down the street. I drop by a local cafe and pick up a skinny cap. I instagram my coffee and tag the name of the cafe so I’ll remember to come back. I find a space to sit and whip open my laptop. Pinterest, Facebook, Bloglovin’ and various other tabs open as I search for inspiration. I tap away at my laptop until a post is done and I publish it into the wide world of the blogosphere. In the back of my mind I hear a voice saying “no one will read it,” but I remain hopeful that it’ll go viral.

Welcome to the life of a 21st Century blogger. Or should I say, a Western blogger. These bloggers are generally associated with travel, lifestyle, fashion or beauty (or in my case, a little bit of everything) and are unnafected by political or social intimidation or fear. Bloggers are crucially ‘young, photogenic and well,’ (The Guardian, 2015) and sell a desirable lifestyle. And when success hits, so do sponsors and the commoditization of their ‘lifestyle.’

Source https://www.google.com.au/search?q=stereotypical+bloggers&espv=2&biw=1440&bih=805&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAWoVChMIjp6Rvq3IyAIVIVumCh0OZgA3#imgrc=ciZ75RE7qAex_M%3A
The stereotypical Western blogger. Source 

Being a successful blogger is generally measured by having 100’s of thousands of Instagram/Twitter/Facebook followers, along with making money. Monetization is a significant aspect of modern blogging in Western nations. It’s one thing to have a blog that you treat as a public journal, but it’s another to generate money. There are countless ‘how to make money from your blog,’ pages out there. There’s even blogs dedicated to blogging. However, once your blog turns into a company and your company is sponsered by brands through product placement, advertisements, eBooks and Instagram shout outs… who are you blogging for? Why are you blogging? Would you still blog if you weren’t earning money? Whilst it’s obvious that people rely on blogging as a career, it’s somewhat worrisome that people are willing to commodify, curate and sell their lifestyle (ah hem… Kardashians). This illustrates that in Western nations, bloggers are permitted to write freely with the intent of monetizing their blog and way of life. Thank you, socialism.

A screenshot of
A screenshot of “Secret Bloggers Business” recent Facebook post showing how she has earnt over $1million from blogging. Source
Snap of me blogging
Snap of me blogging

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – S.G Tallentyre

It’s evident that blogging in Western nations has provided freedom of expression and countless creative opportunities for millions of people, allowing people to shape a career from blogging. However, in many other nations across the world, where freedom of expression is not valued, being a blogger can land you in jail, or even get you killed.

Blogging in Bangladesh: On the Hit List

[Watch the first two minutes of the following video to set the scene] 

Bangladesh is a predominantly Muslim, ‘secular’ country with a focus on the separation of religion and state and has been ‘a long tradition of freedom of speech’ (BBC, 2015). However in practice, with the death of 9 from 84 athiest bloggers mentioned on a ‘hit list,’ freedom of speech is not looking promising in the near future (Kadam, n.d).

Avajit Roy was an American-Bangladeshi man on this hit list who was portrayed as an athiest blogger. He returned from America to Dhaka with his wife to visit his family. Horrifically, he was brutally murdered in one of the main streets of Dhaka with his wife also being attacked. He had received death threats for a significant amount of time for his writing against Islam (Roy, 2015). Bangladesh is supposed to have freedom of speech, however many Muslims in power believe that ‘criticising and speaking out against Mohammed is wrong, and should be punished by Sharia law.’ (BBC, 2015)

“Nobody is allowed to speak against the Prophet of God” (BBC, 2015).

However, are these bloggers purely being targeted for being athiest? Some believe that this is because they are focusing attention twards the extremist Jamaat-e-Islami group and attempting to hold them accountable for war crimes. The bloggers feel that instead of it being a religious differences, it is the opposition to political power and interest (Bidhan, 2015). Instead, free thinkers are considered dangerous to how the political leaders view Bangladesh.

The hit list that was accidentally leaked to the media, has sparked fear among bloggers. Some have fled the country, fearing for their lives. Others remain, lying low and concealing the online identity. Fear forces silence and silence perpetuates violations and inequality. Therefore, the role of the blogger in a country like Bangladesh is paramount.

Bangladeshi activists protesting against the vicious murders of bloggers. Source
Bangladeshi activists protesting against the vicious murders of bloggers. Source

Blogging in Ethiopia: Blogger or Terrorist?

Ethiopia is under an ‘authoritarian regime’ (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2013) with atrocious Human Rights violations and abuse of power. Due to dictators governing the country, there has been imense suppression of freedom of expression and a decreased belief that voting in elections will contribute towards change (Nnamdi, 2014). A group of bloggers called Zone 9, blog about social injustice, corruption, education, politics and human rights, attempting to bring it to the attention of Ethiopians and the global news. Generally, blogging about these issues in developed nations (in Australia, like I am right now) is acceptable and even encouraged.

However, in 2014 the Zone 9 Bloggers were arrested for ‘inciting violence through social media to create instability in the country’ (Greenslade, 2014), eventually the 9 bloggers were charged with acts of terrorism (Human Rights Watch, 2015). Ethiopia’s new anti-terrorism laws make it that even “doing an interview with the media or talking to Amnesty International can be considered terrorism” (Nnamdi, 2014), let alone talking to actual terrorist groups.

Bringing justice to bloggers across Ethiopia. Source
Bringing justice to bloggers across Ethiopia. Source

Freedom of expression = Freedom (Free Zone 9 Bloggers Ethiopia, 2015)

The imprisonment of journalists generally creates a public outcry (like the case of the imprisonment of Australian journalist Peter Greste). Most journalists ‘self censor’ their writing due to magazines and newspapers having strong ties with government officials. Bloggers on the other hand have the ‘freedom’ from government supervision to publish openly and freely. Consequently, bloggers do not have the same protections as journalists and therefore find themselves susceptible to severe consequences the government decide to impose on them. This furthermore highlights the important role that bloggers play in influencing democracy, however this can obviously not be achieved if they are behind bars.

Comedy skits in the UAE aren’t funny

Whilst not strictly along the lines of blogging, comedy videos on youtube still come under freedom of expression and can land people in some countries in jail. In 2013, Shezanne Cassim published a parody video of Dubai youth cultures on Youtube. It was not political nor was it critical of the government. Cassim, grew up in Dubai and was aware of local customs and laws, so imagine his shock when he was ‘charged under vague new Cyber Crimes Laws, accusing him of endangering national security by presenting a fictional image of Dubai’ (Cassim, 2014). These harsh and unjustified actions against Cassim contradict the revolutionary and promising images that Western people have come to associate Dubai with.

In a recent email exchange with Cassim, he stated that whilst he is concerned with freedom of expression in Dubai and the UAE, he is more concerned with the modern legal systerm (or lack thereof). In nations like the UAE, violations of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, article 9 which prohibits member states from engaging in arbitrary arrest, detention and exile, were violated. Cassim was not notified of his charges until he had been detained for 5 months (Bolduan & Forrest, 2014) and spent time in a maximum security prison in Abu Dhabi. He was also not permitted to have legal representation and experienced difficulty being informed of why he was detained, what was happening and how he could do something about it.

Global Voices picked up on Cassim’s story and eventually made mainstream media news headlines. However as the following Young Turks video explains… what would’ve happened if he wasn’t an American citizen?

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Global Voices

Global Voices gives a platform and a voice to those who are silenced. It offers contributors the opportunity to publish anonymously and in their mother tongue. Their mission is to ‘find the most compelling and important stories from marginalized and misrepresented communities’ (Global Voices, 2015). It also bridges communities around the world by offering people to translate articles into different languages. By translating Amharic, Bengali or Arabic, this helps reach a wider audience and encourage global engagement on the issue. Global Voices encourages more people to share their stories of concern around the world, to stand up for social and political issues they deal with, create awareness and generate change. It turns global voices into citizen journalists and in turn creates global citizens (Mohamed, 2011).

‘Bloggers have forced the traditional media to increase freedom of expression and to adopt issues that were taboo for the traditional media in the past. Bloggers are setting the agenda and are imposing most of the heated issues that have been raised recently in the newspapers.’ (Mohamed, 2011)

Bloggers and citizen journalists who contribute towards Global Voices, are also contributing towards a more democratic and just world.

The problem?

Had you ever heard about Global Voices before this? And if by a chance you had, how often do you actively seek out news from this site? Being a global citizen and using our global voices require energy and effort to add value to freedom of speech throughout certain countries.

The future

One thing is for certain, people will continue to write. If human rights violations, abuse of power, unjustified detainment, corruption and extremism continues, so will bloggers. Whilst the monetization of blogging in Western nations is a primary focus, there are still bloggers who do commentate social and political issues within the Western world. The difference is that they have the protection to do so. By highlighting the disparities between reasons, effects and consequences of blogging throughout the world, hopefully this allows you to appreciate people’s voices around the world and value the gift of our voices.

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I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Shezanne Cassim for corresponding with me and sharing his story. I respect the fact that you speak openly about what you experienced, in the hope that you can generate awareness and change in an injust society. 

Further Information

The following radio programe, The Kojo Nnamdi Show, hosts three democracy bloggers, where they discuss the importance of freedom of speech and protection for people who speak up against Human Rights violations http://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2014-01-28/ethiopian-voices-blogging-democracy

I would also recommend watching the full BBC documentary regarding the murders of bloggers in Bangladesh as it explores the history and culture of Bangladesh, and how this tension has arisen.

And finally, one of co-founders of Global Voices, Ethan Zuckerman, talking about the role of global voices in expanding our knowledge and perspectives.

References

BBC, 2015, The Bangladesh Blogger Murders, 28 September, accessed 26 October 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9go3Nfi8ZM

Bidhan, P 2015, Bangladesh Activists have little faith in blogger murder investigations, Global Voices, 10 July,  accessed 24 October 2014, https://globalvoices.org/2015/07/10/bangladesh-activists-have-little-faith-in-blogger-murder-investigations

Boulduan, K & Forrest, S 2014, Shezanne Cassim, American detained in UAE over parody video speaks out, CNN, 15 January, accessed 24 October, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/15/us/shezanne-cassim-parody-video/

Cassim, S 2014, I went to jail for posting a comedy skit on youtube. Is this the modern UAE?, The Guardian, 9 February, accessed 24 October, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/09/shezanne-cassim-jail-uae-youtube-video

Free Zone 9 Bloggers Ethiopia, 2015, Free Zone 9 Bloggers Ethiopia, 17 February, accessed 24 October, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D28bU3-nieY

Global Voices, 2015, Global Voices, https://globalvoices.org

Greenslade, R 2014, 9 journalists and bloggers arrested in Ethiopia ahead of Kerry visit, The Guardian, 1 May, http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/apr/30/press-freedom-ethiopia

Human Rights Watch, 2015, Ethiopia, Free Zone 9 Bloggers, Journalists, Human Rights Watch, 23 April, accessed 23 October 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/23/ethiopia-free-zone-9-bloggers-journalists

Kadam, V n.d, 9 from the 84 Athiest blogger hitlist in Bangladesh are dead, Ananya Azad is next, The Bayside Journal, accessed 26 October 2015, http://baysidejournal.com/wp/9-from-the-84-atheist-blogger-hitlist-in-bangladesh-are-dead-ananya-azad-is-next/

Maynor, J.W 2009, Blogging for democracy: deliberation, autonomy, and reasonableness in the blogosphere, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 12:3, 443-468, DOI: 10.1080/13698230903127937

Mohamed, AS 2011, ‘On the Road to Democracy: Egyptian Bloggers and the Internet 2010’, Journal Of Arab & Muslim Media Research, 4, 2&3, pp. 253-272, Communication & Mass Media Complete, viewed 28 October 2015

Nnamdi, K 2014, Ethiopian Voices: Blogging for Democracy, The Kojo Nnamdi Show, 28 January, accessed 18 October, http://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2014-01-28/ethiopian-voices-blogging-democracy

Roy, N 2015, The hit list: endangered bloggers of Bangladesh, Al Jazeera, 14 August, accessed 25 October 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/08/hit-list-endangered-bloggers-bangladesh-150813132059771.html

The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2013, Democracy index 2013: democracy in limbo, The Economist, http://www.eiu.com/Handlers/WhitepaperHandler.ashx?fi=Democracy_Index_2013_WEB-2.pdf&mode=wp&campaignid=Democracy0814

The Guardian, 2015 ‘Green is the new black: the unstoppable rise of the healthy eating guru’ The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/27/new-wellness-bloggers-food-drink-hadley-freeman

Celebrity Activism: Are Good Intentions Good Enough?

“We’ll win if we work together as one, the people. The power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power” – Bono, 2013 TED Talk

“Problems should not be glamourized by the association of celebrities” – Dambisa Moyo

Bob Geldof and Bono campaigning against poverty. Source.
Bob Geldof and Bono campaigning against poverty. Source.

Bono is first and foremost, a singer. However recently he’s become the face of combatting poverty in Africa, and taken on the role as an activist, economist, politician, humanitarian and framed as an angel to save all of the ‘poor Africans.’ Throughout the 80’s, he worked with Bob Geldof on the Live Aid concerts and has heavily campaigned to fight poverty in Africa, especially Ethiopia. In 2005 he went on to campaign for the Make Poverty History Movement which was more focused on social justice rather than charity. And then in 2014, he is featured on the single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ to fight the ebola outbreak in West Africa, raising millions of pounds.

Bono brings his good intentions to Africa. Source
Bono brings his good intentions to Africa. Source

There is an issue here. Celebrities like Bono who become activists for large-scale social and humanitarian issues are not experts on poverty, inequality and sustainable development. Yet he has met with Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Bill Gates and various other politicians and powerful actors to generate policy change and create global awareness (Why Poverty, 2012). He has inadvertently become the face of anti poverty. Bono already has millions of people who look up to them, respect them, hate him or talk about him across the globe and he’s using a unique platform to spread his message.

Celebrities are not experts and can often oversimplify a very complex issue such as poverty. The infamous Make Poverty History video above features many different celebrities. Dambisa Moyo is a Ghanese economist and activist who is extremely ‘anti-Bono’ due to his ignorance of the complexity of poverty and lack of results. In a recent televised debate, Moyo states that the West needs to stop being sympathetic and start being empathetic and realizing that Africans are doing a lot of grassroots work to create change (Black Wall Street, 2015). Another issue is the media portrayal of Africa and their people as the victims, and people like Bono and Bob Geldof as the white saviour (Davis, 2010), which contributes to a sympathetic view of ‘poor Africa.’ Moyo says that, ‘Africa’s debt problems should not be glamourized by the association of celebrities who’s actions are more often than not self-perpetrating,’ (Fitzpatrick, 2011) and that is where we find the problem with celebrity activism.

The 2014 release of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ sparked controversy and further encourages this ‘poor Africa’ perception. It plays on one of the main parts of Moyo’s book, where she highlights how ‘the West is patronizing Africans’ (Easterly, 2009). The video is solely focused on the singers and celebrities that resonates with the Make Poverty History video of ‘spot the celebrity.’ Sure, it starts with some graphic images, and sure, they raised a lot of money… but is that enough?

image-20150630-5832-17q8bdp
Africa re-conquered by Hollywood. Source

Celebrities are experts at grabbing people’s attention and creating emotional responses in people. The images and videos they broadcast are heart wrenching, because they’re designed that way. Nash explains that people need to see themselves as part of the ‘global political community’ (Nash, 2008). No one’s going to sign a petition, donate money or be a part of a protest unless they’ve felt personally motivated to do so, and celebrities can make this happen. Many argue that ‘at least celebrities are doing something with their power,’ but is it really justified if the damage they are creating is greater than their ‘good acts.’ Are good intentions, good enough?

So how do we ensure that the work celebrities are doing is progressive and beneficial for those affected by the issue they represent? Alex Dewaal says that there are ‘fundamental pillars of activism which should always be followed, most of all, the act of responding to and collaborating with local people, rather than imposing outside agendas’ (Dewaal, 2013). Celebrities should be held accountable and responsible for their actions. They shouldn’t engage in humanitarian activism unless they’re willing to follow through and commit to the cause they represent.

References

Black Wall Street, 2015, ‘Debate: Foreign Aid does more harm than good’, Black Wall Street, 13 March, 45:54 – 47:46, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWlLE7IohXo

Cole, G. Radley, B. Falisse, J.B 2015, ‘Who really benefits from celebrity activism?’, The Guardian, 10 July, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/10/celebrity-activism-africa-live-aid 

Davis, H 2010, ‘Feeding the world a line?: Celebrity activism and ethical consumer practices from Live Aid to Product Red’, Nordic Journal of English Studies, Miami University, Vol 9.3, pp 111-115

Dewall, A 2013, ‘Reclaiming Activism’, World Peace Foundation, 30 April, https://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2013/04/30/reclaiming-activism/

Fitzpatrick, S 2011, ‘The Moyo-Bono Divide: What are the Opposing Sides?’, Hubpages, 14 February, http://siouxtrick.hubpages.com/hub/The-Moyo-Bono-Divide

Nash, K 2008, ‘Global citizenship as showbusiness: the cultural politics of Make Poverty History’, Media Culture Society, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 167-181

Why Poverty, 2012, ‘Give Us The Money’, Why Poverty, 10 December, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgGP3zV8kdU

Further Information

Bono’s 2013 TED Talk

Band Aid 30’s cover of Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Why Poverty’s documentary exploring the efforts of Bono and Bob Geldof along with their accomplishments and criticism

Clash of the Wellness Warriors and Health Professionals

“Wellness is more than just an obsession today. It’s a moral demand … when health becomes an ideology, the failure to conform becomes a stigma.” – Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer

We all have that friend that counts calories, keeps a food journal, is always on the hunt for the new super food (hello kale, chia seeds and goji berries), and hashtagging every meal with #cleaneating #doyouevenlift? #datass… And whilst we all roll our eyes at their weird obsession with green smoothies and kale (I’ve tried it, it’s disgusting), there’s this tiny part of us that thinks ‘damn, she’s doing well,’ as we look at ourselves in the mirror and rethink our indulgence in a block of chocolate.

If we follow  food personalities and food bloggers on TV, cook books and instagram… then eating better, makes you a better person. And not only a better person, but better looking from the inside out. Apparently ‘fit is the new sexy’ (Kayla Itsines) and ‘eating veggies, not animals’ (Emily Hunt) is the new way to eat food. Whilst I’m a big believer in promoting a healthy lifestyle, I believe it’s important to be critical of the way that these ‘healthy lifestyles’ are marketed at us and ‘others,’ and question the legitimacy of bold claims made.

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Pete Evans, an Australian chef and TV personality who is a walking advertisement for the Paleo Way. He is a guest chef on My Kitchen Rules and is widely recognised throughout Australia and is reaching international audiences. Evans claims that his Paleo diet can ‘cure cancer and autism’ (Robinson, 2014). He also created a recipe baby formula (Paleo of course), which was high in Vitamin A which can cause serious illness, even death (Dieticians Association of Australia). 

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Pete Evans flaunting his Paleo is the new black shirt. Source

Evans is a chef. Not a dietician, nutritionist or scientist, however the claims he makes appeal to people with little hope left. Neuroscienctist and science writer, Dr Sarah McKay says that ‘”wellness” has been hijacked by pseudoscience’ and suggests that health professionals need to find a better way to connect with the public. (Randles, 2015) Perhaps this is a positive step in the right direction to promote efficient, safe health practices. Mansberg suggests that health professionals should ‘step up and provide better information to the public so Australians can make truly informed choices, before anyone else dies a preventable death using alternative medicines’ (2015).

Kayla Itsines. Source
Kayla Itsines. Source

There are many female ‘Wellness Warriors’ who dominate Instagram and have immense influence over their followers. Kayla Itsines is a Wellness Warrior who has over 3.5million followers on Instagram, promoting health, strength and fitness through her transformational ebooks. She sells the idea that if you work out, eat healthy, and post your progress shots on Instagram, that makes you a good person. And more than a good person, but that you’ll be happy, positive, get more out of life and embrace the full Wellness Warrior lifestyle.

‘The wellness blogger is, crucially, photogenic and young, which is why “wellness” looks so much more desirable than it did a decade ago,’ they tell us to ‘eat like me, look like me.’ (The Guardian, 2015). It’s a desirable lifestyle, but failing to conform to these ideals, can reinforce insecurities people may already have. As one physiotherapist has said, an increasing amount of teenage girls have adopted her programs, which is concerning due to the affects on self confidence, self worth and belonging (Wescombe, 2015). Lauren McGukin (a spokesperson for Dieticians Association Australia) says that the Wellness Warrior can be ‘dangerous and promote an unhealthy lifestyle do to their extreme nature.’

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In the world of the Wellness Revolution, power and influence is everything. Perhaps medical professionals can learn something from the Wellness Warriors because they certainly do have a lot of attention. But maybe the Wellness Warriors should leave the medical advice to the medical professionals (ahem, Pete Evans). I believe that it would be much more beneficial for Wellness Warriors to actually promote, being well. This means being happy in your skin, focusing not only on physical wellness but also emotional wellness. This way, the over arching message from both medical professionals and Wellness Warriors of ‘living a healthy lifestyle’ could be addressed more effectively without excluding anyone because you can’t reach an unrealistic goal.

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References

Carty, S 2015 ‘As health professionals call #fitspo stars ‘dangerous’ and warn ‘people should not trust them’, we ask: Are wellness bloggers doing followers more harm than good?’ Daily Mail Australia, 22 March, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3001594/As-health-professionals-call-fitspo-stars-dangerous-warn-people-not-trust-ask-wellness-bloggers-doing-followers-harm-good.html

Mansberg, G 2015, ‘Dr Ginni Mansberg: The Medical Profession has a problem’, News.com.au, 11 March, http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/dr-ginni-mansberg-the-medical-profession-has-a-problem/story-fneuzlbd-1227258347242

The Guardian, 2015 ‘Green is the new black: the unstoppable rise of the healthy eating guru’ The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/27/new-wellness-bloggers-food-drink-hadley-freeman

Robinson, A 2014 ‘Pete Evans says a Paleo can prevent autism. He’s wrong’, Essential Baby, October 12, http://www.essentialbaby.com.au/wellbeing/mind-and-body/pete-evans-says-a-paleo-diet-can-prevent-autism-hes-wrong-20141012-115356.html

Wescombe, S 2015 ‘ 5 Reasons not to let your teenage daughter do the Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide program’, Happy Physio, 25 July, http://happyphysio.com.au/5-reasons-not-to-let-your-teenage-daughter-do-the-kayla-itsines-bikini-body-guide-program/