Media Wars: #Ferguson, American Hypocrisy and a Hint of Spring

This was originally posted on my professional blog.

America has experienced an ugly spotlight reversal with the eruption of popular discontent into violence in its own backyard. Just a few weeks ago, international media was buzzing with reports of ISIS steamrolling the Iraqi military and Russian-supported separatists in Ukraine shooting down passenger airlines. Now, the US squirms uncomfortably under international scrutiny of Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting of a young black man by a white police officer has once again raised the specter of racism and police brutality.

Obviously, the incident itself is complicated. Eyewitnesses – who have given conflicting testimonies – are the only window into what happened, since there was no dashboard camera. The initial description of Michael Brown, the victim of the shooting, as a “gentle giant” about to start college clashed with video footage of him stealing a box of cigarillos from a convenience store. Commentators have drawn parallels with the case of Trayvon Martin, whose mother has now reached out to Brown’s mother. Peaceful protests have given way to violence and looting, reporters have been arrested, and witnesses have complained of excessive use of force by the police.

Social media, which played a major role in bringing media attention to Ferguson in the first place, has played host to the battleground of ideological responses to the incident. The primary complaint from conservatives is that the uprising in Ferguson, and the underlying racial tensions it has exposed, don’t deserve our consideration because some of the protesters have been looting and vandalizing stores…

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…including a few gems that actually blame the community for the excessive force used against it.

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Meanwhile, people used the Twitter hastag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown to spar over which photos of Brown were used by traditional media (wearing a cap and gown vs. striking a “thug” pose) and post their own side-by-side pictures. Still others are expressing frustration at the fact that the vandalism and looting has been used as a straw man to distract from ongoing widespread racial profiling and policy brutality against blacks, including one refreshingly blunt protester at a rally in DC:

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What has been the most interesting to me is the global shock and horror at the incident and resulting fallout. The international community sees what many Americans are apparently missing: that the protests and unrest in Ferguson are the manifestation of a minority group sick of being oppressed and ignored. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights drew parallels to South African apartheid, while several countries have been using the situation to take shots at America’s own human rights record when we so often criticize other countries. One might expect Iran and Russia troll the US over civil unrest, but as one friend of mine pointed out on Facebook, “When Egypt calls you out for human rights abuses, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.”

American police brutality, and the unwillingness of many police departments to be held accountable for their actions, have also been focal points. What happened to Michael Brown will unfortunately always be shrouded in mystery, since the Ferguson police department apparently prioritizes riot gear and tear gas over cameras for officers or police cruisers. They also seemed to have forgotten the meaning of “free press,” as they arrested and harassed several reporters who were trying to cover the protests. Interestingly, Obama was quick to condemn the bullying of journalists “here in the United States of America,” despite his own administration’s secrecy and aggression toward the press, including prosecuting a journalist who refused to identify the source of an intelligence leak.

Indeed, many observers have been quick to point out America’s hypocrisy at fingering human rights abuses outside our own borders when we have threads of discontent, similar to those found in the Arab Spring and other global protest movements, woven throughout our own society. A lovely little piece of satire from Vox portrays how American media might describe the events in Ferguson if they happened in another country.

When everything is said and done, America doesn’t look so much like a shining beacon of democracy and human rights – we just kinda look like everybody else.

Jimmy Carter, New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, and Carter Center’s Donald Hopkins To Cover Global Health Challenges in New Conversation on Google+ Series

The following is an announcement about an upcoming social media event hosted by the Carter Center.


On Sept. 10 at 3 p.m. ET, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, and Carter Center disease eradication expert Dr. Donald R. Hopkins will hold a special video chat, “Global Health: How We Can Make a Difference,” to kick off a new Conversations on Google+ series that is launching later this fall.

Leading up to the event, from Sept. 4-10, President Carter and Mr. Kristof will participate in online discussions on the social media platform Google+ about the challenges of eradicating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) when the world is focused on security issues and offer their ideas for progress.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE SEPT. 4-10:

Anyone can join the conversation, Sept. 4 – 10, 2013, when President Carter and Mr. Kristof will post discussion questions on global health to members of the American Public Health Association’s Google+ Public Health Community (direct link below).

Anyone on Google+ can join this Community and share their health-related comments with Carter and Kristof. Participants with the most insightful and thoughtful comments will be selected to join a special Conversations on Google+ online broadcast with President Carter, Mr. Kristof, and Dr. Hopkins live on Sept. 10.

Sign up for Google+, a social media platform, by visiting https://plus.google.com/.

Google+ users can join the Public Health Community by clicking on the “join community” button at the following link: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/109215334990434447518.

CONVERSATIONS ON GOOGLE+ LIVE BROADCAST SEPT. 10:

Tune-in on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 3 p.m. ET for a live broadcast of a Conversation on Google+ hosted by The Carter Center and featuring President Carter, Mr. Kristof, Dr. Hopkins, and selected participants from Google+’s Public Health Community.

Conversations on Google+ allows everyday users the opportunity to engage global experts in discussions on the issues that matter to them. The Conversations on Google+ series will continue with other high profile speakers later in the year.

Anyone can watch the event live or in archive from several locations online:

TWEET WITH US: The Carter Center will be live-tweeting the Sept. 10 event from @CarterCenter using the hashtag #CarterConvo.

WHAT ARE NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES?

NTDs are a group of 17 illnesses that affect more 500 million children and more than 1 billion people worldwide. Often found in the world’s most disadvantaged communities, NTDs can cause severe disability, robbing people of the opportunity to improve their own lives. Children suffering from NTDs often cannot attend school and adult sufferers may be less able to work, harvest food, or care for their families. The Carter Center is a leader in the eradication, elimination, and control of neglected tropical diseases, fighting six preventable diseases — Guinea worm, river blindness, trachoma, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria — by using health education and simple, low-cost methods.

ABOUT THE EXPERTS:

  • President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, founded The Carter Center in 1986 in partnership with Emory University to alleviate suffering worldwide. A long champion of campaigns to wipe out neglected diseases, in 2002, President Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development” through his work with the Center.
  • Nicholas D. Kristof is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Op-Ed columnist of The New York Times, best known for writing about poverty, disease, and marginalization around the world.
  • Dr. Donald R. Hopkins is the Carter Center’s vice president for health programs and a former interim director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A medical doctor, he is internationally recognized for his work on NTDs and disease eradication, including smallpox and Guinea worm disease.

About Google+ :

Google+ is a sharing and communications platform that brings your real-world friendships and relationships online for a fun, interactive experience—as well as lets you make new friends and connections with people who share your passions and interests. Much more than a social network, Google+ makes it even easier to use other Google products, share content, and use integrated text and video chat—all for free. https://plus.google.com/

About The Carter Center:

A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.

Follow Nicholas Kristof on Social Media:

APHA’s New Networking Platform

IH Section members: This post was originally posted in December of last year. However, APHA has recently made some changes to the platform, so I am re-posting it with updated information.


Happy Holidays, IH Section members! Hopefully this holiday season finds you all happy and healthy, with whatever projects you are working on going well. The purpose of this post is to introduce you to a new networking and communication platform that they have introduced. It is APHA’s Online Community, and it is integrated into your APHA membership profile. The purpose of the community is to encourage members of APHA to connect and discuss shared professional interests and information about events relevant to you and your colleagues. The platform was just recently opened to the general membership, so I have taken some time to explore its different features and thought I would share them here. Please note that you can click on any of the screen shots below

In order to access the community, visit http://connect.apha.org and use your APHA membership ID and password to log in. If you don’t have this information, just go to APHA’s website and request that an e-mail with the information be sent to you (About Us > Membership Information > Update Your Member Profile, then click the link that says “Forgot Your Username and Password?”).

login screen

After logging in, you should come to the following screen. From here, you can access your Member Profile, the groups you are a member of, and your e-mail delivery settings.

welcome screen

The first thing you should do is set up your Member Profile so that other members with similar interests can network with you. If you go to edit your profile, you will come to the following screen:

edit profile

Here, you can edit your name, your photo, your academic background, where you work, tags (keywords that allow other members to search for you based on your interests), address and phone numbers (only if you choose to make them available to other members), a short bio, and any social media profiles you have (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). Once you have input all of this information, you can view your profile as others see it.

view profile

The main focus of the community, however, are the discussions that APHA is encouraging members to have within their professional sections. When you go to access “My Groups” (the link is in the upper right-hand corner of the screen), you will come to a screen that looks like this:

my groups

From there, you can access the group that corresponds to the section(s) of which you are a member.

IH section group

Within each section’s group are the tools for communication and networking with other members. Here, you can search the section membership, access e-mail listservs, put events on the calendar, post to the bulletin board (essentially a message board), upload documents to the library, and post content to the wiki.

This tool has great potential to increase communication and networking among members. I strongly encourage you all to log in, set up a profile, and have a look around!

(Still) Seeking a Video Editor for the IH Blog!

This position is still open, so I thought I would bump it to the top of the blog. If you are interested in getting involved with our blog, or know someone who is, please contact me at jmkeralis [at] gmail [dot] com.


Attention IH Section members and blog readers! The Communications Committee is seeking a volunteer to serve as a Video Editor for the IH Blog. We are not looking for someone to make and/or edit videos, but simply to find relevant and interesting videos available on the internet and post them here to the IH Blog.

While this is a volunteer position, the time commitment is minimal – we are looking for someone who can find relevant videos and write a short description and provide commentary for them. You can do this in any format you’d like: either post the videos as you find them, or compile a weekly digest for the blog. The work can be done from anywhere in the world with a reliable internet connection.

There are several great reasons to get involved with IH section communications:

YOU WILL BE VISIBLE. The IH Blog gets around 800 hits per month, with traffic from all over the world; our Facebook page has over 100 fans and is always growing. Actively contributing to the blog for the IH section, which has over 1,500 members and is a loud voice for international health in a professional society with over 50,000 professionals, is a great way to put your name out there.

YOU WILL NETWORK. You always hear about the importance of networking in building a career. Ever feel awkward about striking up conversations because you need something? A better – way to network is by offering your services – you will be much appreciated and remembered for a whole lot longer.

YOU WILL LEARN. Not only will you contribute to the field and get noticed for your contributions, you will learn so much by being exposed to the disussion: news, politics, analysis, industry trends and problems.

If you are interested in this position, please contact Jessica Keralis, the IH Communications Committee Chair, at jmkeralis [at] gmail [dot] com for details.

KONY 2012: Activists and Analysts Arm for Battle (again)

The spark of controversy has been struck again. A video released recently by Invisible Children, an activism and aid organization dedicated to fighting the destruction and chaos caused by Joseph Kony’s marauding militia, the LRA, has gone viral. In 48 hours the half-hour video saw millions of hits on YouTube and was re-tweeted, Google-plus-ed, and shared on Facebook around the world. In this video, Invisible Children summarized the conflict created by the LRA in Uganda and their practices of kidnapping children, and called on viewers to make Joseph Kony a household name in 2012. The point of the campaign, the video explains, is to raise awareness – make sure that everyone who has an internet connection knows who he is so that they can put the thumbscrews on major political decision-makers (i.e. the American Congress) to make sure that Kony is captured and the LRA is stopped.

Here is the video.


Frankly, my initial reaction when I saw its length was a “TL/DR,” but I skipped through it and got the general idea.

The response to the video has been outspoken and varied. Many politicians and leaders have praised Invisible Children for drawing attention to the issue and making it accessible and relevant to young people. Analysts and development professionals (and, notably, many Ugandan journalists and activists) have criticized them for oversimplifying the issue and potentially misleading the public. From what I have read, there are three major sticking points.

First, the video focuses on Kony’s crimes in Uganda and the children that he kidnapped there. However, Kony is no longer in Uganda, and has not been for several years; right now, he and his (greatly reduced) militia are mainly active in the border region between the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Detractors say that the video is misleading and may give people the impression that the war in Uganda is still going on, and that Kony is still a major player there.

Second – and this is probably the most frequent objection I have read – analysts and scholars argue that the video greatly oversimplifies the situation and makes it seem like capturing Kony will solve the region’s problems. Some argue that removing Kony will not stop the LRA.

Third, many have argued that the focus should not be on capturing Kony, but on something else. That is apparently where the agreement ends. Some say the focus should be on rebuilding northern Uganda; others complain that the Ugandan army has still not been held accountable for its own crimes in the conflict and that the spotlight should be shined on them; still others say that military intervention is not a solution and could further militarize an already unstable region.

Finally, the tried and true argument surrounding the “White Savior Complex” (also known as “Whites in Shining Armor”) has made another appearance.

IC has responded to the criticism with a follow up video:


The furor surrounding the video and the resulting backlash have largely died down at this point (though they experienced a brief revival when Jason had an embarrassing public breakdown), but I thought I would join the tail end of the chorus of unsolicited commentary, because…well because I am a blogger, and that is what we do, after all.

One of the chief complaints from both development commentators and Ugandans has been that the video misrepresents Uganda by leading viewers to believe that Kony is still kidnapping children there, even though it never explicitly says this – Jason makes his case by focusing on Kony’s past crimes in the region. Kony has not been in Uganda for several years (though the LRA is still terrorizing civilians, but this time in the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic). I can relate to this (as we have established, I am already a cynic), but it seems contradictory to argue that the public can handle complex messaging and discern facts for themselves, and then turn around and say here that millions of viewers would be so easily mislead. You can’t have it both ways.

Plus, the internet has already shown that college students and social media savvy youths that disagree with the movie’s message are ready with retorts – from Sean Bean as Boromir, for all you Lord of the Rings fans out there:

…and the irony of this Antoine Dodson meme is beyond overwhelming:

Even Adolf Hitler has a reaction to IC’s video (in the repeatedly-parodied scene from Downfall):


Here is a fabulous summary of the events surrounding the video as they unfolded and the resulting memes propagated by various social media.

Others have complained that the military contingent is just another group of “Whites in Shining Armor” riding in to fix yet another African problem. I feel compelled to point out that the military support was specifically requested by the government of the Central African Republic, and that they are there for logistical support – the CAR army still bears the responsibility of actually bringing Kony in. Also, advocates against sexual violence in the region, such as Dr. Denis Mukwege of the DRC, have been lobbying for Western intervention to stop these roving militias for years, since the local governments have been incapable of doing anything about them. Is it more chivalrous to refuse to send in “Whites in Shining Armor” when the people ask for help?

And finally, there are arguments that eliminating Kony will not get rid of the LRA. Frankly, I disagree. The LRA is a shadow of what it once was and is largely a personality cult surrounding Kony. LRA soldiers definitely need treatment and programs to re-integrate them into society, but bringing Kony in will do a huge amount to get that process going, in my opinion.

Honestly, it baffles me that more people have not seen the point of the video. Invisible Children’s primary purpose – at least here in the U.S. – is to raise awareness and motivate people to action. The organization started specifically to draw attention to the abduction of children for use as child soldiers. They are not focused on long-term development and sustainable programs, so it doesn’t make sense to use that lens to assess them. It makes logical sense for them to present a situation like this simply and to use emotional pleas to move people to action; political and legislative campaigns do the same thing. The U.S. is entering an era of fiscal austerity, where Congress is trying to cut costs anywhere it can. Add that on top of the fact that this is an election year. Nothing is sacred. Budgets are being slashed. And the only way to ensure continued support – and continued funding – for a contingent of soldiers to help catch an African warlord is to get people outraged enough to call their Congressional representatives.