Geographic Implications of (Anti-)Social Media

“Someday we will build up a world telephone system, making necessary to all peoples the use of a common language or common understanding of languages, which will join all the people of the earth into one brotherhood. There will be heard throughout the earth a great voice coming out of the ether which will proclaim, ‘Peace on earth, good will towards men.'” – John J. Carty (Chief Engineer at AT&T, 1891) (Credit)

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

The Internet has brought seemingly limitless information and media, literally, to our fingertips. I have watched my mother reconnect with grammar school friends on a social media site, even though that time was decades past and half a world away. The Internet, like the Post, Telegraph, Radio, Telephone, and Television, have also served to speed information between people at distances far greater than human perception would typically allow. But, there are a few key differences. First is the ubiquity of the Internet. It can be accessed from your phone, your computer, your tablet, from a coffee shop down the street, your 5th floor apartment, your workplace, mid-air, the middle of the ocean, and extra-terrestrially (Twitter). Another difference is the sheer volume of people able to access the information – the International Telecommunication Union estimates that in 2015 3.1 billion (or half the planet’s population) was using the Internet. Virtually everyone has a cell phone (seriously the statistic is 7,085,000,000; the 2015 estimated population for the planet is 7,200,000,000). And of course, programming within the Internet has made information accessible to even more users through automated translation. There is also the depth of interaction, were bandwidth to allow it, all 7 billion users could conceivably be in the same chat room at the same time, passing information back and forth. So why hasn’t Carty’s prediction come true?

Well, Z isn’t going to sort out this thornier philosophical issue for you (an excellent place to get started, however, is Ted Robert Gurr’s Why Men Rebel,1970). Spoiler alert: academia still hasn’t come to an agreement (Z suspects the answer is both – nurture and nature, based on his observations).

The last 12-months has thrown into stark relief the impact that anti-social media (meant in its correct sense: unwilling or unable to associate in a normal or friendly way with other people) has on engendering a distinctive anti-social environment.

To put it plainly, the Internet empowers demagogues and provides a platform where one can find supportive listeners, watchers, activists, and foot soldiers anywhere in the world.

The Internet has seemingly negated the role that Geography played in minimizing the impact that these individuals would have. Would a certain Florida-based pastor (turned Freedom/French fry chef and 2016 U.S. Presidential Candidate) been known outside the state 100 years ago, outside the country 50 years ago? Only to the devoted watcher. Also complicit in the rise of demagoguery is a willing mass media complex providing microphones and coverage for various rants (I’m sure you can find your own sources).

Anti-social media and its anti-social users can now draw on social media half a world away in order to push their own message.

(via BBC)

The above image was created by a (self-described) conservative Japanese woman (all from the BBC). The caption reads: “‘I want to live a safe and clean life, eat gourmet food, go out, wear pretty things, and live a luxurious life… all at the expense of someone else.’ ‘I have an idea. I’ll become a refugee.'” The artist posts to a social media page that also includes anti-Korean messages. As the BBC astutely points out immigration in Japan remains a controversial subject despite an ageing and declining population (regular Z Geography readers will no doubt recall failed public policy encourage Japanese Brazilians to immigrate to Japan).

The publication of this image immediately brought back memories (not even a month old, sadly) of the camerawoman for Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, who was video tapped ignominiously tripping and kicking two or three people running.

For the last month, Z Geography has watched the inevitable troll war in anonymous (and non-anonymous) comment sections around the Internet. Demagoguery has no shortage of willing participants. The Internet has flattened the Geography of Hate.

But what is shocking to Z Geography is the level of impersonal detachment shown by the camerawoman and female artist. One woman from one culture immersed in an ongoing human dilemma found it perfectly acceptable to kick a little girl as she ran by. While another woman from another culture thousands of miles away found it perfectly acceptably to create an  image based on a photo of another little girl to push a message of prejudice. Are we becoming desensitized to extremism? Probably.

But Z Geography’s bigger concern is whether this activity – cartoons, videos of kicking, and comments defending it all – serves to legitimize extremism. It is unfortunate that there isn’t a historical precedent for this sort of thing.

Oh wait.

(via wikipedia): From a 1919 Austrian postcard showing a Jew stabbing a German soldier in the back. World War 1 ended in 1918, the Holocaust began in 1941. At least 12,000 Jewish soldiers died serving Imperial Germany.

Disclaimer: Z Geography does not advocate the curbing of freedom of expression and artistry on the Internet (and sees all three as public goods, in both senses of the word).

Advertisements

Geopolitical Cartoons: Monroe and Roosevelt (1900s)

Resurrecting a previous Z Geography series, this week we’ll take a look at the geographic significance of cartoons related to the Monroe Doctrine, specifically the Roosevelt Corollary. As the wikipedia article summarizes, the President James Monroe’s doctrine (articulated in the 1820s) sought to limit European influence in the emerging revolutions in Central and South America. Since the U.S. lacked a “credible” military response at the time, the policy was mostly enforced by the British Empire – who would benefit from new markets for their free trade schemes. At the same time that the U.S. sought to limit European interference in the New World, the U.S. also pledged to respect the internal sovereignty of European countries, to include what colonies remained in the New World.

Of course, perceptions of the doctrine changed with the times. The cartoon below (dated after the U.S. Civil War) depicts a “crippled” American Eagle conversing with an amused British lion and French cock. The context is evident, in the aftermath of the destructive war between the states – the U.S. was in no shape to uphold and enforce the Monroe Doctrine. But by Roosevelt’s presidency, the U.S. had regained its military strength.

a “crippled” American Eagle, unable to uphold the Monroe Doctrine? (post-U.S. Civil War)

President Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (from 1904) moved the doctrine from non-interventionism to hardly-disguised imperialism. The corollary was couched in the language and intent of the earlier doctrine in that the U.S. would intervene in conflicts between European countries and Latin American countries in order to press the “legitimate” claims of the Europeans, rather than have the Europeans attempt to enforce their claims directly. More succinctly, the Roosevelt Corollary promoted the United States as the “hemispheric policeman.”

The two geopolitical cartoons below communicate these points. In the first, we see a President Roosevelt aboard one of the “Great White Fleet” ships resting defiantly on a naval gun pointed at a European monarch. The monarch carries “claims” and reaches to across the Atlantic to a sobbing representation of the Republic of Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republican). The naval gun is marked the “Monroe Doctrine”. In the distance, Roosevelt is backed by the power of the U.S. Navy (represented by ironclads). The cartoon effectively illustrates the growing strength of the United States. Where before the U.S. required British support to uphold an American doctrine, by Roosevelt’s presidency the U.S. has become a hemispheric (or regional) power in its own right.

Monroe Doctrine as Roosevelt’s “Big Gun” (unknown date)

The second geopolitical cartoon, from 1904, evokes slightly different imagery to explain the Roosevelt Corollary. In it a larger-than-life Roosevelt patrols the Caribbean Sea, which is framed by countries that border it (Santo Domingo/Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, and so on), pulling along the U.S. Navy’s ironclads which are labelled “debt collectors.” In his right hand Roosevelt carries his now-famous big stick, which was his favorite proverb (“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”).

Roosevelt and his Big Stick, patrolling the Caribbean with the U.S. Navy (probably 1904)

The Monroe Doctrine was “reinstated” as it were by World War II, as seen in the geopolitical cartoon below. The cartoon depicts an Uncle Sam with a wet paint brush posting a sign in the Caribbean with ink from a “restatement of the Monroe Doctrine” bucket. The sign reads “Positively no hunting.” Glaring closely at the sign is Hitler’s Germany who sports a smoking gun and the corpses of France, Holland, and Denmark – symbolized as adult ducks. The sign is meant to ward off German and Italian (Mussolini is just behind Hitler) poaching of the remaining possessions of those countries, the ducklings, in the Western Hemisphere.

A renewed Monroe Doctrine, warding off Hitler and Mussolini? (World War II)

These cartoons illustrate historical and geopolitical points. Historically, the Roosevelt Corollary illustrated the United States abandoning of the non-interventionism of the Monroe Doctrine for the active asserting of a regional (and soon to be global) power. This couldn’t have happened without a much stronger U.S. Navy. From a geopolitical perspective, the Roosevelt Corollary represented an assertion of American dominance in the Western hemisphere; rather than a European one. The last cartoon, a renewed emphasis of an 1820s doctrine during World War II, chronicles the ascendancy of American power through a defiant Uncle Sam determined to resist Nazi and fascist aggression.

Geopolitical Cartoons: Depictions of the Spanish-American War (1898)

This weeks geopolitical cartoons is brought to you by William Randolph Hearst! Well not quite, I’m pretty sure Hearst would balk at my political tendencies. However, the cartoons do stem from the conflict that he assisted in creating, the Spanish-American War. In this post we’ll explore some of the not-very-subtle propaganda messages in various geopolitical cartoons. Know your sources!

The first image below comes from a satirical German newspaper first published in 1848 (according to wikipedia) and printed the day before hostilities ensued, or were declared, or when scholars agreed the war started (published April 24, started April 25). Coming from a German perspective, its primary focus is on the effects of the impending conflict on “poor Cuba.” The caption reads “this encounter does not seem, at present, exactly a happy one for poor Cuba.” Indeed, as the picture shows Cuba is being ground underfoot by Uncle Sam (the United States who is strolling over to the Caribbean island via Florida) and Don Quixote (Spain who is stretching across the Atlantic from Spain). Quite clearly, the Germans are making a call on who is going to win the conflict. Who would you bet on? A modern Uncle Sam walking over? Or an insane Spanish minor noble, armored and armed with lance in the late-1800s, with a penchant for charging windmills, accosting monks, and generally not following up on his deeds?

“Poor Cuba”, 24 April 1898 (via Ohio State University)

The Spanish, of course, saw things rather differently. The cartoon is apparently from a Catalan source and depicts a greedy Uncle Sam hungrily eyeing Cuba from the United States. His groping hands are hovering over the island. Though I have no idea what “fatlera” means, wikipedia tells me that the caption reads “Protect the island so won’t be lost.” Righteous nationalistic fury indeed! But I have to agree with a comment made in a Blue Sky GIS post, “Spain complaining about anybody else’s imperial ambitions is very much the pot calling the kettle black.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Greedy Uncle Sam, 1896 (via wikipedia)

The next two images are from the U.S. The first, from the Minneapolis Tribune, depicts President McKinley holding onto a savage-looking child, the Philippines. He is contemplating whether to “keep” the archipelago, “return” it to Spain, or setting it on his own path. The editors at the Minneapolis Tribune clearly believe that President McKinley should keep the islands. After all, handing them back to Spain is akin to throwing the child off of a cliff. Moreover, it is just a savage child after all, hardly ready for independence. As the world looks on, history is made. McKinley holds on to the Philippines. The aftermath is for another post.

McKinley and the Philippines, 1898 (via wikipilipinas)

The final poster is from the 1900 election campaign season, which McKinley/Roosevelt subsequently won for the Republicans. The poster compares the effects of four years of party rule in 1896 (after four years of Democratic rule under Grover Cleveland) and in 1900 (after four years under McKinley and the Republicans). Two things worth drawing attention to from the geopolitical standpoint. First, is how the United States justified (and continues to justify) its foreign intervention “the American flag has not been planted in foreign soil to acquire more territory but for humanity’s sake.” I wouldn’t be the first person to suggest that Americans are uncomfortable with the sort of power they wield. As a society we take pains to justify our adventures abroad, yellow journalism and yellow cake. When the conflict is said and done, and righteous American power is in place, the shining city upon the hill bring the light of liberty, we have the the last two pictures in the campaign poster. Cuba is compared under Spanish rule and under America’s rule. I think these two messages are one of the most interesting omnipresent debates in American foreign policy. The isolationist trend, content to guard its power and prosperity while the world goes to shit, and the righteous, liberty-exporting revolutionary trend.

Liberty under McKinley, 1900 (via wikipedia)

Geopolitical Cartoons: President Lincoln and Reconstruction (1865)

This week’s geopolitical cartoon features President Abraham Lincoln (16th President of the United States) and his second-term Vice President Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s first Vice was Hannibal Hamlin). The cartoon shows the two friends (referring to each other as Andy and Uncle Abe) attempting to mend a “tear” in the United States with sewing string. Vice President Johnson is showing perched on top of the globe and sewing the rift that runs from Florida through Georgia, through Tennessee (Vice President Johnson’s home state), and to Ohio. I’m not entirely sure what President Lincoln is supposed to be doing (and that’s probably part of the satire), but it appears he might be attempting to balance the globe so that the Vice President can “mend the Union.” The caption reads “The ‘Rail Splitter’ at Work Repairing the Union”. Vice President Johnson tells President Lincoln, “Take it quietly Uncle Abe and I will draw it closer than ever!!” President Lincoln replies, “A few more stitches Andy and the goold old Union will be mended!” Perhaps he’s removing the rail, quietly, from underneath the globe.

The ‘Rail Splitter’ at Work Repairing the Union, 1865 (via juggle-images.com).

First, how do we know its 1865? Well, wikipedia seems to think so. But the characters, their familiarity with each other, and the fact that they’re trying to “mend the Union” all indicates that the Civil War between the northern states and the southern states (1861-1865). Further, Johnson, a Tennessean, watched as Tennessee voted to secede during the Civil War, he fled and remained the state’s senator during the Civil War. The wikipedia article notes that Johnson advised the future President of the Confederate States of America (Senator Jefferson Davis) that if southern senators remained in the Senate (rather than quit, as they threatened to do if their states seceded) their Democratic majority could prevent any infringement upon their perceived states’ rights by President Lincoln (then in his first term). Thus, a southern unionist Senator Johnson was not necessarily pro-Lincoln.

The next interesting tidbit is calling President Lincoln a “rail splitter.” At first, I thought it was a play on his apparent nickname as the “Rail Candidate” during the 1860 Presidential nomination campaign. According to the President’s wikipedia page, his supporters “embellished” stories of his frontier days with his father. The splitter, I had assumed, was due to his perception of having split the union after he won the Presidency. Evidently not, my urban bias didn’t play out in my favor this time! According to a variety of websites, rail splitting is a skill in which one uses an axe, sledgehammer, and wedges to split a log. The “rails” are then used for fencing, this particular author notes that he was able to split a 12-foot log into four rails in 60 seconds.

The Rail Candidate, 1860 (via wikipedia, if it fails to load click here, its big!)

This last picture drives home the perception of some journalists of Lincoln’s supporters claiming him to be a hardy frontiersman. Published in 1860, clearly visible this time, it shows future President Lincoln straddling a rail held aloft by an African-American (who were slaves at the time) and a Lincoln/Republic party supporter. The rail is inscribed “Republican Plat-form”, satirizing the Republican parties focus on the slavery issue and on President Lincoln’s frontiersman credentials. While the African-American is saying something we today would consider wildly inappropriate and racist, it was common-place in the 1860s. Moreover, the sentiment that the slave is carrying President Lincoln on “nothing but [this here] rail” makes wonder if it was some foreshadowing? After the Civil War ended and Reconstruction began, President Lincoln that the U.S. Federal government would have a strong role to play in the education and economic empowerment of the “freedmen” as the freed slaves were called. The compromise result was the Freedmen’s Bureau. Finally, the party supporter’s sentiment that by proving Lincoln’s frontier credentials will ensure him the Presidency strikes a little to close to home.

Though taken after he re-won the Presidency the below picture of President Obama is a bit like the “Rail Candidate.” Perhaps, the “Shotgun President”? But, more seriously, the image of the “frontiersman” is quite clearly still a driving force in American political culture.

The “Shotgun President”, Feb 2013 (via americanglob,wordpress.com)