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).

List of Countries Currently Experiencing Population Decline

In an effort to provide a quick reference for those interested in stage 5 of the demographic transition model (where the number of births fall below the number of deaths resulting in negative natural population growth), I put together a quick list of countries (map coming in an update!) based on U.S. Census projections. The countries below are experiencing population decline from 2013 to 2014. However, I based this list on growth rates (which includes migration) so some countries may have sustainable fertility rates (like South Africa) but out-migration (emigration) from the country is high enough to cause a decrease in that country’s population from 2013 to 2014. Despite this caveat, the primary reason for population decline is low birth rates. With that aside here is the list:

Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cook Islands, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Micronesia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, and Ukraine

South Africa is expected to experience a negative growth rate of 0.4 from 2013 to 2014. It is not due to low fertility (which is estimated at 2.2 children per woman), but due to large migrant outflows in 2013 and 2014 (over 300,000 people each year). With low number of births, the net effect on the population is decline (decreasing from 48,601,000 to 48,376,000).

A surprising addition to this list (for me) was Germany. I had assumed the country would continue to experience population growth for sometime because of its immigration. Not so, total fertility rate in Germany is 1.4 children per woman in 2013 (well below replacement level of 2.1). With an aging population, the 679,000 babies expected won’t be enough to replace the 906,000 deaths expected. These deaths aren’t due to an expectation of virulent disease or war, but simple old age. Moreover the 72,000 immigrants expected in 2013 isn’t enough to replace those German citizens that are dying.

This brings up a hidden facet to population decline, which I’ve touched on previously. These statistics treat “Germany” and “Russia” as homogeneous population groups. As I just said, 72,000 immigrants are expected (estimated) to enter Germany in 2013, many might become German citizens. Immigrants, typically, have larger number of children than the “natives” whether by bringing over their existing families when they naturalize or when they “settle down” and begin having families in their new homes (sometimes both!). When evaluating these (or any) statistics, its always important to keep in mind what’s being analyzed and to question what’s being left out. In these statistics we’re missing valuable ethnic, religious, and other important “identity” data. Like most things, concentrations develop as you narrow your focus from the countrywide to statewide level or from the nation to population groups.

Two general geographic trends are worth pointing out. The first is the prevalence of eastern and southeastern European, former Communist, Eastern Orthodox religion countries. This line stretches from the Baltic states and runs south to the Adriatic Sea. Greece, as it turns out, is expected to begin population decline by 2015. Outside the scope of the study it fits the larger regional pattern (though not “former Communist” thanks to Eisenhowerian intervention [I believe]). This isn’t really the space to speculate on the reason for the prevalence of population decline in this area but I would bet it would have something to do with the influx of “Western” medicine and technology after the Cold War prolonging lives (now leading to “larger” crude death rates) and lingering effects of the “Communist” social experiment that gave women more “freedom” (read: treated the same in regards to their labor as men) than in more “traditional” (read: not Communist) societies. The other general geographic trend is the presence of relatively small islands and island chains. These islands may actually represent the realization of a neo-Malthusian nightmare world. The “carrying capacity” of these islands are tapped, but not due to food, probably water or jobs, forcing a outflow of people. Combined with just below (St. Vincent and the Grenadines is 1.8 children per woman) or at-replacement level fertility and we have population decline in relatively small populations.

And then there’s Japan. While I’ve already discussed Japan in a previous post, its worth reiterating the multiple causes identified (or at least hypothesized) by scholars as to the reason for its population decline (really its falling fertility rates). Some point to ever-expanding educational and economic access for women, which leads to delay in having children (if having any at all). Others point to a wider trend of industrialization and modernization, breaking down traditional family structures and lifestyles – emphasizing “Western” ideals like individual gain and happiness. And of course, there’s the lack of immigration. The truth, as you probably could guess, is likely a combination of all these things (and more). In fact, one could point to the importance that “traditional Japanese culture” places on elders and the influence that longer lifespans has had in reinforcing this value. I used ironic quotes because I think every culture places high value on elders. At any rate, in a world of economic cost perhaps its more important to the individual or the state to be able to care for the elderly rather than children? Just a thought.

Geopolitical Cartoons: China under Imperialism (early 1900s)

A couple of weeks ago I discussed a geopolitical cartoon of Korea under imperial control of Japan, this week I return to the theme of imperialism with a pair of cartoons (via imperialism-by-brady) on the imperial domination of China in the closing years of the 19th century, that is the late 1800s.

Imperial powers ready to fight a sleeping China, ca. 1900 (via imperialism-by-brady)

The cartoon above is my favorite of the two, in it the imperial powers are represented by common animals associated with the country. We have the American eagle, German vulture, British lion, Austro-Hungarian double-headed eagle, Italian wolf, Japanese leopard, French rooster, and Russian bear. Each is armed, or ready to fight with tooth or claw, and ready to attack a sleeping dragon, representing China. The use of the queue hairstyle on the Chinese dragon is telling for the time period of the cartoon. According to wikipedia, the queue came to predominantly Han (an ethnic group) China via the Qing dynasty of the Jurchen/Manchus in the mid-1600s. Although resisted by most Han the queue, later became a symbol of the Qing dynasty until 1911. It is likely that this cartoon was made around the time of the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), as the imperial powers are getting ready to disturb and tussle with the Chinese dragon. Below is a photograph of the troops from most of the states (Russia isn’t shown) that took part in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion:

Alliance troops during Boxer Rebellion, ca. 1900 (via wikipedia)

Imperial powers divide China, ca. 1900 (via imperialism-by-brady)

The second cartoon shows the European and Japanese imperialists literally carving up a king cake representing China. The cartoon is from France, hence China is “Chine”. Rather than using animals commonly associated with the powers, the artist utilized current (at the time) rulers and human symbols. The United Kingdom is represented by Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II represents Germany, Czar Nicholas II represents Russia, “Marianne” is the emblem of France, and a samurai represents Japan. In the background a Qing official futilely tries to get their attention. One wonders if “Marianne” is actively participating in the division of China in the artist’s eyes. According to the wikipedia article, “Marianne” is an allegory for liberty and reason; while, the French government could certainly make a “reasonable” explanation for its imperial activities at the time (safeguarding French economic interests), but the lack of liberty enjoyed by the Chinese would be harder to explain (unless they thought they were saving the Chinese from themselves).

These geopolitical cartoons capture the breadth of foreign involvement in China’s internal affairs at the beginning of last century. The major powers from Europe, the United States, and Japan all sent troops to suppress the Boxer Rebellion and to safeguard their interests in China. What the second cartoon really shows is the inability of the Qing dynasty to protect its own territory and the power of the imperialists to enforce their will, despite Qing protestations. A potent symbol of the imperial era, the second cartoon hints at the eventual collapse of the Qing dynasty and the creation of the Republic of China. The fall of the Qing signified the end of dynastic rule in China, a system of government that had been established with the Xia dynasty around 2,000 BCE.