Tag: The Conversation

As the European Union celebrates 60 years, can Asia use it as a model for economic integration?

On 25 March 2017, the European Union’s heads of state and government will meet in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European project. The date marks the signing of the Treaties of Rome, which established the foundations of European Community that preceded the EU.

While the EU is a unique experiment in integration in many ways, the world abounds in other kinds of regional trade agreements; the World Trade Organization records more than 635. Still, as the most advanced form of market integration in the world, the EU provides a good model for other regions, including Asia.

Why the EU is a good model

Market integration is one of the tools that helped take Europe out of the ashes of the world wars and supported its transition out of the Cold War into peace. It provided a historically fragmented, war-torn, extremely diverse continent with a period of geopolitical stability, and thus brought wealth and prosperity.

Despite Britain’s impending exit from the group, the EU remains the most advanced and successful model for peace through economics in Europe’s history. The bloc continues to attract neighboring countries, having expanded from the original group of six to the current 28, with a combined population of more than 500 million and GDP of more than €14 billion. These countries work together across a single market and carefully selected common policy areas.

The EU’s market integration began with the free circulation of goods, based on the logic that the more states trade with one another and become interdependent, the less they are likely to go to war. It has extended to the free movement of people (stimulating travel, work abroad and cultural exchange), and enhanced economic integration through freer movement of capital and services, the option of joining a common currency, and other joint initiatives and policies.

Later members joined for mainly economic reasons; many others to fill the geopolitical void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its regime transition. Central and Eastern European countries, for instance, were supported in their transition to market economy and democracy by joining the EU and various other international institutions.

All signed up to trade with each other, but also to promote shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, peace, solidarity, strength through diversity and the rule of law. But increasingly negative attitudes towards the EU in some member states, and the EU’s struggle with confidence in its achievements and its future potential is a sign this stability came at the price of dynamic decision-making.

Integration in Asia

Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population and to most of the world’s production. These make it one of the most dynamic regions in the world, with huge economic potential.

Just as for the EU and its members, some countries in the region feel a certain frustration with the lack of progress by the World Trade Organization in dealing with the most urgent economic issues. While this may make regional integration à la EU seem desirable, the scope to achieve similar outcomes in Asia is shaky.

National contexts and ideologies in the region differ as much as economic structures, institutional differences, geopolitical, cultural and historic conditions. The motivation in Asia to work towards greater integration is often subject to the economies’ interdependence through trade and production networks within the global value chain, and is often commercially driven.

Nonetheless, Asia has numerous geo-economic groupings that may lead to EU-like integration including the East Asia Free Trade Agreement (EAFTA), the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These already make it the world’s second-most integrated region after the EU.

ASEAN also has a network of additional free trade agreements with neighboring countries, such as those between Australia and New Zealand (AANZFTA, China (ACFTA), South Korea (AKFTA), India (AIFTA) and a Comprehensive Economic Partnership with Japan (AJCEP).

Then there is ASEAN+3 – China, Japan, and South Korea, which has an ambitious Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which aims to expand sectors and topics of interaction by 2025.

Countries in the area are also working towards the establishment of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as an alternative to Trans Pacific Partnership, which has been rejected by US President Donald Trump.

The scene for further economic integration across Asia is clearly set. The RCEP would be a good start, providing the basis for economic cooperation, poverty alleviation, facilitation of trade in products and services and more.

Hurdles for further integration

But significant hurdles would need to be overcome if this project were to succeed along similar lines to the long-term achievements of the EU.

The first involves the question of will for unity in diversity, an idea that guides the EU. The region’s cultures, political regimes, economic systems and religious beliefs are more disparate than Europe. And we can count on many governments resisting sufficient institutional proximity, which would necessarily result in some diluting of sovereignty, non-interference, and territorial integrity.

The second hurdle entails superpower interests in seeing such integration take place – or not – and in what shape. Asia remains under the influence of fiercely competing superpowers, buffeted by the conflicting interests of China, the United States, and Russia. What are the chances the region can achieve equal partnership rather than extending the predominance of major regional actors; of reaching partnership rather than absorption?

There is no power balance between states in Asia as exists in Europe with Germany and France. These countries share a strong belief in European integration, and social and cultural understanding. What would be the parallel historical, ideological and social drivers in Asia? What or who would hold Asian integration together in times of crisis, something the more consolidated and stable EU is currently struggling with?

If Asia could integrate in its own way – most likely much more loosely than the EU and with fewer joint institutions and policies – then the formidable growth potential of the region could become a great driving force for dealing with the biggest challenges of today and tomorrow. These include national security, migration, competition and the re-emergence of protectionism, automation and unemployment, and aging work forces.

Working together to solve these complex challenges would make them much easier to deal with.

In December 2016, the EU and ASEAN celebrated the 40th anniversary of their relationship. As a summary to their underlying beliefs, they stated that “regional integration (is) the most effective way to foster stability, build prosperity and address global challenges.”

Each needs to promote this in its own setting to succeed.

Gabriele Suder, Principal Fellow, Faculty of Business & Economics/Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne

Photo Credit: Europa.eu

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Republicans fumble ACA repeal: Expert reaction

Editor’s note: The fight didn’t last long. Moments before a scheduled vote on March 24, House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act. It was a surprisingly swift defeat for a legislative priority talked up by Republicans since the day Obamacare first passed. We asked congressional scholars what the retreat means – and what comes next.

Trump legslative agenda now in serious doubt

Richard A. Arenberg, Brown University

President Trump and the Republican Congressional leadership have suffered a stunning defeat. The inability of the new president and his GOP majority to pass the American Health Care Act in the House places in question their ability to accomplish their central campaign promise of repealing Obamacare. It also creates significant obstacles for the remainder of the Trump legislative agenda, especially the planned tax cut.

The conflicting demands by factions in the health care debate have laid bare huge fissures in the Republican caucus – fissures which had been masked by apparent unity in the wake of Trump’s surprising election. Further, the failure of this first test of the Trump administration and its allies on the Hill raises serious questions about Speaker Ryan’s ability to bridge those gaps.

The bill, pulled by the Speaker before it could suffer defeat on the House floor, contained more than US$880 billion of tax reductions over 10 years.

GOP leaders have been counting on that reduction to the revenue base to permit a large tax reform bill to be passed using the reconciliation process. Reconciliation would permit the tax bill to be passed in the Senate with a simple majority, foreclosing the possibility of a Democratic filibuster.

However, in order to qualify under Senate rules, that bill must be revenue-neutral. The plan to use the tax reductions contained in the American Health Care Act was one of the main reasons that the Republican Congressional leadership convinced Trump to undertake the health care bill first.

The wisdom of that strategy will come under severe scrutiny in the White House in the days ahead.

Will the GOP ever get its act together?

Christopher Sebastian Parker, University of Washington

By now, the GOP should should be tired of this: public implosion.

Ever since the Tea Party showed up on the scene in 2009, the Republican party slips on every banana peel in sight. The fight between the party’s moderate wing and the more reactionary one, led former Senate Minority Leader, Bob Dole (R-KS), to say that neither he, nor president Ronald Reagan, could get elected in today’s GOP.

This was followed by the ouster of former House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA), who was primaried by Tea Party candidate Dave Brat in 2014. Why? He was perceived as too moderate. He was the first sitting majority leader to lose since 1899.

This was followed by the GOP resignation of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in 2015 because, he, too, was perceived to be too moderate

Now this. The Freedom Caucus is responsible for the current public rift in the GOP. What’s that old saying? “Be careful what you wish for.” Well, the GOP got its wish to govern, and they’re blowing it.

Richard Arenberg, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy and Political Science, Brown University and Christopher Sebastian Parker, Professor of Political Science, University of Washington

Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

London attack: Terrorism expert explains three threats of jihadism in the West

Details about the man who attacked the British Parliament on March 22, identified by London police as British national Khalid Masood, are still emerging. With four victims confirmed dead, the attack is the worst in London since the July 7, 2005 bombings on the London transport system.

A day after the attack, the Islamic State media organization Amaq released a statement claiming responsibility. The statement read: “The attacker yesterday in front of the British Parliament was a soldier of the Islamic state.”

The language of the statement can help us understand the nature of not just this attack, but the nature of jihadist attacks in the West. Based on 10 years of research on the topic, I have identified three categories into which this attack is likely to fall.

Directed attack

The first and least probable scenario is that the attack in London was planned and directed by individuals within the IS hierarchy. In such a situation, the attacker would be part of a wider IS network.

Those types of attacks, such as the ones conducted by IS in Paris and Brussels (the anniversary of which was also on the same day as the London attack) in 2015 and 2016, respectively, are usually deadlier and more sophisticated than what we saw in London. The crude nature of the killings, in which Masood used a car as a battering ram before rushing police officers with knife, suggests that this act falls into one of the two following categories.

Inspired attack

This may have been a so-called “inspired” attack. This refers to a terrorist act undertaken by someone with no known ties to IS or other jihadist groups. These individuals see themselves as part of the wider global jihad movement after consuming jihadist propaganda and interacting with like-minded individuals online. They plan the attack alone, with no input from a terrorist organization.

The last such “inspired” incident in London was the killing of British Army soldier Lee Rigby in May 2013. The attackers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, were inspired by al-Qaida and used a similar tactic to that seen in the Parliament attack, ramming their target with a car before stabbing him repeatedly.

Amaq’s announcement is instructive when it states that the attacker was acting “in response to calls to target citizens of coalition nations.” This is likely a reference to the repeated announcements by IS members, most notably the group’s now deceased former spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, for Western IS sympathizers to use any means at their disposal to conduct terror operation in their home nations. In addition, IS usually refers to such individuals as its “soldiers” only when the group had no direct role in the attack.

These inspired acts are often referred to as lone-wolf attacks. While the term is widely used, recent research shows that few attacks in Europe are genuinely conducted by lone actors. For example, one study found that out of 38 IS-linked plots in Europe between 2014 and 2016, only six “were based on inspiration only.” However, even then the authors of the study concede that the plotters “usually had contacts in extremist circles, albeit not IS-related.” Such findings suggest that true lone-wolf attacks are in fact much rarer than many assume.

Remote-controlled attack

The final possible category of attack the London incident falls into is “remote-controlled.” This represents something of a hybrid of the two other forms of jihadist terrorism in the West. This occurs when a radicalized Westerner receives encouragement, and often direct instruction, from an IS member over the internet. These individuals, who my colleague Seamus Hughes and I refer to as “virtual entrepreneurs,” in a recent report are often based in IS-held territory and have built up respected reputations within the IS online milieus.

As IS has spread its influence over social media, and its virtual entrepreneurs have made use of a wide range of encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram, Surespot and WhatsApp, this has become one of the main ways the group plans attacks in the West. In the same study cited above, researchers found that 50 percent of the 38 IS-linked plots in Europe between 2014 and 2016 were found to have involved “online instruction from members of IS’ networks.”

This phenomenon is also apparent in the United States.

My colleague and I discovered that out of 38 IS-inspired plots and attacks in the United States between March 1, 2014, and March 1, 2017, eight involved digital communication with virtual entrepreneurs. This includes the attempted shooting in Garland, Texas in May 2015. One of the attackers, Elton Simpson, was receiving encouragement and direction via encrypted chats with Junaid Hussain, a British IS member based in Syria. Virtual entrepreneurs have also been involved in at least six other terrorism-related cases, including helping Americans intending to travel to join the Islamic State. This brings the total number of U.S. terrorism cases linked to IS virtual entrepreneurs to 14.

Based on what we know so far, and after analyzing recent trends and the latest research, it is likely that the man who killed three people in London was acting either in the name of IS without any direct links, or was in possible contact with a virtual entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, the only certainty is that this will not be the last such attack in the West. As IS loses ground in Iraq and Syria, it will do all it can to retain an ability to strike in the West. While their key aim is to inspire attacks like those in Paris and Brussels, they will be increasingly difficult to conduct. This is due both to its dwindling resources and the increasing readiness of European security agencies who will be learning from recent attacks.

Lone actors, while rare, will continue offer IS a cost-free method of attack. Meanwhile, virtual entrepreneurs will be doing all they can to help their Western contacts plot and execute mass killings from afar.

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Research Director of the Program on Extremism, George Washington University

Photo Credit:Tony Burgess

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

3-D printing turns nanomachines into life-size workers

Nanomachines are tiny molecules – more than 10,000 lined up side by side would be narrower than the diameter of a human hair – that can move when they receive an external stimulus. They can already deliver medication within a body and serve as computer memories at the microscopic level. But as machines go, they haven’t been able to do much physical work – until now.

My lab has used nano-sized building blocks to design a smart material that can perform work at a macroscopic scale, visible to the eye. A 3-D-printed lattice cube made out of polymer can lift 15 times its own weight – the equivalent of a human being lifting a car.

Our polymer is able to lift an aluminum plate when chemical energy is added in the form of a solvent.

Nobel-winning roots are rotaxanes

The design of our new material is based on Nobel Prize-winning research that turned mechanically interlocked molecules into work-performing machines at nanoscale – things like molecular elevators and nanocars.

Rotaxanes are one of the most widely investigated of these molecules. These dumbbell-shaped molecules are capable of converting input energy – in the forms of light, heat or altered pH – into molecular movements. That’s how these kinds of molecular structures got the nickname “nanomachines.”

For example, in a molecule called [2]rotaxane, composed of one ring on an axle, the ring can move along the axle to perform shuttling motions.


Left, a [2]rotaxane. The ring can shuttle along the axle. Right, representation of billions of [2]rotaxanes in solution. The motions of nano-rings counteract macroscopically.
Chenfeng Ke, CC BY-ND

So far, harnessing the mechanical work of rotaxanes has been very challenging. When billions of these tiny machines are randomly oriented, the ring motions will cancel each other out, producing no useful work at a macroscale. In order to harness these molecular motions, scientists have to think about controlling their three-dimensional arrangement as well as synchronizing their motions.

Molecular beads on a string

Our design is based on a well-investigated family of molecules called polyrotaxanes. These have multiple rings on a molecular axle. In our new material, the ring is a cyclic sugar and the axle is a polymer.

If we provide an external stimulus – like adding water – these rings randomly shuttling back and forth can instead stick to each other and form a tubular array. When that happens, it changes the stiffness of the molecule. It’s like when beads are threaded onto a string; many beads slid together make the string much stronger, like a rod.


Cartoon presentation of a polyrotaxane. The rings are changed from the shuttling state, left, to the stationary state, right.
Chenfeng Ke, CC BY-ND

Our approach is to build a polymer system where billions of these molecules become stronger with added water. The strength of the whole architecture is increased and the structure can perform useful work.

In this way, we were able to get around the original problem of the random orientation of many nanomachines together. The addition of water locks them into a stationary state, therefore strengthening the whole 3-D architecture and allowing the united molecules to perform work together.

3-D printing the material

Our research is the first to add 3-D printability to mechanically interlocked molecules. It was integrating the 3-D printing technique that allowed us to transform the random shuttling motions of nano-sized rings into smart materials that perform work at macroscopic scale.

Getting the molecules all lined up in the right orientation is a way to amplify their motions. When we add water, the rings of the polyrotaxanes stick together via hydrogen bonds. The tubular arrays then stack together in a more ordered manner.

It’s much easier to get the molecules coordinated while they’re in this configuration as opposed to when the rings are all freely moving along the axle. We were able to successfully print lattice-like 3-D structures with the rings locked into position in this way. Now the molecules aren’t just randomly positioned within the material.

After 3-D-printing out the polymer, we used a photo-curing process – similar to the UV lamp that hardens nail polish at a salon – to cure it. We were left with a material that had good 3-D structural integrity and mechanical stability. Now it was ready to do some work.

Shape changing back and forth

The three-dimensional geometry of the polymer is crucial for its shape changing. A hollow structure is easier to deform than a solid one. So we designed a lattice cube structure to maximize its shape-deformation ability and, in turn, its ability to do work as it switched back and forth from one state to the other.

The next important step was being able to control the work our polymer could do.

It turns out the complex 3-D architecture of these structures can be reversibly deformed and reformed. We were able to use a solvent to switch the threaded ring structure between random shuttling and stationary states at the molecular level. Exchanging the solvent let us easily repeat this shape-changing and recovery behavior many times.


Squirting in solvent adds chemical energy to our polymer. As the solvent evaporated over time, the polyrotaxane returned to its original form.

This is how we converted chemical energy into mechanical work.

Just like moving beads to strengthen or weaken a string, this shape-changing is critical because it allows the amplification of molecular motion into macroscopic motion.

A 3-D printed lattice cube made of this smart material lifted a small coin 1.6 millimeters. The numbers may sound small for our day-to-day world, but this is a big step forward in the effort to get nanomachines doing macro work.

We hope this advance will enable scientists to further develop smart materials and devices. For example, by adding contraction and twisting to the rising motion, molecular machines could be used as soft robots performing complicated tasks similar to what a human hand can do.

Chenfeng Ke, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Dartmouth College

Photo Credit:  Chenfeng Ke, CC BY-ND

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The latest bump in the road of Turkey’s quest to join the EU: European ultra-nationalism

The rift between Turkey and Europe is growing. From a Turkish perspective, Ankara’s long and winding quest to join the European Union, which began in 1987, has never been less likely than it is today.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invoked Nazism in his criticism of his European counterparts. And a recent dispute between the Turkish government and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte over Turkish ministers campaigning in Rotterdam cast a shadow over the March 15 Netherlands election.

This is only the latest in a long history of self-defeating conflicts between Turkey and EU leaders. But this time around, the diplomatic crisis goes beyond European anti-AKP sentiments toward Turkey’s ruling party. It relates also to social and political transformations underway in the EU itself.

Turkey’s EU bid

After positive early signs, Turkey’s EU accession process stalled in 2006 when an additional protocol, related to the division of Cyprus, was implemented to the opening of Turkey’s ports and airports to trade with Cyprus.

Cyprus was partitioned in 1974, divided between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. Greek Cypriots have been integrated into the EU since 2004 as the sole representatives of the whole island, while Turks there live under isolation in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Ankara.

In 2011, the EU Commission proposed a positive agenda for Turkey’s accession to the EU. But thanks to growing European fatigue over the enlargement of the bloc and the numerous economic and political crises it was then facing, the process again quickly ground to a halt.

By 2015 Turkey’s EU process had been revitalized while refugee migration to the EU was on the rise. However, in 2016 the EU Parliament proposed a temporary freeze on talks.

Loss of faith

Today’s EU is not as same as the one Turkey first sought to join. For Turkey, the European ideal has deteriorated as some European countries have increasingly embraced xenophobia, islamophobia, and anti-immigration sentiments.

All of these issues – which are in one way or another associated with Turkey – are discussed in the context of Turkish accession to the block. Europeans are also raising concerns about Turkey, especially after the state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the July 15 failed coup attempt.

The EU is of the view that some of the measures taken during the state of emergency pose problems for freedom of expression and rule of law in Turkey. Europe wonders whether the country is experiencing a democratic backlash.

Meanwhile, Europe’s weak response after the failed coup was disturbing for Turkish policy-makers and for President Erdoğan.

Many European leaders stayed silent during the event and in its immediate aftermath. EU officials’ later condemnation of the attempted coup was ambiguous, and they waited two months to visit Ankara.

Additionally, the failure of some EU countries to uphold European values in the context of the Arab Spring and the refugee crisis have exposed the limits of EU’s capacity to adapt itself to shifting domestic, regional and global conditions.

Turkish leaders have said several times that the refugee problem is a humanitarian crisis, warning that the EU perception of refugees as a security threat is not a solution.

Although it is true that the EU turned its eyes to the refugee crisis only when it started to be directly affected, some European countries, namely Germany, were the first to open their borders and integrate refugees. Therefore the main problem is not about a common European anti-refugee sentiment but rather the lack of a jointly undertaken, systematic European response to a crisis that’s banging up against the union’s door.

The image of a declining EU weakened by its institutions and threatened with post-Brexit disintegration seems to be growing in Turkey.

The “other” and ultra-nationalism in Europe

For Turks, this is further complicated by European foreign policy that has long perceived Turkey as the “other” in its backyard.

During the period of positive relations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this stance was largely publicly disavowed. But more recently some EU leaders have used Turkey as a political instrument, building their strong rejection of its possible accession to the EU on this view.

The domestic and regional challeges Turkey faces – and more importantly the EU’s perception of them – have hampered the possibility of building a stable relationship with the EU and creating a new roadmap for Turkey to join the European bloc.

Another piece to this “otherness” puzzle is the rise of ultra-nationalist parties in Europe, from the National Front in France and Alternative for Germany to the Freedom Party in the Netherlands.

Opposing Turkish membership of the EU has become a useful posture for some European capitals in mustering domestic support in the age of right-wing populism. Take, for example, the dense debates on Turkey’s EU campaign during Brexit vote, and the Dutch and Austrian elections.

This anti-Turkey discourse is likely to reinforce European ultra-nationalist parties in terms of obtaining more votes from the euro-sceptical, anti-Turkey electorate. But catering to nationalist instincts also makes it harder for the EU to defend its democratic credentials and to cast judgment on Turkey’s democracy.

Finally, it is damaging the institutional and formal character of relations between a candidate country, Turkey, and an international organization, the EU. A political schism among member states prevents the EU from acting as a unified, coherent potential partner.

Countries that, like Turkey, are engaging in institutional relations with the EU, must now deal with many different leaders, all of whom represent not only the EU but also the various domestic shifts in their own countries.

A rational common ground

Derailing Turkey’s accession process is counterproductive. It distances Turkish society from European societies and cuts off existing societal, historical and cultural ties between the two sides. Today, what remains of the progressive relation between the EU and Turkey is a loose network of institutions.

This does not serve the interest of either party. It is in the direct interest of Turkey to put the progressive relations of the past back on track and draw a renewed framework based on the shared value of democracy within the EU bloc. Both parties should also boost mutual understanding by searching the possibilities of further inclusion, rather than by playing on xenophobia and exclusion.

In the short term, a renewed Turkey-EU cooperation could help Europe to manage better the consequences of the Syrian crisis.

For the EU, then, a stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey in its neighborhood acts as something of a guarantee to its members’ own economic development, security, and democracy.

And in the long term, perhaps more importantly, such rational cooperation would bring new life to the belief in internationalism in an era marked by the rise of nationalism and populism.

Emel Parlar Dal, Associate Professor of International Relations, Marmara University; Ali Murat Kurşun, Research Assistant, Marmara University, and Hakan Mehmetcik, Assistant researcher, Marmara University

Photo Credit: Middle East Monitor

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Can social media, loud and inclusive, fix world politics?

The Conversation Global’s new series, Politics in the Age of Social Media, examines how governments around the world rely on digital tools to exercise power.

Privacy is no longer a social norm, said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, as social media took a leap to bring more private information into the public domain.

But what does it mean for governments, citizens and the exercise of democracy?
Donald Trump is clearly not the first leader to use his Twitter account as a way to both proclaim his policies and influence the political climate. Social media presents novel challenges to strategic policy and has become a managerial issues for many governments.

But it also offers a free platform for public participation in government affairs. Many argue that the rise of social media technologies can give citizens and observers a better opportunity to identify pitfalls of government and their politics.

As government embrace the role of social media and the influence of negative or positive feedback on the success of their project, they are also using this tool to their advantages by spreading fabricated news.

This much freedom of expression and opinion can be a double-edged sword.

A tool that triggers change

On the positive side, social media include social networking applications such as Facebook and Google+, microblogging services such as Twitter, blogs, video blogs (vlogs), wikis, and media-sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, among others.

Social media as a collaborative and participatory tool, connects users with each other and help shaping various communities. Playing a key role in delivering public service value to citizens it also helps people to engage in politics and policy-making, making processes easier to understand, through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Today four out of five countries in the world have social media features on their national portals to promote interactive networking and communication with the citizen. Although we don’t have any information about the effectiveness of such tools or whether they are used to their full potential, 20% of these countries shows that they have “resulted in new policy decisions, regulation or service”.

Social media can be an effective tool to trigger changes in government policies and services if well used. It can be used to prevent corruption, as it is a direct method of reaching citizens. In developing countries, corruption is often linked to governmental services that lack automated processes or transparency in payments.

Can new technologies increase government accountability? India was ranked 79th on 176 countries by Transparency International in 2016.
Nirzardp/Wikimedia, CC BY

The UK is taking the lead on this issue. Its anti-corruption innovation hub aims to connect several stakeholders – including civil society, law enforcement, and technologies experts – to engage their efforts toward a more transparent society.

With social media, governments can improve and change the way they communicate with their citizens – and even question government projects and policies. In Kazakhstan, for example, a migration-related legislative amendment entered into force early January 2017 and compelled property owners to register people residing in their homes immediately or else face a penalty charge starting in February 2017.

Citizens were unprepared for this requirement, and many responded with indignation on social media. At first, the government ignored this reaction. However, as the growing anger soared via social media, the government took action and introduced a new service to facilitate the registration of temporary citizens.

Shaping political discourse

Increasing digital services have engaged and encourage the public to become more socially responsible and politically involved. But many governments are wary of the power that technology, and most specifically smart media, exert over how citizens’ political involvement.

Popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are being censored by many governments. China, South Africa and others are passing laws to regulate the social media sphere.

Availability of Youtube.com as of May 2016. May be incomplete or incorrect due to lack of information.
SurrogateSlav/Wikimedia, CC BY-NC

The dominance of social media allows citizens to have quick access to government information – information whose legitimacy may not be validated. As this happens, the organic image formed in their minds will be affected and changed and an induced image, whether negative or positive, will be formulated.

For example, the top trending topics on social media right now are related to a tweet from Wikileaks claiming that CIA can get into smart electronics – like iPhones and Samsung TVs – to spy on individuals. This series of revelations led Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to see his internet access cut off, allegedly by the government of Ecuador, in October 2016.

Julian Assange in 2014.
David G Silvers- Cancillería del Ecuador/Flickr, CC BY-SA

For his supporters, this step jeopardizes what they perceive as the voice of truth. WikiLeaks usually spread a mass of sensitive and reliable information into the public domain about politics, society and the economy.

Others state that confidential information should not be published in social media because it might endanger life and could be misinterpreted.

In 2011, social media played a crucial role in the direction of the Arab spring in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, enabling protesters in those countries to share information and disclose the atrocities committed by their own governments. This ignited a “domino effect” that led to mass revolts.

Governments reacted by trying to impose draconian restrictions on social media, from censorship to promoting fake new and propaganda against them.

Social networks played a vital role in initiating Egypt’s 2011 uprising.
Essam Sharaf/Wikimedia, CC BY-ND

The dissemination of uncensored information through social media has precipitated a wave of public shows of dissatisfaction, characterized by a mix of demands for better public services, changes in the institutions and instating a socially-legitimated state. Citizens use social media to meet up and interact with different groups, and some of those encounters lead to concrete actions.

Where’s the long-term fix?

But the campaigns that result do not always evolve into positive change.

Egypt and Libya are still facing several major crises over the last years, along with political instability and domestic terrorism. The social media influence that triggered the Arab Spring did not permit these political systems to turn from autocracy to democracy.

Brazil exemplifies a government’s failure to react properly to a massive social media outburst. In June 2013 people took to the streets to protest the rising fares of public transportation. Citizens channeled their anger and outrage through social media to mobilize networks and generate support.

The Brazilian government didn’t understand that “the message is the people”.
Though the riots some called the “Tropical Spring” disappeared rather abruptly in the months to come, they had a major and devastating impact on Brazil’s political power, culminating in the impeachment of President Rousseff in late 2016 and the worst recession in Brazil’s history.

As in the Arab Spring countries, the use of social media in Brazil did not result in economic improvement. The country has tumbled down into depression, and unemployment has risen to 12.6%.

The movement #Blacklivesmatter has grown immensely on social media.
The All-Nite Images/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Extremism, fake news and hate speech

Social media is also used to propagate “fake news” in order to destabilize an organization or a country. The spread of disinformation through social media shows how governments can use the art of communication to channel specific facts to their own citizens – or to the world.

In 2014, Russia spread conspiracy theories and fake stories, both during the Crimea crisis and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 , to hide its military involvement in Ukraine. More recently, the Kremlin (or its agents) manipulated social media to spread “fake news” and pro-Trump messages during the American presidential election. The objective of this digital disinformation campaign was to shake the American political system, rather than to change the results of the election.

Social media also provide a powerful platform for extremism and hate speech, citizen activities that should compel government action.

Social media may have been used for extreme purposes, to topple presidents, spread calumny, and meddle in internal affairs of foreign countries. But it remains a potent technological tool that governments can use to capture and understand the needs and preferences of their citizens, and to engage them, on their own terms from the very beginning of the process as agencies develop public services.

Government typically asks “how can we adapt social media to the way in which we do e-services, and then try to shape their policies accordingly. They would be wiser to ask, “how can social media enable us to do things differently in a way they’ve never been done before?” – that is, policy-making in collaboration with people.

Rania Fakhoury, Chercheur associé à LaRIFA, Université Libanaise

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What’s behind phantom cellphone buzzes?

Have you ever experienced a phantom phone call or text? You’re convinced that you felt your phone vibrate in your pocket, or that you heard your ring tone. But when you check your phone, no one actually tried to get in touch with you.

You then might plausibly wonder: “Is my phone acting up, or is it me?”

Well, it’s probably you, and it could be a sign of just how attached you’ve become to your phone.

At least you’re not alone. Over 80 percent of college students we surveyed have experienced it. However, if it’s happening a lot – more than once a day – it could be a sign that you’re psychologically dependent on your cellphone.

There’s no question that cellphones are part of the social fabric in many parts of the world, and some people spend hours each day on their phones. Our research team recently found that most people will fill their downtime by fiddling with their phones. Others even do so in the middle of a conversation. And most people will check their phones within 10 seconds of getting in line for coffee or arriving at a destination.

Clinicians and researchers still debate whether excessive use of cellphones or other technology can constitute an addiction. It wasn’t included in the latest update to the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s definitive guide for classifying and diagnosing mental disorders.

But given the ongoing debate, we decided to see if phantom buzzes and rings could shed some light on the issue.

A virtual drug?

Addictions are pathological conditions in which people compulsively seek rewarding stimuli, despite the negative consequences. We often hear reports about how cellphone use can be problematic for relationships and for developing effective social skills.

One of the features of addictions is that people become hypersensitive to cues related to the rewards they are craving. Whatever it is, they start to see it everywhere. (I had a college roommate who once thought that he saw a bee’s nest made out of cigarette butts hanging from the ceiling.)

So might people who crave the messages and notifications from their virtual social worlds do the same? Would they mistakenly interpret something they hear as a ring tone, their phone rubbing in their pocket as a vibrating alert or even think they see a notification on their phone screen – when, in reality, nothing is there?

A human malfunction

We decided to find out. From a tested survey measure of problematic cellphone use, we pulled out items assessing psychological cellphone dependency. We also created questions about the frequency of experiencing phantom ringing, vibrations and notifications. We then administered an online survey to over 750 undergraduate students.

Those who scored higher on cellphone dependency – they more often used their phones to make themselves feel better, became irritable when they couldn’t use their phones and thought about using their phone when they weren’t on it – had more frequent phantom phone experiences.

Cellphone manufacturers and phone service providers have assured us that phantom phone experiences are not a problem with the technology. As HAL 9000 might say, they are a product of “human error.”

So where, exactly, have we erred? We are in a brave new world of virtual socialization, and the psychological and social sciences can barely keep up with advances in the technology.

Phantom phone experiences may seem like a relatively small concern in our electronically connected age. But they raise the specter of how reliant we are on our phones – and how much influence phones have in our social lives.

How can we navigate the use of cellphones to maximize the benefits and minimize the hazards, whether it’s improving our own mental health or honing our live social skills? What other new technologies will change how we interact with others?

Our minds will continue to buzz with anticipation.

Daniel J. Kruger, Research Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

Photo Credit: ‘Brain’ via http://www.shutterstock.com

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.