11 August 2008

South Ossetia: Social Media Tells the Rest of the Story

I must be signed up to the wrong email alerts. Over Friday and the weekend I had plenty of information sent directly to my inbox about John Edwards, Bernie Mac and Issac Hayes - but nothing about South Ossetia, where for a while there it looked like the cold war was beginning again.

For those of you who get your news from western television, Georgia (the country, not the state) became an independent country right after the fall of the Soviet Union. Georgia's territory included enclaves (like South Ossetia and Abkhazia) that border Russia and in which a majority of the people feel more loyal to Russia than Georgia. South Ossetia is separated from North Ossetia in Russia by a mountain range. Many people in South Ossetia carry Russian passports. Virtually all countries and international organizations consider South Ossetia to be part of Georgia, but the people there have declared independence and set up a de facto government. Georgia has worked to install an autonomous provincial government there, but as recent events show it hasn't gone smoothly. Last week Georgia sent troops into South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvlali, to surround the sepratist government there. Russia responded quickly by calling Georgia's movements criminal, even genocidal, and quickly occupied the territory by force. Some reports indicate the Georgian military is attempting to withdraw and call a cease-fire, though the Russians dispute this.

News junkies like me have scurried to the interwebs to find as much information as possible. I immediately bypassed US coverage (which to be candid hasn't been terrible but clearly hasn't been great either) and used BBC as my starting point. They've put together a reasonably useful tick-tock of the crisis, but they've also rushed to put up a "lessons learned" piece that is more than a bit presumptous.

Not surprisingly, the US media has focused on the US-Russia dynamic, particularly at the UN Security Council. This isn't without justification; the Russian media suggests the United States actually orchestrated Georgia's initial move into South Ossetia. This has produced a tense (and some would argue embarrassing) public exchange at the Security Council meeting between US and Russian diplomats. Associated Press also ran a story about how Georgia is moving its 1000 troops from Iraq to make them available for the conflict in its own borders - but since it's an AP story I don't want to get into trouble for linking to it.

I confess it's been hard to find comprehensive Georgian media coverage in English, though I did find The Messenger, which includes headlines like "The World Supports Georgia" and Yes, It's War With Russia." The Messenger has been providing updates via its (rather sparse but still informative) blog. Not surprisingly, the most commented post was one about the safety and location of its journalists.

Of course, I'm relying on social media channels to fill out the narrative and get the most complete story. As expected, wikipedians quickly assembled a list of international reactions to the events in South Ossetia that I haven't been able to find anywhere else. The big-thinkers have shared their big thoughts on blogs like Globalsecurity.org, Open Democracy and Whirled View. I've assembled a bunch of links on my del.icio.us page with the tag Ossetia.

The best source of information is, once again, Global Voices Online. They've set up a special section on the conflict that includes everything you could ask for - background, links to posts from individual bloggers on the ground (I was struck by this post from a pair of Peace Corps Volunteers in the Tblisi area) as well as experts across the globe, a South Ossetia flickr stream, and links to other mainstream media sources. GVO is doing a great job assembling the overwhelming about of content and pushing it through a smart, balanced human filter. I've said it before - if you want to see the future of journalism, and how journalists will cover a crisis in the future, look at GVO today.

1 comment:

Corps Diplomatique said...

Good article. I read about this on the Diplomatic Corps website the other day.