Inari Media

Are Internet Comments Getting More Stupid?

Brainfart, by DragonAssBabeI think internet comments have suffered a collective loss in intelligence. Originally, I was going to write about how nobody bothers leaving blog comments any longer, and that maybe therefore it’s not worth leaving your blog open to comments, especially if you write on a fairly mundance topic. But I realised in my browsing that there are still plenty of people leaving comments. I’m just not sure they’re worth reading these days.

The fact is, the internet is (for now) more open than ever, giving everyone the opportunity to “speak their brains” on any topic they fancy. Now, I’m not demanding they be experts, but is a science article really the best place to start railing against the government? Does your personal anecdote mean that there is a worldwide police conspiracy to issue as many parking tickets as possible?

Don’t get me wrong; there are comments on blog and newspaper articles that are on-topic, articulate and can help to move a discussion forward. Unfortunately, they are outweighed by the sheer volume of rushed, ill-considered invective because some people insist on shoehorning their personal prejudices and bugbears into their comment, whether they have read the article or not. This can happen anywhere, but is especially apparent on US political websites at the moment. I know it’s an election year, but I don’t think 2012 will be won or lost by how many times people can accuse “Obummer” of being a Kenyan* socialist.

Perhaps the freedom of commenting has led to a coarsening in tone. It’s a well-observed phenomenon that people will be far ruder when they are anonymous than they would ever be in person, with a few exceptions for the clinically obnoxious. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and I don’t want to shut anyone up. They’d only come back shriller and more hysterical than ever. What I would like to see is a raising of tone, an improvement in standards, and that is the responsibility of website owners.

Weak, irrelevant comments should be treated the same way as spam. No really, I mean it. If somebody can only provide a “LOLwut?” to a lengthy piece on FGM, that comment doesn’t need to be displayed. When a comment wants to talk about military recruitment underneath an article on deficit reduction, that’s off-topic and can be sent to the trash bin.

Is this censorship? No. People are free to comment, provided their comments are on-topic and substantive. If they want to, they can start a blog of their own to put across their own point of view. Nobody’s rights are being violated; there is no guaranteed right to be a jackass on the internet. This is a plea, a plea to site owners and moderators to pay more attention to quality control on their properties. Not every comment has to go through. Sift for quality, banish the stupid, and send them to belm into the void elsewhere.

*Seriously people, what is up with that? Even with changes to the Kenyan Constitution, the man remains as Kenyan as a Smurf.

[Image by DragonAssBabe]

Travel, Tourism and Terrorism

Al Shabaab I, by WhyteKnyteThe UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has just issued a travel alert for Nairobi, advising Brits to beware of the increased risks of terror attacks in the city. When I heard, my thoughts immediately jumped to how this might affect Kenya’s tourism industry, dependent as it is on foreign travellers and their hard currency.

It already didn’t look as though 2012 would be a banner year for the tourism sector: the global economy continues to limp along, with more travellers choosing short-haul destinations as they tighten their household spending. And though the election may not take place until the end of the year, jitters about a fresh round of post-poll violence are already in the air, potentially putting off tourists.

This isn’t to say Kenya is now off limits, or will suffer disproportionately. But the drip-drip of bad news does have a cumulative effect. Instead of answering questions about “Oh hey, game parks!” when people learn I’m Kenyan, they now want to know if my family are safe (they are).

With inflation in the local economy hovering above 15% it is impossible to expect domestic tourism to pick up the slack, no matter how good growth is this year. We need those tourists, and the Kenyan Tourism Board need to be pulling out their A-game presentation packages to encourage them to return.

In a bitter irony, the terrorists al-Shabaab may have caused more damage than they could ever hope to achieve with bombs alone. By issuing public threats and scaring away tourists, they are already having a detrimental effect on one of the most important sectors of the economy.

2012. The year of the financial terrorist?

[Image by WhyteKnyte]

Good luck, Goodluck

Niberia Grunge Flag, by Al-ZoroFrom Nigeria’s Department of Entirely Predictable Consequences, it turns out that if you remove a fuel subsidy overnight, people get a little upset!

I can almost follow Goodluck Jonathan’s reasoning, if I bang my head against a brick wall and take some heavy-duty tranquilisers as a treat: subsidies bad (the IMF said so!). Infrastructure good, so divert fuel subsidy money to infrastructure projects. Winning!

Except… no. As Sokari Ekine points out in her thoughtful piece for New Internationalist,

for the masses the fuel subsidy is the only way they have benefited from Nigeria’s oil wealth.

Because despite their country’s vast oil wealth, the majority of Nigerians have not shared in the bounty, and continue to subsist on less than $2 USD a day. For them, the fuel subsidy was the one concrete of how refining had benefited Nigeria as a whole, rather than just a lucky few.

It gets worse: if fuel prices double overnight, the price of everything goes up overnight. Generators still need to be run, goods still need to be transported, and businesses cannot simply absorb those costs without passing some of them on to the customer. Thus, overnight, life in general got more expensive for ordinary Nigerians. No wonder there have already been riots in the streets.

Will the subsidy be reinstated? It’s difficult to say; Goodluck Jonathan is fighting several fronts in trying to govern his country and may choose this issue to be a line in the sand over which he will not compromise. But the people are angry, and as Sokari Ekine points out:

[…] protests over the fuel subsidy have already gone well beyond this single issue and are now encompassing all the pent up grievances Nigerians have had for years: lack of power, lack of development, but most of all the country’s rule by a corrupt kleptocracy.

#OccupyNigeria as the next grassroots movement to bring down a government? Don’t rule it out. All I can say with any certainty is that it can’t be much fun being the man in charge right now. Let’s hope Goodluck Jonathan has a decent therapist.

[Image by Al-Zoro]

Is the African Diaspora too American?

African Roots, by AZRainmanI got thinking about this question when trying to figure out if I knew any Kenyans in Sweden (long story). Now, there is a Swedish school in Nairobi, but I can’t say that I am on speaking terms with any of its alumni. Ask me to find a Kenyan in just about any US state, however, and I can probably come up with three or four names without trying very hard.

My own shut-in tendencies have limited my exposure to my fellow Africans, but I know they’re around. There’s a very good group for entrepreneurs that has regular meetings in my city, the group Black Women in Europe does some awesome things for networking, and I have had drunken conversations in French with Congolese traders on the night bus home (another long story).

Nevertheless, when one comes to the ‘net to look for stories from the diaspora, it does seem that Africans have gravitated overwhelmingly to the “land of the free.” This is understandable on a number of levels, including historical, but it remains a source of curiosity to me that Africans who have eschewed the “traditional” emigration destinations appear to be so thin on the ground, at least in terms on online presence.

Is it that they don’t blog? Maybe they are too busy hustling in Shanghai or sealing deals in São Paulo to take the time to relate their thoughts and experiences to the rest of us. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough. I’ll admit I have been slack in seeking out new reading material, but I don’t think it’s all my fault. Online, the African diaspora appears, to my eyes at least, to be star-spangled in the majority.

Is this a problem? Well, one wouldn’t think so, but when we talk about the issues and problems that we face as Africans abroad, when the majority relate their experiences from a US-based perspective, it can bury or negate the quirks and idiosyncrasies that diasporans in other countries have to deal with.

This isn’t to say that all those in the USA should shut up and sit down. A plurality of voices is always better than a monolithic megaphone. But it would be nice to see more pluarity, from even more places, to expand our collective experience and terms of reference.

So, who do you know who is in a non-US locale? Anywhere exotic? If there’s an African blogger fighting the good fight in a place that is not a typical emigration destination, promote them in the comments, giving your reasons why.

[Image by AZRainman]

Is It Time to Panic Yet?

The ScreamDid you catch the IMF playing the role of a stern nanny swatting world governments across the buttocks yesterday? According to José Viñals, the body’s financial counsellor (and we could all do with some counselling right now, right?):

… financial stability risks have increased substantially – reversing some of the progress that had been made over the previous three years. So we are back in the danger zone.

Whoops! That might have something to do with a bunch of countries facing elections in the recent past or in the not-too-distant future, where promises to increase government spending and possibly raise taxes would be deeply unpopular with certain sections of the electorate. There’s also the fallout from various bailouts, where banks, saddled with greater capital requirements, are now loath to lend to businesses for fear of diminishing their profit margins.

Then there’s consumer spending. That looks freakishly buoyant for a global economy that is supposed to be on the brink of collapse, but I suppose that people who have jobs still have money to spend.

The solution by the sages in various financial centres is that we need more jobs. Because (at least in the US and UK) governments don’t want to be seen as spending more than absolutely necessary to keep the whole banana boat afloat, this generally means we’re in for another round of quantitative easing. Printing money! Now, this didn’t work before, because in the wake of their bailouts, major banks took the extra money that had been created and hoarded it. But there’s absolutely no reason why the same approach won’t work this time round, right?! Right?

Meanwhile, every man and his dog is betting against the euro, a currency formed from political rather than fiscal motives, and (again) because of those pesky elections, the eurozone’s finance minsters have been paralyzed into inaction.

Basically, it looks like the global economy is in for a bumpy ride. Is it the end of capitalism, as Marx predicted? Will it set off World War Three, as countries withdraw from trade agreements and seek succour in protectionism? Or are we all going to end up eating leaves and berries in the woods as the world descends into every-man-for-himself anarchy?

Who knows. But if you were trying to profit off uncertainty right now, I’d invest in the shares of battery manufacturers.