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Pakistan and the Problem of Credibility

May 30, 2010

Abu Muquwama’s co-blogger Londonstani is consistently one of the most interesting blogosphere voices on questions of radicalization.  He has an interesting post on attitudes to the US in Pakistan and the credibility that is given to what, to an outsider, look like conspiracy theories.

This brings me back to the consequences of network position on how you see the world.  If you are sitting in Pakistan you see the world in a different way than you do from Leeds or Washington.  This is a consequence of different social relations and a different media environment.

This stimulates a couple of other thoughts.

  1. A lot of PD literature emphasizes the importance of credibility and international broadcasting organizations put a lot of effort into maintaining the quality of their output in order to maintain credibility.  The catch is that the network perspective tells you that credibility is mostly to do with the position of the receiver not the quality of the sender.  If you are sitting in Pakistan surrounded by a lot of people (and media) telling you that the US has a secret plan to dismember Pakistan and an American broadcaster tells you that it doesn’t who is going to be more credible?  Credibility is a judgement that is made relative to the rest of your environment plus the record of the source.
  2. I’m firmly of the school of thought that says more media leads to more fragmentation of communications.   If more people are participating in social/communication networks that cater to their own world view you are going to end up with more polarized views. This is not simply a problem in relation to Pakistan.   It’s worth noting some recent work on polarization in US politics (a couple of references below) actually detect the impact of cable television on not just political attitudes but also patterns of participation and styles of presidential leadership.  From a PD point of view the question of how you tap into these relatively closed networks becomes  a central challenge.

Cohen, J.E. (2008) The Presidency in the Era of 24-Hour News. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Prior, M. (2007) Post-broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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