11 August 2008
Who is winning the South Ossetia propaganda war?
Both sides in the South Ossetia Conflict seem to be doing their best to prevent the other from getting their information out. There is nothing that Georgia seems to be able to do against the massive Russian information machine, but they had some limited success against South Ossetia's servers, and then the Russian team returned the favour and made Georgia's pages unviewable.
Let's take South Ossetia's internet presence first. There isn't much of it, and most of it is in Russian, obviously. There is one page that issues press statements in English, but the offerings tend to run to such gems as: "The nationalistic and fascist government of Georgia from the year 1989 support the policy of the annihilation and the impression of the aboriginal Ossetian population from the territory that they occupy." Yeah, that's about the size of it, pure Soviet style press releases that seem to be almost guaranteed to send people to sleep.
Perhaps luckily for South Ossetia their server went down on Saturday, so nobody could read this drivel. Not that there was much to read, anyway, as on Friday the site was only updated with two releases.
Just to remind everyone that Friday was the day when the Georgian army rolled in with its Israeli advisers. The fact that press releases were not flowing thick and fast tells you everything that you could ever want to know about bureaucratic jobsworths and their indolence.
The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a pretty decent website, in the technical sense, but it is no more informative than its South Ossetian counterpart. It went off-line yesterday, but is back up at the time of writing. That said, most of the links don't work, so obviously they are still having problems due either to the bombing or a Russian hacking campaign.
Probably in anticipation of that happening, the Georgians created a Blogspot blog and are issuing press releases through that. I know, could I make this shit up? Anyway, that is what they are doing and the BBC is now giving out the link to the blog instead of to the original foreign ministry site. The blog has been updated five times today, as compared to not a single update at the S. Ossetian site, and the Georgian press releases do have the advantage of being readable by normal people.
So who is winning this information war? It looks to this writer as if the Georgians are just ahead, if only in the technical aspects of running a website. That said neither side is really getting to grips with the demands of a 24-hour rolling news cycle, coupled with blogs and other websites, all of which are screaming for news.
So, here is a tip, fellows. Let's have sites that are easy to navigate and in English. Give us lots of human interest stories and plenty of videos and photos. Trust me when I say that if you do that then we will use everything that is there. Oh, and update the fucking thing at least once an hour, and not once a day.