“Bloggers are cultural mediators” Interview with Ivan Sigal

This interview with our executive director Ivan Sigal by Ralf Rebmann was originally published in Amnesty Journal in German, June 2012.

Around the world, bloggers and citizen journalists are using the Internet to make their voices heard. To make sure their message isn't silenced by the barriers of language, it gets translated by the international Global Voices network. A conversation with its Executive Director, Ivan Sigal.

Ivan Sigal, photo by Ralf Rebmann/Amnesty


How did the idea to translate blogs come about?

Global Voices was founded in 2005 as a research project at Harvard University. The knowledge of local bloggers and citizen journalists is very valuable. In order to make this information universally available, they must be translated. Global Voices provides a platform for opinions and information that otherwise would never be heard. The network should also contribute to a better understanding of particular events that occur in a particular part of the world. Bloggers are, in a certain way, cultural mediators.

How exactly does Global Voices work?

The network works globally and consists of more than 500 bloggers, translators and authors. We observe what topics are playing a role in the blogger community. If a topic like, for example, the turmoil in the Arab world, is potentially of interest for readers worldwide, we compile entries from different blogs and summarize them. Then these articles are translated into over 20 languages. All of those who are involved in this project work on a volunteer basis.

Is this information reviewed prior to publication?

Review of information in which particular topics are illuminated from different perspectives is the guiding principle of Global Voices. A team of part-time editors works with the authors and bloggers to ensure that this information is correct. This process has established itself over time, and we know what sources can be trusted.

How active are the individual blogger scenes?

Within Global Voices there is no one country that dominates, but some blogger scenes are certainly more active than others. Right now we have fewer entries from China and the Francophone countries of Africa. The scene is more active in Egypt, Brazil, and Pakistan. The Russian blogger community has also been very active in the past three years. People have taken notice of how these networks can be used for the exchange of information. What has starkly risen in the past few months in Russia is the awareness of the effect of social networks and blogs on the political sphere. That was also brought about by the upheaval in the Arab world.

What criteria have to be fulfilled in order for an Internet movement to really make it out onto the street and demonstrate?

Revolutions, protests, and reform processes are complex events that occur for different reasons.To better understand these developments, even more research has to be conducted in this area. It was to be expected that people in Russia would demonstrate. There is a very active culture of discussion and debate there. The conditions were right. But this applies to countries such as Iran, China or Vietnam as well. The critical moment is the one in which a large group of people decides to carry out an idea together. This was the case in Myanmar in 2007 in the so-called Safran Revolution, even though only a small portion of the population had access to the Internet.

Ivan Sigal has been Exeutive Director of the blogger network “Global Voices” since 2008. Before that, he worked for the U.S. Institute of Peace and the NGO Internews. For over 10 years, Sigal researched how freedom of information and of the press can contribute to the nonviolent resolution of conlicts in crisis zones. He oversaw numerous projects to strengthen and educate local media in countries in the former Soviet Union, as well as in Afghanistan, and other Asian countries.


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