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Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.
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Accounting underlies finance, business, and enables the levying of taxes for raising armies, building cities, and managing resources at scale. In fact, it is the way that the world keeps track of almost everything of value.
Accounting predates money, and was originally used by ancient communities to track and manage their limited resources. There are accounting records from Mesopotamia dating back more than 7,000 years, listing the exchange of goods. Over time, accounting became the language and information infrastructure for trade. Accounting and auditing enabled the creation of vast empires, such as those built by the Egyptians and the Romans.
As accounting scaled, it made sense to go from counting sheep, bushels of grain, and cords of wood, to calculating and managing resources using their exchange value in terms of an abstract unit: money. In addition to exchange, money allowed for recording and managing obligations. So where earlier bookkeeping just kept records of promises and exchanges between individuals (Alice lent Bob a goat on this date), money opened up a new realm of accounting by dramatically simplifying the management of accounts and allowing markets, companies, and governments to scale. However, through the centuries, this once powerful simplification has a resulted in a surprising downside-a downside made worse in today's digitally connected world.
While companies today use enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to keep track of widgets, contractual obligations, and employees, the accounting system-and the laws that support it-require us to convert just about everything into monetary value, and enter it into a ledger system based on the 700-year-old double-entry bookkeeping method. This is the very same system used by the Florentine merchants of the 13th century and described by Luca Pacioli, the "father of accounting," in his book Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalità, published 1494.
When you take, for instance, a contract that pays out $1 million if it rains tomorrow, and put it into your accounts, you will be required to guess the chance of rain-maybe 50 percent-and value that asset at something like $500,000. The contract will actually never pay out $500,000; in the end, it will either be worth zero (no rain) or $1 million (rain). But if you were forced to trade it today, you'd probably sell it for something close to $500,000; so for tax and management purposes, you "value" the contract at $500,000. On the other hand, if you are unable to sell it because there are no buyers, it might actually be valued at zero today by regulators interested in liquidity, but then suddenly valued at $1 million tomorrow if it rains.
Basically, a company's accounts are an aggregate of cells in various ledgers with numbers that represent a numerical value denominated in some currency-yen, dollars, euros, etc.-and those numbers are added up and organized into both a balance sheet and an income statement that show the health of the company to management and investors. They are also used to calculate profits and the amount of tax owed to governments. This balance sheet is a list of assets and liabilities. If you looked in the assets column, you'd have a number of items that you would be reporting as having value, including things like printing presses, lines of code, intellectual property, obligations from people who may or may not pay you in the future, cash in various countries' currencies, and best guesses on things like the future prices of a commodity or the value of another company.
As an auditor, investor, or trading partner, you might want to drill down and try to test the assumptions that the company is making and see what would happen if those were incorrect at the time they were recorded, or turned out to be wrong sometime in the future. You might also want to understand how buying another company would change your own company based on the way your obligations and bets interacted with theirs. You could rack up millions of dollars in auditor fees to "get to the bottom" of any number of assumptions. The process would involve manually reviewing the legal contracts, and also the assumptions made in every cell of every spreadsheet. That's because standard accounting is a very "lossy" process that reduces complex and context-dependant functions and transforms them into static numbers at every step. The underlying information is somewhere, but only exposed with a lot of manual digging.
The modern complex financial system is full of companies that have figured out ways to guess when investors and the companies themselves have made mistakes in their assumptions. These companies bet against a company with inaccurate pricing or take advantage of the gap in information to convert this into financial returns for themselves. When these mistakes are duplicated across the system, it can cause fluctuation amplification that also allows companies to make more money both as markets rise, as well as fall, if they can successfully predict those fluctuations. In fact, as long as the whole system doesn't collapse, smart traders make more money on fluctuation than on stability.
Just like rodent exterminators aren't excited about the idea of rodents being completely eliminated because they would no longer have jobs, those financial institutions that make money by "making the system more efficient and eliminating waste" don't really want a stable system that isn't wasteful.
Right now, the technology of the financial system is built on top of a way of thinking about money and value that was designed back when all we had were pen and paper, and when reducing the complexity of the web of dependencies and obligations was the only way to make the system functionally efficient. The way we reduce complexity is to use a common method of pricing, put elements into categories, and add them up. This just builds on 700-year-old building blocks, trying to make the system "better" by doing very sophisticated analysis of the patterns and information without addressing the underlying problem of a lossy and oversimplified view of the world: a view where everything of "value" should be as quickly as possible recorded as a number.
The standard idea of the "value" of things is a reductionist view of the world that is useful to scale the trading of commodities that are roughly of equal worth to a large set of people. But, in fact, most things have very different values to different people at different times, and I would argue that much-if not most-things of value can't and probably shouldn't be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet. Financial "value" has a very specific meaning. A home clearly has "value" because someone can live in it and it's useful. However, if no one wants to buy it and no one is buying similar homes on the market, you can't set a price for it; it is illiquid and it is impossible to determine its "fair market value." Some contracts and financial instruments are nonnegotiable, may not have a "fair market value," and may even have no value to you if you needed money (or an apple) RIGHT NOW. Part of the confusion comes from the difficulty of describing legal and mathematical ideas in plain English, and the role of context and timing.
One example is exchange rates. My wife moved to Boston from Japan several years ago, but still converts prices into yen. She sometimes comments on how expensive something has gotten because the value of the yen has diminished. Because most of our earnings and spending are in dollars, I always have to remind her, the "value" in yen is irrelevant to her now, although not irrelevant to her mother, who is in Japan.
We have become accustomed to the notion that things have a "price," and that "price" is equivalent to its "value." But an email from you to me about a feeling that you had about our last conversation is probably valuable to me at a particular time and probably not valuable to most people. A single apple is worth a lot more to a hungry person than the owner of an apple orchard. Context is everything.
"Can't Buy Me Love" - The Beatles
The economics notion of consumers making financial decisions to maximize "utility" as a kind of proxy for happiness is another example of how the notion of a universal system of "value" oversimplifies its complexity-so much so that the models that assume that humans are "economically rational" actors in a marketplace simply don't work. The simplest version of this model would mean that the more money you had, the happier you would be, which Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton argue is true up to about $75,000 a year in annual income.
Today, we have the technology and the computational power to create a system of accounts that could retain and deal with a lot of the complexity that the current system was designed to avoid. There is, for example, no reason that every entry in our books needs to be a number. Each cell could be an algorithmic representation of the obligations and dependencies that it represents. In fact, using machine learning, accounts could become sophisticated probabilistic models for what might happen depending on how things around them change. This would mean that the "value" of any system would change depending on who was asking, their location, and the time parameters.
Today, when a bank regulator conducts a stress test, it gives a bank a scenario-changes in the credit markets or the prices of certain things. The bank is then required to return a report on whether it would crash or remain solvent. This requires a lot of human labor to go through the accounts and run simulations. But what if the accounts were all algorithmic, and instead you could instantly run a program to provide the answer to the question? What if you had a learning model that could answer a more important question: "What sets of changes to the market WOULD make it crash, and why?" That's really what we want to know. We want to know this not just for one bank, but the whole system of banks, investors, and everything that interacts.
When I'm buying something from a company-let's say a credit default swap from your company, AIG-what I would want to know is whether, when the day comes to pay the obligation, in the unlikely chance that the AA mortgage-backed bonds that I was betting against defaulted, would your company be able to pay? Right now, there is no easy way to do this. However, what if all of the obligations and contracts, instead of being written on paper and recorded as numbers, were actually computable and "visible"? You'd immediately be able to see that, in fact, in the scenario in which you'd have to pay me, you'd actually have no money since you'd written similar contracts to so many people that you'd be broke. Right now, even the banks themselves can't see this unless an internal investigator thinks to look for this ahead of time.
With cutting edge cryptography like zero-knowledge proofs and secure multiparty computation, there are ways we might be able to keep these accounts open to each other without compromising business and personal privacy. While computing every contract as a cell in a huge set of accounts, every time anyone asked a question it would exceed even today's computing capacity. But with machine learning and the creation of models, we might be able to dampen, if not stabilize, the massive amplifications of fluctuations. These bubbles and collapses occur today, in part, because we are building our whole system on an oversimplified house of cards, with the handlers having an incentive to make them fragile and opaque in order to introduce inefficiencies they can exploit later to make money for themselves.
I think the current excitement about Bitcoin and distributed ledgers has created a great opportunity to take advantage of its flexible and reprogrammable nature, allowing us to rethink the fundamental system of accounts. I'm much more interested in this than in apps for banks, or even new ideas in finance, which will address some of the symptoms without taking a shot at eliminating one of the root causes of the impossibly complex and outdated system that we've built on a 700 year old double-entry bookkeeping method-the very same system used by the Florentine merchants of the 13th century. It feels like we are using integers when we should be using imaginary numbers. Reinventing accounting should be more like discovering a new number theory than tweaking the algorithms, which is what I feel like we've been doing for the last several hundred years.
Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton. "High Income Improves Evaluation of Life But Not Emotional Well-Being". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (2010).
In 2015, I wrote a blog post about how I thought that Bitcoin was similar in many ways to the Internet. The metaphor that I used was that Bitcoin was like email - the first killer app - and that the Bitcoin Blockchain was like The Internet - the infrastructure that was deployed to support it but that could be used for so many other things. I suggested that The Blockchain was to finance and law what the Internet was to media and advertising.
I still believe it is true, but the industry is out over its skis. Over a billion dollars have been invested in Bitcoin and Fintech startups, tracking and exceeding investment in Internet investments in 1996. Looking at many of the businesses, they look like startups during that period, but instead of pets.com, we have blockchain for X. I don't think today's blockchain is the Internet in 1996 - it's probably more like the Internet in 1990 or the late 80's - we haven't agreed on the IP protocol and there is no Cisco or PSINet. Many of the application layer companies are building on an infrastructure that isn't ready from a stability or a scalability perspective and they are either bad idea or good idea too early. Also, very few people actually understand the necessary combination of cryptography, security, finance and computer science to design these systems. Those that do are part of a very small community and there are not enough to go around to support the $1bn castle we are building on this immature infrastructure. Lastly, unlike content on the Internet, the assets that the blockchain will be moving around and the irreversibility of many of the elements do not lend the blockchain to the same level agile software development - throw stuff out and see what sticks - that we can do for web apps and services.
There are startups and academics working on these basic layers, but I wish there were more. I have a feeling that we might be in a bit of a bubble and that bubble might pop or have a correction, but in the long run, hopefully we'll figure out the infrastructure and will be able to build something decentralized and open. Maybe a bubble pop will get rid of some of the noise from the system and let us focus like the first dot-com bust did for the Internet. On the other hand, we could end up with a crappy architecture and a bunch of fintech apps that don't really do much more than make existing things more efficient. We are at an important moment where decisions will be made about whether everyone will trust a truly decentralized system and where irresponsible deployments could scare people away. I think that as a community we need to increase our collaboration and diligently eliminate bugs and bad designs without slowing down innovation and research.
Instead of building apps, we need to be building the infrastructure. It's unclear whether we will end up with some version of Bitcoin becoming "The Internet" or whether some other project like Ethereum becomes the single standard. It's also possible that we end up with a variety of different systems that somehow interoperate. The worst case would be that we focus so much on the applications that we ignore the infrastructure, miss out on the opportunity to build a truly decentralized system, and end up with a system that resembles mobile Internet instead of wired Internet - one controlled by monopolies that charge you by the megabyte and have impossibly expensive roaming fees versus the flat fee and reasonable cost of wired Internet in most places.
There are many pieces to the infrastructure that need to be designed and tested. There are many ideas for different consensus protocols - the way in which a particular blockchain makes their public ledger tamper proof and secure. Then there are arguments about how much scriptability should be built into the blockchain itself versus on a layer above it - there are good arguments on either side of the argument. There is also the issue of privacy and anonymity versus identity and regulatory controls.
It looks like the Bitcoin Core developer team is making headway on Segregated Witness which should address many concerns including some of the scaling issues that people have had. On the other hand, it looks like Ethereum which has less history but a powerful and easier to use scripting / programing system is getting a lot of traction and interest from people trying to design new uses for the blockchain. Other projects like Hyperledger are designing their own blockchain systems as well as code that is blockchain agnostic.
The Internet works because we have clear layers of open standards. TCP/IP, for instance, won over ATM - a competing standard in some ways - because it turned out that the end-to-end principle where the core of the network was super-simple and "dumb" allowed the edges of the network to be very innovative. It took awhile for the battle between the standards to play out to the point where TCP/IP was the clear winner. A lot of investment in ATM driven technology ended up being wasted. The problem with the blockchain is that we don't even know where the layers should be and how we will manage the process of agreeing on the standards.
The (Ethereum) Decentralized Autonomous Organization project or "The DAO" is one of the more concerning projects I see right now.* The idea is to create "entities" that are written in code on Ethereum. These entities can sell units similar to shares in a company and invest and spend the money and operate much like a fund or a corporation. Investors would look at the code and determine whether they thought the entity made sense and they would buy tokens hoping for a return. This sounds like something from a science fiction novel and we all dreamed about these sorts of things when, as cypherpunks in the early 90's, we dared to dream on mailing lists and hacker meetups. The problem is, The DAO has attracted over $200M in investors and is "real," but is built on top of Ethereum which hasn't been tested as much as Bitcoin and is still working out its consensus protocol even considering a completely new consensus protocol for their next version.
It appears that The DAO hasn't been fully described legally and may expose its investors to liabilities as partners in a partnership. Unlike contracts written by lawyers in English, if you screw up the code of a DAO, it's unclear how you could change it easily. Courts can deal with mistakes in contract language by trying to determine the intent, but in code enforced by distributed consensus rules, there is no such mechanism. Also, code can be attacked by malicious code and there is a risk that a bug could create vulnerabilities. Recently, Dino Mark, Vlad Zamfir, and Emin Gün Sirer - key developers and researchers - published "A Call for a Temporary Moratorium on The DAO" describing vulnerabilities in The DAO. I fear that The DAO also raises the red flags for a variety of regulators that we probably don't want at the table right now. The DAO could be the Mt. Gox for Ethereum - a project whose failure may cause many people to lose their money and cause the public and regulators to try to slam the brakes on blockchain development.
Regardless of whether I rain on the parade, I'm sure that startups and investors in this space will continue to barrel forward, but I believe that as many of us as possible should focus on the infrastructure and the opportunities at the lowest layers of this stack we are trying to build. I think that getting the consensus protocol right, trying to figure out how to keep things decentralized, how to deal with the privacy issues without causing over-regulation, how we might completely reinvent the nature of money and accounting - these are the things that are exciting and important to me.
I believe there are some exciting areas for businesses to begin working and exploring practical applications - securitization of things that currently have a market failure such as solar panels in developing countries, or applications where there are standardized systems because of the lack of trust creates a very inefficient market such as trade finance.
Central banks and governments have begun to exploring innovations as well. The Singapore government is considering issuing government bonds on a blockchain. Some papers have imagined central banks taking deposits and issuing digital cash directly to individuals. Some regulators have begun to plan sandboxes to allow people to innovate and test ideas in regulatory safety zones. It is ironically possible that some of the more interesting innovations may come from experiments by governments despite the initial design of Bitcoin having been to avoid governments. Having said that, it's quite likely that governments will be more likely to hinder rather than help the development of a robust decentralized architecture.
* Just a few days after this post, The DAO was "attacked" as I feared. Here's an interesting post by the alleged "attacker". Reddit quickly determined that the signature in that post wasn't valid. And another post by the alleged attacker that they're bribing the miners not to fork. Whether these are actually the attacker or epic trolls, very interesting arguments.
I recently participated in a meeting of technologists, economists and European philosophers and theologians. Other attendees included Andrew McAfee, Erik Brynjolfsson, Reid Hoffman, Sam Altman, Father Eric Salobir. One of the interesting things about this particular meeting for me was to have a theological (in this case Christian) perspective to our conversation. Among other things, we discussed artificial intelligence and the future of work.
The question about how machines will replace human beings and place many people out of work is well worn but persistently significant. Sam Altman and others have argued that the total increase in productivity will create an economic abundance that will enable us to pay out a universal "basic income" to those who are unemployed. Brynjolfsson and McAfee have suggested a "negative income tax"-a supplement instead of a tax for low-income workers that would help the financial redistribution without disrupting the other important outcomes generated by the practice of work.
Those supporting the negative income tax recognize that the importance of work is not just the income derived from it, but also the anchor that it affords us both socially and psychologically. Work provides a sense of purpose as well as a way to earn social status. The places we work give us both the opportunity for socializing as well as the structure that many of us need to feel productive and happy.
So while AI and other technologies may some day create a productivity abundance that allows us to eliminate the financial need to work, we will still need to find ways to obtain the social status-as well as a meaningful purpose-we get from work. There are many people who work in our society who aren't paid. One of the largest groups are stay-at-home men and women whose work it is to care for their homes and children. Their labor is not currently counted toward the GDP, and they often do not earn the social status and value they deserve. Could we somehow change the culture and create mechanisms and institutions that provided dignity and social status to people who don't earn money? In some ways academia, religious institutions and non-profit service organizations have some of this structure: social status and dignity that isn't driven primarily by money. Couldn't there be a way to extend this value structure more broadly?
And how about creative communities? Why couldn't we develop some organizing principle that would allow amateur writers, dancers or singers to define success by measures other than financial returns? Could this open up creative roles in society beyond the small sliver of professionals who can be supported by the distribution and consumption by the mass media? Could we make "starving artist" a quaint metaphor of the past? Can we disassociate the notion of work from productivity as it has been commonly understood and accepted? Can "inner work" be considered more fruitful when seen in light of thriving and eudaemonia?
Periclean Athens seems to be a good example of a moral society where people didn't need to work to be engaged and productive.* Could we image a new age where our self-esteem and shared societal value is not associated with financial success or work as we know it? Father Eric asks, "What does it mean to thrive?" What is our modern day eudaemonia? We don't know. But we do know that whatever it is, It will require a fundamental cultural change: change that is difficult, but not impossible. A good first step would be to begin work on our culture alongside our advances in technology and financial innovations so that the future looks more like Periclean Athens than a world of disengaged kids with nothing to do. If it was the moral values and virtues that allowed Periclean Athens to function, how might we develop them in time for a world without work as we currently know it?
Iyad Rahwan was the first person I heard use the term society-in-the-loop machine learning. He was describing his work which was just published in Science, on polling the public through an online test to find out how they felt about various decisions people would want a self-driving car to make - a modern version of what philosophers call "The Trolley Problem." The idea was that by understanding the priorities and values of the public, we could train machines to behave in ways that the society would consider ethical. We might also make a system to allow people to interact with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and test the ethics by asking questions or watching it behave.
Society-in-the-loop is a scaled up version of human-in-the-loop machine learning - something that Karthik Dinakar at the Media Lab has been working on and is emerging as an important part of AI research.
Typically, machines are "trained" by AI engineers using huge amounts of data. The engineers tweak what data is used, how it's weighted, the type of learning algorithm used and a variety of parameters to try to create a model that is accurate and efficient and making the right decisions and providing accurate insights. One of the problems is that because AI, or more specifically, machine learning is still very difficult to do, the people who are training the machines are usually not domain experts. The training is done by machine learning experts and the completed model after the machine is trained is often tested by experts. A significant problem is that any biases or errors in the data will create models that reflect those biases and errors. An example of this would be data from regions that allow stop and frisk - obviously targeted communities will appear to have more crime.
Human-in-the-loop machine learning is work that is trying to create systems to either allow domain experts to do the training or at least be involved in the training by creating machines that learn through interactions with experts. At the heart of human-in-the-loop computation is the idea of building models not just from data, but also from the human perspective of the data. Karthik calls this process 'lensing', of extracting the human perspective or lens of a domain expert and fit it to algorithms that learn from both the data and the extracted lens, all during training time. We believe this has implications for making tools for probabilistic programming and for the democratization of machine learning.
At a recent meeting with philosophers, clergy and AI and technology experts, we discussed the possibility of machines taking over the job of judges. We have evidence that machines can make very accurate assessments of things that involve data and it's quite reasonable to assume that decisions that judges make such as bail amounts or parole could be done much more accurately by machines than by humans. In addition, there is research that shows expert humans are not very good set setting bail or granting parole appropriately. Whether you get a hearing by the parole board before or after their lunch has a significant effect on the outcome, for instance.
In the discussion, some of us proposed the idea of replacing judges for certain kinds of decisions, bail and parole as examples, with machines. The philosopher and several clergy explained that while it might feel right from a utilitarian perspective, that for society, it was important that the judges were human - it was even more important than getting the "correct" answer. Putting aside the argument about whether we should be solving for utility or not, having the buy-in of the public would be important for the acceptance of any machine learning system and it would be essential to address this perspective.
There are two ways that we could address this concern. One way would be to put a "human in the loop" and use machines to assist or extend the capacity of the human judges. It is possible that this would work. On the other hand, experiences in several other fields such as medicine or flying airplanes have shown evidence that humans may overrule machines with the wrong decision enough that it would make sense to prevent humans from overruling machines in some cases. It's also possible that a human would become complacent or conditioned to trust the results and just let the machine run the system.
The second way would be for the machine to be trained by the public - society in the loop - in a way that the people felt that that the machine reliability represented fairly their, mostly likely, diverse set of values. This isn't unprecedented - in many ways, the ideal government would be one where the people felt sufficiently informed and engaged that they would allow the government to exercise power and believe that it represented them and that they were also ultimately responsible for the actions of the government. Maybe there is way to design a machine that could garner the support and the proxy of the public by being able to be trained by the public and being transparent enough that the public could trust it. Governments deal with competing and conflicting interests as will machines. There are obvious complex obstacles including the fact that unlike traditional software, where the code is like a series of rules, a machine learning model is more like a brain - it's impossible to look at the bits and understand exactly what it does or would do. There would need to be a way for the public to test and audit the values and behavior of the machines.
If we were able to figure out how to take the input from and then gain the buy-in of the public as the ultimate creator and controller of this machine, it might solve the other side of this judicial problem - the case of a machine made by humans that commits a crime. If, for instance, the public felt that they had sufficient input into and control over the behavior of a self-driving car, could the public also feel that the public, or the government representing the public, was responsible for the behavior and the potential damage caused by a self-driving car, and help us get around the product liability problem that any company developing self-driving cars will face?
How machines will take input from and be audited and controlled by the public, may be one of the most important areas that need to be developed in order to deploy artificial intelligence in decision making that might save lives and advance justice. This will most likely require making the tools of machine learning available to everyone, have a very open and inclusive dialog and redistribute the power that will come from advances in artificial intelligence, not just figure out ways to train it to appear ethical.
Copyright xkcd CC BY-NC
Back when I first started blogging, the standard post took about 5 min and was usually written in a hurry after I thought of something to say in the shower. If it had mistakes, I'd add/edit/reblog any fixes.
As my post have gotten longer and the institutions affected by my posts have gotten bigger, fussier and more necessary to protect - I've started becoming a bit more careful about what I say and how I say it.
Instead of blog first, think later - agile blogging - I now have a process that feel a bit more like blogging by committee. (Actually, it's not as bad as it sounds. You, the reader are benefiting from better thought through blog posts because of this process.)
When I have an idea, I usually hammer out a quick draft, stick it in a Google Doc and then invite in anyone that might be able to help including experts, my team working on the particular topic and editors and communications people. It's a different bunch of people depending on the post, but almost everything I've posted recently is a result of a group effort.
Jeremy Rubin, a recent MIT grad who co-founded the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT mentioned that maybe I should be giving people credit for helping - not that he wouldn't help if he didn't get credit, but he thought that as a general rule, it would be a good idea. I agreed, but I wasn't sure exactly how to do it elegantly. (See what I did here?)
I'm going to start adding contributors at the bottom of blog posts as sort of a "credits" section, but if anyone has any good examples or thoughts on how to give people credit for helping edit and contributing ideas to a post or an informal paper like my posts on my blog and pubpub, I'd really like to see them.
In a move that is being seen by some as politically motivated and by others as a long overdue necessity, The Post newspaper, Zambia's largest independent daily newspaper, has had their offices locked up and their printing equipment seized by the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) because of outstanding taxes alleged to be at K68 million (US$6.1 million).
The newspaper announced on their Facebook page on June 21, 2016, that ZRA and police officers acting on the instructions of the president's office stormed their offices around 17 hours, demanding that The Post settles the outstanding amount immediately.
The newspaper's general manager explained to the officers that the money in question had been settled almost completely, according to The Post's account of what happened. The officers, however, stated they had warrant of distress (which allows for the seizure of property and goods) that could not be revoked, even after The Post's lawyers produced a court order restraining the officers from issuing a warrant of distress. According to The Post, the officers then went ahead with dismissing all workers, confiscating equipment and locking up the premises.
The newspaper is known for biting criticism against the government. Its editors and journalists have been locked up and taken to court many times by successive governments since it was established in 1991. Last year, bullets were fired at the newspaper's newsroom. No one has been arrested for the incident. There are at least two cases against The Post in the courts at the moment.
Some people are suspicious of the timing. Zambians will be going to the polls to vote in general elections in August 2016, and the newspaper has been the main platform for the opposition candidates as the public media is owned and controlled by the government and the ruling party.
However, some Zambians believe President Edgar Lungu and his government are doing what they must by taking action against The Post.
For example, George Mu'chi Mubanga commented on The Post Facebook page saying:
That's job well done, I was almost voting EL out for not fulfilling his promise he made last year that he will get the money from the post back. Hard luck guys don't tak it personal!
Mike Mubanga concurred:
If really instructions are from state House, then state House is working, we need that money to buy medicines in hospitals.
Collins Musonda cheered the move:
No one is above the law.Dont think you own zambia!!!if a poor marketeer can pay tax what of Me'mbe [The Post owner] ?this is justice congrates ZRA [Zambia Revenue Authority].
Malone Zaza countered the arguments of those supporting the government:
The government itself owes contractors, food suppliers, stationery suppliers, pensioners, utility companies, and civil servants and nobody, NOBODY, has shut them down…. [President Edgar] Lungu is a danger to this Country's democracy…
Responding the The Post announcement which says ZRA was instructed by the State House, Chichi Love Musonda Jnr said:
I had no idea the Supreme Court was situated at state house!!!! Once again, your theatrics and usual manner of playing victim at full play!!! If you're as good a citizen as you demand for just about anyone to be ” Just Pay”.
On the same issue of State House instructions, Gabriel Mbewe asked:
“Under instructions from state house, was it state house that caused you not to be paying taxes?”
Opposing the decision to shut down The Post, Petronella Chanda wondered why foreign companies are treated differently when it comes to taxation:
Take time to understand taxation in Zambia you will realise how our tax laws crucify locals compared to foreigners.
It is no secret that foreign companies come to this country and receive tax holidays worth billions of kwacha after that holiday is over they leave and return in another name […]
We should be ashamed, objective and non biased. This has nothing to do with taxation or we would have dealt with all those multinationals that cheat our country through transfer pricing everyday.
This is sad that we can go savage on our own people.
Vycal Mulenga pointed out that there are many companies owing ZRA which have never been shut down. He then warned of anarchy:
Zambian politics, cadres and lack of information. ZRA should never lie that only the post owes it money. u will understand that closure of the post newspaper is purely politically motivated wen u cross check the list of companies owing ZRA millions and are operational. Tampering with the media has been the beginning of arnachy [sic] in many lands and not the tax liability to the governments. just an objective observation.
It has been reported that government-owned newspapers Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail and the national broadcaster National Broadcasting Corporation owe ZRA over US$100,000. ZRA has never shut them down.
Closing the company is vindictive and retrogressive, argued John Mutofwe:
This news is soul troubling. Even if the Post owes ZRA ,there ought to be better ways to requidate the debt.closing the company is not only vindictive but alas..it's also retrogresive.Think of the employees across the country as well as those of us who love reading the post.
Fred Mumba is neither supporting The Post nor the action taken by ZRA:
Closing down the Post Newspapers & the printing plant is surely not the way to do things in a quest to recover Governments statutory obligations.
However,Fred Mmembe & The Post,you have yourselves to blame cause while on one hand you having insulting the Govt,on the other hand you have abrogated the law.So just pay your obligations.We want that money…Its our money as Citizens
Finally, Chrispine Chupa warned against tampering with press freedom in an election year:
I personally don't believe closing the Post Newspapers was the best thing to have done. So many people have just lost a job. Besides government loses a lot of pay-as-you-earn [a form of income tax], and other taxes. Regardless of the political preferences we all got, it is a very bad decision by the government to temper [sic] with press freedom especially in an election year like this one. I am extremely disappointed.
Lu Yuyu, founder of citizen media outlet Not in the News (非新聞）has been missing since June 15, along with his girlfriend.
The news team also keeps track of the scale and number of incidents, the number of arrested demonstrators and the reason behind the demonstrations through its monthly statistics report. It recorded 28,950 incidents in mainland China in 2015. The site recorded 9,869 incidents in the first quarter of 2016.
The site collects videos and photos of grassroots demonstrations from online sources and redistributes the news via various social media platforms. Twitter account @wickedonna is a major distribution spot and usually the account, managed by Lu Yuyu (Darkmamu), has several daily updates.
Since June 14, the @wickedonna account has posted no new updates. Lu's friend @youyuping alerted followers on June 20:
紧急寻人，这位敏感新闻自媒体 @wickedonnaa 失踪了。
— Pepee—皮皮游 (@youyuping) June 20, 2016
Urgently seeking missing person, @wickedonnaa, a highly sensitive news outlet [founder] has gone missing.
On Weibo, Lu's friend @ZGHQW99 is also looking for him:
卢 昱宇自11年来专业收集国内各种民间群体性事件，分别发布在他的新浪微博和推特上面，几年间从未间断过，让中外网友看到一个真实而苦难的中国。中国红旗网 《工农之声》版块也长期采用稿件。也一直上个星期，小卢突然失踪，至今无法联系到本人，连其家属的手机也突然处于无人接听状态，请各位多多关注！
Lu Yuyu has been researching mass incidents across the country since 2011 and distributing the news on Sina Weibo and Twitter. He has been doing this non-stop for years so that netizens from China and overseas can see people's suffering in China. Even [Party-affiliated] Hongqi's “Worker and Peasant” column has republished his writings. Last week, Lu went missing and out of contact. Even his relative's mobile phone is unanswered. Please pay attention to this.
In an interview with @beidaijin published on Paopao.net in 2014, Lu explained the mission of his work:
To magnify the voices of the protesters and catch social attention. To spread people's experience of struggle so that others can learn from their successes or failures.
Lu began researching mass demonstrations and incidents in 2011 and began actively distributing the news through social media in 2013, developing what became a counterweight to China's online censorship regime. As witness accounts of protests are dispersed on social media and quickly deleted by web censors, Lu sought through his work to give people greater access to information of public interest and document a more complete picture of the incidents.
He usually spends eight hours a day tracking protest news on social media, cross-checking the information via different search engines, and verifying that videos and images are really coming from the protest spots. @hpgd0 praised Lu's work on Twitter after he learned about his disappearance:
— 无名☂ (@hpgd0) June 20, 2016
“Not in the News” bares witness to so many sufferings for us. Putting such serious effort into this work is an act of respect. I sometimes intentionally ignore the news, as it takes courage to look at others’ suffering. But I notice that he keeps track of every incident, every day. These stories can make headline news in Japan, they are all loaded with social injustice. Society is not perfect, but filtering out negative news will not make society better.
It is very likely that Lu and his girlfriend's disappearance is related to his citizen journalistic work. Many speculated that they have been detained because of recent protests in the town of Wukan, Shandong province, where protests have erupted over an ongoing land dispute. Xing Jian, an exiled dissident told Radio Free Asia:
As Wukan incident continued to gain public attention, the Chinese authorities are worried about media reports on the protest. That's why they made him vanish. This is a further suppression of freedom of press. We urge international society and human rights organizations to pay attention on this.
A new set of “anti-terrorist” amendments in Russia would affect more than ten different laws and would broadly expand the state's powers to control citizens’ civil rights.
As Russia-focused independent media site Meduza put it, the amendments would enable authorities to “…strip Russians of their citizenship, revoke the foreign travel rights of people convicted of reposting certain ‘wrong’ content online, and access every single telephone conversation and email that crosses Russia's telecommunications lines.”
The amendments also increase penalties for Internet users who “incite terrorist activity and justify terrorism,” raising the maximum prison term for such offences from five to seven years behind bars. Another will obligate telecommunications companies and organizers of “online information distribution” — including blogging platforms and social network websites — to store records of customers’ phone calls or voice data, text messages, images, videos, and other types of content for six months on Russian soil.
The amendments have already passed first reading in the Duma and it is widely expected that they will pass. They would take effect in July of 2018.
In another critical development, Russian state media regulator Roscomnadzor was recently granted new powers that allow it to revoke the domain names of websites that host child pornography. The power to revoke domain names in the .RU or .РФ domains adds to a growing list of extrajudicial privileges for Roscomnadzor and a handful of other Russian state agencies including the Interior Ministry, which have the status of “competent agencies”, meaning they are able to designate content as dangerous.
Two digital journalists in Makassar, Indonesia, were attacked on June 5, 2016, while attending an event at the Makassar mayor's house. The journalists, Global Voices Indonesian author Arpan Rachman and his wife, Icha Lamboge, were stopped by two men in black uniforms – not the standard uniform of city security guards – and asked for their journalist ID cards. One of the men then snatched Lamboge's mobile phone. When Rachman intervened and tried to get her phone back, the man grabbed punched him in the chest while the other man strangled him. Rachman has recovered well but both are fearful for their safety.
The couple worked together on stories they suspect may have provoked the incident, including coverage of controversial mass evictions taking place in central Makassar. There have been 12 cases of journalist abuse documented in Makassar thus far in 2016, according to the Alliance for Independent Journalists in Makassar.
A Tanzanian man is facing three years in prison following his conviction for insulting President John Magufuli on Facebook in March 2016. Isaac Habakuk Emily allegedly posted a comment in reference to the President’s surprise live call to current affairs show 360, critiquing him for “theatrics in politics”. On June 22, another Tanzanian man was charged under the same law, again for insulting the president, though his message was posted on WhatsApp.
Opponents of the Cybercrime Act argue that the law gives too much power — without meaningful oversight — to police, bestowing upon them the ability to search the homes of suspected violators of the law, seize their electronic hardware, and demand their data from online service providers.
Mexican blogger and technology researcher Jacobo Najera filed a challenge against computer manufacturer Lenovo concerning a pre-installed security software on the Yoga 2 laptop model that prevented users from installing a Linux free software operating system. Najera challenged Lenovo before Mexico’s Federal Consumer Protection Attorney, who decided in his favor, ruling that the company had not duly informed consumers of the machine’s technical limitations. Najera describes his experience in a first-person piece for Advox.
Singapore’s government announced plans to restrict Internet access in government offices in what some people are calling an “Internet ban” for civil servants. The policy would require government workers to use special Internet terminals rather than their own computers in their offices if they need to access the web. Officials say the policy is an attempt to improve Singapore’s cybersecurity, but others have criticized it as drastic and unnecessary.
Kenya’s National Bank is suing blogger Cyprian Nyakundi for defamation over a series of posts on alleged corruption at the bank. In an initial hearing, a court issued an interim injunction restraining Nyakundi from publishing any statements defamatory of the Bank.
A US appeals court fully upheld net neutrality rules that expanded federal oversight of Internet service providers, rejecting a lawsuit from telecom, cable and wireless industry associations that sought to challenge the so-called Open Internet Rules. Despite the rejection of their case, observers expect the telecom industry will seek an appeal before the Supreme Court.
Russian civic activists and Internet companies have been raising the alarm about a new set of “anti-terrorist” legislation amendments that has already passed first reading in the Russian Duma. Those opposing the comprehensive amendments say the new laws are a severe threat to free speech and expression online and offline, as they empower the government and law enforcement to crack down on encrypted communications and beef up existing surveillance measures.
The new “anti-terrorist” laws were drafted by lawmaker Irina Yarovaya and Senator Viktor Ozerov, and were supposed to pass second and third reading on June 22, but the vote was postponed until Friday, June 24. Russia-watching media website Meduza reports that the amendments would affect over ten different laws and would broadly expand the state's powers to control its citizens and limit their civil rights.
If the legislation is approved (which is almost certain), Russia's authorities will gain the power to strip Russians of their citizenship, revoke the foreign travel rights of people convicted of reposting certain “wrong” content online, and access every single telephone conversation and email that crosses Russia's telecommunications lines.
Among the many measures aimed at curbing terrorism and extremism in Russia, the suggested amendments increase penalties for Internet users who “incite terrorist activity and justify terrorism,” raising the maximum prison term for such offences from five to seven years behind bars.
Another worrying measure that has caused much alarm among Russian Internet freedom circles is a norm that obligates telecommunications companies to store user communications and metadata for six months on Russian soil. Communications providers and organizers of “online information distribution,” such as blogging platforms and social network websites, will be obligated to store records of customers’ phone calls or voice data, text messages, images, videos, and other types of content.
Telecommunications companies and Internet service providers will also be required to store the metadata from all messages sent and received between users (such as the information about the time of the exchange, the sender and recipient information, location data, etc.) for three years. All this data must be made available to Russian law enforcement if its agencies require this data for investigative work. If voted into law, these regulations would take effect in July of 2018.
After the first reading of the draft amendments, lawmakers added another norm to the legislation: they propose to curb data encryption online by requiring that all Internet and telecom companies that use encryption for user communications (such as end-to-end encryption in messaging services or the HTTPS protocol on websites) to make their encryption keys available to Russia's Federal Security Service so they can decrypt the communications. Companies that refuse to provide decryption information could face fines of up to one million rubles (over $15,000).
Russian free expression advocates have campaigned against the increased surveillance measures in the proposed legislation, and have said the new encryption resrictions have made the bill “even more dangerous.” RosKomSvoboda, an Internet freedom organization affiliated with the Pirate Party in Russia, set up an online campaign “No to Surveillance,” launching a website called 1984.live at the time of the first reading of the new legislation, and following up with a social media campaign in which users addressed government officials asking them to nix the amendments. RosKomSvoboda also collected over 3,000 signatures for a petition against the law that they submitted to the Russian Duma and the Communications Ministry on June 21, before the initially scheduled second reading of the draft bill.
— Natalie (@moi_fee) June 21, 2016
Over 3 thousand citizens from 79 regions of Russia signed [the petition] against the Yarovaya-Ozerov draft bill.
Industry representatives in Russia have also voiced their concerns about the new laws. A spokesperson for Internet giant Yandex told RBC news website that the proposed requirements for storing user data and the encryption-curbing measures would “lead to increased expenses for Internet companies, and would excessively limit the rights of businesses and users.”
I found Shane Snow’s essay on prison reform – “How Soylent and Oculus Could Fix the Prison System” – through hatelinking. Friends of mine hated the piece so much that normally articulate people were at a loss for words.
A real person thought it would be a good idea to write this and post it on the Internet. pic.twitter.com/rj8viJr1HQ
— Susie Cagle (@susie_c) January 30, 2016
With a recommendation like that, how could I pass it up? And after reading it, I tweeted my astonishment to Susie, who told me, “I write comics, but I don’t know how to react to this in a way that’s funny.” I realized that I couldn’t offer an appropriate reaction in 140 characters either. The more I think about Snow’s essay, the more it looks like the outline for a class on the pitfalls of solving social problems with technology, a class I’m now planning on teaching this coming fall.
Using Snow’s essay as a jumping off point, I want to consider a problem that’s been on my mind a great deal since joining the MIT Media Lab five years ago: how do we help smart, well-meaning people address social problems in ways that make the world better, not worse? In other words, is it possible to get beyond both a naïve belief that the latest technology will solve social problems and a reaction that rubbishes any attempt to offer novel technical solutions as inappropriate, insensitive and misguided? Can we find a synthesis in which technologists look at their work critically and work closely with the people they’re trying to help in order to build sociotechnical systems that address hard problems?
Obviously, I think this is possible – if really, really hard – or I wouldn’t be teaching at an engineering school. But before considering how we overcome a naïve faith in technology, let’s examine Snow’s suggestion a textbook example of a solution that’s technically sophisticated, simple to understand and dangerously wrong.
When smart people get important things really wrong
Though he may be best know as co-founder of content marketing platform “Contently”, Shane Snow describes himself as “journalist, geek and best-selling author”. That last bit comes from his book “Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success”, which offers insights on how “innovators and icons” can “rethink convention” and break “rules that are not rules”. That background may help readers understand where Snow is coming from. His blog is filled with plainspoken and often entertaining explanations of complex systems followed by apparently straightforward conclusions – evidently, burning coal and natural gas to generate electricity is a poor idea, so oil companies should be investing in solar energy. Fair enough.
Some of these explorations are more successful than others. In Snow’s essay about prison reform, he identifies violence, and particularly prison rape, as the key problem to be solved, and offers a remedy that he believes will lead to cost savings for taxpayers as well: all prisoners should be incarcerated in solitary confinement, fed only Soylent meal replacement drink through slots in the wall, and all interpersonal interaction and rehabilitative services will be provided in Second Life using the Oculus Rift VR system. Snow’s system eliminates many features of prison life – “cell blocks, prison yards, prison gyms, physical interactions with other prisoners, and so on.” That’s by design, he explains. “Those are all current conventions in prisons, but history is clear: innovation happens when we rethink conventions and apply alternative learning or technology to old problems.”
An early clue that Snow’s rethinking is problematic is that his proposed solution looks a lot like “administrative segregation“, a technique used in prisons to separate prisoners who might be violent or disruptive from the general population by keeping them in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. The main problem with administrative segregation or with the SHU (the “secure housing unit” used in supermax prisons) is that inmates tend to experience serious mental health problems connected to sustained isolation. “Deprived of normal human interaction, many segregated prisoners reportedly suffer from mental health problems including anxiety, panic, insomnia, paranoia, aggression and depression,” explains social psychologist Dr. Craig Haney. Shaka Senghor, a writer and activist who was formerly incarcerated for murder, explains that many inmates in solitary confinement have underlying mental health issues, and the isolation damages even the sound of mind. Solitary confinement, he says, is “one of the most barbaric and inumane aspects of our society.”
Due to the psychological effects of being held in isolation, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has condemned the use of sustained solitary confinement and called for a ban on solitary confinement for people under 18 years old. Rafael Sperry of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility has called for architects to stop designing prisons that support solitary confinement as they enable violations of human rights. Snow’s solution may be innovative, but it’s also a large-scale human rights violation.
Snow and supporters might argue that he’s not trying to deprive prisoners of human contact, but give them a new, safer form of contact. But there’s virtually no research on the health effects of sustained exposure to head-mounted virtual reality. Would prisoners be forced to choose between simulator sickness or isolation? What are the long-term effects on vision of immersive VR displays? Will prisoners experience visual exhaustion through vergence-accommodation, a yet-to-be-solved problem of eye and brain strain due to problems focusing on objects that are very nearby but appear to be distant? Furthermore, will contact with humans through virtual worlds mitigate the mental problems prisoners face in isolation or exacerbate them? How do we answer any of these questions ethically, given the restrictions we’ve put on experimenting on prisoners in the wake of Nazi abuse of concentration camp prisoners.
How does an apparently intelligent person end up suggesting a solution that might, at best, constitute unethical medical experiments on prisoners? How does a well-meaning person suggest a remedy that likely constitutes torture?
Make sure you’re solving the right problem.
The day I read Snow’s essay, I happened to be leading a workshop on social change during the Yale Civic Leadership conference. Some of the students I worked with were part of the movement to rename Yale’s Calhoun College, and all were smart, thoughtful, creative and openminded.
The workshop I led encourages thinkers to consider different ways they might make social change, not just through electing good leaders and passing just laws. Our lab examines the idea that changemakers can use different levers of change, including social norms, market forces, and new technologies to influence society, and the workshop I led asks students to propose novel solutions to long-standing problems featuring one of these levers of change. With Snow’s essay in mind, I asked the students to take on the challenge of prison reform.
Oddly, none of their solutions involved virtual reality isolation cells. In fact, most of the solutions they proposed had nothing to do with prisons themselves. Instead, their solutions focused on over-policing of black neighborhoods, America’s aggressive prosecutorial culture that encourages those arrested to plead guilty, legalization of some or all drugs, reform of sentencing guidelines for drug crimes, reforming parole and probation to reduce reincarceration for technical offenses, and building robust re-entry programs to help ex-cons find support, housing and gainful employment.
In other words, when Snow focuses on making prison safer and cheaper, he’s working on the wrong problem. Yes, prisons in the US could be safer and cheaper. But the larger problem is that the US incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth – with 5% of the world’s population, we are responsible for 25% of the world’s prisoners. Snow may see his ideas as radical and transformative, but they’re fundamentally conservative – he tinkers with the conditions of confinement without questioning whether incarceration is how our society should solve problems of crime and addiction. As a result, his solutions can only address a facet of the problem, not the deep structural issues that lead to the problem in the first place.
Many hard problems require you to step back and consider whether you’re solving the right problem. If your solution only mitigates the symptoms of a deeper problem, you may be calcifying that problem and making it harder to change. Cheaper, safer prisons make it easier to incarcerate more Americans and avoid addressing fundamental problems of addiction, joblessness, mental illness and structural racism.
Understand that technology is a tool, and not the only tool.
Some of my hate-linking friends began their eye-rolling about Snow’s article with the title, which references two of Silicon Valley’s most hyped technologies. With the current focus on the US as an “innovation economy”, it’s common to read essays predicting the end of a major social problem due to a technical innovation. Bitcoin will end poverty in the developing world by enabling inexpensive money transfers. Wikipedia and One Laptop Per Child will educate the world’s poor without need for teachers or schools. Self driving cars will obviate public transport and reshape American cities.
Evgeny Morozov has offered a sharp and helpful critique to this mode of thinking, which he calls “solutionism”. Solutionism demands that we focus on problems that have “nice and clean technological solution at our disposal.” In his book, “To Save Everything, Click Here”, Morozov savages ideas like Snow’s, whether they are meant as thought experiments or serious policy proposals. (Indeed, one worry I have in writing this essay is taking Snow’s ideas too seriously, as Morozov does with many of the ideas he lambastes in his book.)
The problem with the solutionist critique is that it tends to remove technological innovation from the problem-solver’s toolkit. In fact, technological development is often a key component in solving complex social and political problems, and new technologies can sometimes open a previously intractable problem. The rise of inexpensive solar panels may be an opportunity to move nations away from a dependency on fossil fuels and begin lowering atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, much as developments in natural gas extraction and transport technologies have lessened the use of dirtier fuels like coal.
But it’s rare that technology provides a robust solution to a social problem by itself. Successful technological approaches to solving social problems usually require changes in laws and norms, as well as market incentives to make change at scale. I installed solar panels on the roof of my house last fall. Rapid advances in panel technology made this a routine investment instead of a luxury, and the existence of competitive solar installers in our area meant that market pressures kept costs low. But the panels were ultimately affordable because federal and state legislation offered tax rebates for their purchase, and because Massachusetts state law rewards me with solar credits for each megawatt I produce, which I can sell to utilities through an online marketplace, because they are legally mandated to produce a percentage of their total power output via solar generation. And while there are powerful technological, market and legal forces pushing us towards solar energy, the most powerful may be the social, normative pressure of seeing our neighbors install solar panels, leaving us feeling ike we weren’t doing our part.
My Yale students who tried to use technology as their primary lever for reforming US prisons had a difficult time. One team offered the idea of an online social network that would help recently released prisoners connect with other ex-offenders to find support, advice and job opportunities in the outside world. Another looked at the success of Bard College’s remarkable program to help inmates earn BA degrees and wondered whether online learning technologies could allow similar efforts to reach thousands more prisoners. But many of the other promising ideas that arose in our workshops had a technological component – given the ubiquity of mobile phones, why can’t ex-offenders have their primary contact with their parole officers via mobile phones? Given the rise of big data techniques used for “smart policing”, can we review patterns of policing, identifying and eliminating cases where officers are overfocusing on some communities?
The temptation of technology is that it promises fast and neat solutions to social problems, but usually fails to deliver. The problem with Morozov’s critique is that technological solutions, combined with other paths to change, can sometimes turn intractable problems into solvable ones. The key is to understand technology’s role as a lever of change in conjunction with complementary levers.
Don’t assume your preferences are universal
Shane Snow introduces his essay on prison reform not with statistics about the ineffectiveness of incarceration in reducing crime, but with his fear of being sent to prison. Specifically, he fears prison rape, a serious problem which he radically overestimates: “My fear of prison also stems from the fact that some 21 percent of U.S. prison inmates get raped or coerced into giving sexual favors to terrifying dudes named Igor.” Snow is religious about footnoting his essays, but not as good at reading the sources he cites – the report he uses to justify his fear of “Igor” (nice job avoiding accusations of overt racism there, Shane) indicates that 2.91 of 1000 incarcerated persons experienced sexual violence, or 0.291%, not 21%.
Perhaps isolation for years at a time, living vicariously through a VR headset while sipping an oat flour smoothie would be preferable to time in the prison yard, mess hall, workshop or classroom for Snow. But there’s no indication that Snow has talked to any current or ex-offenders about their time in prison, and about the ways in which encounters with other prisoners led them to faith, to mentorship or to personal transformation. The people Shane imagines are so scary, so other, that he can’t imagine interacting with them, learning from them, or anything but being violently assaulted by them. No wonder he doesn’t bother to ask what aspects of prison life are most and least livable, which would benefit most from transformation.
Much of my work focuses on how technologies spread across national, religious and cultural borders, and how they are transformed by that spread. Cellphone networks believed that pre-paid scratch cards were an efficient way to sell phone minutes at low cost – until Ugandans started using the scratch off codes to send money via text message in a system called Sente, inventing practical mobile money in the process. Facebook believes its service is best used by real individuals using their real names, and goes to great lengths to remove accounts it believes to be fictional. But when Facebook comes to a country like Myanmar, where it is seen as a news service, not a social networking service, phone shops specializing in setting up accounts using fake names and phone numbers render Facebook’s preferences null and void.
Smart technologists and designers have learned that their preferences are seldom their users’ preferences, and companies like Intel now employ brilliant ethnographers to discover how tools are used by actual users in their homes and offices. Understanding the wants and needs of users is important when you’re designing technologies for people much like yourself, but it’s utterly critical when designing for people with different backgrounds, experiences, wants and needs. Given that Snow’s understanding of prison life seems to come solely from binge-watching Oz, it’s virtually guaranteed that his proposed solution will fail in unanticipated ways when used by real people.
Am I the right person to solve this problem?
Of the many wise things my Yale students said during our workshop was a student who wondered if he should be participating at all. “I don’t know anything about prisons, I don’t have family in prison. I don’t know if I understand these problems well enough to solve them, and I don’t know if these problems are mine to solve.”
Talking about the workshop with my friend and colleague Chelsea Barabas, she asked the wonderfully deep question, “Is it ever okay to solve another person’s problem?”
On its surface, the question looks easy to answer. We can’t ask infants to solve problems of infant mortality, and by extension, it seems unwise to let kindergarden students design educational policy or demand that the severely disabled design their own assistive technologies.
But the argument is more complicated when you consider it more closely. It’s difficult if not impossible to design a great assistive technology without working closely, iteratively and cooperatively with the person who will wear or use it. My colleague Hugh Herr designs cutting-edge prostheses for US veterans who’ve lost legs, and the centerpiece of his lab is a treadmill where amputees test his limbs, giving him and his students feedback about what works, what doesn’t and what needs to change. Without the active collaboration of the people he’s trying to help, he’s unable to make technological advances.
Disability rights activists have demanded “nothing about us without us”, a slogan that demands that policies should not be developed without the participation of those intended to benefit from those policies. Design philosophies like participatory design and codesign bring this concept to the world of technology, demanding that technologies designed for a group of people be designed and built, in part, by those people. Codesign challenges many of the assumptions of engineering, requiring people who are used to working in isolation to build broad teams and to understand that those most qualified to offer a technical solution may be least qualified to identify a need or articulate a design problem. Codesign is hard and frustrating, but it’s also one of the best ways to ensure that you’re solving the right problem, rather than imposing your preferred solution on a situation.
On the other pole from codesign is an approach to engineering we might understand as “Make things better by making better things”. This school of thought argues that while mobile phones were designed for rich westerners, not for users in developing nations, they’ve become one of the transformative technologies for the developing world. Frustratingly, this argument is valid, too. Many of the technologies we benefit from weren’t designed for their ultimate beneficiaries, but were simply designed well and adopted widely. Shane Snow’s proposal is built in part on this perspective – Soylent was designed for geeks who wanted to skip meals, not for prisoners in solitary confinement, but perhaps it might be preferable to Nutraloaf or other horrors of the prison kitchen.
I’m not sure how we resolve the dichotomy of “with us” versus “better things”. I’d note that every engineer I’ve ever met believes what she’s building is a better thing. As a result, strategies that depend on finding the optimum solutions often rely on choice-rich markets where users can gravitate towards the best solution. In other words, they don’t work very well in an environment like prison, where prisoners are unlikely to be given a choice between Snow’s isolation cells and the prison as it currently stands, and are even less likely to participate in designing a better prison.
Am I advocating codesign of prisons with the currently incarcerated? Hell yeah, I am. And with ex-offenders, corrections officers, families of prisoners as well as the experts who design these facilities today. They’re likely to do a better job than smart Yale students, or technology commentators.
The possible utility of beating a dead horse
It is unlikely that anyone is going to invite Shane Snow to redesign a major prison any time soon, so spending more than three thousand words urging you to reject his solution may be a waste of your time and mine. But the mistakes Shane makes are those that engineers make all the time when they turn their energy and creativity to solving pressing and persistent social problems. Looking closely at how Snow’s solutions fall short offers some hope for building better, fairer and saner solutions.
The challenge, unfortunately, is not in offering a critique of how solutions go wrong. Excellent versions of that critique exist, from Morozov’s war on solutionism, to Courtney Martin’s brilliant “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems”. If it’s easy to design inappropriate solutions about problems you don’t fully understand, it’s not much harder to criticize the inadequacy of those solutions.
What’s hard is synthesis – learning to use technology as part of well-designed sociotechnical solutions. These solutions sometimes require profound advances in technology. But they virtually always require people to build complex, multifunctional teams that work with and learn from the people the technology is supposed to benefit.
Three students at the MIT Media Lab taught a course last semester called “Unpacking Impact: Reflecting as We Make”. They point out that the Media Lab prides itself on teaching students how to make anything, and how to turn what you make into a business, but rarely teaches reflection about what we make and what it might mean for society as a whole. My experience with teaching this reflective process to engineers is that it’s both important and potentially paralyzing, that once we understand the incompleteness of technology as a path for solving problems and the ways technological solutions relate to social, market and legal forces, it can be hard to build anything at all.
I’m going to teach a new course this fall, tentatively titled “Technology and Social Change”. It’s going to include an examination of the four levers of social change Larry Lessig suggests in Code and which I’ve been exploring as possible paths to civic engagement. It will include deep methodological dives into codesign, and into using anthropology as tool for understanding user needs. It will look at unintended consequences, cases where technology’s best intentions fail, and cases where careful exploration and preparation led to technosocial systems that make users and communities more powerful than they were before.
I’m “calling my shot” here for two reasons. One, by announcing it publicly, I’m less likely to back out of it, and given how hard these problems are, backing out is a real possibility. And two, if you’ve read this far in this post, you’ve likely thought about this issue and have suggestions for what we should read and what exercises we should try in the course of the class – I hope you might be kind enough to share those with me.
In the end, I’m grateful for Shane Snow’s surreal, Black Mirror vision of the future prison both because it’s a helpful jumping off point for understanding how hard it is to make change well using technology, and because the US prison system is a broken and dysfunctional system in need of change. But we need to find ways to disrupt better, to challenge knowledgeably, to bring the people they hope to benefit into the process. If you can, please help me figure out how we teach these ideas to the smart, creative people I work with who want to change the world and are afraid of breaking it in the process.
When I was first appointed as the director of the MIT Media Lab, The New York Times said it was an "unusual choice" - which it was since my highest academic degree was my high school diploma, and, in fact, had dropped out of undergraduate programs at both Tufts and the University of Chicago, as well as a doctoral program at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.
When first approached about the position, I was given advice that I shouldn't apply considering my lack of a degree. Months later, I was contacted again by Nicholas Negroponte, who was on the search committee, and who invited me to visit MIT for interviews. Turns out they hadn't come up with a final candidate from the first list.
The interview with the faculty, student and staff went well - two of the most exciting days of my life - although quite painful as well, as a major earthquake in Japan occurred the night between the two days. In so many ways, those two days are etched into my mind.
The committee got back to me quickly. I was their first choice, and needed to come back and have meetings with the School of Architecture + Planning Dean Adele Santos, and possibly the provost (now MIT president) Rafael Reif, since I was such an unorthodox candidate. When I sat down to meet with Rafael in his fancy office, he gave me a bit of a "what are you doing here?" look and asked, "How can I help you?" I explained the unusual circumstance of my candidacy. He smiled and said, "Welcome to MIT!" in the warm and welcoming way he treats everyone.
As the director of the Media Lab, my job is to oversee the operations and research of the Lab. At MIT, the norm is for research labs and academic programs to be separated-like church and state-but the Media Lab is unique in that it has "its own" academic Program in Media Arts and Sciences within the School of Architecture + Planning, which is tightly linked to the research.
Since its inception, the Lab has always emphasized hands-on research: learning by doing, demoing and deploying our works rather than just publishing. The academic program is led by a faculty member, currently Pattie Maes, with whom I work very closely.
My predecessor, as well as Nicholas, the lab's founding director, both had faculty appointments. However, in my case, due to the combination of my not knowing any better and the Institute not being sure about whether I had the chops to advise students and be sufficiently academic, I was not given the faculty position when I joined.
In most cases, it didn't matter. I participated in all of the faculty meetings, and except for rare occasions, was made to feel completely empowered and supported. The only awkward moments were when I was mistakenly addressed as "Professor Ito," or after explaining my position to academics from other universities had to endure responses like, "Oh! I thought you were faculty but you're on the ADMINISTRATIVE side of the house!"
So I didn't feel like I NEEDED to be a professor. When I was offered the opportunity to submit a proposal to become a professor, I wasn't sure exactly how it would help. I asked a few of my mentors and they said that it would allow me to have a life at MIT after I was no longer Lab director. Frankly, I can't imagine ever leaving my role as director of the Lab, but that was a nice option. Also, becoming a professor makes me more formally part of the Institute itself. It is a vote of confidence since it requires approval by the academic council.
I am not interested in starting my own research group, but rather have always viewed the entire Media Lab itself my "research group," as well as my passion. However, as I help start new initiatives and support faculty, from time to time, I have become more involved in thinking and doing things that require a more academic frame of mind. Lastly, I have begun to have more opinions about the academic program at the Media Lab and more broadly at MIT. Becoming a faculty member would give me a much better position from which to express these opinions.
With these thoughts in mind-and with advice from my wise mentors-I requested, and today received, appointment as a member of the MIT faculty, as a Professor of the Practice in Media Arts and Sciences.
I still remember when I used to argue with my sister, a double PhD, researcher, and faculty member, calling her "academic" as a derogatory term. I remember many people warning me when I took the role as the director of the Media Lab that I wouldn't fit in or that I'd get sick of it. I've now been at MIT approximately five years - longer than I've been at any other job - (and my sister, Mimi, is now an entrepreneur.) I feel like I've finally found my true calling and am happier than I've ever been with my work, my community and the potential for growth and impact for myself and the community in which I serve.
So thank you MIT and all of my mentors, peers, students, staff, and friends who have supported me so far. I look forward to continuing this journey to see where it goes.
The appointment is effective July 1, 2016.
A Kenyan blogger Cyprian Nyakundi is being sued by Kenya's National Bank for writing a series of posts about alleged corruption at the bank, which the country's main financial institution deemed defamatory. His court case began this month.
In March this year, the National Bank of Kenya (NBK) asked the Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya and the Cabinet Secretary for ICT to intervene in cases of online defamation of banks.
The bank expressed concern over social media users spreading malicious and false information about banks and other commercial organisations in Kenya as the economy faces challenging times.
The bank also wrote to the Media Council to find out if the council has jurisdiction over blogging and called on the industry lobby and affected companies to seek a lasting legislative solution to issues arising from “unregulated blogging” and social media use.
The bank took controversial blogger Cyprian Nyakundi to court this month following a series of posts about the bank. Nyakundi describes himself as a “Kenyan-based blogger who has an interest in politics, governance, corporate-fraud and human-interest stories.”
On June 6, the court granted an interim injunction and allowed NBK to furnish the blogger with a court summons through newspaper advertisements, email and the blogger’s WhatsApp account.
In Kenya, an interim injunction is granted by a court for a certain period of time to restrain a party from performing a certain act. It is a common practice in defamation cases.
The order reads:
Pending the hearing and determination of the application inter partes, an interim injunction is hereby granted restraining the defendant (Cyprian Nyakundi) whether by himself, his agents or his employees from publishing or causing to be published any statements defamatory of the National Bank of Kenya, its shareholders, directors and or employees in any manner whatsoever on his blog page, Twitter handle or any other of his social media platform accounts whatsoever.
The first hearing was on June 16.
One of the articles in question alleges looting at the bank by senior executives. NBK suspended six top executives including its CEO earlier this year to allow for an audit following an increase in bad debt.
Nyakundi is facing two other separate cases of defamation.
In June 2015, Safaricom, the largest mobile phone company in Kenya, sued him for defamation. The company also managed to get a restraining order on him from further publishing other defamatory articles about it and a mandatory injunction to pull down from his blog all the articles defaming Safaricom.
In September 2015, Nyakundi was sued for defamation by Kenyan businessman Vimal Shah.
Observers of Nyakundi's case are unsure whether he is a blogger-for-hire being deployed in inter-corporate wars in Kenya or an innocent economic analyst being targeted by big companies to serve as an example to other bloggers and social media users writing stories on economic topics.
Whatever the truth, the bank's suggestion to shore up corporate reputations through new legislation bodes ominously for freedom of speech in the east African country of over 45 million people.
Two digital journalists based in Makassar, in the region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia were attacked on June 5, 2016, while attending an event held by Makassar branch of Islamic Students Alumni (KAHMI Makassar) at Makassar mayor's house.
Global Voices author Arpan Rachman and his wife Icha Lamboge, who is also a journalist, told Global Voices that two men in black uniforms – not the standard uniform of city security guards – stopped them and asked for their journalist ID cards. The men then took them into a small room behind the house where Arpan asked them to identify themselves, which they refused to do. One of the men then snatched Lamboge's mobile phone, which is her main reporting tool. When Rachman intervened and tried to get her phone back, the man grabbed punched him in the chest while the other man strangled him.
The couple reported the incident to police, and Rachman was examined by a doctor. He is recovering from the incident, however both he and his wife are fearing for their safety.
The Alliance for Independent Journalists in Makassar has documented 12 cases of journalist abuse thus far in 2016, including harassment while reporting, destruction of reporting tools, intimidation, and physical assault. Neither KAHMI, AJI, nor Makassar officials have issued any statement regarding the attack on Rachman and Lamboge.
Shortly after the incident, Lamboge expressed concern that the incident would be “dismissed and forgotten or the evidence record doctored.” They have since obtained legal representation from Legal Aid Foundation Makassar, but much remains uncertain about their case. They continue to fear for their physical safety.
Both work actively as journalists, with Lamboge working chiefly with SINDO Trijaya FM, a radio station based in Jakarta, and Rachman working as investigative journalist with multiple local news outlets including BaKTINews, inspiratifnews, Membunuh Indonesia and Media Lingkungan.
The couple has worked together on stories that they suspect could have provoked the incident. For a recent print edition of the human rights magazine Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, they wrote about controversial mass evictions taking place in the Bulogading zone at the center of Makassar. More than one online story about the evictions has been taken down as tensions have risen.
In Indonesia, violence against journalist happens regularly. Attacks like these often go unreported in the media, and perpetrators often go without punishment.
The case involving Arpan and Icha was covered by one local news website, but the story was subsequently removed for unknown reasons.
Global Voices community condemns all forms of violence against journalists in Indonesia and elsewhere in the world. As a community, we stand by our colleague Arpan and his family's appeal for truth and justice.
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Maembe Vitali, Tanzania’s most passionate musician and activist, was arrested in Bagamoyo, Tanzania on June 7 and released the following evening according to Vitali's personal Facebook page as well as East African TV.
Vitali was charged with trespassing at the Bagamoyo College of the Arts (TaSUBa: Taisisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni Bagamoyo) and disobeying police orders.
His case has been taken to court as the only ‘remedy’ to this perceived ‘security breach’ on campus.
Vitali suffered injuries due to excessive force by police and went to a private hospital for treatment on Thursday following his release on Wednesday evening.
Vitali explained that the police denied him the right to a “PF3,” a legal form confirming his injuries.
His arrest triggered an avalanche of online support by fans, colleagues, and fellow activists who posted photos and song clips, commiserated with the circumstances of his arrest and demanded his release through the hashtag #FreeMaembe.
The YouTube video below is a song, Vuma, by the musician. The song talks about corruption and the need for greater transparency:
Vitali's arrest occurred when students at the arts college staged a protest against school exams.
Student activists refused to sit for an exam administered privately by the college, instead demanding that the exam aligns with and is recognized by VETA (Vocational Education and Training Authority of Tanzania).
Students intended to hold a peaceful rally, singing and holding signs yet Vitali reports that Acting Head of TaSUBa Mr. Michael Kadinde called the police to intervene.
The police sprayed tear gas on the student protestors, sparking violence. Police immediately arrested Vitali when he arrived on campus, accusing him of instigating the student protest.
Vitali's outspoken disdain for fraudulent administrative practices at the College of the Arts has caused a breach between him and the college, where he once studied music.
Police said that Vitali ‘demanded to be let inside and when he was asked to leave, he refused.’
This is strongly contested by Vitali himself as well as Rose Peter Maigunga, a witness to Vitali's violent arrest.
Vitali is expected to appear at the Bagamoyo District Court on June 22 to defend his case.
Now in Dar es Salaam recovering from his injuries, his supporters are calling for help on his behalf.
Diana Kamara, a student at the University of Dar es Salaam, reported that Vitali is looking for legal assistance in Dar es Salaam or in Bagamoyo.
Sanaa sio jipu la taifa ni mzigo na uteja wa watu kama Vitali Maembe. Hivyo hii ni nafasi yetu kujua hasa kiini cha jibu hili tulije kufuta usaha na kuacha kiini. Tuongee na na kujadili uovu, udhaifu. Na isiishie Bagamoyo, nani anajua hali ya Chuo cha Butimba? Hali ia Idara ya sanaa UDOM ama UDSM?
Historia inaweza isigeuzwe na hili tukio lakini ni nafasi yetu kutafiti bila ushabiki, bila kujipendelea na kujibagua kwamba sisi sio sehemu ya tatizo: Nini nafasi ya sanaa na utamaduni kwa ujumla katika taifa letu: kiserikali na kijamii.
Art is not the boil [that will burst] the nation, rather, it’s a burden…This is our chance to get to the essence of our questions. Let’s have a dialogue about evil and powerlessness. And let’s not stop at the College of Arts in Bagamoyo — let’s also look at the state of Butimba College or the Department of the Arts at the UDSM [University of Dar es Salaam] or UDOM [University of Dodoma]. History can't overturn what happened, but this is our chance to explore — without fanaticism, egotism or exclusiveness — how artists are not part of the problem. We ask, what is the position of art and culture in our country, both in terms of the government and society at large?
Kamara urged fans to listen, analyze and contextualize the messages inside Vitali's songs.
“It’s our collective responsibility,” Kamara explains, “to share Maembe's vision and message as widely as possible, as this is his ultimate motivation for creating his music in the first place.”
Kamara concludes, “Wherever Vitali is in the world, I am not worried, because [his activism] has opened our eyes. Yes, let’s show him compassion, but so that his arrest is not a waste, let’s all take it upon ourselves to get to work.”
Mohamed Ismail Rwabukoba asked:
Leo VITALIS MAEMBE anapigwa na kushambuliwa kama jambazi. Kosa lake ni kusema ukweli?
Today Vitalis Maembe is beaten and attacked as if he is a robber. Is speaking the truth his crime?
Another Facebook user Rachael Mwikali wrote:
My dear Maembe Vitali you are truely a Fighter.
AFRICA is proud to have you as a Son.
Sending you positive energy,quick recovery and lots of love.
Tina Mfanga observed:
You are not a soldier, you are not a rebel, they should understand that you are just a fighter… Yes, a fighter of a noble cause.
Maembe Vitali has made a name for himself as an activist, musician, teacher, life coach and counselor, promoting the arts as a powerful tool for political expression.
Known widely for producing and singing original songs about corruption and inequality, fans refer to Vitali as “Baba ya Ukweli” (“Father of the Truth”) and “Sauti Yetu” (“Our Voice”).
From 2012-2013, Vitali took his politics to the streets on a national tour called “Chanjo ya Rushwa,” (“Vaccination Against Corruption”), which covered all regions of Tanzania offering free community shows with his band, The Spirits, followed by open, public debates to “give people a voice on the problems of corruption, laziness and selfishness.”
The vision: “people will be able to discuss vivid situations and identify causes and solutions.”
The controversial tour ended in 2013 amidst security concerns, though Vitali continues to rail against corruption at all levels of government and has called out the Bagamoyo College of the Arts on various accusations of fraud, corruption, and theft.
Supporters insist this arrest was the unjust outcome of living in a climate of heightened censorship, with Tanzania’s new Cyber Crimes Act actively repressing opposition and dissent, especially online.
Vitali founded and directs Jua Arts Center in Bagamoyo, often collaborating with his students as a teacher and mentor.
Students attend weekly rehearsals and gather to learn about community building and social change.
He teaches music, theory and community organizing as a way to encourage young people to speak ‘truth to power’ and to use music as a tool to critically examine Tanzania’s most pressing social issues.
The CDEA (Culture & Development East Africa) has referred to Vitali as a ‘patriotic musician,” collaborating with him to raise funds for CDEA arts programming through pledges to support his 2014 Kilimanjaro climb.
Through his music, Vitali channels freedom fighters and visionaries like Julius Nyerere, Frantz Fanon, and Biko with playful guitar riffs and signature acoustic sounds that invite listeners to consider new possibilities.
“I’m a musician, but my music is more for the streets, it’s not really for radio, or television or the disco,” Vitali explained in an interview during the Green Peace Music Festival.
In response to Tanzania’s 2015 presidential elections, Vitali composed the 2014 song “Vuma,” (“Blow”), which begins with an address to mothers everywhere: “You, mama, inside your home everyday, come outside, you’ll hear the news blowing [in every direction].”
He goes on to sing about the troubled union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, the controversial Mtwara gas pipeline, arrogant politicians in parliament, and the pent up frustrations of everyday Tanzanian citizens who want economic justice, transparency and stability.
Vitali's forceful arrest in Bagamoyo occurred in the same week opposition leader Zitto Kabwe, of the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT), was summoned by police commander Wambura in Dar es Salaam for delivering a speech on “Protecting Democracy” on June 5 in Dar es Salaam, in which Kabwe called on supporters to continue to question the government in an effort to protect and stimulate a multi-party political system that values citizen engagement.
In his speech, he warned against totalitarianism and corruption and urged Tanzanians to question, criticize and correct decisions made under the leadership of President Magufuli of CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi / The Revolutionary Party), who recently won the election of 2015 despite voter rigging accusations and a debacle on the islands of Zanzibar, where the opposition party CUF (Civic United Front) claimed a premature victory and still insists a botched election.
Kabwe was released and no charges were filed, yet the government banned rallies from all political parties just two days later.
While no direct correlation exists between the two arrests, the message is loud and clear: opposition voices will be silenced.
Last week's arrests raise difficult questions about the constitutional right to gather, form opinions, exchange ideas, and protest. It also underscores the power of the police to disrupt, intimidate and intervene at the slightest hint of dissent.
The Russian government media and Internet watchdog, Roscomnadzor, is now able to un-delegate domain names for websites that are found to host child pornography without a court order. This power has been granted to Roscomnadzor by the Coordinating Center of the Russian national Internet domain.
The media regulator and the domain coordinating body signed an agreement about the delegation of powers to Roscomnadzor at the Saint Petersburg international economic forum on Thursday, June 16.
The ability to un-delegate domain names in the .RU or .РФ domains adds to a growing list of extrajudicial privileges for a handful of Russian state agencies, such as the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor General's Office, and other organizations who have a special agreement with the domain coordinator.
As a rule, a Russian court must recognize online content to be illegal in order for it to be blocked. But the organizations listed above enjoy exceptions to this rule, as they are granted the status of “competent agencies” able to designate content as dangerous and demand that a domain name be blocked and un-delegated. Beyond the government bodies listed above, there are currently four corporate and non-profit organizations in Russia that enjoy the “competent” status: the Kaspersky Lab, Group-IB, Center of Internet Technologies, and the Safe Internet League.
Now, Roscomnadzor joints the list of the chosen. According to a report by RIA Novosti news agency, the state Internet regulator will seek out websites that “violate the law by disseminating child pornography” and file a request with one of the many accredited domain registrars to un-delegate their domain names. Roscomnadzor will also follow up to make sure the website domain name has indeed been un-delegated, and, if the registrar does not comply, will file a complaint with the National domain coordinator.
The new increase in Roscomnadzor's power contributes to the existing system of online content blocking in Russia. Under current rules, websites can be banned by a court order (for instance, for copyright violation). Sites can also be blocked if they are found to violate the law on protection of children “from harmful information.” These are then added to Russia's Internet blacklist.
Several state agencies can contribute to the banned websites list as well: as mentioned above, Roscomnadzor is in charge of finding illegal pornographic content online; the Federal Drug Control Service (recently disbanded and absorbed by the Interior Ministry) could report content about illegal drug distribution and propaganda; the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights and Human Welfare can ban information contaning propaganda of suicide or otherwise harmful to children, and the Federal Tax Service is responsible for blocking gambling-related content. Finally, the General Prosecutor's Office can ban what it deems to be “extremist materials” online.
All the state agencies then send the URLs and IPs of the content deemed illegal to Roscomnadzor, which is in charge of the banned websites registry. Before a website is added to the blacklist, censors send a notice asking its owners to remove the offending content. If the website owners don't comply, the website is added to the blacklist and blocked by Russian ISPs.
Russian state officials are concerned about big data. More specifically, the personal data of Russian Internet users. And they believe more legislation regulating how this data is collected, stored, and protected will help make Russians using the Internet safer.
Head of Russian state Internet regulator Roscomnadzor Aleksandr Zharov suggested Russia could create a “national big data operator” that would control how the RuNet users’ data was being used. Speaking at the Saint Petersburg international economic forum this week, Zharov stressed that big data use had to be regulated, as a lot of the information, even though it wasn't personal, could still be used to identify users.
Государство, бизнес и общество должны определить правила обращения больших данных. Большие данные – большие возможности, но и большие риски на всех уровнях. Поэтому закон о больших данных должен быть.
The state, the business [sector], and the society must determine the rules of big data use. Big data means big opportunities, but also big risks at all levels. So there should be a law about big data.
The RBC news agency reports that while there isn't an immediate plan for a big data law, it could see light in the near future.
President Putin'd aide, Igor Shchegolyev, who was also at the forum in Saint Petersburg, stressed that at the moment, even the simplest app developers could gain unrestricted access to user data, and said that under the new law any collection and transmission of user data would only happen with the users’ permission. At the same time, the specific nature control mechanisms imposed by the state under such a law remains unclear.
Russia already has an existing law that regulates how Russians’ personal data is stored and processed. The data localization law came into power on September 1, 2015 and mandates that Russian and international companies must store the data of Russian users on Russian territory. The law also obligates Internet services to store user data for at least six months. Some institutions, like foreign embassies and consulates, as well as airline ticket sales services and mass media, are exempt from the requirement to store user data on Russian soil.
Roscomnadzor has already inspected 600 companies for compliance with the data localization requirements, and found four that violated the law. The agency promises to inspect 900 more companies before the end of 2016, including Russia's largest social network, VKontakte.
Roscomnadzor head Zharov said the regulator has the power to inspect any companies working with Russian Internet user data, regardless of their jurisdiction or whether they have an office in Russia, referring to ongoing negotiations with websites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Если мы найдем нарушение закона, то мы будем в каждой ситуации разбираться индивидуально и предметно. И будем давать достаточный срок для того, чтобы компания начала движение в сторону локализации персональных данных, а не сразу ее «закрывать».
If we find a violation of the [data localization] law, we will deal with each situation individually and specifically. And we will provide a long enough term for the company to begin moving towards localizing personal data, and not “shut it down” immediately.
Zharov stressed that the state regulator would only take matters to court if a company “outright refused” to comply with the data localization law. While some companies, like PayPal and Booking.com, have announced they plan to comply with data localization demands, others, including Facebook and Twitter, have been more tightlipped about how they plan to deal with new legal restrictions in Russia. Human rights and free speech advocates have said the data retention legislation presents more opportunities for state surveillance on Russian users and have called on international companies to refuse to store user data on Russian territory.
The following was originally published as a series of articles written by Tom Grundy and Kris Cheng on Hong Kong Free Press on June 16, 2016. They have been edited together into article and is published on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.
Five booksellers who went missing from Thailand, China and Hong Kong in 2015 have suddenly turned up both in person and on TV over the last several months in Hong Kong. In what may be a response to international pressure, these appearances have allowed them to “clarify” for the public that they voluntarily assisted mainland Chinese authorities in a criminal investigation.
Given that all five sold books critical of the Chinese government, very few people are buying story.
And now one of them is speaking out. Lam Wing-kee, the founder of Causeway Bay Bookstore in Hong Kong, went missing on October 24. He held an impromptu press conference at Hong Kong's legislature on June 16, where he told reporters that he was held by a kind of “special unit” in China and that he was forced to make a confession on TV in February.
Lam returned to Hong Kong on June 14, accompanied by two men. He said mainland Chinese authorities offered to release him if he handed over a hard drive containing a list of customers from the Causeway Bay Bookstore by June 16. He was due to return to the mainland with the hard drive, but he turned back after reading news about Hong Kong people protesting his arrest.
The hard drive demanded by the Chinese authorities contained sales records of some 600 people's names and 4,000 book titles from the bookstore. Lam said the special unit had already obtained a copy of the hard drive from another missing bookseller, Lee Bo, during his brief return from mainland China to Hong Kong in March.
Describing the details of his eight-month detention, Lam said that he was intercepted at the mainland border crossing on October 24, 2015. He was handcuffed, his eyes were covered, and he was taken from Shenzhen to Ningbo on China's eastern coast by train the next day.
He said he was held in a 200 to 300 square foot room in a large compound for five months until March 2016. Lam was not allowed to see a lawyer or communicate with his family, and says that six groups of people took turns monitoring him closely. He wasn't allowed to leave, he said. However, after many requests, he was allowed books to read.
During his detention, Lam said he underwent some 20 to 30 interrogations, in which he was accused of “illegal operations” by sending “banned” books to the mainland. Each interrogation lasted from 30 to 45 minutes:
I did not believe it would happen to me – it was an absurd place […] It was not realistic… I hoped I was in another place, or that it was a dream, that it was not reality. I am a Hong Konger, I am a free man, I did not break any law in Hong Kong, but I was arrested without any reason.
He was forced into making a public confession on Hong Kong broadcaster Phoenix TV in February. Of the experience, he explained there was a director and a script for him to practice; he said he did not have the courage to refuse to go though with it, although he did not think he committed any crime. After the confession, he was sent to Shaoguan in southeast China to work at a library, with less restrictions in March.
Accompanied by lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan at the press conference, Lam told reporters that he could not understand what law he may have violated, as it was legal in Hong Kong to send books to the mainland.
“If I broke Chinese laws they can sue me, why did the Chinese government grab me silently when I crossed the border?” he said. “This is not just my personal matter or Causeway Bay Books, this is about the human rights of Hong Kong people,” he said, saying that it was blatant violation of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and is supposed to have a high degree of autonomy from the mainland. Thanks to this so-called “One Country, Two Systems” principle, Hong Kong enjoys more freedoms than China, but there are fears that despite this set-up, the mainland is attempting to tighten its control over the region.
Lam said on the day he was accosted on the mainland last October, he was originally planning to visit his girlfriend. She was also detained on the mainland as she had helped him with sending “banned” books into China. She was released on bail.
I am sorry for my girlfriend… But I don’t consider this a personal matter anymore, rather a matter for the whole of society… Hong Kong people were forced without any way out […]
He said it was unacceptable that his colleague Lee Bo was “kidnapped” from Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has rule of law – I am not afraid for my personal safety, and I do not plan to go to the mainland again. […] This is the red line for Hong Kong people – Hong Kong people will not give in to the powerful regime.
Regarding the booksellers who returned to Hong Kong and went to the mainland again, he said he wishes the Chinese government would “treat them well.”
Lam also said he hoped that Hong Kong people would continue to raise their voices against the “authoritarian” regime of China:
I hope Hong Kong people can say no to the authoritarian regime […] If I can, why can’t you? I was born and raised in Hong Kong – I don’t have to leave.
Human right organization Amnesty International stated that Lam's testimony has “blown apart” Beijing's “lies” on the missing publishers. Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said:
He has exposed what many have suspected all along: that this was a concerted operation by the Chinese authorities to go after the booksellers. It seems clear he, and most likely the others, were arbitrarily detained, ill-treated and forced to confess. The plight of the other booksellers still in mainland China is extremely worrying. They must be granted access to lawyers and where appropriate consular assistance.
Lam's colleague Lee Bo issued a public post on Facebook denying Lam’s claims, saying he voluntarily went to the mainland using his own methods to assist in an investigation. Booksellers Lui Por and Cheung Chi-ping, who also went missing in Shenzhen and Dongguan respectively, had returned to Hong Kong but went back to the mainland soon after.
Gui Minhai, another bookseller at Causeway Bay Books who went missing while in Thailand, has yet to be released from detention on the mainland.
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A little bit about you. You run fast and learn quickly. You don’t need to be a technologist, but you must embrace the open technology community and a humane startup culture. You are a great communicator. You instinctively distill commanders intent. You thrive in a flat organization. You take responsibility for your own time and get things done through orchestration rather than authority. You constantly look for ways to make things better. You are good person and you want to make a real difference with other fun, decent humans.
If this sounds like you, take a gander at the Mission Control job post.
Written by Nicole Schilit, CPJ Journalist Assistance Senior Associate. This post is published as part of a partnership between Global Voices Advox and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). It originally appeared on CPJ's blog.
In August 2014 two journalists living more than 4,000 miles apart slipped across a border to find safety: one with his wife and three children, the other alone. Idrak Abbasov, from Azerbaijan, and Sanna Camara, from Gambia, faced imprisonment because of their reporting. Neither has been able to return home.
Their stories, along with those of Bob Rugurika, a radio director from Burundi, and Sevgi Akarçeşme, an editor from Turkey, reflect the experiences faced by the many journalists forced to flee each year after being persecuted for their reporting. Each of the four journalists with whom CPJ spoke before World Refugee Day had to make the tough decision between exile or imprisonment.
Idrak Abbasov, a veteran reporter from Azerbaijan, said he had been threatened before over his reporting, but when a colleague warned him in August 2014 that he could be arrested he decided it was time to take his wife and three young children to a safer place. He said that to avoid attracting attention, they left their home in the capital, Baku, with little luggage.
The week before Abbasov left the country, the prosecutor general's office had raided the offices of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a Baku-based press freedom group where he worked, confiscating computers and equipment as part of a crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan.
It was not the first time that Abbasov, who also worked for the independent newspaper Zerkalo, has been targeted for his work. CPJ documented in 2012 how he was hospitalized after being beaten while covering forced evictions in the lead up to the Eurovision Song Contest that Baku hosted that year. Despite a concussion, broken ribs and teeth, damage to his kidney, and needing eye surgery, Abbasov continued to work as a journalist.
Abbasov said that to avoid alerting authorities to his decision to leave, he told friends and colleagues he was taking his family to Turkey so his son could receive medical care. On August 19, Abbasov drove his wife and children to the edge of Baku, where they left the car. The family traveled across the border to Georgia and used false names to check into a hotel in Rustavi, where they stayed for two days.
“Nobody expected us in Georgia, I did not know what to do, who to turn to,” he said. Abbasov said that to explain the absence of luggage, he and his wife told hotel staff they were on vacation and that friends had their belongings. By this time, the journalist's bank account had been frozen and plain-clothed men had visited his home and the home of his father-in-law, looking for him. Relatives in Azerbaijan told Abbasov police had detained his brother-in-law for two days, questioning him about the journalist's whereabouts.
With help from CPJ and other press freedom groups, Abbasov and his family left Rustavi for Georgia's capital, Tblisi. They were farther from the border, but Abbasov said he feared that Azeri secret services would still be able to reach them. The family changed their residence several times and rarely went outside. Abbasov said it was a hot summer and his children wanted to go outside to play, but he couldn't let them.
In September 2014 the family flew to Chernihiv in Ukraine, where they stayed at the Human Rights House, a shelter run as part of a larger network of human rights defenders and organizations. After two months the journalist moved with his family to a shelter in Vilnius, also run by human rights groups.
In January 2015 Abbasov and his family moved to Norway, after being accepted by the International Cities of Refuge Network and being granted a three-year residency permit. He and his wife have since had a fourth child. Abbasov said that his older children were confused when they left their home, but that they have settled into life in Norway and understand the family will not return to Azerbaijan.
In June 2014, Sanna Camara was arrested for the third time over his reporting. Unable to report freely in his own country, and fearing he would be detained again, Camara said he knew he had no hope of staying in Gambia. Camara told CPJ that his last arrest came on the same day that a story he wrote on human trafficking appeared in The Standard newspaper. Authorities accused him of publishing false news and he was released on bail on the condition that he report to police headquarters in Banjul three times a week.
A week before he fled, Camara said that a contact at the police department tipped him off that there was enough evidence to proceed with his case. Because he needed permission to travel, even within Gambia, the journalist said he told police he planned to visit his parents about 180 miles from the capital.
Instead of visiting his family, Camara went directly to the border. Knowing fewer guards would be patrolling when it was hot, he waited until the sun was at its highest point before crossing into Senegal, where he tried to register as a refugee.
When Camara first arrived in Senegal's capital, Dakar, he found an apartment large enough so that his wife and three children, who are between two and six years old, could join him. But, Camara said, he realized he would not be able to support his family in exile like he had at home. The journalist could live without breakfast, but he could not deprive his family of three meals a day, he said. His wife and children returned to Gambia after a few weeks and Camara moved into a single room, where he still lives today. “I miss my children. Every time I talk to my daughter she asks when I'm coming home,” Camara said.
In March 2015, Senegal rejected Camara's application for refugee status. No reason was given. Camara said that the applications of several Gambian journalists who fled to Dakar before him were also rejected. He is currently appealing the decision.
CPJ has found that most members of the media who are forced to flee are not able to continue their work in journalism, but Camara writes part-time for Gambian news websites and in May started contributing to the independent global news service, Democracy Watch News. He also reports on politics, human rights, and freedom of expression issues for his blog, GambiaBeat. He told CPJ:
In Senegal I have a lot of freedom to investigate human trafficking. I have interviewed over a dozen human trafficking victims. I would not be able to do this work in Gambia. I would not have the security to do this….It's not the best, but it is more secure than in Gambia.
In May 2015, radio journalist Bob Rugurika was forced to flee Burundi for the third time since 2010 because of threats over his reporting. Rugurika said that the first two times he left, both related to his investigations into the murder of human rights defender Ernest Manirumva, he felt safe enough to eventually return home, even though he and his wife received death threats.
His desire to contribute positively to society in Burundi always brought him back. “I felt a sense of outrage, guilt sometimes as if we [journalists] were not able to prevent this situation of war in which Burundi plunged. I was torn by a sense of desperation and desire to want to keep fighting no matter what,” he said.
Rugurika's most recent flight across the border was different.
In January 2015 CPJ reported how the director of the privately owned Burundi station, Radio Publique Africaine, had been charged with complicity in murder and breach of public solidarity, after the station broadcast an interview in which a guest claimed to be involved in the murder of three Italian nuns. During the broadcast, the guest implicated several intelligence and police officers in the murders. He did not provide any evidence.
After refusing to say where the guest was located, Rugurika was arrested on January 19, 2015 and held for one month. The journalist told CPJ he was used to receiving threats but after his conditional release in February the threats intensified and his home was attacked, forcing him to go into hiding. Rugurika said that after two months in hiding his life had become unbearable and he realized he had to leave Burundi.
On May 8, 2015, as violent demonstrations took place in the capital, Bumjumbura, in response to President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term, Rugurika prepared to leave. Since the start of unrest in that year, coupled with a government crackdown on the independent press, CPJ has been aware of more than 100 journalists who have fled Burundi.
“I felt a sense of outrage, guilt sometimes as if we [journalists] were not able to prevent this situation of war in which Burundi plunged. I was torn by a sense of desperation and desire to want to keep fighting no matter what.”
In Rugurika's case, prosecutors banned the journalist from traveling, so he kept his plans secret. Rugurika said that under the pretense of working on a story, he arranged for a driver from his radio station to take him close to the Rwandan border. The journalist told the driver he needed to meet his source at a discreet location and then used a motorcycle to travel to a part of the border that was not widely patrolled.
Rugurika was able to cross easily into Rwanda, where someone was waiting to take him to the capital, Kigali. From there Rugurika traveled to Nairobi in Kenya, but he later returned to Kigali to be with other Burundian journalists who fled to Rwanda, saying it is the most secure country in the region.
“The first six months have been difficult,” he said. “I was paralyzed by the idea of exile. This is the first time I had decided to flee the country without knowing exactly when I would return.”
Rugurika continues to work as a journalist and has founded Humura Burundi, an online magazine that provides news on Burundi.
In the past year, CPJ has documented an escalation in Turkey's crackdown on the press, with arrests, forced takeovers at news outlets, and legal action. One of the casualties of the crackdown is Sevgi Akarçeşme, an editor at Today's Zaman, who was forced to flee in March 2016 for fear of arrest.
In December 2015, Akarçeşme was celebrating being appointed the first female editor-in-chief of Today's Zaman. Three months later, on March 4, an Istanbul court ruled that court-appointed trustees should take over the English-language paper, together with its sister paper, Zaman, after the papers were accused of terrorist propaganda. By the time of the takeover, there were at least 18 journalists behind bars in Turkey, CPJ research shows.
Akarçeşme said that after the takeover and being handed a 17-month suspended prison sentence in December 2015 for allegedly insulting the prime minister in a tweet, she worried she would be either banned from traveling or imprisoned. Numerous colleagues have been sentenced to jail, including Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of Zaman, in December 2014, and Bülent Keneş the former editor-in-chief of Today's Zaman, in October 2015. Dumanlı left the country, and Keneş has been released pending trial, but is under a travel ban. Akarçeşme said she felt frustrated and helpless seeing her colleagues arrested arbitrarily, “I have almost no faith left in the judicial system in Turkey,” she said.
Fearing she would face the same fate, Akarçeşme said she decided to leave Turkey before a travel ban could be imposed. On March 6 she bought a plane ticket, packed her belongings and, within a few hours, was on a flight to Brussels. Akarçeşme said it felt like she was in a movie and that she didn't feel safe until the plane took off.
“It has changed me. This whole experience has been changing me. I try to look at it in a positive way. I suffer, but we grow when we suffer,” she said. “Secretly, I am still hoping for a miracle. I hope that a miracle will happen and I will be able to go back. It doesn't seem very likely in the foreseeable future though.”
The journalist added:
I still don't know how long I will have to be away from my home country. It's kind of heartbreaking because, after all, it's my hometown, Istanbul. My whole family lives there. My whole life was in Istanbul. Even though I traveled a lot and I studied in the United States, being forced to leave your country is something else. It feels truly terrible. To leave your country with only two suitcases, not knowing what to do, not having a job, not having anyone next to you.
This article gives the history of a purchase of a personal computer. In November 2014, I bought the Lenovo Yoga 2 for its operational functions, capacity and price. I intended to install GNU/Linux, a free and open source operating system which allows for users to run, study, redistribute and improve computer software so that the whole user community benefits.
That was how I discovered a hidden feature on my new computer called Secure Boot, which restricts users from installing operating systems that are not compatible with discrete factory settings. I was not informed of this feature at the time of purchase.
At first I tried to resolve the issue with the help of colleagues, but our various technical attempts were not successful. Then I chose to pursue the matter through legal channels with the support of Enjambre Digital (Digital Hive), an organization that advocates for Internet freedom in Mexico. After a series of meetings with Lenovo's attorneys and the Mexican Federal Attorney of Consumer Protection (aka PROFECO), a judge ruled that Lenovo had violated Mexico's Federal Consumer Protection Law.
A 2011 letter from the Free Software Foundation and signed by more than 48,000 people demonstrates the restrictive nature of Secure Boot. In the letter, FSF urged manufacturers to either “allow computer owners to disable the boot restrictions, or provide a sure-fire way for them to install and run a free software operating system of their choice.” In my case, and surely in others like it, it is evident that we have not yet arrived at the ideal proposed in FSF's letter.
On the other hand, my case proves that even though Lenovo admitted that the Secure Boot function sets a restriction, they failed to disable it during litigation. And the violation of Mexican law, declared by the authority responsible for the defense of consumer rights, has not been rectified.
I bought a model Lenovo Yoga 2 laptop through Intelcompras, a Mexican distributor, and it was delivered on November 19, 2014.
When I tried to install the operating system of my choice, I found it wasn't possible because the computer had a Secure Boot loading option. This feature requires that any operating system installed on the computer must be authorized through digital signatures issued by Microsoft. I tried to disable Secure Boot since it prevented the installation of the operating system I wanted, but my attempts to deactivate the feature were unsuccessful.
I also attended Hackmitin, an annual hacker conference in Mexico. There, myself and several friends tried to fix the problem but we were not able to install the new operating system, thanks to Secure Boot.
The hackers confirmed that with Secure Boot activated it is impossible to install software without a Microsoft signature. Therefore, in order to install another operating system such as Debian GNU/Linux, it was necessary to either disable this loading option or obtain a version authorized by Microsoft.
My next step was to communicate with the supplier and request technical support. On November 26, 2014, I tweeted the following to the verified Lenovo Mexico account:
— Jacobo Nájera (@jacobonajera) November 26, 2014
.@lenovoMX Why can't I deactivate Secure Boot? It's illegal. #UEFI https://www.fsf.org/campaigns/secure-boot-vs-restricted-boot
They referred me to call a 1-800 number for support. I called and explained the problem, but they refused to help me. They claimed that they could not advise me how to disable Secure Boot because it was prohibited by company policy.
After exhausting the available technical alternatives and manufacturer support, on January 15, 2015 I finally decided to file a complaint with the the Federal Attorney of Consumer Protection (PROFECO), in which I presented my case.
In a settlement hearing on April 17, 2015, I explained the problem that I had with the computer to the supplier, the arbitrator from PROFECO and the attorney from Enjambre Digital. I asked Lenovo's attorney for information explaining how to disable Secure Boot. He replied that he wasn't familiar with the problem but would review it with the corresponding department to find a solution, and asked for the serial number and model. PROFECO scheduled a second hearing for June 10, 2015.
Ten days later, I received a phone call from Miguel Díaz, who identified himself as a “Customer Support Analyst” from Lenovo. He said it was very easy to disable Secure Boot and gave me several options that I could use which he forwarded to me via email:
Buenas tarde estimado Jacobo:
En acuerdo a nuestra llamada telefónica las opciones para la correcta instalación del su sistema operativo y configuración del “secure boot” son:
Ingresar el equipo a un centro de servicio autorizado por Lenovo, ahí realizarán la configuración correcta, además a manera de excepción instalarán el sistema operativo de su preferencia mismo que debe ser proporcionado por usted junto con la licencia del software.
Envío por esta vía de un paso a paso (manual) de como activa y desactivar el “secure boot”.
Quedo atento a sus comentarios.
Nota: Una vez el centro de servicio haya realizado las pruebas suficientes de funcionamiento será entregado el equipo, incluso podría verificar le enseñaran como activar y desactivar la opción.
Good afternoon Jacobo:
As per our phone call the options for the correct installation of your operating system and configuration of Secure Boot are:
Send the computer to an authorized Lenovo service center where they will perform the right configuration. Also, as an exception, they will install the operating system of your choice, which should be provided by you along with the software license. I am including a step-by-step manual on how to activate and deactivate “Secure Boot.” Please contact me with further questions or comments.
Note: Once the service center has completed sufficient performance tests the computer will be delivered back, you can even verify they showed you how to activate and deactivate the option.
I asked him to send me the aforementioned manual so I could do it myself, but I was unable to deactivate it. So I decided to send the computer to an authorized Lenovo service center. They told me they would review it to make a diagnosis. The diagnosis concluded that it was impossible to install the operating system of my choice “due to the computer's factory settings.” The diagnosis was noted on the document that Lenovo's legal representative gave to PROFECO in the second conciliation meeting, which turned out to be fruitless.
Lenovo's legal representative stated:
Solicito se envíe el expediente al archivo general toda vez que mi representada ingresó el equipo materia de queja al centro de servicio y este fue revisado y no muestra algún problema en su funcionamiento solamente la limitante que el consumidor manifiesta y ya le fue notificado que eso se deriva de la fabricación del equipo y sus características aclarando que mi representada no omitió información en la venta toda vez que esta fue hecha por otro proveedor denominada Intelcompras.
I file the following request before the general archive as my client took the computer – which is the matter of complaint – to the service center, it was checked and showed no functional problem, only the limitation stated by the consumer, who was already notified that this is due to the manufacturer's settings and characteristics; thus we want to make clear that my client didn't omit the information at the time of sale, as it was sold by another provider named Intelcompras.
The attorney from Enjambre Digital and I decided to reject the proposed settlement because my problem from the beginning (disabling Secure Boot) was not resolved.
Since the mediation was not successful, PROFECO formally initiated proceedings against Lenovo for legal violations, granting a it a term of ten working days to offer evidence and present their response in writing.
The attorney from Enjambre Digital and I delivered a letter in the following days in which we reiterated the points outlined in the complaint, and further noted that the the distributor, Intelcompras, was not responsible to advise its customers regarding Secure Boot, as Lenovo's legal representative argued, for two basic reasons: first, because Lenovo was the manufacturer of the computer and thus responsible for the intrinsic features of the product and for informing the consumer of said features; and second, that legally Lenovo cannot shift responsibility for said features to the seller/distributor, which in this case was Intelcompras.
With those facts submitted, the Federal Attorney of Consumer Protection (PROFECO) ruled that “Lenovo Mexico S. de R.L. de C.V. violated the provisions of Article 7 of the Federal Law of Consumer Protection, as was shown in the resolution.”
Article 7 of the Federal Law of Consumer Protection states that:
Todo proveedor está obligado a informar y respetar los precios, tarifas, garantías, cantidades, calidades, medidas, intereses, cargos, términos, plazos, fechas, modalidades, reservaciones y demás condiciones conforme a las cuales se hubiera ofrecido, obligado o convenido con el consumidor la entrega del bien o prestación del servicio, y bajo ninguna circunstancia serán negados estos bienes o servicios a persona alguna”.
Every supplier is obligated to inform and respect the prices, taxes, guarantees, quantities, qualities, measures, interests, fees, terms deadlines, dates, modalities, reservations and other conditions under which a product was offered, or a good or service was obligated or agreed to with the consumer, and under no circumstances will these goods or services be denied to anyone.
Currently the Lenovo Yoga 2 model remains on the market with Secure Boot installed and without the option to disable it. The official documentation continues to fail to mention this feature.
Communities developing free software are seeking technical strategies so the operating systems they develop are authorized by Microsoft and work with Secure Boot. However, this should not be a one-sided issue as the conditions of the software with which computers function are also the decision of a third party, in addition to the manufacturer.
Faced with a violation of the law that has the potential to massively impact our rights, we are not expecting some minor actions to deal with the situation. Rather, we would like to see the company take an active role on the matter. Since PROFECO's financial penalty does not solve the problem of Lenovo omitting this key information about the purchase, together with Enjambre Digital we are considering other ways to ensure that PROFECO's ruling, which was qualified as serious, has tangible effects.
Last Wednesday I joined a diverse group of luminaries, changemakers, and professionals gathered at the Ronald Reagan Trade Center in Washington, DC for the 2016 Social Innovation Summit (SIS16). The Summit is an annual event whose goal is to create a forum where a global network of leaders can connect to discuss the key strategies and business innovations creating social transformation across the corporate, investment, government and nonprofit sectors.
SIS16 provided an excellent forum for connecting with Echo’s current and prospective partners and an opportunity to gain the latest insight into a variety of social impact issues and initiatives. What struck me most was the passion of the attendees and their eagerness to learn from and collaborate with their peers. The Summit isn’t your standard business conference where you’re confronted by canned marketing messages and suppliers stalking wary corporate managers. The urgency to find real, actionable solutions to our underlying social issues is ever-present, breaks down networking barriers and brings the diverse group of attendees together.
Having been completely unable to solve the challenge of being in two places at once, I focused on workshops relevant to the social impact organizations we partner with: Building Effective Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategies; Building Ecosystems for More Resilient Communities; and Evolution of Environmentalism in the Digital Age.
There was so much good information and insight packed into two days, it’s really difficult to pinpoint the highlights. Here are four that stood out to me.
Daniel Lubetzky, the CEO and Founder of KIND, led a session about social entrepreneurship and the power of business and markets to address social ills. He had just returned from the Jordanian desert where he visited a sustainable desert farm that employs cutting-edge Israeli technology to make the desert bloom. Former orthodox jewish settlers are cooperating with Jordanian Bedouins and providing over 100 jobs, including employing 40 Syrian refugees. The initiative has been so successful that the farm now generates revenue through the export of kosher vegetables.
Take a minute and watch Daniel Lubetzky’s talk here:
In the workshop Building Effective Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategies, Courtney Harvey of Women Moving Millions and Ruth DeGolia of Mercado Global led a discussion about the significant ROI for development investments in women. Citing several real-world examples, they stressed the importance of a holistic approach that integrates economic rights, sourcing, access to the supply chain, education, and legal advocacy.
Terry Whelan, Director of Sustainable Business for NYU Stern School of Business led a session on Building Ecosystems for More Resilient Communities that included the NYC Housing Authority and Sister Cities International. The big take-away is the importance of empowering local leaders and changemakers by giving them access to the right information and tools to enact change at the community level.
An example of the fine line between the social responsibility and commercial interests was provided by Jennifer Hunter, Altria’s Senior Vice President of Communications & Corporate Citizenship. She spoke about balancing the company’s responsibility to reduce the harm caused by tobacco products with the fact that Altria manufactures a legal product used by 40 million adult consumers.
In the coming months, Singapore will begin a somewhat novel approach to improving cybersecurity in government offices. Instead of installing security systems or better securing infrastructure, the government plans to simply restrict Internet access in government offices. The plan, which is called ‘Public Service’s Internet Surfing Separation Initiative’, will be fully implemented by June 2017.
The government’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said 100,000 computers used in public service will be affected by what some people are calling an “Internet ban”. Many Singaporeans expressed doubt about the practicality of the proposal. They fear it will undermine the government’s Smart Nation program which in turn seeks to improve the country’s Internet connectivity.
The government clarified that Internet terminals will be installed in offices if public servants need to access the web.
Government workers will also be allowed to forward unclassified work e-mails to their private accounts. They can also use their personal devices to connect online. Schools are exempted from the Internet ban.
Over the past year, the IDA monitored 16 cases of cyber attacks against government networks.
— IDA (@IDAsg) June 10, 2016
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong insists the proposed Internet ban is an ‘absolute necessity.’ In order to highlight the urgency of the situation, he became the first public servant to disconnect his work computer from the Internet. He urged the public to understand the rationale of the proposal:
We have become completely dependent on our IT systems… and we have to make sure that our system is secure. We can't get infiltrated, data cannot be stolen, somebody can't come in and wipe out your data or cause some other mischief.
We’ve reached this point, we’ve decided to do it. Are we happy? I don’t think so because it will slow us down in terms of day to day productivity. But in terms of security, safety of our system, safety of our citizens and information concerning them, it’s absolutely necessary.
To ensure the safety of the government’s IT infrastructure, there is a need for strong security interventions. But some netizens see the proposed Internet ban as drastic, unnecessary, and unwise.
Our civil servants will have the Internet cut off from their computers next year. Because we Smart Nation. pic.twitter.com/hyhuzmhblw
— mrbrown (@mrbrown) June 8, 2016
Tech blogger Dr Ashley Tan reminds the government that improving computer security is possible without banning the Internet in government offices:
The powers-that-be might not have embraced the fact that the Internet is a socio-technical system. The clampdown is an attempt to minimise stupid human behaviour like security leaks by addressing the technical component. This will still allow ignorant people access to limited terminals and their own “smart” devices.
Computer security is important in the modern workplace, but it should not be an excuse to revert to dumb or blind practice. The very people that security policies seek to control are the same assets it needs to inform and educate instead.
IT architect Zit Seng countered that giving security trainings might be more effective than simply cutting public servants’ machines off from the global network:
But this is the modern age of the Internet. However hard you try to block the Internet, people will find a way. I’m not sure how successful the government is going to be.
I personally would have thought that education would be more effective, or at least worth a shot. Unless, that’s already been tried and flopped.
Facebook user Bilahari Kausikan thinks it is inaccurate to describe the proposal as an Internet ban since “what is being cut off is only the government's internal communication system and public officers will still have separate access to the Internet.”
For its part, the IDA assured the public that it is not completely removing Internet access in government offices and that public services, especially online transactions, will not be affected. To allay public fears and correct the misconceptions about the proposal, the IDA uploaded this infographic:
Tanzanian citizen Isaac Habakuk Emily was convicted of insulting Tanzanian President John Magufuli on his Facebook page by the Arusha Resident Magistrate’s Court.
Emily may serve three years in prison, or alternatively pay a fine of five million shillings (US $2300), a steep sum in Tanzania, where the GDP per capita amounts to just under US $1000 per year. This was reduced from seven million upon appeal by his lawyer, according to local news site The Citizen. He must pay the fine by August 8, or serve the prison term.
Emily first appeared in court on April 15, 2016 on charges of “insulting” the country's president, John Magufuli, allegedly contrary to Section 16 of Tanzania's Cybercrime Act No. 14 of 2015, which says:
Any person who publishes information, data or facts presented in a picture, text, symbol or any other form in a computer system where such information, data or fact is false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate commits an offence, and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not less than three million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not less than six months or to both.
He was accused of posting the controversial Facebook message, written in Swahili, on March 17, 2015, despite knowing that posting false or misleading statements about the country's president is against the law. His comment was in reference to President Magufuli's surprise live call to 360, a current affairs program on Clouds TV. While on the air, the president thanked the presenters and expressed his admiration for the show.
Hizi siasa za maigizo, halafu mnamfananisha huyu bwege and Nyerere wapi buana.
Theatrics in politics [referring to the live call], how come you compare this imbecile [Magufuli] to Nyerere [Mwalimu Nyerere, Tanzania's beloved first president]?
His conviction comes against the backdrop of Tanzania's relatively new cybercrime bill, which the Parliament passed on April 1, 2015, to address cybercrime issues such as child pornography, cyberbullying, online impersonation, electronic production of racist and xenophobic content, spam, illegal interception of communications, and the publication of false information.
Despite widespread opposition from politicians, social media experts, and human rights activists, the bill was pushed through parliament with relatively little discussion or debate. Former president Jakaya Kikwete signed it into law in May 2015.
Opponents of the Cybercrime Act argue that the law gives too much power — without meaningful oversight — to police, bestowing upon them the ability to search the homes of suspected violators of the law, seize their electronic hardware, and demand their data from online service providers. They have also cautioned that police or the state could use their power to harass online activists or social media users.
In October 2015, two Tanzanians became the first victims of the new law. Benedict Angelo Ngonyani, a 24-year-old student at Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, was charged for publishing materials which are “false or not verified by relevant authorities.” It is alleged that he posted a Facebook post claiming that Tanzania's Chief of Defence Forces, General Davis Mwamunyange, had been hospitalized after eating poisoned food.
That same month, another netizen, Sospiter Jonas, was arraigned in a primary court in Dodoma Region and charged with “misuse of the Internet” after he posted a message on Facebook saying that Tanzanian Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda “will only become a gospel preacher.”
In November 2015, four Tanzanians — Leila Sinare, Godfrey Soka, Deo Soka and Monica Gaspary Soka — were charged under Section 16 of Cybercrime Act 2015 for publishing false, election-related information on the social messaging platform WhatsApp. The four appeared before a Magistrate's court in Dar Es Salaam on November 6, 2015. Public prosecutors alleged that the accused published audio information on a WhatsApp group called the “Soka Group”, that was intended to mislead the public during the October 2015 Tanzanian general elections, which were plagued by accusations of vote-rigging.
Eötvös Károly Institute (Ekint), a liberal think tank and watchdog organization in Hungary, announced in a Facebook post that they discovered a suspicious device in their office that they believe had been monitoring their communications.
Ekint posted two photographs side by side. The left-hand photo depicts the suspicious device that they found connected to telecommunication cables at their office. As the photo shows, device appears to have been tampered with and then covered with a tar-like substance. Ekint reported that there were several circuits beneath the tar. The photo on the right shows what these devices should look like when intact.
One day, when adjusting the positioning of their telecommunication cables, an Ekint staff member noticed that the cables felt unusually heavy. It was then that they discovered the device.
An unnamed expert told Ekint that the suspicious equipment was capable of data transmission. Ekint for their part said in the Facebook post:
Nem tudjuk, hogy a szerkezet kitől származik és hogyan került az irodánkba, mindenesetre biztosan állíthatjuk, hogy nincs senki előtt titkolnivalónk. Honlapunkon az összes tevékenységünkről, elkészült anyagainkról és gazdasági beszámolóinkról találsz információt.
We don't know where the device comes from, or how it got into our office, but we can safely say that we have nothing to hide. You can find information on our website about all our activities, our published materials and our accounting reports.
In the comments section, some Facebook users questioned if Ekint’s finding was really a monitoring device as they claimed, and not just a device meant to filter out electromagnetic interference or “noise.”
Ekint said the same unnamed expert also told them the device is hard to obtain as a civilian. The Ministry of Interior, however, claimed in a statement to 444 news site that the device can easily be purchased from retail stores. They didn't address if they were or were not involved in surveilling Ekint, but added that organizations conducting covert intelligence activities do not buy such items from websites or retail stores.
A security adviser to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said later at a press conference that the device has not been placed there by secret services. He argued that if that had been the case, it wouldn't have been so easy to find it.
The director of Ekint, Bernadette Somody, told Hungarian news site Index that they decided to do a check of their building after János Lázár, the head of the prime minister's office, claimed secret service reports show Hungarian-American businessman George Soros is manipulating the country's politics on migration through a group of organizations operating there. Hungary's government has earned criticism inside and outside the country for its vocally anti-immigration stance against the backdrop of the refugee crisis in Europe.
Ekint was created by the Soros Foundation in 2003 “in order to establish a novel, unconventional institutional framework for shaping democratic public affairs in Hungary,” according to the organization's about page. Soros-founded grantmaking-foundation Open Society Foundations (OSF) also provides a funding scheme for NGOs in Hungary.
(Editor's disclosure: Global Voices receives support from Open Society Foundations. The author of this post also contributes to Atlatszo.hu investigative journalism site, which has received funding OSF as well.)
While it's not certain who is behind the device found in Ekint's office, authorities have targeted NGOs in the recent past. In 2014, a campaign accused human rights NGOs that receive funding through the Norway Grants — a joint effort by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein to support projects aimed at reducing economic and social disparities in Europe — of political meddling. Police raided the office of one NGO that helped distribute those grants.
Ekint's discovery of the device also highlights an important European Court of Human Rights decision in favor of two Hungarians who were staff members of Ekint. They had complained that a law introduced in 2010 allows the Counter-Terrorism Centre of Hungary to conduct covert intelligence activities without proper external approval or warrant.
- Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
- There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
That case, called Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary, was filed in 2014. Today, Máté Szabó is a director at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. He posted to Facebook a few days ago, saying the Hungarian government had lost its appeal against the court's decision. That means the Hungarian government will need to change its regulations to provide proper safeguards for its citizens.
Activists and journalists around the world are increasingly reporting malware infection from what appear to be state-sponsored attackers, often using technologies purchased by surveillance firms like Hacking Team and Gamma International.
While this may sound like entirely bad news, the prevalence of malware — and the rising numbers of people who report receiving it — has allowed technical researchers to develop greater capacities to trace the building blocks and origins of malicious software, thereby shedding light on what often seems like a mysterious type of technology.
A new report from the Citizen Lab documents a four-year campaign of targeted spyware attacks against UAE journalists, activists and dissidents’ email and Twitter accounts. The attacks, which Citizen Lab attributes to someone they’re calling “Stealth Falcon”, are likely linked to the UAE government. At least six people targeted in these attacks have been either arrested, sought for arrest or convicted in absentia by the UAE in relation to their Twitter activity. This should come as no surprise — the UAE was the second biggest customer of targeted spyware firm Hacking Team, and paid the company over $634,500 to deploy spyware on 1,100 people.
There’s hope that more similar research will emerge in the coming months. A new collaborative software project, launched by a team of security researchers calling themselves the Digital Freedom Alliance, aims to document these cases by collecting incidents of state-sponsored malware infections from places like Citizen Lab and TargetedThreats.net. The group plans to develop maps of these threats, indicating the type of malware used, target type, the date of infection, and the location of the server used to control the malware.
Although Ghana’s Communications Minister promised not to ban mobile apps for calls like WhatsApp and Skype, Ghanaian police now are considering a plan to shut down access to social media services during the country’s general elections in November. Ghana’s Inspector General of Police John Kudalor told reporters:
…if it becomes critical on the eve and also on the election day, we shall block all social media as other countries have done. We’re thinking about it. We are also thinking about the other alternative that the police should be IT compliant and get our own social media [account] to be able to stop these things on time.
The proposal has been widely opposed by lawyers, journalists, and netizens in Ghana, who expressed concerns that one of the continent’s stronger democracies is following precedents set by autocracies like Uganda.
Singapore police launched investigations into political blogger Roy Ngerng and human rights lawyer Teo Soh Lung, alleging that they had breached rules related to election advertising by posting messages on Facebook on and before election day. After two hours’ worth of interrogations on May 31, police searched their respective homes, seizing electronic devices including desktop computers, laptops, hard drives, and mobile phones. Police did not present a warrant for the search, despite pleas from Soh Lung’s lawyer. Following the search, Ngerng was made to hand over passwords to his laptop, phone and Facebook account.
Both Ngerng and Soh Lung have faced challenges from authorities in the past. Soh Lung, a lawyer and former candidate for the Singapore Democratic Party, was detained without trial in the late 1980s under Singapore's Internal Security Act.
The first instance court in the city of Laghouat, Algeria sentenced a labor rights activist to six months in prison over a video he posted on Facebook. In the video, Belkacem Khencha, national coordinator of the Algerian League for the Defense of Workers’ Rights, criticized the court’s decision to sentence a friend and fellow activist to 18 months in prison for protesting government housing policies. The court ruled that Khencha violated a section of Algeria’s penal code which prohibits “casting discredit on the decisions of the courts.”
Telecommunications and Internet connection quality are steadily deteriorating as Venezuela’s economic and political crisis worsens. In an effort to ration power, authorities have instituted country-wide power cuts that typically last for three or four hours each day, leaving a wide range of public and professional sector services inoperable. Outages have led to damaged devices, mobile phone network failures, and connectivity issues for hours after the electricity has been restored. Venezuela also now boasts one of the slowest Internet connections in Latin America — according to Akamai and Venezuelan Internet research group Acceso Libre, Venezuelans “enjoyed” an average Internet speed of 1.5 Mbps in 2015.
Gay dating apps like Grindr, Hornet, and Jack’d may leak detailed location data that can allow one to locate a user with a margin of error of just a meter, according to a paper recently published by a Kyoto-based security researcher. The information can be obtained even if the user has chosen to obscure their location in the app’s settings. This is particularly concerning for app users in regions where homophobia is common or homosexual acts are illegal.
Turkish journalist Özgür Öğret has been working with the Committee to Protect Journalists to produce a weekly report called the “Turkey Crackdown Chronicle,” where he describes ongoing government threats against digital and traditional journalists reporting on politics, violence and corruption in Turkey. Read this week’s installment here.
A hugely popular football website in Uzbekistan appears to have been taken down after it became a mustering point for critics of the country’s sporting authorities.
Since June 4, visitors to uff.uz have been unable to access the site, which was a lively forum of discussion for soccer fans in Uzbekistan. The site drew around 20-30,000 visits daily.
Trouble began when a friendly match between Uzbekistan and Equatorial Guinea scheduled for June 2 was canceled without explanation. The national football federation tried to placate fans by telling them that tickets bought for the match could be used instead for a game against Syria to be played on September 2.
That did little to soothe bad tempers, however, and fans flocked to uff.uz to voice their criticism of the federation. Such was the torrent of condemnation that somebody seems to have thought it wise to pull the plug, forcing unhappy supporters to turn to social media to vent instead.
“The decision of the federation to cancel the match shows a total lack of respect toward fans of Uzbekistan. Why do we not have the right to openly criticize the work of this organization? You can’t treat fans like enemies,” one disgruntled fan, Babur Isamov, said on his Facebook account.
A sporting publication linked to the same website, a newspaper called Chempion, has also been canned.
“The newspaper’s management explained that it stopped operations because of financial problems,” the BBC’s Uzbek service reported.
The official website of the Uzbek football federation has remained mute on all these developments.
This is not the first instance of censorship in sporting journalism in Uzbekistan. In December, two football TV shows — Soccer Club and Football Review — were pulled from the schedule on the Sport TV channel. Editors and presenters at the programs were fired.
Both shows had stuck their necks out with robust criticism of match-fixing and gambling rackets on the local footballing scene. Bookmakers are technically illegal in Uzbekistan, but they flourish underground.
A sporting journalist who asked to remained anonymous told EurasiaNet.org that he believes increasingly outspoken exchanges among football fans have made officials uneasy.
“Football and show business were the only areas where criticism was allowed and tolerated. And now even here they are choking the voice of the public,” the journalist said.
Two other large footballing sites remain on Uzbek Internet — championat.asia and stadion.uz — but if they are to survive, they will have to ensure that unhappy fans are kept at arm’s length.
In what could be termed an extreme knee-jerk reaction, Indian right-wing political parties armed with police complaints have threatened comedian Tanmay Bhat for posting a parody video on two prominent Indian celebrities. Evidently, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery in India.
In the video, Bhat parodies both Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and 86-year-old Bollywood singer extraordinaire Lata Mangeshkar, depicting a war-of-words between the two characters. Among other things, he uses Game of Thrones references and describes the octogenarian singer as being “5000 years old,” playfully suggesting that she should die.
The video, which many see as condescending and non-humourous, has gone viral on social media platforms.
Police from India's financial capital, Mumbai, received two complaints about the video, one from a local politician belonging to Narendra Modi’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), who said the clip was defamatory. The other came from BJP ally and fringe group Shiv Sena from Maharashtra, which also threatened to attack Bhat physically for mocking both celebrities.
Watch the video below:
On 31 May, Indian police asked Google, Facebook and the now defunct Orkut to block stand-up comedian Tanmay Bhat's video. The companies have not made official statements on the matter, but emphasized to other media that they remove content when presented with a legitimate court order proving its illegality under local law. As of yet, there is no sign that any such order has been issued and the police has not taken any legal action against Tanmay Bhat.
This is not the first time Bhat has encountered challenges from powerful figures. Previously, Indian comedy group All India Bakchod (AIB), of which Bhat is a co-founder, was at the centre of controversy over its roast featuring Indian film industry Bollywood stars including Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Arjun Kapoor and Karan Johar. A complaint was filed and an obscenity investigation over sexually explicit jokes was carried out by the police.
This January, the Bombay High Court had asked city police not to file charge sheet against all the actors and comedians of AIB charged with a ‘criminal case’. Subsequently, the actors and comedians filed petitions in the Bombay high court seeking quashing of police complaints against them.
Free Speech vs. Inflammatory Content
The video has sparked India's latest row over freedom of expression, with actors, politicians, and fringe groups joining the fray, taking polarising sides of the debate.
The AIB video – #TanmayBhat needs to be made to grovel at Latajis feet and publicly apologize. Its appalling.
— Suchitra (@suchitrak) May 30, 2016
— Niesha Wadhwani (@nieshawadhwani) May 30, 2016
You can dislike his joke, call him names, unfollow him, but don't penalise the guy for doing what he does..his job as a comedian!#tanmaybhat
— Anushka Manchanda (@IAmAnushka) May 30, 2016
Damage report so far of #TanmayBhat video:
Casualties = 0
Bloodshed = 0
Damage to public property = 0
Time wasted over issue = incalculable
— Ahmed Shariff (@TheAhmedShariff) May 30, 2016
Indian co-operative dairy brand Amul, known for its satirical take on current affair and trending events, summed up the incident with a poster rather aptly.
— Amul.coop (@Amul_Coop) May 31, 2016
(‘Joke se Jokhim tak Firse Amul Khao’ translates to ‘From humour to danger, drink Amul Again’ in English.)
Amit Varma, a freelance writer from Mumbai writes:
When Bhat subverts the notion of Sachin and Lata as hallowed figures who cannot be made fun of, he is really just telling us to laugh at ourselves. ‘Look at us, we’re so funny and pathetic. Hahaha.’ I think he does it really well—that Mangeshkar ‘face in water’ joke is observational genius—but even if you don’t, it should not matter. More power to him regardless.
Kaushik Moitra from Quint writes:
Even if we charge the comedian of public nuisance, which is a non-cognisable offence under the Indian Penal Code, the necessary ingredients of it are not fulfilled and the maximum punishment he can get is a mere fine of Rs 200.
India's opposition party Congress’ politician Shashi Tharoor wrote a Facebook post supporting freedom of speech:
“To categorise people on the basis of who we can or cannot joke about is also ridiculous. We have always been open to laughing at those we revere. Let’s not deify human beings as being above and beyond criticism, cartoons or jokes.”
Here's what Indian publication The Hindu wrote in an Op-ed titled “No Jokes: We are Indians”:
That the effect is to stifle freedom of expression, to force the next person to look over her shoulder before mocking the next public figure, is obvious and intended. To be mocked is the most trying way of being critiqued. One can ignore evenly stated takedowns — not spoofs that make folks laugh. To deal with mockery in a democratic society, one needs to be committed to a public culture of engagement, of openness to questioning. India’s public figures are clearly not. Politicians and celebrities (mainly film and cricket stars) have failed India not just by using the strongest arm of the law to curb expressions of humour aimed at them, thereby forcing self-censorship on what we may laugh about. [..] In an environment where possibly personal jokes are seen to warrant scrutiny and police action, no space can be available for shared humour, for comedy to evolve sufficiently so that the larger community internalises what is truly, even rockingly, funny and what’s not so progressive.
Here's how Ranjita Ganesan at Rediff summed up the debate:
In the Indian comedy space, matters of what is acceptable are still murky. Humour is regularly taken very seriously, with people seeking extreme action, including arrest and bans. AIB has been consistent in churning out content even if its quality is sometimes irregular.
India boasts of equality and cultural pluralism in the global arena as various ethnic communities reside in the South Asian country. But the latest spate of incidents, ranging from lynching attacks over beef consumption in Dadri, attacks on women activists, and police complaints against comedians are all indicative of a change in societal trends, perhaps stemming from the 2014 change in political leadership.
Needless to say, the controversy over the video has undoubtedly brought it more views and more attention than it would have received had Bhat's critics kept quiet.
Good illustrations carry a lot of weight. They communicate complex concepts and capture complex emotions. When you are use an illustration as a reward, it is all the more important to be thoughtful about the feelings that illustration inspires.
We recently launched real-time analytics for Missing Maps, a project that grows the community of humanitarian mappers around OpenStreetMap (OSM). As a part of the projects, we created a badge reward system that highlights the achievements of Missing Maps contributors. We created a style for these badges that would recognize the contributions of mappers, while also acknowledging that badges aren’t the primary reason that they participate. We also developed a style that is guided by collaborative design principles and is ready for others to contribute.
Our reward system was designed to recognize the contributions of humanitarian mappers, while being clear that we know they aren’t doing it for the badge. We needed to focus the badges on the real-world impact and contributions these mappers were having. We designed it to be fun and encouraging, while also recognizing that mapping would sometimes be done in the aftermath of disasters with devastating consequences.
The Missing Maps badge system provides a showcase for the work a person has made in contributing to OSM. A badge can provide a small milestone for what they can map next and can be an encouragement to map more. This can help cut down how repetitive, seemingly endless, and often thankless mapping out the world in OSM can be. Badges can help break up a long night of disaster mapping, or can let people know that it is time to take a break.
We felt the badges should have a welcoming quality because MissingMaps relies heavily on volunteer effort. MissingMaps encourages contributions by making Mapathons fun, communal events (often with pizza). The importance of the work is the initial hook, but it’s the welcoming community that keeps people coming back, and the badges should reflect that.
To make the badges feel like rewards we felt they needed to look interesting, unique, and beautifully designed. Something substantial that can feel more like a reward than a colored circle with text on top might. To this end, the badges were drawn in a modern style but with a fluid, non-gridded style to emphasize that each badge is a unique and thoughtful thing, created lovingly by hand.
Designing for future contributors is like designing for an internal team where you don’t know who teammates are going to be. We created guidelines, a template for getting started, and examples that serve as blueprints. We created a style that fits with the Missing Maps brand while capturing the goals of any reward system - make it friendly, make it feel substantial, and tell a story to keep the user engaged. And to keep it accessible for future contributors, we made it straightforward and open.
We used a consistent and simple style for the Missing Maps user page badges to ease the burden on a contributor to make graphics that fit within the system. The elements that make up this style can be anything from line widths, to patterns, or other visual cues. For Missing Maps badges we use a color and the visual cues to create the sense of unity.
Most of the badges are tiered, providing a natural flow to tell a story between badges of the same category. For example, our users are rewarded the “mapathoner badge” for attending mapathons. There are three levels for this badge, each rewarded for attending 5, 20, and 50 mapathons respectively. The badges for these levels each features a common character that starts out in a slight jog, then a sweating sprint, and finally reaches a finish line. This provokes the user to get to the next level in order to find out what might happen next, and also makes the badges feel like part of a set.
By making the badges entirely in digital tools and in the svg format we ensured most artists who would want to contribute to the project start out on a level playing field. There aren’t any fancy filters, proprietary fonts, or program-exclusive styling on these graphics.
We’ve documented rules and guidelines for creating future badges and provided a template file for getting started. Everything is marked out on Github and available for anyone to contribute. Watch the repository for upcoming opportunities to work on new badges.
Russian blogger and journalist Aleksandr Valov, editor of BlogSochi website, has been arrested while working with an HBO film crew near the southern Russian city of Sochi. The journalists were reportedly investigating claims of misuse of real estate properties constructed during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
The blogger's lawyer reports that a court in Adler charged him with “organizing a public event in a near-border zone.” Valov is to remain in jail for five days.
Valov was detained on June 3 near the border between Russia and Abkhazia together with another Russian journalist, Dmitry Saltykovsky, and a six-person film crew from US channel HBO. Initially, law enforcement claimed they were operating in a near-border zone without “necessary permits.” The US citizens were released after seven hours, while the two Russian journalists were detained further and transported to the FSB headquarters in Sochi.
Dmitry Saltykovsky, who worked as an interpreter for the HBO crew, was released, but fined 1,000 rubles ($15), according to the journalists’ lawyer, Alexander Popov, on Twitter.
Адлерсуд назначил А.Валову 5 суток ареста – 20.2 (организация публ.мероприятия в приграничной зоне?!)
Журналисту Салтыковскому 1000 штраф
— Alexander Popkov (@slevodav) June 4, 2016
Adler court mandates 5 days of arrest for A. Valov under article 20.2 (organizing public events in near-border zone?!)
Journalist Saltykovsky fined 1,000.
The HBO journalists and their Russian counterparts were in the Sochi area to film some of the buildings from the Olympic “heritage fund” which the Sochi city administration officials had reportedly put up for sale in an auction, despite their special status. Before his phone was taken away, Valov confirmed to the Caucasian Knot website that he ahd Saltykovsky were being accused of “organizing events,” but insisted the group was there not to “hold meetings or events,” but to “look at and film the houses that the city's administration had put up for sale.”
Can electrical shortages be seen as a form of censorship? Without electricity, communications via citizen media — a process by which citizens participate and influence their communities — cannot go very far. In the midst of the economic, social and political crises hitting Venezuela, citizens are facing a steady deterioration of telecommunications and connection quality, along with constant power outages. When added to the overall environment of the media, this creates a situation that is adversely affecting freedom of access to information and communication.
Freedom House, a US-based NGO dedicated to upholding civil liberties classifies Venezuela as a “not free” country in terms of freedom of expression, and gives it the second worst rating for Internet freedoms in the region. For Venezuelans, it’s not easy to get informed with impartial and truthful information with respect to daily news. Many have turned to social networks to meet needs that traditional media cannot fulfill.
While the socialist policies of Hugo Chávez’s government caused a gradual increase in the number of Internet users, this increase did not coincide with an increase in infrastructure and capacity. This has gradually caused connection quality to deteriorate. In recent years, Venezuela has become one of the countries with the slowest Internet speeds in Latin America. While other countries have increased Internet ubiquity and connection speed, Venezuela continues to have harsh limitations, comparable to those of Bolivia and Paraguay — although the percentage of users still exceeds those of Cuba, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Because of prevailing currency exchange controls in place since 2003, the restriction on imports has also affected the telecommunications sector, which in recent years has had to reduce its allocation of foreign currency in order to purchase spare parts and maintain facilities. The result of this combination of factors is slow and intermittent access to Internet. As Eduardo Marín writes for Gizmodo:
En Venezuela solamente el 0,2% de la población supera una velocidad de conexión de 10 Mpbs. Si tomamos en cuenta la declaración de la FCC, técnicamente nadie en el país goza de banda ancha Por otro lado, solo el 2,1% de los venezolanos tienen una conexión superior a los 4 Mbps.
In Venezuela only 0.2% of the population has a connection speed that exceeds 10 Mbps. If we take into account the FCC declaration, technically nobody in the country has broadband. On the other hand, only 2.1% of Venezuelans have a connection [speed] of more than 4 Mbps.
The main complaints by users on the networks have turned the issue into a kind of running joke:
-El Internet de Venezuela es tan lento, que el otro día estaba bajando una canción y cuando termino de descargarse, ya había salido el remix
— Venezolanisima (@Vnzlnsma1) May 22, 2016
Venezuelan internet is so slow that the other day I was downloading a song and by the time it finished, the remix had already come out.
The recent electricity crisis has resulted in a series of government measures. These include power cuts scheduled for three or four hours a day throughout the country which not only affect connectivity during the outage, but also have further consequences such as damaged devices, mobile phone network failures, and connectivity issues for hours after the electricity has been restored.
Toda la mañana perdida gracias al apagón. Terrible de 8 a 12 m. Bancos cerrados, sin internet, sin semáforos #subdesarrollorevolucionario
— Mariú Revilla (@Mariurevilla) May 17, 2016
All morning wasted due to the power outage. [It was] Terrible, from 8am to 12pm. Banks closed, no internet, no traffic lights #revolutionaryunderdevelopment
Cuando se va la electricidad comienzan los problemas con la señal de mi celular :(
— EstoyDeCumpleaños (@Deya_Bells) May 16, 2016
When the electricity goes out, I start having problems with my cell signal :(
During the outages, and also apart from them, the lack of investment in the telecommunications infrastructure affects phone services, which used to be the emergency network for Venezuelans when there were data service failures, or when it was disconnected by the government. Reports of service failures and outages are pervasive and commonplace. They can last for a few hours or for whole days without being repaired and without any official explanation:
A esta hora en Zulia y Falcón problemas con ABA Cantv, Movilnet y Telefonía fija de Cantv. ¿Será un corte de fibra óptica? Muy raro
— Fran Monroy Moret (@fmonroy) May 22, 2016
At this time there are problems in Zulia and Falcón with ABA Cantv, Movilnet, and Cantv landlines. Is it a fiber optic outage? Very strange.
Confronted with the instability of communications, Venezuelans resort to humor. The humorist José Rafael Briceño calls the access speed in Venezuela, “the slowest line in Latin America.”
As Briceño points out, although the service degradation is clearly a result of insufficient investment and the economic policies of the government, it is also true that the authorities responsible for ensuring the quality of service have apparently been more focused on blocking web content than ensuring quality Internet access.
Sitting at home and looking out the window was a bit other-worldly. A snowy day in April is rare even in Boston. I seem to have gotten myself sick again. (After being mostly immune to everything for years, I've had a series of colds and flues this year. More on my theories about this in another post.)
For the last few days, Boris, Daiji and I have been following in the footsteps of Dave Winer and have been trying to get my RSS feed from my Movable Type Blog to become compatible with Facebook Instant Articles so that it would be approved. We have been going back and forth with the Facebook team who have been friendly and responsive. I THINK we finally have it working.
So here we go. If you read this on Facebook on the app, you should see the thunderbolt mark and it should load really easily.
Thanks to Dave for getting me going on this thread and to Boris, Daiji and the folks at Facebook who helped out. My Open Web feels a bit more loved tonight than it did before.
This is what this page looks like on my iPhone.
In Peru, the second round of the presidential campaign has caused more turmoil online than in the streets. On social media, Keiko Fujimori sympathizers (called “Fujis”), and those in favor of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (known as “Ppkausas”), have been attacking each other with every weapon at their disposal. A report from May 6 in the magazine Hildebrandt en sus Trece revealed the digital strategy of Fujimori's party, Fuerza Popular. It seems that the Fujimori side has acted in a more forceful manner and has been more inclined to insults. According to the magazine, their slogan is basically “Destroy Pedro Pablo Kucznski, members of his team and anyone who dares to criticize Keiko Fujimori.” This may be why Fujimori supporters online have become known as “Fujitrolls”.
A recent attack happened between Twitter users @clauxbryce and @elianacarlin. After @elianacarlin tweeted about the discovery of a newly exposed pro-Fujimori group, @clauxbryce responded by calling her a terrorist. He also tweeted that “we have identified them” and “they won't be around much longer.” Carlín Eliana is one of the founders of the group No to Keiko and is often accused of working for Nadine Heredia, the wife of current Peruvian president Ollanta Humala.
— Hurgar en la Memoria (@hurgamemoriaPE) May 12, 2016
There is talk of teams working on three levels — the first being semi-institutional accounts or organized groups and supporters of Fujimori — although they are not officially part of her political party. For example, groups such as @CibernautasFP and @Jovenesconkeiko broadcast official statements of Keiko Fujimori and spokespeople of Fuerza Popular. The second level consists of personal accounts of Fujimori supporters (@uterofavre, for example, and @duchope, whose account was recently deleted), which were responsible for creating the trends #BajaBajaPPK (Down Down PPK) and #PPKaos (a play on PP Kuczynski's name and the “PPKausas” team that supports him, making it sound like “chaos”). The third level is a paid anonymous team that work two shifts, attacking Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and his supporters.
Pía Hildebrant, journalist of the weekly Hildebrandt en sus Trece, posted on her Facebook account:
hemos conocido más detalles patéticos, perturbadores y escabrosos de lo que hace esa gentuza […] El líder de los fujitrolls es un tal Christian Peralta, jefe de imagen de K. Fujimori (ver foto), a los fujitrolls les pagan “hasta 200 soles por semana” (o sea, más o menos 5 soles la hora; o sea, si en una hora -60 minutos- escriben 60 insultos -ganan 0.0833 céntimos de sol por cada comentario o tuit insultante; […] Qué asco, en serio. No los trolls, pobrecitos -en serio, me dan pena-, sino los fujimoristas usándolos de la manera más infame y canalla. Toda la miseria humana se concentra en la mafia naranja. Toda. No puede volver a gobernar el Perú.
we have learned more about the pathetic, disturbing and obscene details of what's behind this […] The leader of the fujitrolls is Christian Peralta, head of PR for K. Fujimori (see photo), the fujitrolls are paid “up to 200 soles [59,98 USD] per week” (ie. more or less 5 soles per hour, so if in 60 minutes they write 60 insults, they earn 0.0833 cents per comment or insulting tweet; […] Seriously, how gross. Not the trolls, poor things, seriously I feel sorry for them, but the Fujimori supporters using them in this vile and shameless way. All human misery is concentrated in the orange mafia. All of it. It cannot return to govern Peru.
The @fujitrolls account, dedicated to exposing the users behind the second level Twitter accounts mentioned above, was reactivated. The account is supposedly managed by several journalists who ask their followers to help identify the anonymous users behind the belligerent Fujitroll accounts.
Journalist and attorney Rosa María Palacios commented on her Facebook account that she is often targeted by anonymous accounts online, especially on Twitter. For this reason, she maintains, if there is an opportunity to identify people engaged in cyberbullying, personal attacks or violations of privacy, why not do it?
Con mucha paciencia un grupo de periodistas ha identificado las identidades de los cabecillas que nos han difamado durante años. Como la mayoría de este grupo virulento y soez se dedica a patrocinar a Keiko Fujimori han sido bautizados como Fujitrolls. No son todos los que están, ni están todos los que son (seguimos recibiendo información), pero hay lo suficiente para que las familias de estos sujetos, sus colegas en sus trabajos, sus jefes y sus amigos conozcan quiénes son estos seres perturbados con personalidades escindidas que se esconden detrás de un alias para matar con la palabra.
With great patience a group of journalists have uncovered the identities of the ringleaders who have slandered us for years. Since most members of this foul and virulent group are dedicated supporters of Keiko Fujimori they have been baptized Fujitrolls. There are still more of them (we continue receiving information), but there is enough to expose to the families of these individuals, their work colleagues, their bosses and their friends just who these disturbed personalities are that hide behind aliases to kill with words.
Various media outlets reported on the unmasking of the Fujitrolls. La República contacted Keiko Fujimori for comment and she said that she “condemns any kind of insult, no matter who is involved.” Fujimori told Perú21 that her political organization does not use Fujitrolls:
— fujitrolls (@fujitrolls) May 12, 2016
[BREAKING] Alias Mar Mounier has fallen. @elhigadodmarita
Meanwhile, on SpacioLibre, people commented on the newly identified Twitter user:
Maire Anthoanete Carrillo Herrera (a) “Mar Mounier” @elhigadodmarita en Twitter, ha sido por años una de las más acérrimas defensoras del fujimorismo y la más crítica de los periodistas “caviares” [de izquierda] y de los “rojetes” “terroristas” que siquiera se atreven a contradecir y denunciar a las huestes fujimoristas, Carrillo no solo ha llevado esa “lucha” en el mundo virtual sino que incluso ha sido comentarista en diversos programas conducidos por connotados periodistas “anticaviar” como Phillip Butters (por citar a alguno).
Maire Anthoanete Carrillo Herrera (a) ‘Mar Mounier’ @elhigadodmarita on Twitter, has been one of the fiercest defenders of Fujimori for years and the most critical of ‘caviares’ journalists [leftists] and of the ‘reds’ ‘terrorists’ who even dare to contradict and denounce the Fujimori supporters, Carrillo has not only taken the fight to the digital realm, but has also been a commentator on various programs conducted by renowned anti-leftist journalists like Phillip Butters (to cite one).
@elhigadodmarita responded to the @fujitrolls’ revelations ironically and very much in keeping with her defiant style, stating forcefully that they could not shut her up. The tweet was deleted during the editing of this article, but the replies from other users are still online. Meanwhile, those who defend her make their own opinions publicly known:
@elhigadodmarita Sigue adelante Mar, lo principios no se negocian, no se venden. Difícil q un caviar y la izquierda lo entiendan.
— Mariana Zelazon (@MarianaZelazon) May 12, 2016
Keep going Mar, principles are not negotiable, they are not for sale. It's difficult for a caviar and the left to understand.
— El Pulmon de Susan (@Pulmon_de_Susan) May 12, 2016
What they have done to @elhigadodmarita is a dirty trick, man. She is lewd and toxic but has NOT defamed.
While on Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's side there are also sympathetic tweeters that go on to be trolls, there is probably a minimally organized team online (as is typical for most political parties). That side of the controversy has not received the same level of attention — journalist Milagros Leiva points this out in her tweet:
Los troles caviares ponen su identidad real? No todos y son tan cobardes como fujitrolls, lo que queda es bloquearlos y nunca más leerlos…
— milagrosleiva (@MilagrosLeivaG) May 12, 2016
Do leftist trolls use their real identity? Not all of them and they're as cowardly as fujitrolls, you just have to block them and never read them again…
Another journalist, Isabel Guerra, is simply against this manner of dealing with the trolls. For her, this strategy is the same as taking justice into their own hands:
Soy totalmente antifujimorista, pero como demócrata rechazo que la justicia pase por la venganza. Sí a las listas, no al linchamiento.
— misabelg (@misabelg) May 13, 2016
I am completely against Fujimori, but as a democrat I reject that justice turns into revenge. Yes to the lists, no to the lynchings.
This seems to be the first battle in a war that's already been declared. Neither side can be trusted because at any moment they might counterattack. All that's left is to count the casualties and be vigilant. Unfortunately, as in any conflict of this nature, ethics in political conversation between citizens are among the casualties, and public participation could become discouraged when confronted with movements that can be seen as virtual executions.
The original version of this post appeared on the blog Globalizado by Juan Arellano.
On May 31, twelve bus passengers were found dead on the side of the road in the outskirts of Kunduz province, after being abducted the day before by the Taliban insurgent group. Bloody images flooded social media the same day.
The Taliban subsequently made a statement via their Facebook page announcing that the murdered people were government soldiers. The posting and page have since been removed from Facebook.
صبح امروز در منطقه انگورباغ شهر کندز ۲۶تن عساکر فعال اداره کابل که با استفاده ازموترهای ملکي سفر میکردند، شناس…
Today, in the Angur Bagh area 26 active soldiers of the Kabul administration that were travelling with civilian vehicles were singled out and arrested. Six of them were killed while trying to escape and the rest of them were taken to safe places for questioning.
Undoubtedly social media in Afghanistan is a reflection of Afghan society itself, a society riven by internal conflicts that have been exacerbated by two major superpower invasions in the last four decades.
But social media's powers of amplification ensure that even those who are not looking for gruesome images of violence — whether captured by the country's independent media or a growing force of smartphone-wielding citizen journalists — are powerless to filter them.
Regularly checking into social networks in Afghanistan means a near everyday diet of bloodshed and hostility, a round-the-clock intake of bombings, executions and massacres.
But what effect is this having?
Images of violence are shared by both opponents and supporters of the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The first group shares the pictures in order to draw attention to the horrors committed by insurgents, while the second group does so to propagate the militants’ successes against a weak central government and the Afghan National Army (ANA).
Seemingly, both of these groups are a free source of public relations for the insurgency.
The Taliban in particular exploits social media effectively.
The group regularly posts pictures and statuses that demonstrate military gains made against the ANA, while their civilian supporters use platforms like Facebook to broaden the organisation's appeal and highlight the shortcomings of authorities in Kabul.
Some social media users caution others not to share pictures depicting the group's exploits precisely for this reason. And while Facebook does not allow participation by organizations engaged in “terrorist” activity, or content” that expresses support for groups that are involved in the violent or criminal behavior,” the company struggles to keep such content off of its platforms.
After all, they argue, insurgents benefit from being able to show the population its presence in strategic areas of the country such as Kunduz province in the north.
یکی از اهداف طالبان از سلاخی مسافران ، ایجاد جنگ روانی و پراکندن وحشت در بین مردم است.
کسانی که صحنه های دلخراش مسافران را نشر می کنند نه تنها به خانواده این قربانیان جفا می کنند بلکه ناخواسته در جهت تبلیغ طالبان قدم بر می دارند.
The Taliban, by killing passengers [on public transport] are launching psychological warfare that terrorises the people. Those who share the bloody pictures of victims not only irritate [victims’] families but also unintentionally assist the Taliban in their propaganda. Posted by Hassan Faryaar on Tuesday, May 31, 2016
But beyond photos displaying the disturbing handiwork of the Taliban or other groups, there are other forms of violence taking place in the Afghan social media space.
A parliamentarian from the northern Balkh province, Mohammad Natiqi, recently wrote on his Facebook that his children had grown depressed reading the comments under his Facebook posts due to the number of insults made against their mother, including the fairly regularly repeated insult translating as “fuck your wife”.
من چهار پسر و دو دختر دارم همه شان غیر سیاسی اند البته یکی علوم سیاسی خوانده اما نمی دانم چه قدر علاقه به…
This torrent of abuse is common to Afghan social media culture.
According to monitoring conducted by Salam Watandar, a local radio station, President Ashraf Ghani is on the receiving end of an average 1,500 abusive words per week on his Facebook page alone.
Women users of social media in particular are singled out for abuse and harassment by male users, which has encouraged many not use their real names or pictures in their profiles.
The Ministry of Telecommunications of Afghanistan acknowledges this when stating that although 28 % out of roughly one million Afghan Facebook users are identifiable as women, the real percentage may be higher due to the number using nicknames and pseudonyms.
Aryana Sayeed, a female Afghan singer last February revealed messages she had received from wealthy suitors who had asked her to sleep with them for money:
I am not sure if I should blame these rich businessmen who think they can buy anything and anyone with money or blame those who have sold themselves and let such people play with them in any manner they desire. I hope soon enough the day will come when Artists would earn their living from their art, real talent and hard work and not hurt the name an image of an “Artist” rather than in ways that enable these individuals to actually dare propose something like this to an Artist.
Ps. I decided not to reveal the name and other personal information of this individual as it would have ruined the name of his family. I hope he has learnt his lesson.
Clearly, social media use is growing rapidly in Afghanistan, as is the negative online behaviour that endorses militarisation and sexual violence.
While the government does its best to stem the Taliban insurgency in real time, an insidious torrent of online violence ripping through the fabric of social relationships in the country is being ignored completely.
Singapore police launched investigations this week into two individuals, blogger Roy Ngerng and former political detainee Teo Soh Lung, and the online news website The Independent Singapore, after authorities alleged that they had breached rules related to election advertising.
Under Singapore law, election or campaign advertising is banned on the eve of Polling Day, so as to allow Singaporeans a 24-hour campaign silence period to “reflect rationally on various issues raised at an election before heading to the polls.” This is known as known as Cooling-Off Day. Campaign advertising is also banned on Polling Day itself.
Among some of the exemptions to this restriction are the transmission of personal views by individuals to other individuals on a non-commercial basis, and campaign posters and banners lawfully put up before Cooling-Off Day. While smaller media outlets and blogs are banned from reporting on the election, mainstream print and broadcast media are allowed to continue reporting as they wish.
On 27 May 2016, the Elections Department, under the purview of the Prime Minister's Office, announced that it had lodged police reports against The Independent Singapore, Ngerng and Soh Lung “for publishing several online articles and postings that may be tantamount to election advertising” on both Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day.
It is worth noting that both Ngerng and Soh Lung are outspoken advocates for transparency and promotion of democratic principles who have faced challenges from authorities in the past. Soh Lung, a lawyer and former candidate for the Singapore Democratic Party, was detained without trial in the late 1980s under Singapore's Internal Security Act. In 2014, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sued Ngerng for defamation over a blog post in which Ngerng alleged that the leader was involved in corruption.
On 31 May both Ngerng and Soh Lung reported to police headquarters at the Cantonment Police Complex for interviews. They were interrogated by the police for over two hours. Police then took them to their respective homes and searched the premises, seizing many of their electronic devices including desktop computers, laptops, hard drives, memory cards and mobile phones. Police did not show either Ngerng or Soh Lung a warrant before beginning their searches, saying that as the investigation had to do with an arrestable offence, no warrant was necessary.
Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, a lawyer who had accompanied Teo, shared videos of seven police officers in Teo's home:
In another video, Chong-Aruldoss showed that two of the police officers in Teo's home had failed to produce warrant cards. One officer claimed that she had left her warrant card in the car:
Another lawyer, Remy Choo Zheng Xi, described on Facebook what he had witnessed when arriving at Teo's home:
I asked the IO, Angie Ng, why the police had to seize her electronic devices given that Soh Lung was not disputing the publication of the articles on her personal Facebook page on cooling off day. Soh Lung was willing to cooperate with the police by giving them all necessary information relating to the offence under the Parliamentary Elections Act which were being investigated.
The response was: “this is an arrestable offence, and we do not need to tell you how we conduct our investigations”. I pointed out politely but firmly that it was disproportionate to seize her personal electronic devices which contained personal data, upon which another officer mentioned that I could be charged with obstructing investigations.
Soh Lung was released from police custody after the search of her home. But Ngerng was brought back to the police station where he was made to hand over passwords to his laptop, phone and Facebook account.
He wrote about his experience on Facebook upon his release:
When I thought I was done, several police officers surrounded me. I was to be brought home. They were going to “raid” my home, I was told.
My phone was taken away from me.
When I wanted to speak to Jeanette – the lawyer who was representing Soh Lung, they refused to let me. And dragged me away.
I insisted I wanted to know my rights and whether it was legal for them to do what they were doing. They would not let me speak to Jeanette.
My mom was at home when the police came. She was in shock. I have never seen my mom so traumatised before.
I do not remember how long the police were there. Two activist friends came to check on me. The police would not let them into my home.
The publisher and editor of The Independent Singapore also reported for police interviews on 31 May and 1 June respectively, and had their electronic devices similarly seized.
The investigations have been condemned by local civil society groups such as the Community Action Network (CAN):
This is police harassment; as Singaporean citizens Teo and Ngerng are entitled to share their personal opinions on political issues. This should not be treated as suspicious, much less a crime warranting long interrogations and searches.
A petition hosted by CAN also called upon the state “to ensure the immediate return of all confiscated property to Ngerng and Teo, the removal of any data obtained from them from state and police possession, and an immediate and total cessation of the investigative process.” It received 140 signatures.
Function8, a group of former political detainees – including Teo – advocating for the abolition of laws allowing detention without trial, also issued a statement condemning the investigations:
Function 8 deeply regrets the actions of the police in this unnecessary seizure which is an invasion of privacy and an act of intimidation against Roy and Soh Lung. In our view, it is part of a chain of recent incidents that encroach upon the work of civil society which contribute to the legitimate exercise of good citizenship.
The Elections Department and the Singapore Police Force issued a joint statement on the evening of 1 June, saying that they had observed “what appeared to be deliberate and serious breaches of the rules,” and that the police needed to examine the electronic devices used to publish the posts for “evidentiary purposes”.
This is not the first time Cooling-Off Day rules have been allegedly breached. In 2011, PAP candidate (now Member of Parliament) Tin Pei Ling was reported for posting a comment on her Facebook page. The police later said that the posting had been made by a friend without Tin's knowledge. A stern warning was issued.
In 2015, PAP candidate (now Minister of Foreign Affairs) Vivian Balakrishnan said that the post that had appeared on his page on Cooling-Off Day had been caused by a Facebook bug.
At the end of March, in a letter published in the Washington Post and written from her prison cell in Azerbaijan, recently freed investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova noted the significance of President Ilham Aliyev’s impending visit to Washington DC for the Nuclear and Security Summit:
To get an invitation to this event from President Obama, he had to pardon several political prisoners. Although they have been released from jail, they remain confined within the country, barred from leaving, and justice has not been restored. This is a very costly invitation for Aliyev, who for years refused to accept international pressure or criticism on this issue.
Indeed, just three years ago, while standing next to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, President Aliyev said: “First of all, I'd like to say that none of my political opponents are in prison. This is absolutely wrong information. At the same time, I'd like to tell you that there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan.”
At that time, Aliyev had been buoyed by a resolution adopted during the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) session in January 2013, which had rejected a report about political prisoners of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan was also doing well economically, with its key crude oil export at around $100 per barrell.
“I think that this chapter is closed,” Aliyev told an RFE/RL reporter questioning him on the prisoners at the meeting with confidence.
Since then, Azerbaijan worked hard to stamp any reference to political prisoners out of his nation's vocabulary.
The fact the country did not have any political prisoners has since become an official mantra, repeated continuously at every single international event where Azerbaijan receives criticism for its poor record on fundamental rights.
At home, activists, journalists and political figures who did end up behind bars would never be sentenced based on their activism or opposition to the government.
Instead, they were labeled as prisoners of all kinds but the political kind, charged with crimes ranging from hooliganism and illegal drug possession through tax evasion and abuse of power.
But while authorities kept stubbornly and stupidly repeating the claim, by 2015, the list of political prisoners noted by rights groups was at around a hundred.
Would authorities in Baku have adopted a different tactic if PACE had adopted a resolution on political prisoners in the country?
That is an unknown, but it certainly seems unlikely that Ismayilova would have been freed from jail May 26 without concerted international pressure from Washington and the West.
So perhaps, if international pressure had been stronger back when Azerbaijan was intensifying its crackdown in 2013, rights defenders like Intigam Aliyev and Rasul Jafarov and members of the N!DA youth movement might not be behind bars now.
In the March letter Ismayilova further explained why the release of these political prisoners was so important.
“Aliyev is shamelessly trying to use political prisoners as bargaining chips to advance his foreign policy agenda,” wrote Ismayilova.
Or, as Aliyev might put it:
Our political system is a model of the European political system.
— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) November 22, 2014
While Khadija Ismayilova has been released, police detained a photo journalist and youth activist on the same day she left jail.
Two weeks before her release two more activists were detained and reportedly tortured in detention.
Another political activist was detained June 1 upon his return to Azerbaijan from Ukraine, amid plans to attend his mother’s funeral.
With 70 political prisoners still behind bars, Azerbaijan is almost operating a ‘one in, one out’ policy, relaxing repression ever so slightly as it looks for loans from Western financial institutions during a period of vulnerability for its hydrocarbon-dependent economy.
Those fighting for freedoms inside and outside of Azerbaijan will continue calling for the release of remaining political prisoners including journalists and bloggers Seymur Hezi, Nijat Aliyev, Abdul Abilov, Rashad Ramazanov, Faraj Karimli and Araz Guliyev as well as political activists Fuad Gahramanli and Ilgar Mammadov. The list also includes religious activists.
Whether any of these people will be joining their families anytime soon is anybody's guess.
Most probably their fate will depend on which prominent leaders are prepared to join Aliyev at the political prisoners poker table for another round of bluffing and raising.
China recently introduced a new policy intended to regulate live-streaming platforms. According to business magazine Caixin's report, authorities will soon require popular video streaming platforms to sell between 1 and 10 percent of their shares to a so-called state-owned enterprise, which has the power to oversee the platforms’ production and decision-making.
This unique share arrangement, known as “Special Management stakes”, is similar to the idea of a “golden share“, which empowers the holder to outvote all other share holders. While a typical golden share holder would not intervene into daily operation of the business, the Chinese version stresses the stakes in “management”, which includes pre-screening, decision making on investment and new partnerships, right to censorship and decision making on the appointment of top business and content management personnel.
The initial list of SOEs to take part in the venture are mostly state-owned media groups, including China National Radio, China Radio Internationals, Beijing Media Network, Hunan Media Network, and Shanghai Oriental Pearl Media Co.
The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPRFT) urged major online video platforms, including Youku & Tudou, Let's TV, Tecent TV and others, in a meeting on May 18 to voluntarily sign an initial agreement with the above SOEs by June 10 and complete the contract by July.
The new regulations also forbids foreign investors for holding domestic live-streaming businesses. That's why Youku & Tudou, which was listed in the New York Stock Market, has completed privatization last month and would return to China's A-stock market soon. The Shanghai based stock market has restriction on direct foreign capital investment.
Baidu's video streaming platform iqiyi.com which had received capital investment from Providence Equity Partners LLC is also going through privatization and has planned to be listed in China's A-stock market in 2017.
The video streaming business sector has been booming in recent years. China is host to some 50 livestreaming platforms, the majority of which operate in a market-oriented commercial model.
The idea of “special management stakes” was based on a party Central Committee decision made in November 2013 which intended to take control of national media organizations. However, the current implementation appears to be a forced state-private joint venture.
Xiang Ligang from the telecommunication industry told state-owned Global Times that the joint venture arrangement aims to explore a new way to supervise the Internet:
For many years, there have been various problems on different media platforms. Most of these websites are privately run…In the past, the government has had little influence over the operations of video websites. The government cannot punish [the websites] on a daily basis or shut down [a website] at will as it would trigger a backlash […] To some extent, [the special management stakes] show the government's attitude, which is that it wishes to find a way to exert influence on these websites.
The new way is described as “a mechanism to exert preventive measures” by communication scholar Zhu Wei.
Different from conventional media outlets which have officials from the propaganda department sitting in their offices and pre-screening content before it is published, online media practice post-publication censorship by reactively following instructions delivered to web administrators. The authorities seem to find that such practice have too many loopholes.
Exiled economist He Qinglian anticipated that authorities would make use of their “special management stakes” to appoint management staff who would cater to censorship requirements, such as the pre-screening of live-streaming video programs. The move will also effectively “nationalize” private corporations in strategic areas: observers suspect that the online video sector is just the beginning of a national scale compulsory state-private joint venture campaign.
We upgraded the platform to Movable Type Pro 6.2.4. (Yes, I still use Movable Type!) Daiji and Boris got Facebook Instant Articles working inspired by Dave Winer and with the help from folks over at Facebook. (Thanks!) Boris cleaned up the design of the blog and also made it responsive - much more mobile friendly.
What's amazing to me is how well the design has held up over the years.
We (the founding team of Eccosys) set up our web server in 1993. I have a feeling this thing dated July 1, 1993 is the first journal-like thing I posted on the Internet: "Howard Mentioned me in Wired!" In 2002, with Justin Hall's help, I converted my static website to a "blog." I had a journal on my static website, but this new "blogging" thing made updating much easier.
It is quite amazing to me that with all of the various changes in technology, that most of the content on my website has been able to migrate through all of these upgrades. I'm also happy that Archive.org keeps archives of this site with its original designs and eccosys.com which preceded it, although the very first versions from 1993 are lost as far as I know. The web and its standards are very robust and I hope they stay that way.
If you're aren't active on the Chinese web, it's likely you haven't ever heard of Papi Jiang. She's one of the most popular online celebrities in China, known for her fast-talking satirical videos that mock everyday life, relationships, movies and social issues.
In China, such fame doesn't go unnoticed by authorities, however, and last month she was the target of the country's Internet censors, who took down some of her videos from Youku, China's most popular video platform.
Behind the Papi Jiang avatar is 29-year-old Jiang Yi Lei, who graduated from China's Central Academy of Drama. Her videos, in which she delivers comedic monologues or imitates high-profile figures or celebrities in her trademark high-pitch, rapid-fire voice, have earned her 11 million followers on social media site Sina Weibo.
Papi Jiang started posting videos in October 2015, and within months she became a top online celebrity. She proudly identifies herself as “leftover woman” (sheng nu), a derogatory term used to describe single women who are over the age of 30. Many of her popular videos center on the frustrations of young urban women in their careers, family and romantic relationships. She often curses and uses vulgar language in her performances.
Below is a typical video from Papi Jiang, this one uploaded to YouTube. The one-and-a-half-minute video is a satirical monologue titled “You have no idea the pain of being a beauty”:
The foul language in her videos is officially the reason why China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPRFT) took down most of her videos from Youku last month. The censors said if she removed her use of expletives, her videos could go back up.
Just one month before her videos were taken down, she received RMB 12 million yuan (about US $1.83 million) from a number of venture capital firms that invest in social media products. While some thought the SAPRFT's actions would hamper Papi Jiang's career, she still managed a few days after she was censored to sell advertising space on her weekly videos on April 21 for RMB 22 million yuan (approximately US $3.5 million) in an auction run by Ali Auction, an affiliate of the e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Since then, most of her videos have been restored online with the vulgar language edited out.
China not only has the world's largest Internet user population, but also the largest online video user base. According to Internet giant Tencent, the country's online video users reached 461 million by June 2015, and the video market accounted for RMB 11.53 billion yuan (US $1.9 billion dollar) in the third quarter of 2015.
That figure will continue to rise as the Internet population keeps growing. The China Internet Network Information Center's latest report shows that China had 688 million Internet user by end of 2015, and the penetration rate has reached 50.3 percent. A total of 90 percent of the users access the Internet via mobile phones, a device that favors the consumption of information through visual and audio means.
In the US, Internet content providers such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have been producing their own programs in order to lower the costs on copyright licensing. A similar trend is happening in China. Internet content providers are now competing directly with state-owned television producers. Yet smaller scale firms find it difficult to make a profit due to the high costs of production, bandwidth and copyright licensing, so more and more production teams have started using Youku and Tudou's video ad space to boost revenue. Papi Jiang is one of the most vivid examples of this model in action.
Some countries in Africa have developed a routine habit of blocking social media platforms before, during and after elections citing “security concerns”.
During the recent elections held in Uganda, for example, the government ordered telecommunication companies to block access to popular social media platforms. Social media platforms were also blocked ahead of Ugandan President Museveni's inauguration.
Uganda and Nigeria are two countries that have recently indicated their intentions to impose stricter controls over social media, and Ghana, it appears, may be joining them.
In Ghana, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), John Kudalor, has hinted Ghanaian authorities might consider shutting down social media platforms during elections due to take place on November 7.
The IGP emphasised that the potential shutdown of social media platforms during elections is based on the fact that some people abuse the space during voting.
There have been complaints that social media users spread misinformation and rumours about violations and violence at polling stations on election day.
In a quotes published by local media outlet Citi FM he said:
At one stage I said that if it becomes critical on the eve and also on the election day, we shall block all social media as other countries have done. We’re thinking about it. We are also thinking about the other alternative that the police should be IT compliant and get our own social media [account] to be able to stop these things on time. We are looking at the variables and come D-Day, we’ll come out with a decision.
The news of the potential shutdown unleashed a wave of negative reactions on TV, radio and social media platforms.
In response to the IGP's statement, the Alliance for Accountable Governance (AFAG), berated the mooted block.
Blocking or restricting access to social media is a blatant violation of freedom of expression. The 1992 constitution declares in no equivocal terms that: All persons shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media. The constitution guarantees that the press and every individual in Ghana has the right to say anything that they want, whenever that they want and wherever that they want. The position of the IGP in relation to the effect of social media on election suggests that the Ghana police lacks appreciation of the use of online social networking technology in a 21st century world as a platform of engagement. This kind of thinking is unacceptable.
We are not a country that subscribes to heavy handed repressive tactics otherwise we will not be in a democracy. What we need to do is that within our democratic dispensation, we educate our citizens. The Police needs to understand and come on and we all work together. There is a huge space that even the Police can occupy on social media. Ways by which we can inform Ghanaians, ways in which we can help them in their job.
Not only the Police , including the EC who is now on social media. The last election, the EC released the results on Facebook. The Peace Council needs to be on social media, the government needs to be on social media. It is a platform for informing and together we can Police ourselves but to ascribe to heavy handed repressive tactics, I repeat it is not a democratic best practice and it doesn’t suite the path we are on as Ghanaians. We close down social media and then what. What message do we send to ourselves as Ghanaians. That we can’t handle ourselves.
A well known private legal practitioner, Ace Ankomah wanted to know which law will be used to block social media and prevent access to information which is a key democratic right in Ghana:
The right and freedom of information and communication is absolutely guaranteed and the excuse to it ought to be in accordance with law in a democratic society. So for even considering this the IGP is playing with a possible legal action from restraining it from doing it. On the basis of which law is he going to stop access to information? Our rights to communication cannot be infringed with under the provisions of the constitution unless it is in accordance with law and not just law, law that is necessary in a democratic society. So technically and legally they will struggle.
Nigeria did election without banning social media and the report show that social media helped. Uganda banned it so on what basis are we going the Ugandan way instead of going the Nigerian way? Let’s strengthen the traditional media to be able to give out information and give it out quickly so that we will know that the key thing is traditional media. So that when somebody put out some diabolic message, traditional media can quickly kill it. If you shut down social media, we can still talk and people can still do their diabolic.
Facebookers such as Stephen Saan-Ire regretted the fact that a country traditionally viewed as one of the continent's stronger democracies was seemingly falling into line with autocracies like Uganda, while Twitter also lined up to pan the potential block.
@Joy997FM this is only the act of a sleeping country, well structured countries don't even think about stuffs like blocking social media!!!
— Francis Yanch (@phada05) May 27, 2016
Most people, however, have been supportive of the suggestion that the Ghanaian Police should fine-tune its own social media skills in order to engage with the public.
Clearly, this is a preferable approach to information management than simply blocking the platforms.
In the coming week, Chile’s Senate will vote on a proposed policy that could eliminate Internet users’ abilities to share videos and music online. The policy would amend Chile’s existing law on audiovisual artworks by forcing their creators to place all works under copyright and seek compensation (i.e. money) in exchange for their use.
The amendment stipulates that all contributors to an audiovisual performance whom the law regards as authors would be entitled to payment whenever their work is used online, even if they never asked for payment and don't want it. This would apply for the duration of the copyright, and would apply both to local and foreign works.
According to Luis Villarroel of Innovarte, a Chilean NGO dedicated to promoting balanced approaches to intellectual property, the legislation is being promoted by the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers and by Chilean collecting societies. He and others have been quick to point out that the new licensing fees would all be administered by the collecting societies themselves.
It is difficult to imagine how regulators would implement such a policy in the digital realm, as websites like YouTube and Vimeo are not built to accommodate such specific requirements within a particular country’s borders. One can imagine that platforms that are entirely Creative Commons-based, such as Free Music Archive, could be rendered obsolete altogether.
If the law passes the Senate and is approved by the executive branch, Chilean creators of audiovisual works will no longer have the option of putting their works in the public domain or using open licensing alternatives, such as Creative Commons. While it’s not clear specifically how the policy would impact online platforms and communities, like YouTube and Vimeo, the law would unquestionably limit the flow of free and shared creative content on the Web.
Journalist Khadija Ismayilova was released from prison on May 25 after spending 537 days in jail when the Supreme Court reduced her sentence following an appeal. Ismayilova was detained in December 2014 on charges that are believed to be linked to her reporting on government corruption and the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Ismayilova promised to continue her work as a journalist in a message she posted on Facebook.
Facebook and Instagram were blocked in Vietnam following protests over an environmental disaster. Demonstrators used social media widely during the protests, both to organize and share photos from rallies.
Last week, the Nigerian Senate withdrew the proposed Frivolous Petitions bill, also called the “anti-social media bill”, and suspended all further consideration of the legislation. The bill would have made false and abusive statements sent through text message, WhatsApp or other social media platforms punishable up to two years in prison. It was heavily criticized for damage it was expected to do to the freedom of expression online. The chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters said, “Even though the bill has a tacit implication of discouraging frivolous and malicious petitions, its passage into law in this current form will do more harm than good.”
The Malaysian government has proposed amendments to the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998 that would grant the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission more power to silence criticism online, by allowing it to take down online content without oversight. The amendments would also require the registration of political blogs and websites, and increase penalties for offenses related to “undesirable content”. Authorities in Malaysia have been active in trying to censor online content in the past year, shutting down news websites, blogs and newspapers for publishing information on government corruption involving Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Responding to requests by telecommunications companies for the National Communications Authority to restrict subscribers from using the Internet for calls, Ghana’s minister of communications said the government has no plans to ban WhatsApp, Skype or Viber.
New research confirms at least 43 websites are being blocked in Venezuela, the majority of which are related to currency black markets. However, 19 percent of the blocked sites are media-related, 12 percent are blogs critical of the ruling party and 9 percent are related to gambling. Information on the government’s Web-blocking practices, including which websites are being blocked, is considered a “state secret”.
Foreign technology companies, including Apple, are being subjected to security reviews by Chinese authorities associated with the Cyberspace Administration of China. Though it’s unclear what the authorities are demanding exactly as part of the review process, executives and employees at the companies have been summoned to answer questions about their products, specifically their encryption and data storage capacities. While many countries require similar reviews for products that will be used by the military, these reviews are being applied more broadly to technologies popular among consumers in China.
This article was written by Ip Iam Chong and originally published in Chinese on citizen media platform inmediahk.net on May 6 2016. The edited version below was translated by Kristen Chan and is published on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.
An experienced Chinese journalist recently told me that nearly all major news stories that captured public attention in the past three years were written by independent journalists who have no legal status in China.
As propaganda authorities have become increasingly unreasonable and numerous journalists have received jail time for doing journalistic work, more and more professional journalists have either abandoned or transformed their careers. While some have moved into management positions at major online news portals, others have left media outlets and started writing and distributing independent investigative reports by making use of social media.
Media regulation in China
Media outlets in mainland China are all state-affiliated, falling under the control of provincial governments, party committees or propaganda departments at different administrative levels. There are no privately operated media outlets.
For instance, the Southern Media Group, which has operated a number of outstanding newspapers including Nanfang Daily, Southern Weekend and Southern Metropolis Daily for liberal voices, is under the supervision of the Guangdong Province party committee. Officials from the propaganda department can step in and take control over a newspaper's editorial at any time.
Although the people in the latter group are journalists by training and by trade, they are do not fit China's legal framework for what constitutes a journalist. Indeed, it is illegal for a person to identify as a journalist if he or she does not hold a press card. All journalists must hold a press identity card issued by registered media outlets, otherwise it is illegal for them to call themselves journalists. The press card must be renewed annually by the journalist's work unit or it will expire.
At a recent conference, I met a number of independent journalists from mainland China. They identified themselves using terms like “writer”, “grassroots historian”, “interviewer” and other monikers avoid using the term “journalist” to describe their work.
One type among this group is similar to those independent journalists working in Hong Kong. They choose and research topics according to their own liking. Rather than pursuing “hot topics”, they typically follow the convention of reportage literature, by researching historical events such as grassroots stories from the anti-Rightist Campaign and Cultural Revolution, or the history and culture of a particular place that has been neglected by the general public. Apart from reports, they also write commentaries.
They commonly distribute their writings through WeChat's public pages. The social media platform offers an option similar to Facebook's public page where other users can subscribe to the content on a particular page and interact with the writer/administrator. WeChat even has a “reward system” that encourages readers to pay a small contribution to the writer. For example, Jiang Xue, a journalist with 20 years of experience in the field, has rebuilt her career as an independent interviewer by using WeChat public platform last year. Most of her interviewees are from grassroots groups.
Another common path for independent journalists in China is to work as an informal media outlet sub-contractor. These journalists have close connections with editors or management staff from more established media outlets that cannot initiate their own investigative reports because of internal censorship. However, they do have budgets to buy content like individual interviews, photos and features from outside writers and pay famous bloggers to use their platforms. Hence this group of independent journalists can make a living by selling their reports to conventional media outlets or portal sites.
According to existing regulations, portal sites cannot conduct original news reports and hence cannot have their own reporter teams. Yet, they have paid columns or paid special features for independent writers to fill in the content. For example, reports from the WeChat public platform “Qianjieyihao” or “No.1 on front street” are frequently quoted by news portals such as Ifeng, QQ and even Xinhua. The platform, which describes itself as “the Eden of a group of oppressed social reporters,” publishes posts produced by teams, some of whom may be affiliated with state media.
There are no reliable figures on how many journalists work in this mode in China, but it is clear that they are walking on a tightrope which carries immense risk, but can also yield opportunities.
Independent journalists have no institutional protection. The censorship system within media outlets is a form of control, but it also protects journalists from touching sensitive issues that can get them into trouble. The bureaucratic structure makes certain that responsibility is shared at all levels — editors and management staff work to ensure that news coverage will not break local laws or offend state or party officials. This minimizes the part that the journalists have to take on their shoulders.
Outside the umbrella of the media institution, independent journalists face many more risks. After the introduction of China's Rumor and Libel Regulation in September 2013 , which criminalized rumors and defamatory content that has been reposted 500 times or more, reporting on sensitive stories became much more dangerous for them.
The growth of the independent journalism sector depends on individual courage, but it has also benefited from developing media and communication ecologies. More and more, breaking news circulates first via social media. Similar to other parts of the world, the conventional media sector is withering in the face of competition from online media — this may be even more pronounced in China, where censorship practices have made state-affiliated media increasingly rigid in recent years.
And in contrast to conventional media outlets, where sensitive content often never makes it to the printed page, sensitive online content is deleted after publication. A popular post that touches on sensitive topics can reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of readers within a few hours on WeChat before the web censor steps in.
In the face of rapid growth of capital investment in the Internet and technology sector in China, content is king and news content is also essential to the development of online platforms. As independent journalists are more flexible and courageous in picking up social topics, including sensitive ones, they are welcomed by Internet portals. Thus their work is high-risk — and in high demand.
In a previous post, I wrote that I believe the Blockchain has the potential to be as disruptive -- and unlock as much opportunity and innovation -- as the Internet and that it could become a ubiquitous, interoperable, reliable, low-cost network for transactions of various kinds. But along with that enormous potential, the Blockchain also faces challenges that are similar to, but in many ways very different from what we had and continue to have with the Internet and the Open Web.
I'm worried about the current situation of Bitcoin and the Blockchain.
Partially driven by the overinvestment in the space, and partially by the fact that Bitcoin is much more about money than the Internet ever was, it is experiencing a crisis that didn't really have any parallels in the early days of the Internet. Nonetheless, the formation of the Internet offers some important lessons -- most importantly, on the question of the talent and knowledge pool. In those early days, and at some layers maybe even still today, there were only a very small number of people who had the background, brain type and personality to understand some of the core elements that made the Internet work. I remember when there were only a handful of people in the world who really understood Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) and we had to hunt them down and share them with our "competitors" when we were setting up PSINet in Japan.
It's very similar today with Bitcoin and the Blockchain. There are a small number of people who understand cryptography, systems, networks and code and are capable of understanding the Bitcoin software code. Most of them are working on Bitcoin, while some are working on Ethereum and other "related" systems and a few more are scattered around the world in other places. It's a community including some who have been around since the 90s, before the Web, going to crazy conferences like the Financial Cryptography conference. Like any free and open-source software community on the Internet, it's a bunch of people who know each other and mostly, though not always, respect each other, but which fundamentally holds a near monopoly on talent.
Unfortunately, the wild growth of Bitcoin and now "the Blockchain" has caught this community off guard from a governance perspective, leaving the core developers of Bitcoin unable to interface effectively with the commercial interests whose businesses depend on scaling the technology. When asked "can you scale this?" They said, "we'll do the best we can." That wasn't good enough for many, especially those who don't understand the architecture or the nature of what is going on inside of Bitcoin.
Many companies that are used to making decisions around less complicated systems -- like building a website or buying and running Enterprise Resource Planning systems -- felt they could either just hire other engineers who would listen to the customer needs better or became so annoyed with the, "we can't promise but we'll try" attitude of the core developers that they lowered their standards and went with whomever would promise to meet their demands.
The future of Bitcoin, decentralized ledgers and other Blockchain-like projects depends on this community. Many people call them "Bitcoin Core" as if they are some sort of company you can fire or a random set of developers with skills that you can just train others to acquire. They're not. They're more like artists, scientists and precision engineers who have built a shared culture and language. To look for another group of people to do what they do would be like asking web designers to launch a space shuttle. You can't FIRE a community and, statistically speaking, the people working on the Bitcoin ARE the community.
If you try to build "something like Bitcoin but better!" it will probably turn out insecure, underwhelming, and will go against the the fundamental principles that give Bitcoin the potential to be as impactful to banking, law and society as the Internet has been to media, communication, and commerce.
Bitcoin is an open project, with a sometimes-inefficient-but-open community process that always pushes for the fundamentals of decentralization, robustness, and innovation. But Bitcoin isn't a single installation, it's a living, working system that presents a $6.5Bn bounty for anyone who can break it. This high valuation causes a great deal of caution and testing before anything is deployed on its network, but we can be quite sure that many many people have been thinking about how they can break the system and have so far failed.
Ethereum and Ripple are probably the two next largest networks in the $100's of millions range (Etherium is currently $400M+) - Ripple with a fundamentally different consensus protocol and Ethereum with interesting and useful features. If you can't do certain transactions or develop certain application on Bitcoin, I can see why Ripple or Ethereum might be interesting. If you're serious about security and stability -- and you should be -- Bitcoin is almost the only choice with the largest bounty, and largest community, with the most practical modern experience deploying to a broad and active network in the real world.
Many people who are so excited about the potential applications that they have ignored completely the architecture of the system on which they would run. Just as many Internet companies assume that the Internet works on its own, they assume that all blockchains are the same and work, but blockchain technology is not as mature as the Internet where you can almost get away with that. They often view the people working on Bitcoin as a bunch of crazy Libertarians who came up with a cool idea but believe that a bunch of hired guns could put the same thing together given enough money. Governments and banks are launching all kind of plans without enough thought going into how they're actually going to build the secure ledger.
I fear that we'll build something that at the application layer looks like what Bitcoin and the Blockchain promised, but under the hood is just the same old transaction system with no interoperability, no distributed system, no trustless networks, no extensibility, no open innovation, nothing except maybe a bit of efficiency increased from new technology.
We have a good example of that. One of the key benefits of the Internet was that the open protocols allowed innovation and competition at EVERY layer with each layer properly sandwiched between standards developed by the community. This drove costs down and innovation up. By the time we got around to building the mobile web, we lost sight (or control) of our principles and let the mobile operators build the network. That's why on the fixed-line Internet you don't worry about data costs, but when you travel over a national border, a "normal" Internet experience on mobile will probably cost more than your rent. Mobile Internet "feels" like the Internet, but it's an ugly and distorted copy of it with monopoly-like systems at many layers. This is exactly what happens when we let the application layer drag the architecture along in a kludgy and unprincipled way.
Lastly, but most importantly, we're burning out those developers who we most need to be focused on the code and the architecture. Many are dropping out or threatening to drop out. Many are completely discouraged and depleted by the public debate. Even if you believe that we will eventually have a new generation of financial cryptographers, you can't train them without this community. We have many smart people on all sides of this debate and I think that most of them are doing what they are doing with good intentions. However, those of us on the sidelines fanning the flames, making uninformed and provocative statements and fundamentally disrespecting and undervaluing the contribution of the Bitcoin community to the past, present and future of this possibly world-changing innovation, are doing harm.
I've been sitting back quietly hoping that things would just calm down, and they might eventually. But I see more and more misinformation and hype with "Blockchain" being reduced to the same useless suitcase words that "IoT" and "The Cloud" have become and it makes me sad and a bit mad.
I've decided to spend the next chunk of time trying to counteract or balance some of the most misguided stuff that I'm seeing in areas that will have an impact on our future. It feels like while the Bitcoin Core development community is robust, the ecosystem of stakeholders and the understanding of how decisions are made and information is shared is still fragile and vulnerable. I fear that the communication and now emotional rift between various key groups and individuals is wide right now, but I believe it's imperative that we try to bring the community together and focus on executing on a shared technical plan that represents our best shot at broad consensus from both a technical and a practical perspective. Hopefully, we can build a community and a process that is more robust and can handle the inevitable disagreements in the future in a less emotional and more technical and operational way.
Increased use of Whatsapp, Skype, Viber and other mobile apps for calls in Ghana is decreasing the revenues made by telecommunication companies. There have been many calls to by telecommunications companies in Ghana asking the National Communications Authority to restrict subscribers from using the Internet for calls.
One such call recently went viral. In an article published by CitiFM Online, Chief Executive Officer of MTN Ghana, Ebenezer Twum Asante said:
In as much as Sim Boxing is illegal and we must all fight very hard to stop it, there is a much bigger issue with over the top calls generated through the internet media. So when you make a whatsapp call you are making the call through the internet and bypassing the traditional channel. If you compare that one to Sim Boxing, my position is OTT [over-the-top content] is more expensive. I think we must apply the same level of seriousness to OTT calls since it has a bigger revenue threats”.
The term “OTT” (Over-The-Top) describes Internet-based (typically third-party) applications that allow mobile phone users to communicate using messaging, voice and/or video over Internet protocol technology, rather than the more traditional methods of call and text over telephone networks. Skype, WhatsApp and Viber are among just a few examples of technologies that ride “on top” of a user's data plan, meaning that they typically cost less than (they're often free) similar services provided by a telecom operator.
Asante's statement stirred up a lot of discomfort among mobile phone and social media users in Ghana. Maximus Ametorgoh, a digital marketing lead and Managing Director for Pop Out, wondered how such a regulation would be implemented:
I don't understand this call for regulation of selected OTTs because they affect cellular calls… Government is expected to monitor the activities of these OTTs? How? What should the regulation entail?
Theo Acheampong, an economist, pointed out on his Facebook page that telecommunication companies needs to prepare to meet the disruptive technologies that are going to be developed to challenge the traditional way of making calls:
Our telcos are beginning to sound like sore losers. Why must Over-The-Top (OTT) calls made through social media networks such as WhatsApp be redirected through the traditional channels just for revenue making purposes? Isn't the cost of providing the service covered by the internet bundles consumers buy to access these apps and programmes; therefore, why must they pay an extra dime? Methinks the telcos need to smell the coffee because the traditional ‘voice game’ is over, and with it, the monopoly profits they used to make. It's all about data! Welcome to the world of disruptive technologies! The consumer is KING…
As a result of the social media uproar, Asante spoke to the media to clarify what he meant by regulating OTT calls. He said:
We have never mentioned anywhere that OTT should be banned. We do not stand for that, we are rather interested in all the things we need to do to expand internet usage including the medium of OTT. The only thing that we raised was around regulation. Regulation should not be equated to a ban. With regulation, all that we are saying is that, just as a company like MTN is regulated by the NCA, so should we also have all the OTTs; the major ones also regulated so that whatever you do on that platform it will be within the laws of Ghana.
In response to this call, the Minister for Communications, Dr. Edward Omane Boamah, who spoke at the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day in Accra assured Ghanaians that, the government is not considering any ban on internet calls. He stated that:
The other focus of today’s discussions is on OTT Services, of which there was a lot of media discussion last week. The reality of today’s telecommunication Industry is that consumers are in control. Consumers love innovation, flexibility, efficiency, comfort, and more often than not, low-cost alternatives and will always seek them out to enhance their livelihoods.
Our mandate should be to seek a balanced approach such that all stakeholders in this industry have their needs fulfilled. It is also imperative for us to learn from other countries and understand why they have or have not encouraged this trend of affairs.
But in all this, I wish to state emphatically that Government is not and has not in any way considered a ban on OTT services. We believe that as an emerging trend, the regulator, together with operators and consumers should find a middle ground which befits our peculiar situation.
To this end we wish to reiterate that we recognise the media as development partners and as such, we need your support in communicating accurate and verified messages to the public.
In a tweet posted by Joy FM, one of Ghana's most popular radio stations, indicated that:
The Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications is backing calls for regulating internet call apps like WhatsApp. #JoySMS
— Joy 99.7 FM (@Joy997FM) May 18, 2016
Nene Odonkor (@nenedonkor) responded to the tweet saying:
— Nene Odonkor (@neneodonkor) May 18, 2016
Maxwell Atiah (@maxwell_atiah) pointed out the reason why there should not be a ban on the internet calls:
— atiah Maxwell (@maxwell_atiah) May 18, 2016
Many social media users are urging the telecommunication companies to develop innovative ideas and provide quality Internet services to boost their revenue instead of asking government to restrict Internet calls.
A recent study conducted by the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) in Venezuela has confirmed that at least 43 different websites are being blocked in the country, shedding new light on the filtering practices of the Venezuelan government.
The research focused on documenting incidents surrounding web access and net neutrality, zeroing in on the treatment of national networks during the 2015 elections. The organization measured connection speeds and blocking over 48 days (from November 25, 2015, to January 14, 2016) and gathered 6.4 million data points. They found that 44% of the websites blocked are related to the black market of currency, while 19% are media-related, 12% are blogs that are critical of the ruling party, and 9% are related to gambling. Some URL shorteners, anonymization and circumvention tools and hosting services were found to be blocked as well.
The study also confirmed that all local Internet service providers using DNS (domain name system) blocking, technique through which domain name servers respond incorrectly to requests for a particular domain. When a website is blocked via DNS, the server will reply incorrectly or will deny the request when that website is called upon. The study did not find evidence of other kinds of technical censorship, including IP blocking or keyword blocking. However it is important to keep in mind that the study is a pilot test of only a small proportion of websites that are currently unavailable in the country. Previous research has indicated that roughly 1500 websites were blocked in Venezuela at some point during 2015.
What is the Domain Name System?
At its core, the Internet is a network of computers that can send messages between one another. Every computer and website connected to the Internet has an Internet Protocol (IP) address — a seemingly random set of numbers. The Domain Name System links each IP address to a website URL, allowing users to enter an easy-to-remember name rather than having to remember and type in a long string of numbers.
For example, if a user wants to visit our website, she can type globalvoices.org into her browser. This tells her computer to send a request to a domain name server that will then find the corresponding IP address and thus give the user access Global Voices. When a website is blocked using the DNS, the server will either deny the request or send back the wrong information.
In 90% of cases, the websites in the study were being blocked consistently across all five of Venezuela's largest ISPs. All appeared to constitute some violation of the notoriously broad Law on Social Responsibility on Radio, Television and Electronic Media, suggesting that the websites were blocked in compliance with an administrative measure under the aforementioned law. More specifically, the Institute inferred that the websites are considered to promote disobedience of the law, disavow authorities, or “foster unrest” within society.
The study also indicated that the mobile service company Movistar had the most websites blocked, among them websites that were not blocked by the state-owned telecom CANTV. This could be a consequence of Venezuela's Law on Social Responsibility, wherein ISPs can risk being issued a penalty if they don’t comply with their obligations regarding forbidden content.
While the government’s practices regarding Internet blocking are not exactly a secret (this is a government that issued a web blocking order on national television back in 2014), the specific procedures, reasons, and particular websites currently blocked, along with all telecommunications information, is considered a “state secret”. This terminology was used in a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in response to a request for information concerning online censorship filed by Caracas NGO Espacio Público. However, it is known that the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL), a body that responds to the Executive branch, has issued procedures against at least nine ISPs for allowing access to certain websites. In a handful of other cases, such measures have been public, such as in the case of the Colombian news channel NTN24, which after providing coverage of the 2014 protests was blocked by all providers following an order issued by CONATEL.
IPYS is currently developing a system for monitoring the limitations to Internet access and net neutrality in Venezuela, drawing from the lessons learned in this pilot study. The entire report (in Spanish) and the original data is available on their website.
Kim Kardashian has become the Iranian state's newest enemy. Tehran made this announcement in the wake of arrests of eight Instagram models—a campaign that began earlier this year, when Iranian authorities launched a series of operations they called “Spider.”
Accounts were blocked and the models arrested and put on trial. The most well-known of the models on trial, Elham Arab, had appeared on a popular Iranian television program called Honeymoon.
The case of Elham Arab and the other models has received international attention. Her public apology was broadcast on Iranian state television, and it's also accessible on a new Instagram account called Elham Arabofficial.
“All people love beauty and fame. They would like to be seen, but it is important to know what price they will pay to be seen.”
Mostafa Alizadeh, the spokesman for Iran's Organized Cyberspace Crimes Unit, has claimed that Instagram and Kim Kardashian are conspiring to influence Iranian society.
“Ms. Kim Kardashian is a popular fashion model so Instagram’s CEO tells her, ‘make this native,’” Alizadeh said. “There is no doubt that financial support is involved as well. We are taking this very seriously.”
One of the images shared widely on Telegram originated in a tweet from Omid Memarian, where he shared an image of prominent figures who have been labeled enemies of Iran's revolution. The image begins with Uncle Sam in 1978 and ends with Kim Kardashian in 2016.
— Omid Memarian (@Omid_M) May 18, 2016
The evolution of enemies of the revolution! Having survived the onslaught of Popper and Soros, it's now facing #Kardashian. What a transformation!
1978: Uncle Sam
1988: Salman Rushdie
1997: Karl Popper
2004: George Soros
2016: Kim Kardashian
The following cartoon also made the rounds on Telegram, showing a young man eating ice cream. In the cartoon, his mother says she wants him to find a wife.
“Dear son, it's time to find you a wife.”
“No I prefer Kim [a flavor of ice cream in Iran].”
Given Kim Kardashian's reputation for her ample posterior, it's perhaps no surprise that many young Iranians have started sharing on Telegram the following picture of a plump tomato:
گوجه ی #کیم_کارداشیان پروژه ی #نفوذ گوجه ای یکی از ابزار های رخنه به جوانان توسط کارداشیانِ #جاسوس کشف شد
#Kim_Kardashian tomato – the tomato #influence project – one of the tools to influence the youth discovered by the #spy Kardashian.
Another image shared widely on Telegram shows a manipulated photo featuring Kim Kardashian, US President Barack Obama, and her husband, Kanye West. In the photo, the color of Kardashian's sweater has been changed from the original color. This kind of manipulation is often the work of Iran's censors. This led many to question whether this Telegram post originated with Iranian authorities.
عکس لو رفته از یکی از جلسات کیم کارداشیان با رییسجمهور آمریکا برای #نفوذ در بین جوانان ایران
Photo leaked from a meeting with Kim Kardashian and the president to discuss influencing Iran's youth.
The original image was shared by Kim Kardashian on Instagram:
A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on
Another message shared on Telegram sarcastically complains about the influence of Kim Kardashian. The message expresses the wish that more young women would dress like parliament member Fatemeh Alia instead of Kim Kardashian. Fatemeh Alia is famous for her strict hejab and hardline stance.
جوانان ما به جای فاطمه آلیا، کیم کارداشیان را الگوی خود قرار داده اند،خب این #غلط_است_دیگر
Our young people are copying Kim Kardashian instead of Fatemeh Alia. #That_is_just_wrong
Telegram users are also sharing a cartoon published on IranWire showing the Iranian version of Godzilla: Kim Kardashian.
Haji! Haji! We need backup. Our youth are dropping like flies.
It's tempting to laugh at the absurdity of making an enemy out of Kim Kardashian and Instagram. It is funny. Yet, the crackdown on hair salons and Instagram models has very real effects. It follows a pattern of control over cultural expression and women's appearance that dates back to the start of Iran's cultural revolution.
In the early 1980s, women were followed on the street by militia members. They were arrested for showing a single strand of hair. At the gate to the universities, their fingernails were checked for traces of nail polish. Guards sniffed at them to make sure women students wore no perfume.
Women have continually pushed the limits of physical and cultural expression in Iran. They have challenged the restrictions against them at every turn.
Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran states:
“This kind of stifling and intimidation will only deprive Iranians of the cultural and artistic vitality that is rightfully theirs and further alienate the country’s youth.”
“The Revolutionary Guards’ assault on Iran’s fashion industry testifies to the fear of hardliners who try to control every aspect of people’s lives and squash any visible challenge to their narrow world view.”
The intention of these types of actions against young women in Iran is to remind families of their need to control their daughters. No one is safe. Nothing is private. There is no place for personal expression.
It's not actually a laughing matter at all.
Two human rights defenders in Egypt are scheduled to appear before Cairo’s criminal court on Monday, May 23 in a case that could have broad implications for journalists and activists throughout the country.
The court will determine whether or not to freeze the assets of both Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and a legal attorney specializing in media freedom. Bahgat and Eid are two of the country’s most influential voices in pushing to uphold rule of law and enforce Egypt’s commitments to international human rights doctrine. Both lead organizations that, despite increasingly difficult circumstances and regulatory efforts undercutting civil society activities, have managed to stay afloat and continue defending journalists and human rights activists both on and offline. Both have been banned from travel outside of Egypt since February 2016.
Although the judiciary has released little information about Monday’s hearing, it has been linked to a 2011 case in which numerous foreign NGOs were prosecuted for receiving and using foreign funds without a license. Neither Bahgat nor Eid were formally charged at that time.
In a statement on the case, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director Nadim Houry said:
The Egyptian authorities have moved beyond scaremongering and are now rapidly taking concrete steps to shut down the last critical voices in the country's human rights community.
The case comes at a time when the need for lawyers like Eid and Baghat seems overwhelming. At least 33 journalists have been detained in Egypt over the past four weeks alone, most of them while attempting to cover political protests. Most, but not all, have since been released. Among those still held are Yanair news website journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka, who have been committed to 30 days’ detention, and El-Fagr news website photographer Ali Abdeen, who was sentenced two years in jail after being convicted of inciting illegal protests, obstructing traffic, and publishing false news. The Egypt-based Journalists Against Torture Observatory and the Committee to Protect Journalists are following their stories and publishing the most up-to-date information on their cases.
Ethiopian blogger and activist Zelalem Workagegnehu was sentenced by the Federal High Court of Ethiopia to five years and four months in prison following his conviction for “supporting terror” by helping to facilitate a course on digital tools and safety. He was initially charged in October 2014, and has spent over a year in jail. He and co-defendants reported experiencing extensive torture in detention, and were forced to sign confession letters. Zelalem is expected to appeal the decision.
The blackout on social media in Uganda finally ended on May 15 after a ban “for security reasons” during the days following President Yoweri Museveni’s inauguration ceremony. During the shutdown, only people using VPNs – and the State House of Uganda – were able to circumvent the blackout.
Iraq followed Uganda’s lead in shutting down its Internet, though not for security reasons. The shutdown, which occurred in all regions of the country, coincided with official exams for secondary and high schools, which has led some to believe the blackout was intended to prevent cheating. It lasted for approximately three hours.
A facial recognition tool called FindFace has become popular in Russia, allowing users to photograph people in a crowd and identify them with 70% reliability by comparing these images to profile pictures on the Russian social network Vkontakte. The software has considerable implications for the invasion of privacy, and has already been used to uncover the social media profiles of female adult film actors in order to harass them. In early April, a young artist named Egor Tsvetkov highlighted how invasive the technology can be, photographing random passengers on the St. Petersburg subway and matching the pictures to the individuals’ Vkontakte pages, using FindFace. “In theory,” Tsvetkov told Global Voices, “this service could be used by a serial killer or a collector trying to hunt down a debtor.” Currently the app’s creators say the technology can work with any photographic database, but it does not work with Facebook.
Chinese censors have turned their sights to video, targeting live-streaming platforms that show unauthorized broadcasts of shows, vulgar language, “inappropriate” clothing, and even eating and posing with bananas in a “provocative” manner.
Eight people were arrested in Iran for posting their photos online. Among them were multiple models who posed with their hair uncovered on Instagram. Mehdi Abutorabi, who managed a publishing tool called Persian Blog, was also detained. Modeling is technically illegal in Iran, and the country’s laws require all women cover their hair.
Kenyan blogger and photographer Msingi Sasis has gone missing after being arrested last year while taking photos of Galleria Mall in Nairobi at night. He was held on “suspicion of terrorism” and then released with no charges. He later reported experiencing loss of his livelihood and emotional and physical turmoil resulting from his arrest.
A Bulgarian environmental activist is facing trial for insulting the head of a copper mining company on Facebook. The case could illustrate the fragility of free expression in the country, according to Global Voices’ Nevena Borisova, as social media may be covered within Bulgaria’s criminal code penalizing defamation or insult.
The government of Mozambique is extensively spying on its citizens, according to an investigative report by local news oulet @Verdade, listening to their phone calls, reading text messages, email, chat, and monitoring their social media activity and web browsing activities. The monitoring was carried out using a technical system reportedly built by the Chinese technology company ZTE Corporation, and has been managed by military command.
The Intercept released a new batch of documents (originally made public by Edward Snowden) that includes 166 editions of the internal newsletter of the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, SIDtoday.
Mexico's National Transparency Platform is a new tool that helps promote the right of access to public information and transparency in Mexico. The platform portal allows anyone with Internet access to obtain government information already available, or request data that is not yet available.
The National Transparency Platform launched on May 6, 2016, by the National Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data Institute, which is charged with guaranteeing the fundamental right of access to public information in Mexico. This portal was created as a result of controversial reforms of the country's constitutional law on transparency (see past reports on Global Voices Advox), which now includes new legal obligations for political parties and unions to ensure the transparency of their information, among many other issues.
Esta plataforma es el mejor ejemplo de la aplicación de las tecnologías de la información al servicio y exigencia de los derechos de las personas. Será un referente para todas aquellas naciones que pretenden desarrollar soluciones electrónicas similares para facilitar y garantizar su derecho de acceso a la información.
This platform is the best example of the application of information technology in the service and exercise of the rights of individuals. It will be a reference point for all those nations that seek to develop similar electronic solutions to facilitate and ensure the right of access to information.
None of this, however, means that accessing government information in Mexico has actually improved. Since 2002, when the now-defunct Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI) was created, there was a portal called INFOMEX through which all people with Internet access (regardless of their place of residence or their citizenship) could request information free of charge from federal agencies. Those who accessed the portal could even appeal to the IFAI when their requests were not met or when the information provided did not correspond with their requests. Perhaps the best example of the usefulness of such a system was in 2015, when a citizen requested and gained access to the investigation file on the Ayotzinapa case, in which 43 students were victims of a mass disappearance and probable murder.
Among the innovations that characterize the new platform is a feature that allows users to verify themselves in order to gain access by using social-network accounts like Twitter and Facebook. The platform also was designed to be accessible to people with special needs. In its next stage, the platform will be accessible from smartphones and tablets using a mobile app.
Once fully operational, the National Transparency Platform is intended to be a powerful ally in the fight against corruption in Mexico. But its effectiveness in practice remains to be seen.
My friends at Data and Society ran an excellent conference today in NYC. A speaker dropped out at the last minute and I got asked less than 48 hours ago to give a talk… a very specific talk. Here’s what I came up with, more or less.
I’m pinch hitting here, as we had a speaker who couldn’t join us, so I apologize for an unpolished talk without slides. To make my life easier, our friends at Data and Society asked me to tell a story I’ve told before. As I thought about it, I realized I wanted to tell that story very differently. So here’s a story that starts with one of the most embarrassing moments of my professional career and ends up on one of the most experimental and difficult projects I’ve ever worked on. Basically, it’s a story about the gap between ambitions, intentions and the compromises we make to bring ideas to life.
Twenty years ago, in 1996, I was 23 years old, and somehow was the chief tech guy for Tripod.com, which thought it was a lifestyle site for recent college graduates, but was actually one of the world’s first user-generated content sites. By 1999, we were hosting free webpages for 15 million users, which made us the 8th biggest website in the world. But in 1996, we were trying to figure out how to pay for the massive bandwidth bills we’d suddenly incurred by letting thousands of people publish whatever they wanted on our server.
Advertising was the business model everyone else was using on the internet, and so we joined in – we put banner ads on top of the pages users hosted with our service. Great! Until we got a call from one of our ad sales guys, who giving a demo to the Ford motor company, and found a Ford banner on top of a page enthusiastically and visually celebrating the joys of anal sex. (Lesson one – don’t let ad guys give live demos. Lesson two – don’t ever program a “show me a random page” button, no matter how easy it would be to implement.)
Yes, I invented the pop-up ad. And yes, I’m very, very sorry.
In reflecting on my sins, I’ve publicly decried advertising as the original sin of the web. Not all advertising – I have a soft spot for advertising targeted by user intent, like ads matched to search engine queries. But the ads we use to support the services we use everyday, our social networks and webmail, are almost necessarily going to fail – they’re trying to distract us from seeing our our friends’ baby pictures or hear about the weekend’s debauchery. And so these ads have become deeply surveillant, encouraging us to use whatever data we can glean about the context they’re shown in, and anything we can learn about a user’s demographics, psychographics and behavioral data in the desperate hope that we might click on them. And I fear that the rise of surveillant ads may be slowly training us all to expect to be surveilled at all time, a development that’s dangerous for us as citizens, not just as consumers.
But it’s way too easy to beat up on advertising. It’s a really tough problem to figure out how to support services that require network effects to be effective. Facebook wouldn’t be the useful behemoth it is today if it were a hundredth or a tenth the size. It’s useful because there’s the reasonable assumption that anyone you know will be on the service, even if they use it fairly rarely. it’s the universality that makes it so useful, and universal services require near-zero cost of entry.
Yes, we eventually could have supported Tripod with paid subscriptions… and Facebook could and should offer a non-surveillant, paid service for power users. Gmail should agree not to surveil the email of anyone paying for disk space. YouTube shouldn’t track the users who pay for ad-free RedTube. But there’s got to be a way for me to be findable by my high school friends, even if I don’t want to use the tool everyday. For the activist in Egypt to put up a webpage calling people out into the streets in a way where she doesn’t need to pay with a credit card and reveal her identity. Advertising is problematic solution, and it’s led us some troubling places. But I’m starting to worry about a bigger problem.
The mistake we made with Tripod was deeper than the pop-up ad. In retrospect, I feel like our whole business model – the business model I spent two years persuading my boss to adopt – is starting to destroy the web, this strange and beautiful creature I’ve been in love with for the past 22 years.
What Tripod did was take something that was possible for technically sophisticated users – to put up a webpage – and make it possible for orders of magnitude more users. and that was a good and important thing to do, much as letting people share photos and videos with each other, or send 140 character messages to each other is a Good Thing. But the way we did it sucked. We took the great genius of the web – the idea that everything could live on its own box, but be connected to everything else by the wonder of the hyperlink – and replaced it with a single server, controlled by a single company. This made it vastly easier for someone to put up a webpage without learning how to install apache and to write HTML, but it also meant that we had control over what you wrote. If you wanted to share your enthusiastic love for anal sex, too bad, because Tripod banned almost all nudes, and enforced the ban aggressively, with a combination of automation and human filtering. And so if you find yourself with certain types of speech – wanting to share information on breastfeeding on Facebook, for instance – you’re going to face the complicated reality that our digital public spaces are owned and controlled by corporations that we have little control or influence over.
A few years ago, cyberutopians of my generation, people who weren’t dumb enough to believe that the internet would automatically make the world a better place, but were dumb enough to believe that the values and tendencies of the internet would lead us towards a better world, started to find ourselves in crisis. One of the great hopes we’d had was that the internet inherently fights centralization. That barriers to entry are so low that there will always be competitors, always be options. When Amazon is eating all retail, Facebook all communication, Google all discovery, it’s hard to believe this anymore. And so it’s time to stop being so enthusiastic and uncritical about the internet and to start thinking hard about the downsides of this approach we’ve adopted.
My friend Rebecca MacKinnon encourages us to think of ourselves as citizens, not just as consumers, and to demand basic rights on these platforms. Others have proposed that we start thinking about how we regulate these platforms as if they were utilities, recognizing that they provide essential services and that we need to ensure everyone can access them. I want to suggest something even more radical.
I think the future of the web – the future I want for the web – comes from radical decentralization. The really radical version of Tripod – impossible at that point in time, but maybe possible now – would have been building tools that helped people publish their own content on their own servers they control under their own rules.
Here’s what I’m working on now – in all the classes I teach, students turn in their work on blogs. But I control those blogs, and at the end of the semester, I end up controlling their work. What I want is a system in which students have their own blogs, share the appropriate posts with me for the semester so I can aggregate them into a class site, but they end up owning their words and coming away from their time with a portfolio of work on their sites. This is not a new idea – The University of Mary Washington has a project called A Domain of One’s Own where there are accounts on a shared wordpress install. But I’m trying to solve this problem in a ludicrously convoluted way
I’m trying to build a system where my students use a tool that’s as beautiful and easy as Medium, but stores the data on multiple places all over the web using IPFS, the IP file system. Rather than keeping an index of the students in my classes and where those blogs are located, the system uses the bitcoin blockchain to register contracts about where I can find their writings for class. I’m building this in an insanely complicated way because the same architecture lets me build a distributed but compatible version of Twitter – if I decide I don’t want Twitter having control over my tweets anymore, I can start publishing my own twitter-like feed on a website I control, then register contracts that say that’s where my tweets live. If you use a compatible client, and you decide to follow me on Twitter, your client will check the blockchain to see if I’ve registered a contract to publish my updates off twitter and then subscribe to that RSS feed. If not, it will look for me on Twitter and subscribe to that feed. Basically, I’m trying to build a system with as few centralized points of control as possible, in the hopes of making it both easy for anyone to publish and disseminate information, and difficult for anyone intentionally or inadvertently to act as a censor or gatekeeper.
But it’s really hard. We didn’t design Tripod centrally because we were censorious control freaks. It’s way, way easier to build a single, central database than to distribute a directory of users across a distributed hash table. The sort of system I’m describing is probably 1000 times less efficient than existing centralized systems. That inefficiency has consequences, of cost, and for the environment. And there are enormous problems with managing content in a system like this one – it may not be possible to demand deletion of content in a truly distributed system, so what do we do with truly offensive content, like revenge porn.
And yet, it’s probably what we need to do. Because giving control over public spheres to private companies isn’t just a bad idea for us as citizens – it’s an impossible set of responsibilities for the corporations in question, and they’re already starting to strain under the load. And so we need to start thinking about how we build systems that aren’t just new and innovative, but that are architected in ways that support the generativity and creativity of the web in the long term. This isn’t a brave new world – it’s a rescue mission. It’s a return to the past, to the way the web used to work. And while building a decentralized web didn’t work the first time around, because the easy solutions won out against the right ones, we can do it right now, because we understand the dangers of centralization. We’ve seen how the story plays out.
To be clear, I’m not the only one trying to build these new systems. From the bitcoin libertarians to the openhearted cyberhippies like Brewster Kahle, people are building new ways to publish, discover and pay each other for content in ways that don’t require a gatekeeper standing in the middle of these transactions. But we need a much bigger group of people taking on this challenge, deciding to build a web that works in a way that empowers rather than imprisons us. As you’ve figured out, I’m not very smart – I’m the dumbass that thought that pop-up ads were a good solution to internet pornography. I need you, whether you’re motivated by curiosity, by ideology or by opportunity, to join me and take on this task. It’s hard to do, but it’s also right.
In the days following President Yoweri Museveni's inauguration ceremony, Ugandans were slowly able to access social media again after the Uganda Communications Commission ordered the sites blocked for “security reasons.”
The blackout began on the evening of May 11, 2016, and Internet service providers announced that access to sites like Facebook and Twitter was supposedly restored on May 13. Some customers, however, reported that problems using social media persisted until Sunday, May 15.
Josiah Kato, for example, commented on leading telecom MTN Uganda's Facebook page at 3:12 a.m. on May 14 asking why he could not access messaging app WhatsApp. MTN replied, contradicting their earlier announcement that “all social media had been restored,” saying “the social media shut down by Government is still on.”
Currently, Ugandans are able to access social media sites normally.
President Museveni was sworn into office on May 12 for his controversial fifth term after winning more than 60% of the vote in elections in February 2016. The country's political opposition claims that the election was rigged, and international observers and human rights groups have also expressed concern over the election process.
The main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and other activists have been challenging Museveni's victory with a series of protests they've dubbed the “defiance campaign.” Social media has played a key role in the movement's organization.
During the forced shutdown, only people using virtual private networks (VPNs) were able to access social media sites. Those who are less tech savvy were locked out. Ugandans also used VPNs to circumvent a four-day social media blackout during the February elections.
The State House of Uganda, however, didn't seem to have an issue getting around the block. The account of the official residence of the president posted photos of African leaders arriving to attend the Museveni's inauguration on its Facebook page at 7:27 pm local time on May 11, two and a half hours after the social media blackout reportedly began.
One Facebook user commented on the post:
This is laughable indeed , I wonder whom u expect to read this since u ordered for the shut down of social media
Earlier this month, Mozambicans learned that their government has been “listening to [their] telephone calls, reading [their] text messages (by SMS, email, WhatsApp, Viber…) and monitoring [social media activity] and Internet sites that they visit.”
The revelations published by independent media outlet @Verdade (a partner of Global Voices) on 4 May also described how authorities intercepted and monitored communications between Mozambican citizens using a technical system that was reportedly built by ZTE Corporation, a Chinese company.
— Verdade Democracia (@DemocraciaMZ) 7 de maio de 2016
ZTE installs Mozambique’s intrusive interception system with access to all communications
The surveillance scheme was introduced during the term of ex-president Armando Guebuza, and cost the government around 140 million US dollars. The son of the ex-president was the intermediary in the deal:
O comando nacional de intercepção de informação foi adquirido pela Casa Militar, entre 2012 e 2014, e instalado pela empresa chinesa ZTE Corporation. Mas o negócio “militar” não foi feito directamente pelo Estado. A empresa privada Msumbiji Investment Limited, empresa da família Guebuza onde o filho do antigo Presidente, Mussumbuluku Guebuza é administrador executivo (CEO), intermediou o negócio que custou cerca de 140 milhões de dólares norte-americanos, aos cofres públicos, dos quais oito por cento foram pagos em comissões.
The order to intercept information was secured by the military command between 2012 and 2014, and installed by the Chinese ZTE Corporation. But the “military” deal was not done directly by the state. The private company Msumbiji Investment Limited, the company of the Guebuza family where the son of former president, Mussumbuluku Guebuza, is the CEO, mediated the deal which cost around 140 million US dollars to public funds, eighty percent of which was paid in commissions.
The system, which has access to all voice communications and data passing through fixed and mobile phone networks, is managed by the military command which facilitates the process. Interceptions do not need prior judicial authorization, much less the agreement of the telecommunications companies. The system also conducts tracking of all communications via email or social networks.
A informação capturada pelo sistema em tempo real, é listada no projecto que estamos a citar, vai desde a mais simples chamada telefónica ou mensagem de texto (SMS) de todos os milhões de usuários das redes de telefonia móvel, passando pelas mensagens de todos o tipo de correios electrónicos (sejam de POP3, SMTP ou IMAP4) ou mesmo os emails trocados pelos diversos fornecedores online (gmail, yahoo, live). O sistema captura também os dados trocados através das aplicações de bate-papos, dos mais populares até aos menos conhecidos, acede às comunicações por Voz através de Protocolo de Internet (VOIP acrónimo em inglês), acessa aos dados trocados por FTP ou TELNET e também permite a recolha das comunicações trocadas nas redes sociais (facebook, twitter, google plus e até pelo youtube).
The information captured by the system in real time, listed in the project we are discussing, goes from the simplest telephone call or text message (SMS) of all the millions of users of mobile telephone networks, to the messages of all types of electronic mail (whether POP3, SMTP or IMAP4), and even the emails exchanged by various online providers (Gmail, Yahoo, live). The system also captures the data exchanged over chat applications, from the most popular to the least known, accesses voice communications over internet protocol (VOIP), accesses data exchanged on FTP or TELNET, and permits the tracking of communications exchanged via social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and YouTube).
Kenyan blogger and street photographer Msingi Sasis has gone missing. Msingi was arrested last year while taking photos of Galleria Mall in Nairobi at night. He held at a police station in Nairobi on “suspicion of terrorism” and then released with no charges or further challenges.
Several media outlets reported on his arrest. Despite the fact that he was simply taking photographs, an activity that sometimes triggers police harassment, Msingi was then left with a reputation of being a “terror suspect”.
Before disappearing, he wrote on his Facebook page on May 6 about how his arrest and ‘terrorism suspect’ label have destroyed his career and livelihood:
Ever since I was arrested as a ‘terrorism suspect’ one year ago my life has been shut down and I have become practically jobless.
It has become near impossible for me sell any art or get any meaningful work as almost no one, both individuals and organisations, are willing to do a financial transaction or even be involved with a ‘terror suspect’.
A ‘terror suspect’ is what my life has been in the past one year. Being a ‘terror suspect’ means I have not been able earn a living at all. Not being able to earn a living has ment I that I have fallen into and have been accumulating multiple debts.
I have suffered this silently and alone, until this point. I have to tell everyone who found any insight and inspiration in my work goodbye.
This week auctioneers siezed [sic] everything in my studio. Every valuable thing they placed their hands on. All my cameras, computers, printers, other equipment, and anything that can quickly be sold including hard drives that had every work I have ever created. It's all gone.
I have also defaulted on my rent for many months now and have been issued with an eviction notice which has already expired. What ever was left by the auctioneers in the form of clothing, furniture, and other personal items will be detained by the owner of the property and their agent to recover defaulted rent.
In the next few hours I will be homeless.
I am also shutting down Nairobi Noir. Now to find a place where I can sleep on these street I have come to know. Hope for me that somewhere along the way I will get on my feet again. This is the life of an artist as a ‘terrorism suspect’.
People following his case have taken to Twitter and Facebook to offer help. Colleague Janice Kihanya commented:
am sooo sorry.People,I know Msingi personally and his work is breathtaking.He has been published here and abroad.He lives in the same estate as I and technically me n him are in the same business and he is kind with his knowledge.Please,if there is someone that can help him please do.He was arrested a while back for taking pictures in public and his cameras confiscated.
Mohamed Haji linked Msingi's experience to the ‘war on terror’:
Sadness never ceases in our country. This is where the foreign war called war on terror has taken us.
Artist Ralf Rafee empathized with his situation:
Another bright mind & talented artist being silenced. Being myself under fire and extreme pressure for my own work, I can fully adhere to what he is saying. At this rate, where Kenya is going, I am close to a similar ordeal myself. Msingi Sasis, whereever you are now, I hope you will survive this!
Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan photographer, tweeted that Msingi had gone missing:
— Boniface Mwangi (@bonifacemwangi) May 10, 2016
Archer Mishale asked what could be done to help:
— Yuri B. (@ArcherMishale) May 9, 2016
The undeserved harassment, defamation of his name, and resulting loss of livelihood was bound to take its emotional and physiological toll. Msingi had mentioned to people close to him that he was depressed and borderline suicidal, which makes his disappearance even more alarming.
But there is something else that Msingi’s disappearance represents, and it is not a commentary on the corrupt wheels of justice or his Facebook post; it is the very attitude we hold for art, beauty and the people who create it.
It’s easy to conclude through my experience and observations in running UP Magazine, that Kenya can at times be ‘no country for artists’. They do so at their own risk, own reward, or their own peril.
A London-based YouTuber named Phil Watson uploaded a video of himself erotically eating a banana outside Chinese Embassy in London to protest Beijing's latest censorship targeting “suggestive” live-streaming.
Live-streaming talk shows, many featuring women, have become more and more common in the last few years in China. On average, viewers spend about 135 minutes daily watching such shows.
A total of 60 percent of the viewers are younger than 22-years-old and 77 percent are male. Popular hosts can make up to 10,000 yuan (about $1,500) per month, mostly from tips they receive from fans, though the platforms themselves generate income through advertising and partnerships with gaming companies too.
Authorities began cracking down on “illegal” content in February 2016, targeting live-streaming platforms. In this case, illegal content can include unauthorized live-streaming of TV dramas or news reports, vulgar language, “inappropriate” clothing (hosts who appear on camera in their underwear or in sleeveless tops, for example) and eating and posing with bananas in a “provocative” manner.
As it is impossible to pre-screen live-streamed content, China's public security bureau has set up police branches at the office of major live-streaming platforms to oversee what is being broadcasted.
One local newspaper, New Express, published a follow-up feature story on May 5 exploring how exactly the web censors review live-streamed content. In one single company, there are about 80 people working around-the-clock shifts to censor broadcasted material. All of the live-streamed content are reviewed by automatic sound and image detectors before passing through the human censor team.
Each member of the team has to review more than 60,000 screenshots from the live-streamed content per hour. The team manages to take down illegal content within 20 seconds after the live-stream has started, according to the New Express story. The article didn't specify if the censors were company employees, police agents or subcontracted workers.
Platforms that don't meet authorities’ censorship standards will be fined or even taken offline.