Berkman Alumni, Friends, and Spinoffs

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.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

March 26, 2015

DML Central
The Nuts and Bolts of Digital Civic Imagination
How Technology Empowers Civic Imagination Blog Image

I grew up in Oakland when the Black Panthers were setting up free lunches and breakfasts for me and my classmates in Oakland public schools and carrying guns to defend themselves and their community from the Oakland police. I grew up not trusting the police. It wasn’t an active distrust, but a vague terror that the police might at any moment stop me, arrest me, beat me for no reason at all. I still carry that quiet terror with me 40 years later.

Every black man in my life has had experiences of police violence similar to the experiences of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Milton Hall up to the point just before the fatal chokehold or gunfire. There was no place in my imagination where the police protected and served me, where black lives mattered to the police. I had neither the experiences nor the resources to imagine a world where police protected and served me and the people in my community. There was no technology connecting me to other young people and communities experiencing the same kinds of abuse, no digital tools enabling the community to document the story of that abuse. Technology was not one of the resources of my imagination.

In the uprisings in response to recent police violence in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, and other cities around the country, technology has opened up new spaces for imagination, provided new materials and resources to form those experiences into powerful responses to police violence and the lack of accountability for that violence. In the fluid uses of what I call digital civic imagination, the #BlackLivesMatter meme has moved across social media platforms and online networks and become a rallying cry in demonstrations and protests fueling participatory politics in cities across the country. I’ve been impressed, awed, and inspired by this uprising but, I’m interested in the step before when these forms of powerful engagement are seeds of imagination, specifically the digital civic imaginations of young people.

I first became interested in this idea of digital civic imagination in 2010 when I was interviewing high school and college students in different parts of the country about their civic engagement activities as part of the Youth Participatory Politics Survey Project, a project of the YPP Network. I asked these students to identify an issue in their school or community that mattered to them and then describe how they would go about solving the problem. After defining important issues like violence in their community, segregation, lack of resources in their schools, most of the interviewees went on to describe strategies to address the issue that did not include digital technology. Despite the fact that all of the students reported using digital media in multiple ways, technology was not an active resource for most of their civic imaginations.

I’m defining digital civic imagination as the capacity to imagine strategic uses of technology to address social and political issues from digital tools typically used for personal and social purposes. Unlike when I was a teenager and grappling with issues of systemic injustice, new technologies and virtual spaces are now potential spaces where young people can map/articulate their civic imaginations in ways that serve as a bridge to empowered civic and political engagement. With the ubiquity of technology, it is also a bridge available to most young people. It is tempting to assume based on the inspiring examples of movements like  #BlackLivesMatter and the Dream Activists that young people are accessing that bridge and making connections between personal and political uses of technology — that new technologies are materials of imagination for all young people. But, in speaking with young people about how they would use digital technology to address the problems that most concern them, it’s clear that they are not doing so.

Of the students I interviewed in 2010-2011 about issues that mattered to them in their communities, 20 out of 25 had to be prompted to talk about how they would use digital media. For some, just the question triggered the beginnings of an expanded imagination. Other young people had interesting ideas to address problems like school segregation, violence, and lack of resources for teens, but their digital strategies did not support the creativity and innovation of their ideas. 

One student, active in playing online first-person shooter multiplayer games, saw “mean mugging” that leads to violent confrontations as a problem in his community. His first humorous solution was to have everyone wear sunglasses. In response to a prompt about how he might use digital media he responded, “I can’t think of any way. I mean, maybe make a YouTube video saying, ‘All fighting is bad.’” He had ideas about how to spread the video through social networking, but in the end, he said he probably wouldn’t make a video like this. Another student who wanted to address “gangbanging” by encouraging gang members to participate in sports said, “I would post flyers. I would get my friends to spread the word, too. You could also put it on Facebook, and you'd be like a new group or something and that way everybody would see.” Another student who wanted to address school segregation through a student exchange program described his digital strategy: “Well, I could actually invite different principals to read about and discuss the group and maybe a chat room and see if they like it. And, if it gets popular enough, maybe Rahm Emanuel would consider it.”

These examples demonstrate some imagination, but do not describe digital strategies that can address the depth and complexity of the issues that matter to the young people. They are far, far ahead of where I was when I was a teenager, but their technology is not yet an important tool of their civic imaginations. The sexy examples like #BlackLivesMatter and the Dreamers show what is possible, but not what is universal. What enables young people to imagine and realize powerful uses of technology to address civic and political problems?  

During the 2013-14 school year, I was part of a team doing research on a digital civics initiative — Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age (EDDA) — that had launched in Oakland Unified School District in 2011. EDDA is a partnership of the Civic Engagement Research Group at Mills College, Oakland Unified School District, and the National Writing Project and funded by the Bechtel Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. It was through work with Ellen Middaugh on her research project on media literacy and civic engagement that I began to see how we can respond to this challenge.

In 2013-14, we followed four teachers whose EDDA work had a media literacy focus, spending many hours observing in classrooms, and interviewing and surveying students and teachers. We are now in the process of analyzing data from classroom observations, interviews, and surveys, and delving into the impact of media literacy interventions on students’ media literacy and civic capacities. There is much more to come on that, but looking through the frame of digital civic imagination at the work of these four teachers, I see that they were engaging their students in the nuts and bolts of building technology into a material of their imagination. Through online research and writing, students engaged the larger questions: How do you develop a complex understanding of your issue? How do you communicate your ideas to a larger audience? The nuts and bolts were “key words,” “search,” “credibility,” “sources,” “evidence,” “trustworthy,” “bias,” “audience,” “research,” “relevance,” “presentation,” and “voice.”

Where my asking the question to young people in 2010-2011 opened up a possibility for beginning to exercise digital civic imagination, these teachers have begun laying a foundation for technology to become an integral part of their students’ imaginations. For students who lack access to media literacy resources outside of school, it is critically important that they have access in school.

An EDDA student, in response to a question about whether she would continue working on the issue of sexual harassment, said:

“Before, I never really thought about it [sexual harassment] .... I would say, just by looking at my essay now, and the work I had done all this period [a significant amount of online research] and all this time, and what I have learned from it, I learned things I never knew, things I never thought that I would ever learn.... I would say yeah, why not? I would really work on it hard to improve it.

Now, she begins imagining she will!

There is something sacred about the bridge where digital civic imagination lives. It is where the creativity, knowledge, and unique perspectives and gifts of an individual young person can come to life. It is a foundation for informed, empowered civic and political action and, potentially, a space of wonderful possibility. We cannot assume that “digital natives” have digital civic imaginations that will serve their goals as civic actors. It is not an easy bridge to build. I have seen amazing teachers in the EDDA initiative doing this work with students in Oakland high schools and enthusiastic, curious young people eager to join their teachers in this work, but teachers and schools need support. If we’re going to reach all young people, media literacy and civic and political learning need to be priorities in our schools. On the ground, in the classroom, we need to ensure that teachers have the knowledge, technology resources, time, and support to make media literacy and civic and political learning integral parts of their curricula.  

Banner image credit: Dawn Danby
Second image credit: Debra Sweet

by mcruz at March 26, 2015 04:00 PM

Global Voices
Balloons Released in Brussels in Support of Jailed Iranian Student Hamid Babaei
Suelta de globos en el campus de la ULB para pedir la liberación de Hamid Babaei. Foto de JH Baraër Bridou, utilizada con permiso

Balloons released on ULB campus in support of the release of jailed student Hamid Babaei. Photo by JH Baraër Bridou, used with permission.

A cloud of yellow balloons recently filled the sky above the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), where on March 6 the local chapter of Amnesty International staged a protest against the detention of Hamid Babaei, an Iranian graduate student studying industrial engineering in Belgium, until his imprisonment in Iran almost two years ago.

The Iranian embassy is across the street from the ULB campus.

Babaei and his wife, Cobra Parsajoo, had been living in Belgium for several years and both had received academic grants to pursue graduate studies. (Parsajoo is a pharmacy doctoral student.) In the summer of 2013, the couple returned to Iran on vacation. During their stay, intelligence officers approached Babaei and asked him to collaborate with the Iranian government by informing on fellow Iranian students living in Belgium. Babaei refused, claiming he had no special knowledge or interest in politics.

Hamid Babaei en el aeropuerto de Bruselas. Foto de la página Free Hamid Babaei en Facebook, usada con permiso.

Hamid Babaei at the Brussels airport. Photo reproduced from the Free Hamid Babaei Facebook page, used with permission.

On August 5, 2013, while he waited at the airport for his flight back to Belgium, he was arrested and accused of spying.

Babaei was jailed and interrogated in the infamous Evin prison, a home to so many arrested intellectuals that it's earned the nickname “Evin University.” On December 21, 2013, after a kangaroo court that lasted ten minutes denied Babaei a lawyer and the opportunity to testify in his own defense, he was sentenced to six years in prison for “acting against national security by communicating with hostile governments.” According to an article in the Belgian newspaper L'avenir,

Dans son jugement, le président du Tribunal révolutionnaire a retenu à l’encontre de l’étudiant que la bourse et les subsides que lui allouait l’université de Liège constituaient des «preuves» de son inféodation à des «Etats hostiles».

In rendering his judgment, the chairman of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal held against him the fact that the student had received a fellowship and a grant from the Universidad of Liège, stating that this constituted “proof” that he was under the influence of “hostile governments.” 

Babaei has recently been transferred to the notoriously harsh Rajai Shahr prison, and he runs the risk of being placed in one of the communal wards shared by violent criminals. Since his transfer on February 17, Babaei has been on a hunger strike. 

Iranian authorities have pressured Babaei on several occasions to confess publicly to the crimes of which he stands accused and also to implicate his wife. So far, he's resisted, sparing his wife very serious consequences, as she is currently living with her family in Iran, barred from leaving the country. Undeterred, she has mounted a formidable media campaign to free her husband. 

Babaei's story is just one of many. During the Ahmadinejad Presidency, Iran's intelligence services increased surveillance of expatriate Iranians. Blogger mmellissa78 sums up the situation on her site Shadow Diplomacy:

Iranian Expats, Beware.

It seems that you can decide to leave Iran but Iran can decide not to leave you, both metaphorically and literally.

So while Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is trying to set up a committee for the return of Iranians from abroad and while President Hassan Rouhani promises to improve the state of human rights in Iran, the regime that preceded them is still working based on a code: either you root for Iran or you become its enemy. If you don’t spy for the regime, you must be spying against it…simple, and very very sad.

Concentración en la Universidad de Lieja. Foto de la página Free Hamid Babaei en Facebook, usada con permiso.

Rally at the University of Liège. Photo from Free Hamid Babaei on Facebook, used with permission.

Ever since the tribulations of Hamid Babaei and his wife began, classmates at the University of Lièges and in Brussels have regularly demonstrated their solidarity, organizing rallies, writing letters to Belgian and Iranian authorities, and promoting online petitions demanding their release and permission for them to return to Belgium to resume their studies.

With this symbolic act, students and professors are determined to keep Hamid Babaei's case in the spotlight.

by Victoria Robertson at March 26, 2015 03:33 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Belarus Tightens Grip on Internet With New Data Retention Decree
Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his government are stepping up their crackdown on Internet freedom. Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

As part of a government effort to combat drug trafficking, Internet service providers in Belarus will soon be required to store complete records of Internet users’ browsing history.

The new policy, issued by decree by the Ministry of Communications, comes into force on January 1, 2016. Though the “anti-drug” measures are ostensibly aimed at combatting illegal drug trafficking and distribution, some human rights defenders fear that the decree could be misused for political purposes. Pavel Sapelka, a legal expert for the Viasna Human Rights Center, believes the authorities would not hesitate to abuse their powers to limit free speech online.

К сожалению, власти были более обеспокоены ограничением доступа к сайтам, который распространяют нежелательную для властей информацию. Понятно, что если эта норма будет работать прозрачно, так, как и должно, безусловно, это хорошо, поскольку мы все понимаем, что не стоит на месте ни преступность, ни средства, которые помогают преступникам осуществлять свою деятельность. Если же под видом борьбы с противоправными действиями будут чиниться препятствия в работе тех сайтов, которые пропагандируют политические взгляды, то это будет расценено как очередное нарушение.

Unfortunately, the authorities are more concerned with the restriction of access to the websites which disseminate undesirable information. Of course, if this norm works transparently, as it should, this will be a good thing, because we understand that [organized] crime and the tools it employs are only becoming more sophisticated. However, if the authorities use combating illegal actions as a disguise for hindering the work of websites which promote certain political views, it will be regarded as another violation [of free speech].

Under the new decree, ISPs will be obligated to store information about the time of connection to and disconnection from the Internet, as well as the amount of data sent and received. Companies providing Internet services will also have to collect all Internet users’ names, passport data (collected by ISPs when users sign service contracts), internal and external IPs, and MAC-addresses of their devices. Service providers across the board will be required to retain this data for at least one year. While this amount of time is not uncommon by global standards, the technical and legal particulars around collection remain murky. Moreover, this approach seems extremely general, given the relatively narrow stated goal of pursuing drug traffickers and users.

Legal restrictions associated with drug trafficking in Belarus have gotten worse, mainly because of “spice“—a new drug commercially known as synthetic marijuana. It’s relatively easy to find a recipe for cooking spice on the Internet, and that has contributed to the drug's popularity in Belarus, Russia, and other neighboring countries. Since January 2014, spice has made up 70% of the illegal drug market in Belarus. Although the problem is real, experts believe that it is a critical misstep to allow authorities to surveil the online behavior of all Internet users, regardless of whether they have any association with drug-related websites.

This decree is the latest in a series of new regulations that restrict online rights—without question, censorship in Belarus is becoming stronger as presidential elections draw near.

Last December, the government adopted amendments to media legislation, ostensibly mandating that any website in the Belarusian segment of the Internet will be viewed as a media organization. This leaves websites of all kinds subject to the mercy of the Communications Ministry, which has the authority to shut down sites extrajudicially.

At the end of February the Communications Ministry published a decree mandating ISPs to block Internet anonymizers such as Tor and VPN services. The authorities suggested that any such service with anonymising facilities used to access websites already blacklisted in Belarus would be added to the state blacklist as well.

Soon after the adoption of the media amendments, several large online platforms, including independent news websites, were blocked temporarily. Local activists and journalists called this blocking a “dress rehearsal before the election.” If this is indeed the case, then limiting access to anonymizers and storing users’ browsing history and personal data are but little changes to the final script.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at March 26, 2015 02:55 PM

Doc Searls
Because freedom matters

After one of myaxiom reluctant visits to Facebook yesterday, I posted this there:

If I were actually the person Facebook advertised to, I would be an impotent, elderly, diabetic, hairy (or hairless) philandering cancer patient, heart attack risk, snoring victim, wannabe business person, gambling and cruise boat addict, and possible IBM Cloud customer in need of business and credit cards I already have.

Sixty-eight likes and dozens of comments followed. Most were from people I know, most of whom were well-known bloggers a decade ago, when blogging was still hot shit. Some were funny (“You’re not?”). Some offered advice (“You should like more interesting stuff”). Some explained how to get along with it (“I’ve always figured the purpose of Internet ads was to remind me what I just bought from Amazon”). One stung: “So much for The Intention Economy.”

So I replied with this:

Great to see ya’ll here. Glad you took the bait. Now for something less fun.

I was told last week by an advertising dude about a company that has increased its revenues by 49% using surveillance-based personalized advertising.The ratio of respondents was 1 in a 1000. The number of times that 1 was exposed to the same personalized ad before clicking on it was 70.

He had read, appreciated and agreed with The Intention Economy, and he told me I would hate to hear that advertising success story. He was correct. I did.

I also hate that nearly all the readers all of us ever had on our own blogs are now here. Howdy.

Relatively speaking, writing on my own blog, which averages zero comments from dozens of readers (there used to be many thousands), seems a waste. Wanna write short? Do it in Facebook or Twitter. Wanna write long? Do it in Medium. Wanna write on your own DIY publication? Knock yourself out.

And, because the bloggers among us have already done that, we’re here.

So let’s face it: the leverage of DIY is going down. Want readers, listeners or viewers? Hey, it’s a free market. Choose your captor.

I’ve been working all my adult life toward making people independent, and proving that personal independence is good for business as well as for hacking and other sources of pleasure and productivity. But I wonder whether or not most people, including all of us here, would rather operate in captivity. Hey, it’s where everybody else is. Why not?

Here’s why. It’s the good ship Axiom: http://pixar.wikia.com/Axiom . Think about it.

Earth is the Net. It’s still ours: http://cluetrain.com/newclues. See you back home.

That’s where we are now.

 

 

by Doc Searls at March 26, 2015 01:12 PM

Lawrence Lessig
Elizabeth Warren should run for president. I’ll explain why April 20 in NYC.

From everything I know, running for president is really, really hard. Most sane people would hate…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at March 26, 2015 01:00 PM

Global Voices
Sudan Turns Back on Iran, Joins Saudi Arabia's War on Yemen
The aftermath of Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen today. Photograph shared by @HussainBukhaiti on Twitter

The aftermath of Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen today. Photograph shared by @HussainBukhaiti on Twitter

Sudan switched sides from being an Iranian ally, to waging war against the Houthis, Iran's allies in Yemen.

Sudan joining the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi fighters, who took control of Sanaa in January this year, has raised eyebrows.

UAE-based journalist Abbas Al Lawati tweets:

And Sean Lee adds:

Sudan has agreed to send ground troops to support Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen, dubbed Operation Decisive Storm, which started this morning. It has also sent three fighter jets to take part in the airstrikes, according to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV.

The agreement came following a one-day visit between Sudanese president Omar Hassan Al Bashir, wanted by the International Court of Justice (ICC) for war crimes and genocide, and the Saudi monarch Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, which concluded today, according to the Sudan Tribune.

The paper adds:

The trip represents a thaw in relations between the two countries which has been tense in recent years because of Khartoum’s close ties with Iran.

In the past there were also reports that Sudan has been providing weapons to Houthi rebels on behalf of Iran.

Sudan also announced the closure of all Iranian missions and groups in Sudan. Rohollah Faghihi tweets:

Bashir is wanted by the ICC, charged with committing genocide and war crimes in Darfur. In March 2009, ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir. More than 300,000 people were killed in Darfur since problems started in 2003.

The 10-nation coalition involved in the war on Yemen is made up of Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco and all the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, minus Oman.

Other countries that have rallied against the Houthi rebels also came under criticism.

Jane Novak, who tweets about Yemen, notes:

Indian Shuvankar Mukherjee comments:

And Lebanese blogger Abir Ghattas sarcastically quips:

Stay tuned for more coverage on Yemen.

by Amira Al Hussaini at March 26, 2015 12:32 PM

Civilian Death Toll on the Rise as Saudi Arabia Leads Airstrikes on Yemen
Photograph shared by Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee on Twitter  @narrabyee on Twitter

Photograph shared by Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee
@narrabyee on Twitter

A total of 18 civilians have been killed and 24 people injured as Saudi Arabia and its allies bombed Houthi rebels in airstrikes on Yemen early this morning, announced the Yemeni Ministry of Health.

A 10-nation coalition which includes Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Sudan, Morocco, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan have started airstrikes against Yemen to fight Houthi rebels, who have taken control of Yemen in January. Dubbed Operation Decisive Storm, the operation has the full blessing of the US, a key Saudi ally.

On Twitter, the human toll of the attack came to light as Yemenis woke up to the carnage in the capital Sanaa. The first airstrike took place just after 2 am.

Yemen Updates tweets:

Yemeni political activist Ammar al-Aulaqi tweeted that families were fleeing Sanaa after the airstrikes resumed at 6:09am:

Just like Ammar el Aulaqui, several Yemeni Twitter users are sharing photographs of the destruction caused by the airstrikes, that hit several civilian neighbourhoods in the north of Sanaa.

 

Yemeni journalist, Nasser Arrabyee also tweeted about the civilian houses destroyed by the attack.

Yemeni blogger and activist Afrah Nasser tweeted that the current situation in Aden is a bloody street war with several causalities.

She also highlighted the humanitarian crisis that will only get worse after these attacks, since in Yemen more than 15.9 million people are in need of some kind of humanitarian assistance.

Finally, Hisham Al-Omeisi tweets reflect that the civilian death and injury toll is only going to increase given that there is no infrastructure in place to protect the civilians during war time, especially against airstrikes.   

Stay tuned for more coverage from Yemen.

by Abir Ghattas at March 26, 2015 11:33 AM

‘Diner en Blanc’ Fans the Flames of Jamaica's Social and Economic Divide
Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica; photo by Kent MacElwee, used under a  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica; photo by Kent MacElwee, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

The coming together of friends that originated in Paris just over a quarter century ago and has since mushroomed into a global phenomenon, has now spread to the Caribbean.

Le Diner en Blanc was conceived by Francois Pasquier, who wanted nothing more than to have a picnic with friends in a public space; participants were to wear white in order to be able to easily find one another. From year to year, the event grew and soon gained international momentum. It is now a registered trademark, so event planners who would like to host a Diner en Blanc soiree must sign licensing agreements and abide by the organisation's guidelines, which include keeping the location of the event secret until the very last minute.

But hosting such a fancy affair in a developing country like Jamaica raises some troubling questions about entitlement, race, class and economic power. In a blog entry posted soon after the event was held at Kingston's Emancipation Park, Active Voice referred to “the imagined community of #DinerEnBlanc”:

The location had been announced; Kingston’s beloved Emancipation Park was being occupied by Jamaica’s One Percent, clad in white and brandishing bottles of wine and hyper-expensive loaves of bread (one lampoons them lovingly because by staging this event they were in effect telegraphing to the world that Jamaica isn’t so crime-ridden that it’s not business as usual–or should we say leisure as usual–when it needs to be)

The post went on to detail the various marketing aspects of the event, which was pitched as an epicurean celebration that boasted a waiting list of thousands. Fashion and decor retailers, food supply chains and even banks got in on the advertising action:

The upmarket picnic had no shortage of sponsors. The imagined community of Diner en Blanc has deep pockets. Organizers of all floundering and struggling cultural ventures in Jamaica please note…money is available depending on how you incorporate your sponsors into your events and how ‘tasteful’ and simultaneously boasy [boastful/proud] you are… [...]

But…but…is this not a textbook case of conspicuous consumption you ask? literally eating and drinking as conspicuously as possible–or is it something else? You decide. This blog isn’t into glut-shaming. I’ve just filleted the event for you, that’s all. *Waves napkin*

Other bloggers were uncomfortable about the event as well. At first, Kelly Katharin Ogilvie McIntosh dismissed it as “just another party”. But then, she saw an interview that changed her perspective:

A representative from one of our leading banks made a statement that has been bothering me since Friday night: ‘All of Jamaica is here'. No, Ma'am. Not at all. 900 people is not all of Jamaica. Did you mean to say ‘All of Jamaica that matters is here'? Think about it: All of Jamaica (that matters) is here.

This goes to the heart of what is wrong. It reveals the thinking of many of us. It explains much of what we see around us. ‘All of Jamaica (that matters) is here.’ Us and Them. It informs the dispensing of justice, provision of health care, why some things happen in some communities and not in others. ‘Us and Them'. As long as those with means continue to pretend as if Those Others don't exist, the chasm between Us and Them will grow wider.

She also questioned the priorities of Jamaicans, suggesting that the value placed on keeping up appearances is holding the country back economically.

One of the most powerful musings about the whole affair came from Sarah Manley, the daughter of former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, who posted a Facebook note that was widely shared, and which bloggers like Annie Paul and Jean Lowrie-Chin republished:

When I posted the picture juxtaposition of the Diner En Blanc affaire beside the huge plumes of smoke from the Riverton City Dump fire blanketing the city of Kingston I did so with a clear conscience and a profound sense of irony. The elegant aerial of Jamaica's elite decked out in fine style streaming in to our National Emancipation Park, a picture I might add widely circulated in social media, and in traditional media, presented an irresistible visual representation of the haves doing what haves do. Their choice of white clothing formed an almost cloud like film eerily similar to the white smoke billowing over the capital. While Rome Burns, a long venerated metaphor for those with excess living to excess in the midst of poverty and desperation begged to be the caption.

Attendees of the event appeared oblivious to the paradox as they posted photos and videos on Instagram and sang along to the lyrics of the popular song, “Burn”:

And we gonna let it burn #DinerEnBlanc #Kingston #Jamaica #DinerEnBlancKgn

Un vídeo publicado por Diner En Blanc Kingston (@dinerenblanckgn) el

Manley soon began to feel the backlash. Herself part of the country's elite, she was not surprised at the reaction. What did shock her, though, was the fact that most attendees “seemed unaware that there was any irony attached at all and were genuinely surprised that [Manley] would put the two images together”.

Manley provided several examples of “Rome burning”, starting with the dump fires, which are so commonplace that “it has been suggested [they] are an accepted part of an economic structure so deformed that starting the fire is a common strategy of business development for the truck owners who are paid to haul the huge mounds of dirt needed to put it out.” She noted the predicament of the cash-strapped Ministry of Health, “frequently in the news for being short of even the most basic supplies”.

She also found it offensieve that the event was able to break the rules of Emancipation Park, “one of only a few carefully maintained public spaces in our city designed for all to enjoy”.

Calling out the culture of entitlement which she believes the Jamaican media has also been complicit in, Manley whittled the whole dilemma down to a matter of form over function:

We Jamaicans are spectacularly good at appearances. We are good at creating the appearance of success. We seem however to have confused looking the part with being the part. It is so ingrained in our culture that to many of us we genuinely think that if we show up, in the right attire, at the right address, it doesn’t matter if we actually produce nothing, do nothing [...]

That you could turn up in your finery with your picnic baskets of (What was in those picnic baskets? Good cheese? Pate? Or tin mackerel?) of whatever, is evidence of nothing. Rome is a flame, despite your presence on the Boards of Associations, despite your Jimmy Choos. The desperate in ghettos ten deep to a room are plotting ever plotting to scale your wall, to pick your pocket, to carve themselves out a slice of your pie cooling just beyond their reach on your watchtower.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at March 26, 2015 10:19 AM

BREAKING: Saudi Arabia Wages War on Yemen
Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on Sanaa. Photograph shared by Yemeni blogger @mareb_elward on Twitter

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on Sanaa. Photograph shared by Yemeni blogger @mareb_elward on Twitter

Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign against Yemen this morning. Backed by its Gulf Arab allies, Egypt, Jordan, Morocca, Sudan and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia started an airstrike operation, dubbed Decisive Storm, against Houthi fighters who took control of Yemen in January.

The airstrikes started at 2.30 a.m. Yemeni time, and online Yemenis and Arab bloggers are torn between those wanting to see the Houthis rooted out of power and those who don't want to see the country becoming another Iraq, Syria or Libya.

Decisive Storm

UAE commentator Sultan Al Qassemi names the countries taking part in Decisive Storm:

Journalist Henan Moussa adds:

And student Daniel Wickham, from the UK, asks:

Al Qassemi also draws parallels to another storm:

Divided in times of war

Yemeni blogger Atiaf Alwazir appeals to her countrymen and women:

And she adds:

Yemeni Hamza Shargabee explains:

From Sanaa, Jamal Jubran writes on Facebook:

أنت ضد فكرة الحرب. أنت ضد العدوان،أيّ عدوان. تخرج لمظاهرات ضد الحروب. كيف الآن تؤيد الحرب على بلدك. عشر دول بتضرب بلدك في وقت واحد. السعودية بتضرب بلدك. وأنت تؤيدها. اسمح لي أقلك : أنت كائن مسخ ومشوّه.
يلعن أبو شكلك.

You are against war. You are against any aggression. You take part in anti-war demonstrations. How come you now support a war on your country? Ten countries are attacking your country at the same time. Allow me to tell you that you are a disturbed person. May you be damned.

And Hafez Albukari shares photographs of empty streets in the capital Sanaa, as schools have been closed for the day:

What will air strikes achieve?

Many are questioning what airstrikes will achieve.

On The Yemen Peace Project page on Facebook, Will Picard writes:

Saudi Arabia, responding to Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi's request, has launched air strikes against San'a. As a student of Yemeni affairs and of military tactics, I do not understand what KSA thinks it can achieve with such strikes. People will be killed, without a doubt, and the infrastructure will be damaged, but air strikes will do nothing to degrade the position of Saleh and Ansar Allah.

He adds:

I'm a relatively smart person. I've studied international relations and warfare for a long time. I honestly cannot imagine what positive result Saudi Arabia or its allies think can be achieved through air power right now. Thoughts?

Saudis celebrate

Meanwhile, Saudi blogger Hassan Al Harthy is celebrating the Saudi stance in standing against “injustice and enmity.” He tweets:

Every reign sees a liberation of injustice and enmity
Saudi Arabia is the country of support after Allah

He shares this inforgraphic which champions Saudi monarch King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as the liberator of Kuwait; King Abdulla bin Abdulaziz as the saviour of Bahrain and the current King Salman bin Abdulaziz as the champion of Yemen.

What next?

Journalist Mohammed Jamjoom wonders if the airstrikes will pull in other regional players:

And Syrian blogger Rafif Jouejati asks:

Stay tuned for more coverage from Yemen.

by Amira Al Hussaini at March 26, 2015 05:44 AM

Defiant Tunisia Hosts the World Social Forum
Tunisia hosts the World Social Forum for the second time in a row

Tunisia hosts the World Social Forum for the second time in a row

Less than a week after the deadly attack on the Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis, which left 20 tourists and a police officer dead, Tunisia is hosting the 10th edition of the World Social Forum (WSF).

Following the attack on March 18, there were fears that the forum might be cancelled. However, the organizing committee issued a statement declaring that the forum is not going to be cancelled and that all of its activities are maintained.

Through this attack, terrorist groups attempted to undermine the democratic transition Tunisia and the region are currently experiencing while creating a climate of fear amongst citizens who aspire to freedom, democracy and pacific participation in establishing democracy.

The quick response from the social movement and all the political bodies in Tunisia opposed to terrorism, calling upon unity to fight it, proves how Tunisians care about their recent democratic experience. The social movement in Tunisia and the region counts on the global support of democratic forces to oppose violence and terrorism.

More than ever, the massive participation to the WSF (Tunis 24th-28th March 2015) will be the appropriate answer from all the peace and democratic forces towards a better, more fair and free world made of pacific co-existence.

In fact, the maintaining of the forum is perceived as a strong response to the Bardo Museum attack.

Nessryne said:

While the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey tweeted:

The World Social Forum is an anti-globalization and anti-capitalism meeting of civil society organizations. It first met in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2001, as a response to the World Economic Forum. It serves as a space for reflection to groups and movements that oppose no-liberalism and strive for social and economic justice.

Human rights advocate Rae Abileah explains:

The Dakar-based Flamme d’ Afrique tweeted on 24 March:

Peoples of the world will be meeting in Tunis to express anger at the inequalities of our world and preach for a better one

The forum kicked off on Wednesday afternoon with an anti-terror march to the Bardo Museum.

2015 World Social Forum delegates march to the Bardo Museum, where two gunmen killed 21 people on 18 March. Photo shares on twitter by arabesque_tn

2015 World Social Forum delegates march to the Bardo Museum, where two gunmen killed 21 people on 18 March. Photo shared on Twitter by @arabesque_tn

The World Social Forum in Tunis is an excellent reminder that counter-terrorism also requires social justice

This is the second time in a row Tunisia hosts the forum. Tunis has already hosted the 2013 edition. During the five-day event, 70,000 delegates from more than 4,000 organizations representing countries from across the world, will be discussing a wide range of issues and topics including, climate justice, immigration, media freedom, women's rights, refugees and energy.

by Afef Abrougui at March 26, 2015 03:50 AM

March 25, 2015

Doc Searls
The most important event, ever

IIW XX, IIW_XX_logothe 20th Internet Identity Workshop, comes at a critical inflection point in the history of VRM: Vendor Relationship Management, the only business movement working toward giving you both

  1. independence from the silos and walled gardens of the world; and
  2. better means for engaging with every business in the world — your way, rather than theirs.

If you’re looking for a point of leverage on the future of customer liberation, independence and empowerment, IIW is it.

Wall Street-sized companies around the world are beginning to grok what Main Street ones have always known: customers aren’t just “targets” to be “acquired,” “managed,” “controlled” and “locked in.” In other words, Cluetrain was right when it said this, in 1999:

if you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get…

Now it is finally becoming clear that free customers are more valuable than captive ones: to themselves, to the companies they deal with, and to the marketplace.

But how, exactly? That’s what we’ll be working on at IIW, which runs from April 7 to 9 at the Computer History Museum, in the heart of Silicon Valley: the best venue ever created for a get-stuff-done unconference.

Focusing our work is a VRM maturity framework that gives every company, analyst and journalist a list of VRM competencies, and every VRM developer a context in which to show which of those competencies they provide, and how far along they are along the maturity path. This will start paving the paths along which individuals, tool and service providers and corporate systems (e.g. CRM) can finally begin to fit their pieces together. It will also help legitimize VRM as a category. If you have a VRM or related company, now is the time to jump in and participate in the conversation. Literally. Here are some of the VRM topics and technology categories that we’ll be talking about, and placing in context in the VRM maturity framework:

Note: Another version of this post appeared first on the ProjectVRM blog. I’m doing a rare cross-posting here because it that important.

by Doc Searls at March 25, 2015 11:53 PM

Global Voices
Cameroonians Aren't Happy With Le Monde's Coverage of Their President's Health
Capture d'écran du couple Biya revenant à Yaoundé

Screenshot of the Biya couple returning to Yaoundé

The frequent trips made by Paul Biya, president of Cameroon since 1982, and his wife to Europe have always been cause for question among Cameroonians and observers of the country's politics. But the presidential couple's most recent trip in 2015 has drawn particular attention thanks to French newspaper Le Monde, which relied on anonymous sources to report that the trip was health-related. 

Cameroonians have criticized the paper's coverage as an invasion of privacy, and even accused Le Monde of participating in a plot orchestrated by former colonial power France to destabilise the country. 

It all started on 13 March when Le Monde Afrique, the African edition of Le Monde, published an article initially titled “Le couple présidentiel hors du pays et en mauvaise santé” (The presidential couple out of the country and in poor health). In the first version of the article, which was shared widely on social media, notably by prominent Cameroonian activist Bergeline Domou, the editors of Le Monde Afrique declared:

Depuis le 2 mars, le chef de l’Etat camerounais « effectue une visite privée en Europe », indique un communiqué du palais d’Etoudi, le siège de la présidence, sans préciser la destination. Mais de sources concordantes, Paul Biya séjourne actuellement dans un centre hospitalier du canton de Genève, où il suit un traitement pour des soucis cardiaques et un cancer de la prostate, ajoutent les mêmes sources. Âgé de 82 ans – dont 33 passés au pouvoir – « l’homme lion », comme on le surnomme au Cameroun, hésiterait à subir une opération chirurgicale envisagée par les médecins.

Une source bien introduite dans les organisations de la diaspora camerounaise affirme que les médecins et autres personnels soignants camerounais ou d’origine camerounaise travaillant aux HUG (Hôpitaux universitaires de Genève, structure publique mais de grande qualité où sont souvent hospitalisés des chefs d’Etat africains) ont été récemment invités à prendre leurs congés. “

A press release from the presidential palace indicated that since 2 March, the Cameroonian head of state “is on a personal trip to Europe”, without specifying the exact destination. But several sources indicate that Paul Biya is currently staying in a medical facility in Geneva where, the same sources add, he is undergoing treatment for cardiac issues and prostate cancer. At 82 years of age — 33 of which were spent in power — the “Lion Man” (as he is known in Cameroon) is said to be hesitating about undergoing the surgical intervention suggested by doctors. 

A well-connected source within the Cameroonian diaspora has confirmed that doctors and other healthcare professionals from Cameroon or of Cameroonian origin who work at HUG (the University Hospital of Geneva, a public but well-regarded hospital where African heads of state are often hospitalised) were recently encouraged to take their holidays. 

In the version of the article currently available online, this information has been removed. The headline is also different. “Le couple présidentiel hors du pays et en mauvaise santé” (The presidential couple out of the country and in poor health) was changed to “Le couple présidentiel s'exile pour raisons médicales” (The presidential couple go abroad for health reasons), and then to “Le couple présidentiel est à Genève et s'occupe de sa santé” (The presidential couple is in Geneva and focused on their health), as can be seen in screenshots on the blog of Cameroonian Allain Jules:

Screenshots by Cameroonian blogger Allain Jules that show the evolution of headlines from Le Monde regarding the presidential couple in Cameroon.

Screenshots by Cameroonian blogger Allain Jules that show the evolution of headlines from Le Monde regarding the presidential couple in Cameroon.

The article prompted various reactions from Cameroonian readership. First was the question of medical confidentiality. For Allain Jules, interviewed by the news site Cameroon-Info.Net, everyone, including people in the public eye, has the right to a private life and to medical confidentiality:

Même s'il y a des vérités, c'est de l'ordre du privé. Parce que, chaque personne est libre de garder un secret médical. Encore plus, les médecins. Le secret médical est un des fondements de la médecine libérale dont la violation est réprimée par le code de santé publique et le code pénal.

Even if it is true, it is private. Because everyone is entitled to medical confidentiality. Doctors even more so. Medical confidentiality is one of the foundations of the medical profession, the violation of which is outlawed by the public health code and the penal code. 

This is a view shared by the Cameroonian government. On a chat show on Cameroonian television, the inspector general of the Ministry of Communication declared:

le droit aussi pour le chef de l’Etat camerounais au respect de sa vie privée, nonobstant son statut de personnalité publique.

L’article 9 du Code civil français prescrit que «chacun a droit au respect de sa vie privée», a-t-il rappelé. Le Pr. Albert Mbida a également évoqué un arrêt rendu par la Cour de cassation en 1998 qui abonde dans le même sens.

The right to a private life for the Cameroonian head of state as well, even he is in the public eye.

He pointed out that article 9 of the French Civil Code decrees that “everyone has the right to respect for his or her private life”. Professor Albert Mbida also referred to a judgement delivered by the Supreme Court in 1998 which came to the same conclusion. 

To Paris-based Cameroonian analyst Abdelaziz Moundé, the Le Monde article issue poses a fundamental question:

La fonction présidentielle sacrifiera t-elle à l'impératif d'une mutation moderne ? : déclarer ses biens suivant la Constitution et publier son bulletin de santé, gage de responsabilité et de transparence.

La question du secret dans la gestion des affaires de l'État n'a plus la même nature qu'au mitan des années 60. La vie politique evolue avec les exigences de son temps.

Will the institution of the president respond to the pressing need for a modern transformation?: to declare his or her assets in accordance with the Constitution and publish his or her medical report, showing responsibility and transparency. 

The question of privacy when it comes to managing national affairs is not the same as in the mid-1960s anymore. Political life has changed in line with the times. 

More than the question of medical confidentiality, one point resurfaced repeatedly in Cameroonian reactions to the story: the idea that Le Monde Afrique was in fact the journalistic arm of a foreign effort to destabilise Cameroon. Citing an anonymous source, the site 237online wrote :

Cela trahit une sorte de complot du Quai d’Orsay, par presse interposée, contre le pouvoir de Yaoundé au moment où le pays de Paul Biya inspire confiance, à l’intérieur comme à l’extérieur, explique un fin analyste. On a envie de dire que c’est une histoire de fou, car Paul Biya subit régulièrement des check-up dont les résultats sont toujours satisfaisants. S’il y a des malades dans cette affaire, on pourrait dire que c’est plutôt le journal Le Monde qui mérite d’être conduit à l’hôpital et non le chef de l’État camerounais. Cette affaire pue la manipulation

This reveals a plot of some kind by the Quai d'Orsay (French Ministry of Foreign Affairs), through the intermediary of the press, against those in power in Yaoundé at a point when Paul Biya's country inspires confidence inside and outside the country, explains a keen analyst. You want to say that it is nonsense, that Paul Biya has regular check-ups, the results of which are always satisfying. If there is anyone involved in this affair who is sick, it is Le Monde newspaper, which deserves to be sent to hospital and not the Cameroonian head of state. This whole affair stinks of interference.

The suggestion of alleged attempts by the former colonial power to destabilise Cameroon, whose 30 years of peace are threatened by Boko Haram extremists in the north of the country, is not new.   

On 28 February 2015, during a march organised in the capital Yaoundé in support of the northern population under attack by Boko Haram and of the soldiers fighting them, French ambassador to Cameroon Christine Robichon was booed by participants, who chanted “Non à la guerre, Non à Boko Haram, Non à la France !” (No to war. No to Boko Haram. No to France!)

Twitter user Ottou Sydney Olivier summed it up when he said:

Ce sentiment anti français qui continue de se propager partout au Cameroun… Le monde Afrique a pas aidé avec son article c'est sûr

— Ottou Sydney Olivier (@sydneyolivierO) March 16, 2015

This anti-French sentiment that continues to spread through Cameroon…The LeMonde Afrique article definitely didn't help

The presidential couple has not responded to the article from Le Monde Afrique yet.

by Ciara Nugent at March 25, 2015 09:05 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Are France’s Human Rights Commitments Crumbling Post-Charlie?
Cartoon by Duverdier. Posted on Twitter by Jean-Baptiste Daubier.

Cartoon by Duverdier. Posted on Twitter by Jean-Baptiste Daubier.

Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

French human rights defenders are navigating new depths of hypocrisy in national policymaking in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Since January, hundreds of Internet users have been punished over comments on political controversies surrounding the attack. And just last week, the French Interior Ministry ordered Internet service providers to block five websites that it says condoned terrorism. According to AFP, the blocked sites included al-Hayat Media Center, which has been identified as a media producer associated with ISIS. Also blocked was Islamic-news.info, which now appears to have been taken down from the Web altogether. None of these blocking orders were reviewed by a judge. An unnamed Interior Ministry official said that it expected to issue such bans on “dozens” of additional websites, exercising new counterterrorism rules proposed in November and passed in February.

Nils Muižnieks, the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, criticized France for the measures, saying that “limiting human rights to fight against terrorism is a serious mistake and an inefficient measure that can even help the terrorists’ cause.”

Meanwhile, anti-terror legislation before the French Parliament would grant the country’s intelligence services expansive powers of surveillance for both phone and Internet communications. The bill would enable authorities to access the private data of terror suspects and would require communications firms to allow intelligence services to record metadata.

The bill does provide for the creation of an independent body overseeing surveillance activities and includes an appeals process for individuals to contest monitoring. It also grants France’s top administrative court the power to order an end to surveillance, a right it does not currently have. But it still lacks basic tenets of due process. Paris digital rights group La Quadrature du Net lamented that the measures are unfortunately skewed toward post-facto recourse—instead of asking a judge for prior permission to spy on citizens, authorities will surveil citizens en masse and handle the consequences if and when they are challenged.

Turkey uses French example to justify censorship

The Turkish Parliament approved a new article to an omnibus bill that would allow the Telecommunications Directorate, or TIB, to remove or block online content within four hours of a decision made by any minister—without receiving court authorization. The TIB would then be required to submit the decision to a judge for approval, and if it is not authorized within 48 hours, the block would automatically be removed. The article targets content that authorities believe to “endanger an individual’s right to life and property, be deemed a threat to national security or public order, incite criminal activity or present a risk to public health.” The rules also enable TIB to demand that Internet service providers submit users’ information to help law enforcement locate suspects. Responding to criticisms that the measures would violate human rights, Turkey’s EU minister said the bill is compatible with EU standards and cited recent website censorship in France to justify his claim.

Macedonian journalist speaks out on surveillance

In the aftermath of revelations that the Macedonian government conducted mobile phone surveillance on thousands of citizens, many of them human rights advocates and media workers, investigative journalist Meri Jordanovska decided to speak publicly about her experience. Several journalists, including Jordanovska, received the contents of these recorded conversations through data leaks passed to political opposition leaders. After reviewing her own leaked file, which contained records of multiple private conversations with sources and personal contacts, Jordanovska wrote:

This folder was more than enough for me to clearly see what is happening in my country. I can clearly see that someone knew in advance what story I was working on. Enough for me to conclude that my sources of information were endangered. Enough for the centers of power to be able to react preventively before the story was published.

Indian Supreme Court says no to censorship

India’s Supreme Court ruled Section 66A of the country’s Information Technology Act is unconstitutional, deeming it “vague in its entirety” and an infringement on the “public’s right to know.” The law authorized police to arrest Internet users who posted or sent online content they deemed “grossly offensive” and was widely criticized by human rights advocates who saw it as a tool for targeting political opposition voices. In a blog post for the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, Pranesh Prakash provides a detailed history of the law and why it was deemed unconstitutional.

China anti-censorship site GreatFire.org under attack

Chinese censorship monitoring site GreatFire.org was hit with a distributed denial of service attack, receiving 2.6 billion requests an hour for its mirrored websites on Thursday, March 19. The attack took place shortly after the site was featured in a Wall Street Journal article. GreatFire wrote on its blog: “We are under attack and we need help. … This kind of attack is aggressive and is an exhibition of censorship by brute force.” As is typical in attacks of this nature, it is unclear who was responsible for the attack. GreatFire.org provides users in mainland China with access to major websites including the New York Times, BBC News, Google.com, and Deutsche Welle.

Human Rights Watch website blocked briefly in Egypt

The website for Human Rights Watch was blocked for Wi-Fi users at the Egypt Economic Development Conference, also known as Egypt the Future. The block was noticed by Egyptian journalist Salma Elmardany and appears to have been lifted after she tweeted about it to her 80,000 followers.

Twitter’s verified users test new anti-harassment feature

Twitter has begun testing a new “quality filter” that would screen for tweets that contain threatening and abusive language from their timeline. The new feature, which is currently available for verified users only, is the latest attempt by Twitter to curtail harassment on the platform.

Digital rights advocates launch principles for online platforms

Several civil society groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fundacion Karisma Colombia and Heliopolis Institute of Egypt joined together to launch the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability at RightsCon. The Principles propose a framework of best practices for online intermediaries such as Internet service providers, social networks and search engines, and include principles such as the requirement that content not be restricted without a court order, that requests for restrictions of content be clear and unambiguous, and a mandate that laws and content restriction policies respect due process.

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Filip Stojanovski, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

by Netizen Report Team at March 25, 2015 07:36 PM

India's Supreme Court Axes Online Censorship Law, But Challenges Remain

The Supreme Court of India took a remarkable step to protect free expression on March 24, 2015, striking down controversial section 66A of the IT Act that criminalized “grossly offensive” content online. In response to a public interest litigation filed by Indian law student Shreya Singhal, the court made this landmark judgement calling the section “vague”, “broad” and “unconstitutional”. Since Tuesday's announcement, the news has trended nationally on Twitter, with more than 50,000 tweets bearing the hashtags #Sec66A and #66A.

Cartoon by Manjul, shared widely on social media.

Cartoon by Manjul, shared widely on social media.

Section 66A allowed police to arrest any person who sent online communications deemed “grossly offensive” or known to be false. This has enabled the government take down many websites with allegedly objectionable content. Among various cases since the law was updated in 2008, two people were arrested for making comments on Facebook regarding India's prime minister Narendra Modi and one man was arrested for commenting on public service closures following the death of political leader Bal Thakrey.

The now-defunct Section 66A reads as follows:

66-A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.
—Any person who sends, by means of a computer
resource or a communication device,—
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal
intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; or
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or
recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Internet rights advocate and lawyer Pranesh Prakash, who works with the Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore, has been one of the law's most outspoken critics in recent years. Immediately following the ruling, he tweeted:

Nikhil Pahwa, independent journalist and founder of the MeddiaNama blog, offered his take on the ruling:

This is a great decision for freedom of speech in India…66A is far too vague, and lends itself to arbitrary implementation by the police, especially phrases like “grossly offensive”, annoyance, inconvenience, ill will. Remember that even the right to offend is an integral part of free speech.

Journalist and author Sagarika Ghose sarcastically wondered if the government of India would retroactively offer recompense for all of the actions taken against citizens for violating 66A.

Some were playful in their response to the decision. Siddharth Sing set out to “test” the efficacy of the ruling with a tweet mocking prominent public figures in Indian politics:

Section 69, which provides authorities with the power to censor websites that “create communal disturbance, social disorder, or affect India's relationship with other countries” was upheld however. The Court has yet to clarify this decision. CIS India's Pranesh Prakash tweeted:

Unfortunately 69A (website blocking) has been upheld despite many issues, incl lack of transparency. Need to read full judgment to see why.

— Pranesh Prakash (@pranesh_prakash) March 24, 2015

Tuesday's decision comes after the government of India was heavily criticized in January 2015 for blocking 32 websites in the country.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at March 25, 2015 05:40 PM

Global Voices
India's Supreme Court Axes Online Censorship Law, But Challenges Remain

The Supreme Court of India took a remarkable step to protect free expression on March 24, 2015, striking down controversial section 66A of the IT Act that criminalized “grossly offensive” content online. In response to a public interest litigation filed by Indian law student Shreya Singhal, the court made this landmark judgement calling the section “vague”, “broad” and “unconstitutional”. Since Tuesday's announcement, the news has trended nationally on Twitter, with more than 50,000 tweets bearing the hashtags #Sec66A and #66A.

Cartoon by Manjul, shared widely on social media.

Cartoon by Manjul, shared widely on social media.

Section 66A allowed police to arrest any person who sent online communications deemed “grossly offensive” or known to be false. This has enabled the government take down many websites with allegedly objectionable content. Among various cases since the law was updated in 2008, two people were arrested for making comments on Facebook regarding India's prime minister Narendra Modi and one man was arrested for commenting on public service closures following the death of political leader Bal Thakrey.

The now-defunct Section 66A reads as follows:

66-A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.
—Any person who sends, by means of a computer
resource or a communication device,—
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal
intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; or
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or
recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Internet rights advocate and lawyer Pranesh Prakash, who works with the Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore, has been one of the law's most outspoken critics in recent years. Immediately following the ruling, he tweeted:

Nikhil Pahwa, independent journalist and founder of the MeddiaNama blog, offered his take on the ruling:

This is a great decision for freedom of speech in India…66A is far too vague, and lends itself to arbitrary implementation by the police, especially phrases like “grossly offensive”, annoyance, inconvenience, ill will. Remember that even the right to offend is an integral part of free speech.

Journalist and author Sagarika Ghose sarcastically wondered if the government of India would retroactively offer recompense for all of the actions taken against citizens for violating 66A.

Some were playful in their response to the decision. Siddharth Sing set out to “test” the efficacy of the ruling with a tweet mocking prominent public figures in Indian politics:

Section 69, which provides authorities with the power to censor websites that “create communal disturbance, social disorder, or affect India's relationship with other countries” was upheld however. The Court has yet to clarify this decision. CIS India's Pranesh Prakash tweeted:

Unfortunately 69A (website blocking) has been upheld despite many issues, incl lack of transparency. Need to read full judgment to see why.

— Pranesh Prakash (@pranesh_prakash) March 24, 2015

Tuesday's decision comes after the government of India was heavily criticized in January 2015 for blocking 32 websites in the country.

by Subhashish Panigrahi at March 25, 2015 05:37 PM

Creative Commons
A Masterwork in Simplicity: The Story of the CC Logo

This story was researched and written in collaboration with Creative Commons staff. You can also read the story on Medium.


On February 14, 2015 New York’s Museum of Modern Art welcomed the public to a new exhibit, “This is For Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good.” Inspired by a short tweet made by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, “This is For Everyone” includes an array of fascinating objects, concepts, designs, and artworks that were conceived to serve the global public in sometimes unexpected or serendipitous ways. Winding through the exhibit, viewers will find curious and ubiquitous objects and technology that speak to the empowerment of individual creativity. Displayed on the white walls next to the internationally embraced symbols for the on/off button, recycling, and the @ symbol, one will find a mark of equally great significance: the “double-C in a circle,” or simply, the “CC,” Creative Commons mark.

Moma_tife_13
Creative Commons logo and installation view of “This Is for Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good” by Jim.Henderson
Copyright and related rights waived via CC0

This most visible icon of the free culture movement is on view in the exhibit, but the MoMA took even further steps to recognize the impact and importance of the “CC” logo and its accompanying ShareAlike, NonCommercial, Attribution, and NoDerivatives icons. On March 4, 2015 MoMA Senior Curator Paolo Antonelli announced that the Creative Commons logo had been formally acquired as part of the museum’s permanent collection. It is both a symbolic and very practical kind of acquisition. As part of the collection, the icons and their history will enjoy perpetual protection and recognition by MoMA. But their work is far from complete: like so many of the other instantly-recognizable icons in the MoMA collection, the “CC” logo will continue to be used and appreciated by millions of people in millions of situations, and for many years to come.

The logos have had an incredible influence on the Internet and global society, and far-reaching, future impacts are coalescing every day. The world knows a lot more about Creative Commons in 2015 than it did almost 14 years ago when the organization was founded, but few know how the logos came to be, who created them, and what informed their creation.

The Creative Commons logos are special and powerful symbols that speak to the origin and roots of the organization that created them. Creative Commons was founded in 2001 by law professor Lawrence Lessig, Hal Abelson, and Eric Eldred to address a problem created by antiquated copyright laws in the U.S. and around the world. In an era where it was becoming easier to share works via the Internet, copyright law seemed to be moving in the other direction by increasing term limits and restrictions on reuse. Amidst this tension, how could artists, researchers, and other creators share their works widely and freely online without infringing on each other’s copyright? At the time, there was no way for a creator to grant blanket permissions for reuse, other than to hire their own lawyer to write custom copyright terms. Creative Commons rose to tackle this challenge with its revolutionary, human- and machine-readable copyright licenses, which anyone could freely use. But with these powerful new licenses in hand, how would people be able to visibly indicate their preferences for reuse?

A designer and a roomful of lawyers get to work

Glenn Otis Brown joined as the second Executive Director of Creative Commons in 2002, taking over for Molly Shaffer Van Houweling to oversee the launch of the CC license suite. Along with Van Houweling, the organization’s founders, early staff and Board collaborators Neeru Paharia and Ben Adida, Brown played a key role in developing the first versions of the human- and machine-readable licenses, and would ultimately be presented with the challenge of building the visual identity system for Creative Commons.

It was a random encounter on a plane leaving SXSW in 2002 when Glenn bumped into designer/animator (and former classmate) Ryan Junell, that led to a graphic design and branding project which would ultimately bring about the Creative Commons logos. Ryan and Glenn were originally classmates at the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-90’s, sitting in on lectures that covered the early and optimistic days of the Internet, and gaining an advanced understanding of how the web would shift perspectives on sharing and copyright.

When Glenn and Ryan reconnected in 2001 Glenn had a big vision for Creative Commons and an amazing design problem to solve. Progress on the CC licenses was well underway. A legal team and the early staff, including Molly and Glenn, were working hard at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society (founded by Lawrence Lessig in 2001) to craft these new, freely reusable licenses that were intended to be understood by both legal professionals in the world of IP law, and everyday creators and users with minimal legal experience or knowledge.

That early team already understood the importance of visual systems that could be used to convey simple but important information to the user, particularly to enhance the planned roll-out of a simple, web-based license chooser system. Color coding of yellow and green was used to express the level of openness for each specific license, with a strong urging for creators to go green and make their work as open as possible to maximize their contribution to the commons. But the question kept coming up — how do we visualize these powerful, new licenses? How could the license deeds be complemented with some kind of visualization or mark? What could be conveyed through those symbols? In the words of Larry Lessig, the Creative Commons identity “needed to be distinctive, yet teach through its design.”

CC license spectrum

Molly, Glenn and the team knew they needed a strong mark to further convey what each unique license meant, as well as a grander identity to tie them altogether. An identity not unlike the prevailing symbol of copyright in the world, the unmistakable and seemingly indomitable ©. Ryan Junell, who had been working at a series of design leadership roles with startups and design firms in the San Francisco Bay Area, accepted the unusual and exciting offer to create the public face of Creative Commons.

Two very busy weeks

The original project didn’t come with a traditional and detailed design brief. Ryan was plunged into the process, working directly with legal staff to gain an understanding of the licenses and what they meant. The licenses were a quick study for Ryan, having been exposed to the transformative ideas of a young Internet in the late 90’s, in addition to previous gigs with branding and identity projects in silicon valley. He was already well-versed in the complex issues of sharing and copyright in the early days of the web, and understood the importance of a clear and simple way of conveying the spirit and detail of the licenses. He was also thrilled with the idea of working once again in a challenging, high-tempo academic setting.

Ryan and the CC team committed two weeks to the research and study of the new visual system, an ambitious schedule for any design project, much less one that would grow to have such a powerful and broad influence. Inherently, they knew the visuals needed to be simple and effective. They knew they needed a system of icons, and that this system would have to work as efficiently on the printed page as on a web page, video credit crawl, or signage. It should be possible to evoke the symbol with a keyboard [e.g. (CC)] or be easy to draw and recreate free-hand. Creative Commons was focused on global impact, so the system would also have to work across borders and cultures. It would also need to be bold and direct,not overly intricate or sophisticated.

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Creative Commons logo development, 2002. courtesy Ryan Junell

CC logo

“If you create a question, you create
a reason for people to try to listen.”

Ryan worked through dozens of prototypes, studying the prevalent icons and systems at work at the time, and experimenting with riffs on typography, geometry, and unique letterforms. He shared iterations of early concepts, but the team was immediately drawn to the simple and clear form of the double-c letterforms in a circle. That concept came to Ryan early in the process, and it was idea that felt natural appropriate. He knew it echoed the classic copyright symbol, but it also felt simple, direct, and because of its deviation from the copyright symbol, more welcoming. As Larry later stated, “the multiple meanings of (c) doubled was important. If you create a question, you create a reason for people to try to listen.”

The early concept went through two brisk rounds of improvements but there were minimal changes or diversions from that simple original idea.

With the final “CC” concept clear, it was only a few more steps to build out the rest of the system. Other relevant symbols – the stroked dollar sign, circle-arrow, and originally the letterforms “BY” were suspended in the same bold circle and used to indicate the variants of the licenses: NonCommercial, ShareAlike, and Attribution. As a layered system, these icons were meant to reflect a spectrum of permissions, and would grow to present themselves in their most recognizable, rectangular button forms, set against grey, white, and black.

AkzidenzGroteskspecAIB1
Public Domain

Akzidenz-Grotesk, a modern marvel

It was a masterstroke of design simplicity, and a brilliant way to portray the sharing intent of the licenses. A playful but confident relationship with the traditional copyright logo gave the “CC” logo an instant recognizability, but also a truly unique identity.

Junell set the original “CC” and the subsequent, lowercase Creative Commons wordmark in Akzidenz-Grotesk, an elegant and bold typeface created in the 19th century by Günter Gerhard Lange. It is considered the first true sans-serif typeface, and became a precursor to hundreds, possibly thousands, of subsequent sans-serif typeface through the 20th century. Popular amongst design-thinking tech companies of the time, it also evokes a spirit of simple, clear, public-minded and modern typography. The typeface is instantly recognizable as a mainstay of environmental and way-finding graphics. It is the progenitor of its more recognizable sibling, Helvetica (created in the late 1950’s), and to this day it is still the official typeface of the International Red Cross and its global chapters.

Animating the logo

The Creative Commons team had the identity in place, but they also knew they wanted a more animated, multi-media approach to make a bigger splash. It was early days of internet video (and low bandwidths for average users) but Junell had experience as an animator and was able to develop an idea for a Flash-based video, the first of several videos Creative Commons would release to tell the story of Creative Commons, and to convince new users to take advantage of the new licenses and icons.

Get Creative” was the first video in this effort, and featured a case study inspired by a real-world creative reuse situation about the White Stripes. Written by Glenn Otis Brown and directed and animated by Junell, the video set the stage for a new and vibrant outreach effort with artists, writers, academics and researchers that continues today. Junell and others often credit this video with being as critical a part of defining the visual story as the logos themselves. In the spirit of the video, digital comic stories also appeared, illustrated by Junell, and written and designed by Neeru Paharia.

Spec4-2
From “Spectrum of Rights” by Neeru Paharia, Matt Haughey, and Ryan Junell / CC BY

The initial reception to the release of the licenses and the new logos was incredibly positive. The story brought a breath of fresh air to the technology media, much of which was still reeling from the gloomy, post-bubble narrative. Early adopters of the CC licenses, including MIT, the Internet Archive, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sung the project’s praises and embraced the logos for their own CC licensed content. On t-shirts, stickers, pins and signs the logo grew and spread, quickly becoming one (if not ‘the’) prominent brand of the free culture movement. Evangelists, artists, coders and writers in the know proudly showed their support for CC by stickering their laptops, notebooks, and mobile phones. More zealous fans chiseled or dyed the logo into their hair during tech conferences, and more than a few CC tattoos found their way onto the most diehard supporters. The logo was well on its way to becoming the internationally recognizable symbol it is today.

cc tattoo
The back of this man’s head has a Creative Commons license by George Kelly / CC BY-NC-ND

The logos grow and adapt

The Creative Commons logos found themselves in an increasingly vast and complex Internet by 2005. The system was still simple enough to work in a wide variety of settings, and new platforms like Flickr and eventually Wikipedia and others would be able to incorporate the licenses and the logos in effective and visible ways. But as the logos became more popular and more global, it was evident that the original concepts would need to be updated. The use of the dollar symbol and the reliance on the ‘BY’ text were the two most prominent challenges. Both were conventional for western, English-speaking audiences but were impractical for use internationally.

Alex Roberts, who began working with Creative Commons in 2005 as its Senior Designer, was tasked with the sensitive job of updating and expanding the logos and looking at a variety of new use cases and scenarios. He introduced the simple stick figure as a replacement for ‘BY’ in the Attribution icon, created the new CC Zero icon, and created two new currency icons with the euro and yen symbols to show variation and internationalization of the NonCommercial logos.


Additions to the logo family, by Alex Roberts

Roberts also produced the now-standard slim, rectangular license buttons that are in use on millions of websites today, and worked to improve the readability, layout, and clarity of individual license deeds. Roberts is recognized by the MoMA alongside Ryan Junell as a collaborator in the creation and enhancement of the overall design system.

The new logos appeared in an updated Creative Commons explainer video in 2006. “Wanna Work Together?” was again animated by Ryan Junell, and by then Creative Director Eric Steuer.

Today, Ryan Junell is a creative producer working in the greater NYC area. CC’s first Executive Director, Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, is a current CC Board member and Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. Glenn Otis Brown was Executive Director of Creative Commons from 2002 to 2005 and is now an executive with Twitter based in New York City. Alex Roberts was Senior Designer at Creative Commons from 2005 to 2011 and is now a Software Engineer at Eventbrite.

The CC logos today and beyond

Since 2006 the Creative Commons logos have gone through no significant changes, and the CC 4.0 licenses and their representative logos are poised to continue their march towards ever greater visibility and prominence on the web. Their state as acquired by MoMA earlier this month is likely how they will remain for decades or centuries to come, an indicator of the simple elegance and effectiveness of the visuals and the lasting importance of the power of sharing.

In 2014 Creative Commons’ State of the Commons report counted the number of CC works at well over 882 million (with some estimates suggesting that number is well over 1 billion), coming from more than 10 million sites on the web. The majority of those works are available under one of the three most free licenses, ensuring their maximum benefit to the commons. Wikipedia and its sister projects provide virtually all of their media and knowledge under one form or another of the CC licenses, in addition to public domain. Flickr hosts hundreds of millions of CC images and videos alone, and Creative Commons videos and media thrive on Vimeo, YouTube, the Internet Archive and other major media platforms. Millions of students around the world are learning through freely reusable, Creative Commons licensed textbooks, curricula, and other teaching tools.

Creative Commons looks forward to shepherding the logos through the coming decades and centuries as they continue to grow in impact and use. The Internet and the world around it changes more every single day, and we look forward to envisioning how these symbols and the knowledge and media they accompany will continue to flourish and impact the world in yet unknown ways.

Celebrating the CC logo with a specially designed t-shirt

Today we are also excited to announce the availability of an awesome new Creative Commons t-shirt. Thanks to our talented friends at the Noun Project and Teespring, we are inviting fans and supporters to purchase this limited edition t-shirt that proudly celebrates the CC logo. You can read more about the campaign at this blog post, or head over to Teespring to claim your shirt right now – this one-time campaign runs from March 24 to April 7, 2015.

teespring shirts
http://teespring.com/creativecommons

 

by Jay Walsh at March 25, 2015 03:00 PM

Press release: Creative Commons Launches Special Edition Commemorative Tee

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Partners with Noun Project and Teespring to design and sell exclusive t-shirt celebrating “CC” logo acquisition by MoMA; Proceeds to support Creative Commons

SAN FRANCISCO – MARCH 25, 2015 – Creative Commons has partnered with crowdsourced visual dictionary Noun Project and commerce platform Teespring to release a custom t-shirt celebrating the “CC” logo’s acquisition into the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. The special edition t-shirt will be available for a limited time only. Proceeds will benefit Creative Commons to further their work in growing and protecting the commons.

Designed by the Noun Project, the commemorative t-shirt celebrates the lasting impact and international recognition of the Creative Commons “double-c in a circle” or “CC” logo. The logo, originally designed for Creative Commons in 2002 by designer Ryan Junell, is recognized as the global standard for creative sharing, remixing, and reuse. Creators, educators, and remixers use the logo to indicate their adoption of one or more variants of the Creative Commons license.

In March 2015 MoMA recognized the ubiquity and significance of the Creative Commons logo by including it in their permanent design collection. The logo can be viewed alongside other imminently recognizably marks such as the @ and recycling symbols as part of the MoMA exhibit “This Is for Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good,” organized by senior curator, Paola Antonelli.

“On behalf of the global Creative Commons community I want to thank Teespring and Noun Project for launching this collaboration to celebrate our beloved CC logo,” said Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley. “This commemorative design is a beautiful remix that represents what Creative Commons is all about: Noun Project’s freely reusable iconography depicting a range of sharing and remixing activities within the Commons. We know fans of Creative Commons will wear it with pride.”

Noun Project, a long-time supporter and proponent of Creative Commons, designed the limited edition t-shirt to celebrate this milestone using pictograms uploaded by their community. Each pictogram in the design represents an industry or type of media influenced by Creative Commons, which encompasses fields as broad as the arts, science, medicine, and law.

“When opening our platform to submissions from creatives around the world, we knew we wanted to offer a clear and easy license that would enable anyone to share their work. Creative Commons was the perfect solution for helping us build and share the world’s visual language,” said Sofya Polyakov, CEO and Co-Founder of the Noun Project.

To bring this special edition t-shirt to life, Creative Commons and Noun Project have partnered with Teespring, the leading commerce platform for custom apparel. Launched in 2012, Teespring empowers entrepreneurs, creatives, influencers, and nonprofits to create and sell high­-quality products people love, with no cost or risk.

“At Teespring we strive to remove the barriers to bringing great ideas to market, which is why we have a unique respect and admiration for Creative Commons and the impact they’ve made for creators all over the world,” said Teespring Co-Founder and CEO, Walker Williams. “It’s an honor for us to partner with Creative Commons and Noun Project and help the community show their support for this meaningful cause and movement.”

This special edition Creative Commons tee will be available until April 8, 2015 at www.teespring.com/creativecommons.

You can read more about the history and origin of the Creative Commons logo at http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/45228.

Image assets can also be downloaded via zip file.

Press contacts

Creative Commons
press@creativecommons.org

Noun Project
info@thenounproject.com

Teespring
press@teespring.com

About Creative Commons
Creative Commons is a globally-focused nonprofit organization dedicated to making it easier for people to share their creative works, and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright. Creative Commons provides free licenses and other legal tools to give individuals and organizations a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions for creative work, ensure proper attribution, and allow others to copy, distribute, and make use of those works. There are nearly 1 billion licensed works, hosted on some of the most popular content platforms in the world, and over 9 million individual websites.

About Noun Project
Noun Project is a crowdsourced visual dictionary of over 100,000 pictograms anyone can download and use. Their goal is to help people communicate ideas visually by building the world’s best resource for visual language.

About Teespring
Teespring is a commerce platform that enables anyone to create and sell products that people love, with no cost or risk. Teespring powers all aspects of bringing merchandise to life from production and manufacturing to supply chain, logistics, and customer service. By unlocking commerce for everyone, Teespring is creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs, influencers, community organizers, and anyone who rallies communities around specific causes or passions.

by Jay Walsh at March 25, 2015 03:00 PM

Celebrate Creative Commons with a limited edition tee

np-white

Today Creative Commons, the Noun Project, and Teespring.com are excited to announce an awesome, limited edition commemorative t-shirt celebrating our wonderful logo.

The shirt is available at Teespring.com/CreativeCommons, with all 100% of the proceeds going to support Creative Commons. It will be available until April 8, 2015 and sales start right now. Help us spread the word in all of your channels #celebrateCC

The shirt is comprised of dozens of unique, freely reusable and Creative Commons (or PD) licensed icons from the Noun Project (see a list of designers/artists below) as well as each of our primary sharing logos. Noun Project staff designers created this special edition of the logo, which was originally conceived by designer/animator Ryan Junell or Creative Commons in 2002.

You can read more about the history of the Creative Commons logos, and their recent acquisition by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, over here.

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Our huge thanks to Noun Project and Teespring for helping us with this great initiative. We know Creative Commons supporters love apparel, and we think this is one of the best we’ve ever seen.

We also want to proudly recognize the work of the following Noun Project artists, illustrators, and designers whose icons and symbols make up the special edition, commemorative CC logo:

  • Edward Boatman
  • Stanislav Levin
  • Scott Lewis
  • Ryan Oksenhorn
  • Ethan Clark
  • Nathan Driskell
  • John Caserta
  • Thibault Geffroy
  • Jakub Ukrop
  • Travis Yunis
  • Hafizh
  • P.J. Onori
  • Alex Koplin
  • OCHA Visual Information Unit
  • Dmitry Baranovskiy
  • aartiraghu
  • Mateo Zlatar
  • Larissa Mancia
  • Megan Mitchell
  • Jardson Almeida
  • Lemon Liu
  • José Manuel de Laá
  • Iconathon
  • iconoci
  • Rémy Médard
  • Ricardo Moreira
  • Jeremy J Bristol
  • Sebastian Langer
  • Cole Townsend
  • Ken Messenger
  • Diego Naive
  • Clayton Meador
  • Weston Terrill
  • Martha Ormiston
  • Elves Sousa
  • Molly Bramlet
  • Joe Mortell
  • Hum
  • Stefan Parnarov
  • Brennan Novak
  • Dmitry Gennadyevich
  • Andrew Rockefeller
  • Natasha Fedorova
  • Icon Jungle
  • Roman J. Sokolov
  • Aimeê Ferreira
  • Duke Innovation Co-Lab
  • Eric Bird
  • Stephen Borengasser
  • Simple Icons
  • Ana Paula Tello
  • Alex Auda Samora
  • Cristiano Zoucas
  • Mister Pixel
  • Pham Thi Dieu Linh
  • SuperAtic LABS
  • useiconic.com
  • Björn Andersson
  • Guillermo Vera
  • Parker Foote
  • Andrew Nolte
  • Luis Prado
  • Cédric Villain
  • Digicoins Santiago
  • iconsmind.com
  • Mike Rowe
  • Haitham Almayman
  • Rohith M S
  • Alexander Romanov
  • Christopher T. Howlett
  • Nadir Balcikli
  • Eugen Belyakoff
  • Nico Tzogalis
  • Geovani Almeida
  • Mourad Mokrane
  • Greg Beck

by Jay Walsh at March 25, 2015 03:00 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Macedonian Journalist Describes How it Feels to be Subject of State Surveillance
Meri Jordanovska speaking at a conference of the South East European Media Observatory. Photo credit: SEE.

Meri Jordanovska speaking at a conference of the South East European Media Observatory. Photo credit: SEE.

Prominent investigative journalist Meri Jordanovska wrote a testimony about her experience on receiving evidence that she was one of allegedly twenty thousand individuals who have been subjected to state surveillance in Macedonia. In an op-ed on Balkan Insight, Jordanovska explains: 

Each report on one of my wiretapped conversations was true: the date, the story I was working on and the sources I was getting briefed by. Everything was correct. I am not sure I will get another “diploma”. This folder was more than enough for me to clearly see what is happening in my country. I can clearly see that someone knew in advance what story I was working on. Enough for me to conclude that my sources of information were endangered. Enough for the centers of power to be able to react preventively before the story was published. Enough to become aware, even though I had always suspected this, that some people know the problems of those closest to me – people who had shared personal matters with me over the phone.

Jordanovska received a file containing surveillance of her communications during a press conference by the opposition party SDSM, at which representatives of the party also revealed that journalists had been wiretapped en masse in Macedonia. Besides publishing several conversation as proof, twenty journalists were given folders with CDs containing their own files, leaked by sources from within the Ministry of Interior. Her text is also available in Macedonian and has been republished by several independent portals in her home country, including Mojot grad.

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev claims that National Security Services illegally targeted over twenty thousand people with the surveillance, which involved illegally recording and storing phone conversations of these individuals over at least four years. His party has not yet published a list of all the alleged victims, nor a list of the wiretapped phone numbers. According to SDSM representatives, these included both citizens of Macedonia and foreigners using local telecom services, including several diplomats.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at March 25, 2015 02:21 PM

Global Voices
Recycled Cooking Oil Fuels LED Cherry Blossoms in Energy-Conscious Japan
東京、けやき坂のイルミネーション。画像:FlickrユーザーのDick Thomas Johnsonより。CC-BY-2.0.

Illumination in Keyakizaka, Tokyo. Photo from Flickr user Dick Thomas Johnson. CC-BY-2.0

An innovative approach to recycling and alternative power generation is allowing the cherry trees along Tokyo's Meguro River to “bloom” in winter.

This past winter, waste cooking oil was gathered from local households and restaurants to light up LED lights the color of cherry blossoms for the 2014 Everyone's Meguro River Illumination. The cooking oil was then recycled and converted into biodiesel fuel that in turn was used to generate electricity.

Everyone's Meguro River Illumination: A winter event held around Gotanda (walkways alongside the Meguro River in Gotanda, Tokyo), decorating cherry trees along the river with unique cherry blossom color (pale pink) LEDs.

The waste cooking oil also fueled the trucks that were used to collect the waste oil itself.

Recently in Japan, biodiesel fuel — fuel made from recycled cooking oils and fats — has gained attention thanks to increased numbers of cars that can use it. The technology is now more practical, and is a great way for common people to reduce their environmental impact.

According to a report from Japan's Ministry of the Environment, at least 450,000 tons of domestic waste cooking oil is collected each year across Japan:

日本を例にとると、230万トンの食用油脂が消費され、45万トン程度が廃食用油として回収・処理されている。食品工場や飲食店から排出される廃食用油の回収率は高く、飼料や肥料、石けん、インク原料、ボイラー燃料などとして有効利用されている。一般家庭からの廃食用油はその殆どは、そのまま排水として一緒に流される、または燃やす、埋めるといった形で処分されており、家庭からの回収率は低い。(source)

In Japan, 2.3 million tons of cooking oil is consumed each year. About 450,000 tons of this used oil is collected as waste for recycling or disposal. It's relatively easy and efficient to collect waste cooking oil from food processors and restaurants. This oil can then be effectively reused as feed stock for fuel, fertilizer, soap, raw material for ink and boiler fuel. On the other hand, the collection rate from households is low because most of the waste cooking oil is disposed by directly disposing of down the drain, by incinerating it with the rest of the trash, or by sending it to the landfill. (source)

Another significant advantage of burning biodiesel is that the fuel emits no sulfur oxide, itself a serious cause of air pollution.

There are even slogans for biodiesel: “eco-friendly clean energy for next generation”; “local energy generation for local consumption”; and “100 percent off-grid generation.”

Everyone's Meguro River Illumination: Winter cherry blossoms are in bloom beside the Meguro River.

Winter magic or waste of electricity?

Cooking oil-fueled cherry blossoms aren't the only lights brightening Tokyo in winter. Every year from late autumn to the Christmas holiday season the city's streets are lit up by colorful illuminations at night. After Christmas events and autumn leaves, night-time illumination of city streets is something Japanese people look forward to during the darkest time of the year.

Last Saturday, I went to Kiyomizu-dera (temple in eastern Kyoto City) for the special night viewing! It was so beautiful! The special opening period will end this weekend.  

However there are some who think night illumination is a bit waste of electricity. 

Since the “triple disaster” triggered by the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011, national sentiment in opposition to nuclear power and in favor of moving towards alternate forms of energy has only increased.

One reason for this change in public opinion was that the 3/11 triple disaster included a massive and ongoing nuclear accident at a large nuclear power complex in Fukushima.

Following the Fukushima disaster, all of Japan's nuclear power plants were shut down out of fears that another major earthquake would trigger more nuclear accidents. The shutdown posed tremendous challenges for Japanese society: until March 2011 the plants had provided more than half the nation's power supply, 

The result of the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear accident and nationwide nuclear power plant shutdown was immediate power shortages, followed by the launch of nationwide power saving campaign that extended to schools and office buildings.

Rolling blackouts (planned blackouts) were implemented to reduce power consumption and make sure blackouts were evenly distributed. Japanese society also worked to minimize the use of air conditioners and heaters, encouraging people to use stairs instead of elevators and dimming store interior lighting.

Many “We are saving energy!” (節電, setsuden) signs appeared on the walls and windows of public spaces.

Nice power saving! RT @TokyoAcademy: “The exam prep space is saving energy.” [Image: "Fans for use inside (un-air conditioned) building]

As time has passed since the disaster, many special events that had been given up before have resumed, such the nighttime illumination of cities. 

At the same time a considerable number of people have voiced the opinion that Japan should give higher priority to securing stable power for daily life necessities rather than special events.

Is making sure there is enough electricity for nighttime illumination something we should be focusing on? If we can afford illumination we should also be able to afford stopping conserving power in our daily lives.

Another Twitter user pointed out the paradox between the societal movement to reduce electricity consumption while at the same time trying to attract visitors with nighttime illumination.

I really can't  forgive them when they say, “We pay for the electricity by ourselves. No problem!!” RT @uk_dfz: Three years have passed since the disaster. I can see illuminations wherever I go. No nuclear power plants are operating at the moment, right? Planned blackout? Saving power? What was the point?

Japan, like many other countries, has always struggled with limited natural resources and securing new energy sources. There is some awareness of alternate energy sources, but the “clean energy” movement is still in its infancy. Perhaps the biodiesel-fueled cherry blossoms lights on the Meguro River provide a clue about how to deal with the dilemma that exists between the anti-illumination criticism and the desire for pleasant winter lights at night.

by Koichi Higuchi at March 25, 2015 12:21 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Chinese Artist Recounts Being Censored for Selling Ai Weiwei T-Shirt
T-shirt designed by Wu Tun, now available for purchase at corlectionstore.com

T-shirt designed by Wu Tun, now available for purchase at corlectionstore.com

This is the part one of a trimmed version of an interview with Wu Tun, an online shop owner whose Taobao shop was forced to shut down in November 2014. The interview was conducted by Yi Que Tang and originally published in Chinese on pao-pao.net on February 10, 2015. The English version was translated by Mandy Wong and republished here under a partnership agreement with Global Voices.

Last November, as other vendors celebrated record sales numbers on Chinese online shopping platform Taobao, 28-year-old artist Wu Tun was forced to “permanently shut down” his T-shirt shop on Taobao. After just four days of business with 10 T-shirts sold, Wu’s venture was abruptly closed because of one particular T-shirt that displays a brick wall with big letters reading “愛 Can’t Be Here” printed on top. The Chinese character means “love” – its transliteration, “Ai.”

Wu had created a simple T-shirt design as part of Ai (Love) Can’t Be Herean online action expressing support for Ai Weiwei, the world famous dissident artist who has been under house arrest in China since 2011. “I decided to support and participate in it when I learned about it,” said Wu, “I thought it was a subtle expression to support Ai Weiwei and didn’t expect that the censorship authority would find me. The sensitive political environment makes it impossible for both Ai (Ai Weiwei) and ai (love) to exist.”

But Wu did not stop supporting Ai Weiwei. He was determined to carry on the endeavor of selling T-shirts.

Ai’s passport has been held by police officers since 2011, so he can’t travel abroad. I wish my effort could raise more people’s awareness about his status. I am also doing this for myself. My online shop was forced to shut down because of the t-shirt. I still want to re-produce the t-shirts and am searching for shops that are willing to sell them.

Wu created a page on Indiegogo, the second-largest crowd-funding platform in the US, with a description on the project and a promotional video. The Great Firewall has not blocked the site, so the content is accessible in mainland China. But the video content, which is hosted in YouTube, cannot be viewed. 

Wu wishes that his video could be viewed by more Chinese netizens because it explains his concern and support for Ai Weiwei and criticizes Internet censorship practices in mainland China. Late one night in early February, he uploaded the video on Youku, a Chinese version of YouTube, hoping that the video clip would be stay up longer if posted at night and thus reach more people. But he found the video deleted the next morning.

Wu was furious, actively witnessing censorship as it became more and more stringent:

Among the post-1985 generation, I began using the Internet a bit earlier than others. I started searching stuff online when I was a junior secondary school student in 1999. At that time, I searched for things like music, fashion, games, and other things young people are interested in. Suddenly, many websites were blocked for unknown reasons. Later, I learned that Fang Binxing (lead developer or “Father” of China’s Great Firewall) and his GFW were working behind the scenes. Imagine having to use a VPN to break the “wall” just to watch a video. The shutdown of my Taobao shop is a similar story. While we realized that “Ai Weiwei” is a forbidden term in China, I changed Ai's Surname to Love, but the authorities still shut down my shop. Friends from overseas asked me the reason and I didn’t know how to explain…

Wu started using a VPN to circumvent censorship, but new restrictions on VPN use in China left this effort similarly fraught. “I need to access Twitter, VPN is essential for Chinese Internet users,” Wu stated. “To post a kitten photo on Twitter is now a luxury as you have to try really hard.  If your smartphone gets connected to a VPN, you feel like you won in a lucky draw.”

by Mandy Wong at March 25, 2015 01:42 AM

Global Voices
Chinese Artist Recounts Being Censored for Selling Ai Weiwei T-Shirt
T-shirt designed by Wu Tun, now available for purchase at corlectionstore.com

T-shirt designed by Wu Tun, now available for purchase at corlectionstore.com

This is the part one of a trimmed version of an interview with Wu Tun, an online shop owner whose Taobao shop was forced to shut down in November 2014. The interview was conducted by Yi Que Tang and originally published in Chinese on pao-pao.net on February 10, 2015. The English version was translated by Mandy Wong and republished here under a partnership agreement with Global Voices.

Last November, as other vendors celebrated record sales numbers on Chinese online shopping platform Taobao, 28-year-old artist Wu Tun was forced to “permanently shut down” his T-shirt shop on Taobao. After just four days of business with 10 T-shirts sold, Wu’s venture was abruptly closed because of one particular T-shirt that displays a brick wall with big letters reading “愛 Can’t Be Here” printed on top. The Chinese character means “love” – its transliteration, “Ai.”

Wu had created a simple T-shirt design as part of Ai (Love) Can’t Be Herean online action expressing support for Ai Weiwei, the world famous dissident artist who has been under house arrest in China since 2011. “I decided to support and participate in it when I learned about it,” said Wu, “I thought it was a subtle expression to support Ai Weiwei and didn’t expect that the censorship authority would find me. The sensitive political environment makes it impossible for both Ai (Ai Weiwei) and ai (love) to exist.”

But Wu did not stop supporting Ai Weiwei. He was determined to carry on the endeavor of selling T-shirts.

Ai’s passport has been held by police officers since 2011, so he can’t travel abroad. I wish my effort could raise more people’s awareness about his status. I am also doing this for myself. My online shop was forced to shut down because of the t-shirt. I still want to re-produce the t-shirts and am searching for shops that are willing to sell them.

Wu created a page on Indiegogo, the second-largest crowd-funding platform in the US, with a description on the project and a promotional video. The Great Firewall has not blocked the site, so the content is accessible in mainland China. But the video content, which is hosted in YouTube, cannot be viewed. 

Wu wishes that his video could be viewed by more Chinese netizens because it explains his concern and support for Ai Weiwei and criticizes Internet censorship practices in mainland China. Late one night in early February, he uploaded the video on Youku, a Chinese version of YouTube, hoping that the video clip would be stay up longer if posted at night and thus reach more people. But he found the video deleted the next morning.

Wu was furious, actively witnessing censorship as it became more and more stringent:

Among the post-1985 generation, I began using the Internet a bit earlier than others. I started searching stuff online when I was a junior secondary school student in 1999. At that time, I searched for things like music, fashion, games, and other things young people are interested in. Suddenly, many websites were blocked for unknown reasons. Later, I learned that Fang Binxing (lead developer or “Father” of China’s Great Firewall) and his GFW were working behind the scenes. Imagine having to use a VPN to break the “wall” just to watch a video. The shutdown of my Taobao shop is a similar story. While we realized that “Ai Weiwei” is a forbidden term in China, I changed Ai's Surname to Love, but the authorities still shut down my shop. Friends from overseas asked me the reason and I didn’t know how to explain…

Wu started using a VPN to circumvent censorship, but new restrictions on VPN use in China left this effort similarly fraught. “I need to access Twitter, VPN is essential for Chinese Internet users,” Wu stated. “To post a kitten photo on Twitter is now a luxury as you have to try really hard.  If your smartphone gets connected to a VPN, you feel like you won in a lucky draw.”

by Mandy Wong at March 25, 2015 01:31 AM

March 24, 2015

Dan Cohen
What’s the Matter with Ebooks?

[As you may have noticed, I haven't posted to this blog for over a year. I've been extraordinarily busy with my new job. But I'm going to make a small effort to reinvigorate this space, adding my thoughts on evolving issues that I'd like to explore without those thoughts being improperly attributed to the Digital Public Library of America. This remains my personal blog, and you should consider these my personal views. I will also be continuing to post on DPLA's blog, as I have done on this topic of ebooks.]

Over the past two years I’ve been tracking ebook adoption, and the statistics are, frankly, perplexing. After Amazon released the Kindle in 2007, there was a rapid growth in ebook sales and readership, and the iPad’s launch three years later only accelerated the trend.

Then something odd happened. By most media accounts, ebook adoption has plateaued at about a third of the overall book market, and this stall has lasted for over a year now. Some are therefore taking it as a Permanent Law of Reading: There will be electronic books, but there will always be more physical books. Long live print!

I read both e- and print books, and I appreciate the arguments about the native advantages of print. I am a digital subscriber to the New York Times, but every Sunday I also get the printed version. The paper feels expansive, luxuriant. And I do read more of it than the daily paper on my iPad, as many articles catch my eye and the flipping of pages requires me to confront pieces that I might not choose to read based on a square inch of blue-tinged screen. (Also, it’s Sunday. I have more time to read.) Even though I read more ebooks than printed ones at this point, it’s hard not to listen to the heart and join the Permanent Law chorus.

But my mind can’t help but disagree with my heart. Yours should too if you run through a simple mental exercise: jump forward 10 or 20 or 50 years, and you should have a hard time saying that the e-reading technology won’t be much better—perhaps even indistinguishable from print, and that adoption will be widespread. Even today, studies have shown that libraries that have training sessions for patrons with iPads and Kindles see the use of ebooks skyrocket—highlighting that the problem is in part that today’s devices and ebook services are hard to use. Availability of titles, pricing (compared to paperback), DRM, and a balkanization of ebook platforms and devices all dampen adoption as well.

But even the editor of the New York Times understands the changes ahead, despite his love for print:

How long will print be around? At a Loyola University gathering in New Orleans last week, the executive editor [of the Times], Dean Baquet, noted that he “has as much of a romance with print as anyone.” But he also admitted, according to a Times-Picayune report, that “no one thinks there will be a lot of print around in 40 years.”

Forty years is a long time, of course—although it is a short time in the history of the book. The big question is when the changeover will occur—next year, in five years, in Baquet’s 2055?

The tea leaves, even now, are hard to read, but I’ve come to believe that part of this cloudiness is because there’s much more dark reading going on than the stats are showing. Like dark matter, dark reading is the consumption of (e)books that somehow isn’t captured by current forms of measurement.

For instance, usually when you hear about the plateauing of ebook sales, you are actually hearing about the sales of ebooks from major publishers in relation to the sales of print books from those same publishers. That’s a crucial qualification. But sales of ebooks from these publishers is just a fraction of overall e-reading. By other accounts, which try to shine light on ebook adoption by looking at markets like Amazon (which accounts for a scary two-thirds of ebook sales), show that a huge and growing percentage of ebooks are being sold by indie publishers or authors themselves rather than the bigs, and a third of them don’t even have ISBNs, the universal ID used to track most books.

The commercial statistics also fail to account for free e-reading, such as from public libraries, which continues to grow apace. The Digital Public Library of America and other sites and apps have millions of open ebooks, which are never chalked up as a sale.

Similarly, while surveys of the young continue to show their devotion to paper, yet other studies have shown that about half of those under 30 read an ebook in 2013, up from a quarter of Millennials in 2011—and that study is already dated. Indeed, most of the studies that highlight our love for print over digital are several years old (or more) at this point, a period in which large-format, high-resolution smartphone adoption (much better for reading) and new all-you-can-read ebook services, such as Oyster, Scribd, and Kindle Unlimited, have emerged. Nineteen percent of Millennials have already subscribed to one of these services, a number considered low by the American Press Institute, but which strikes me as remarkably high, and yet another contributing factor to the dark reading mystery.

I’m a historian, not a futurist, but I suspect that we’re not going to have to wait anywhere near forty years for ebooks to become predominant, and that the “plateau” is in part a mirage. That may cause some hand-wringing among book traditionalists, an emotion that is understandable: books are treasured artifacts of human expression. But in our praise for print we forget the great virtues of digital formats, especially the ease of distribution and greater access for all—if done right.

by Dan Cohen at March 24, 2015 08:50 PM

Global Voices
Talking to Golnaz Esfandiari, English-Language Journalism's ‘Bridge’ to Iran
Golnaz  Esfandiari spoke to us about her experiences reporting Iran. Photo was taken at the Sixt Al Jazeera Forum in March, 2011. Used with permission from Golnaz.

Golnaz Esfandiari at the Sixth Al Jazeera Forum in March, 2011. Photo used with her permission.

Based in Washington, DC, Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and one of the few journalists based outside of Iran writing in English about the nuances and intricacies of Iranian society and politics. If you're an Iran watcher, you're probably already following Golnaz on Twitter. You might also know her blog, Persian Letters, one of the few English-language, Persian-speaker-led news sources on Iran. Having worked at RFE/RL’s Persian service as well as for the English-language newsroom, Golnaz thinks of herself a “bridge” between the two offices. 

Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman has defined “bridge figures” as people who are passionate about explaining their home cultures to people from other societies. As Golnaz's work is very much in the spirit of the Global Voices ethos, we spoke to her about her unique role as a bridge between Iran and the English-speaking world.

Global Voices: In terms of digital journalism, you are among the more visible figures. Your Twitter account has been ranked one of the top 10 accounts to follow on Iran by The Guardian. Your blog Persian Letters has been a finalist for the Online Journalism Award. Can you tell me a bit about your experience in this new media landscape?

Golnaz Esfandiari: Social media has allowed me to access unique information about Iran and Iranians. It allows me to access a wider audience and bring more voices in my reports. Social networking sites and applications have made it a lot easier for me to reach people on the ground, to speak to my sources. I’ve also acquired new sources and have been able to get a better understanding of, for example, hardliners who are usually not open to an interview with us. I’ve managed to break a few stories over the years only by reading and verifying information on blogs and content on social media carefully.

GV: You were one of the first people to criticise the notion of a “Twitter Revolution” in 2009, when many were citing Twitter as the tool for mobilizing and bringing protesters together in opposition to the fraudulent election results. You explained in one article that you “shattered [your friends'] dream of a “Twitter Revolution” when you pointed out that most users covering the protest were in fact outside of the country. Looking back, six years later, what do you think the role of social media is in Iran?

GE: I think the use of social media in Iran and its significance is increasing. Government officials admit that and I also see more people inside the country using social media sites and apps. I actually think that since 2009, the use of social media has increased considerably. Some Iranians told me they joined Twitter after reading about the allegations about a “Twitter Revolution” in Iran. Social networking sites have facilitated conversation and the sharing of content that is banned or considered sensitive, people can discuss taboo subjects relatively openly. They also challenge state policies and stances on social media quite regularly.

The latest case is when a state media ban on former President Mohammad Khatami was announced publicly, many started sharing his images on social media. Or I still see people sharing their concern over the house arrest of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi on social media, four years after they were put under arrest and their ties with the outside world  cut. There are many such examples. As you know, there are few platforms where Iranians can express themselves freely. Social media allows for relatively free discussions and exchanges of views for people inside the country. It has also created more ties between Iranians inside and outside the country.

But it’s not all good. Social media facilitates the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories, which are quite popular among some segments of the society. And of course the Iranian regime also uses social media extensively for propaganda purposes. There is an increasing number of Iranian officials on social media, and also Iran analysts who comment regularly on the nuclear issue, some of whom have ties to the government and  basically repeat the official line.

GV: You mainly write and report in English, yet you started your career in Persian-language journalism. Is there a reason for this transition? And can you describe if these experiences are at all different (better or worse)?

GE: I’ve been with RFE/RL for more than ten years and over the years I’ve been back and forth between our Persian service and the newsroom where I currently work. I sometimes work as a bridge between the two, trying to incorporate reporting from our Radio Farda colleagues in our coverage for the English website and other services. Working in the newsroom has been very different from my working experience in our Persian service. While I’ve enjoyed my work in both services, I feel I’ve learned more in the newsroom and grown professionally. I’ve had the privilege to work with very professional and experienced journalists who have taught me a lot.

GV: A lot of Persian-language media is run and written in the diaspora for agencies such as RFE/RL and BBC Persian. These agencies report news about Iran in Persian for both audiences inside and outside of Iran, whereas when you write in English, you are covering Iran for mainly Western audiences. Have you noticed a difference in the journalism styles? And is it easy to jump between the two?

GE: Sometimes stories written for Iranian news sites are longer and less focused, information is not delivered concisely. A straight news lede is missing, the sourcing can be weak. There isn’t much storytelling. Regarding my audience, I’ve noticed that I also have readers inside the country, and of course expats, so it’s not really just a Western audience. I haven’t had problem switching, although for a strictly Iranian audience I write a bit differently in terms of the background I give.

GV: Iran is one of those complex countries with many contradictions and layers that are often hard for an outsider to grasp easily. Do you think that with more professional journalists like yourself in the field, Iran is becoming a little bit less of an alien entity in the west?

GE: I certainly hope so, although every now and then there are still misleading reports based on a lack of understanding of Iran and the Iranian people—there are still lots of simplifications, exaggeration, or misperceptions. Knowing the language is key for good reporting; it is important to be able to read the Iranian press—not only Western media reports—and talk to the people in their own language. I think Iranians on social media are also playing a role in explaining to the world that their country is more than a number of nuclear facilities and mean clerics who make controversial statements.

GV: One last question: if you weren’t a journalist reporting on Iran, what would you be doing?

GE: That’s a question I sometimes ask myself…. I would probably be using my degree in psychology and working with refugees from Syria or other countries. Over the years, my respect and admiration for medical workers has increased significantly. So in another life that could have been a career I would have pursued.

by Global Voices at March 24, 2015 07:32 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
America's Interested Bystander: New Research from Google on Civic Duty

This is a liveblog of the talk "Understanding America's Interested Bystander: A Complicated Relationship with Civic Duty," by Kate Krontiris, John Webb, Charlotte Krontiris, and Chris Chapman. Blogged by @natematias and @erhardt, with illustrations by @willowbl00.

What motivates everyday people in America to do things that are civic, and how do we engage the unengaged? Kate Krontiris and John Webb shared the results of a major study carried out by Google's Civic Innovation team today at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

[note: we were asked not to include any photos of the event, which was not recorded, but we were allowed to publish these notes]

Kate Krontiris is a researcher, strategist, and facilitator working to transform civic life in America. In pursuit of a society where more people assert greater ownership over the decisions that govern their lives, she uses ethnographic tools to design products, policies, and services that enable a more equitable democratic future. Charlotte Krontiris is a principal at KN research, and who has conducted research at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Harvard Business School, and Google. John Webb is a senior user experience researcher at Google who conducts tactical and investigative research to inform design and product direction for Google's Social Impact team with a particular focus on developing Civic Engagement experiences.

Kate begins by outlining the social impact and civic innovation group at Google. They include the civic innovation team, which organizes election data and making it universally accessible and to broaden collective decision-making.

  • leverage Google's technology for the common good
  • Organize election data and make it universally accessible and useful
  • Broaden engagement in collective decision-making

What motivates ordinary Americans to do things that are civic? Kate and her colleagues concede they are not the only ones researching this subject. A lot of this falls under the question of "How do we engage the unengaged?" and then to support details of platform design at Google including their Google Now cards, as well as support a broader civic technology ecosystem. They hoped that by conducting and sharing this research they could contribute to informing the broader set of tools being developed. We conducted quantitative and qualitative research to try answer these questions. 

What do we mean by civic engagement? Kate refers to a literature review on civic engagement (pdf) published by the Engagement Game Lab:

  • Election related behavior
  • volunteering
  • signing petitions
  • reporting public problems
  • organizing service events

Most often, civic engagement is assessed in modern democracies in terms of participation in voting.

Methods
Kate and her colleagues carried out 101 in-person interviews and 2058 digital surveys, gathering information from 6 different parts of the US (San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Chicago, Boston). Their qualitative research allowed them to get rich qualitative data about what people are doing and why, which they then followed up with quantitative surveys influenced by those conversations.

Out of the 101 participants in their research, they found 65 fell into a category they are calling "interested bystanders," which was the target of most of their analysis. They conducted 90 minute interviews with them in their homes and places of work. The researchers used choice-based conjoint quantitative surveying technique, where participants identified profiles that were more like them. Participants also responded to a series of demographic questions that the researchers used to correlate that with the deeper findings they observed (profiles).

In interviews, when participants said something like "I don't have time for civic or related activities," the researchers tried to pull out factors that would influence their proclaimed behaviors, put them into the personas in the survey, and then conducted latent class analysis to link survey responses to those personas. In each survey, attitudinal areas like career involvement, civic engagement, family involvement were mixed with a set of randomly associated statements to create the personas that survey takers would say best represented them.

Motivating Hypotheses
For this study, the team started with the problem that too many Americans feel disconnected from public policy and legislative decision-making in the US.

Hypothesis 1: While a portion of Americans are engaged in community and social context as volunteers, most people are not participating in a politically defined notion of civic life in a broad-scale way."

Hypothesis 2: There is something meaningful and particular about the characteristics of these "interested bystanders" as a group—including their civic behaviors motivations and barriers to action—that can be underst to customize civic interventions."

Emy Tseng asked about the sampling technique and how representative the sample was. Kate replies that their goal was to get as broad as possible sample of people to talk to. In the cities they went to, they tried to get a broad set of perspectives. The researchers were trying to source all these perspective in order to describe what was present in the population rather than trying to be perfectly representative.

Another audience member asks about the demographic or cultural makeup the sample in terms of faith, gender, etc.? Kate notes (referring to Wasow's work on "Race as a Bundle of Sticks") that it's challenging to rely on these factors, especially in such a small sample. She replies that the team tried to be as broad as possible in their sampling but it's hard to rely on data and responses on certain demographic indicators. Because the sample size is only 65 in the qualitative study, they don't expect to make meaningful conclusions across demographic groups.

Interested Bystanders
The researchers focused especially on "interested bystanders," people who are already civically aware but may not be doing as much as they want. "If we learn what motivates these people to do things that are "civic"—and what holds them back when they do not act—we can better engage this "silent majority" to be more active participants in civic life."

Qualitative Findings
Each interviewee was asked about a time they had recently done something civic. John Webb tells us about what they did and what their motivations were. The most common activities were signing petitions (very thin), volunteering in a continuous series of engagements (much thicker), and then volunteering at a one-off event. Notably absent were activities that we would typically think of as civic: voting, volunteering in a political campaign, or participating in a political event.

Bystanders were doing things that were easy, but they were also doing things that are very complicated to do. What made the difference? John argues that most interviewees had three main motivations. Firstly, people were motivated because they had prior personal experience or expertise. Secondly, bystanders had clear interests at stake that they were trying to protect. Finally, participants were seeking emotional fulfillment—the task or action helped them fulfill that.

Common barriers to action were being too busy or having no time, concerns about what they could actually do, or that they thought that their actions wouldn't have any impact.

In the literature of civic engagement, there is the concept of the "civic ladder": sharing an opinion (thinnest) up to organizing (thickest). This idea of a hierarchy of participation has been internalized by many people. Many interviewees gauged themselves on this hierarchy of action. Taking action in-person included voting, protesting/campaigning, or organizing, versus actions taken online like opinion sharing. Many participants put things associated with opinion sharing at the bottom of the ladder, and they put themselves at the bottom of that ladder. They voted regularly, kept informed, signed petitions, and shared information with their peers. And yet they felt embarrassed—like they weren't engaged.

Across most of the participants, people often talked about "being involved in the community," even if they didn't always see it as an important part of "civic" life. For example:

"My sister is making me and my sister volunteer at the Latin extravaganza…"

"With church, we went to a women's homeless shelter and cooked food…"

People's civic life is much richer than the things associated with the "civic ladder." Webb describes two main areas of this broader civic life: the traditional political realm, that includes everything from voting and politics, and a broader civic life, a community / social engagement side. In traditional politics, people saw political engagement as advocacy. They imagined civic life as more associated with community and service. Webb notes that civic life is sometimes contentious but often collaborative.

In contrast with the ladder everyone imagines, civic life taps into their existing experiences and expertise, is more often local, and often gives individuals more power. Civic life is more emotionally fulfilling and helps people get over the "what's the point" hump of inaction.

"There's a lot of power in the city if we could band together as the neighborhood association, rather than John Smith."

When interested bystanders do engage in politics, they do so via civic activities that they perceive as less useful and where they feel least powerful.

When people were asked about petitions they had signed, they often couldn't remember what the petition was about. They remembered doing the action but couldn't remember the actual issue or cause was. It's possible that interested bystanders sign in order to carry out a duty, or feel disconnected from others who care about the issue. Signing petitions can be done individually, on your computer, without having to confront the anger of opposing views.

Many interested bystanders said that power comes from having a voice, but they're very disinclined to share their opinions unless they're extremely knowledgeable, or they don't care about what other people say. For example: "You can go on Facebook and tell people you don't like surveillance by the NSA, but it makes you sound like a jackass. No one likes those people and no one respects those people." Across the board, people were unwilling to enter the debate: "I won't voice them unless it's absolutely necessary." People view politics as a source of contention and they don't want to engage in those debates with friends or even others online.

Participants tended to believe that they had the most power at a local level, either because they felt like they could more easily persuade others in their neighborhood, or because they felt proportionally more influential. One participant said, "I would say I don't have power, but there are so many smaller scales I do have power, at the community-level." But when you look at where they're voting, they're actually voting more in national elections.

When the researchers asked why they voted, participants wondered, "Does my vote really count?" but did so out of duty or hope, "I don't know, but I feel like I should do my part." People still vote out of routine or civic piety. And most often that voting happens at the national level, rather than at the local level where they will have more power.

Bystander Archetypes
John presents a set of eight user archetypes created by the team to support persona design at Google:

Neighborhood Stewards: feel they have the permission to fix something in their neighborhoods and are willing to address the problem, engaging with adversarial actors and authorities. They do good deeds locally and vote in national and sometimes local elections. They have an ideology about what the community could look like and are willing to act. They need information that they can use to be better connected and informed.

Kate offers two examples from Phoenix that fit this category. One gentleman is very concerned with security in his community. While he is ineligible to vote because of his past, every evening at 11pm, he goes around his area, checks that everything is okay, and investigates problems in the community: "I can handle myself, but ... there's plenty of senior citizen women in this complex that are naive enough to open the door and allow [scammers] in... I believe in looking out, especially for this community that I live in."

Another gentleman was very involved in his homeowners association. There are guidelines about where people put their trash. He gets angry when people put their trash in the wrong place and has organized to inform people about the rules. He has even put their trash in front of their garage door so that they would run into it.

Nesters: focus on managing family life and property ownership. Their civic lives are already full with community activity. They are most likely to sign a petition or volunteer once, especially around issues that affect their kids. They're motivated because they have personal and family interests at stake, or have prior interests with an issue. Being a parent or property owner requires a lot of work and often involves local government around permits and schools. Given all this work, the nesters may be receptive to more seamless information about how government works and what services meet their needs.

Careerists with a Cause: pursue professional ambitions; they look for crossover between career and civic life.

Meaning Makers: are driven by a defining personal experience; they perform service for others. An illustrative quote is, "I'd probably be somewhere else in life if I got involved in some program. I just had to take my own life experiences and talk to kids"

Transitioners: are dislocated in their careers or their residence, they seek community and fulfillment in civic life. An illustrative quote is, "I'm trying to get more involved in non-profit organizations."

Young Ideologists: have a clear worldview motivating their actions.

The Committers: once they decide how to help, commit to a cause for emotional connection.

Careerists: first and foremost drive for mastery and success at work or school, which means little time for much else.

David Sengeh asks if these are roles that people stay in, or if they shift from role to role at different times in their lives. John replies: I don't think it's a hard and fast rule that these segments persist. When someone starts a family, they might transition into the interested bystander segment.

An attendee asks, "did you see any difference between signing petitions physically versus online ones?" Kate replies: When we asked about what action they took that was civic, they usually said it was a petition but they didn't distinguish between online or paper.

An attendee asks about the exclusion of donations from the ladder of engagement. Did people without time give money? Kate replies: The fourth most common thing people mentioned doing was giving money; so it is definitely happening. In terms of how people responded to the question of civic engagement, they asked if we could define "civic." It did not mean something specific to them. And donating money to political causes did not come out as a specific thing interested bystanders were doing.

Were barriers to participation specific to archetypes? Kate replies: These archetypes are useful for groking some research. They are not statistically representative, which is a disadvantage of using them. For disinterested bystanders, time was more of a factor. But because we were not looking at the statistical correlations, we can't make firm statements about that.

Quantitative Profiles
Kate presents the results from the conjoint survey, where they attempted to get a more representative perspective on the qualitative findings. The team used the qualitative findings to construct surveys in hopes of linking these personas to the behavioral and attitudinal findings. The survey was meant to help reveal what was most important in people's lives, not assuming that civics would be a high priority. Across roughly 2,000 responses, they used latent class analysis to find six groups that fell along a spectrum of most to least engaged:

  • 20.7% Community Active
  • 14.7% Neighborhood Advocates
  • 11.6% Vocal Opinionators
  • 22.6% Issues Aware
  • 15.3% The Absentees
  • 15.8% Civically Disconnected

Most people fell in the middle of this distribution—roughly aware but not active in civic life. Two groups scored high on engagement: community active and neighborhood advocates could be considered "civic participants" rather than interested bystanders.

Community Active people were likely to know their neighbors, interact with them frequently, engage in neighborhood activities, follow local issues, vote in elections, and keep tabs on the news.

Neighborhood Advocates are more focused on the local level. They don't feel that career education is a priority. This could be someone retired. They felt that career or education were not a priority, were strongly family oriented and settled in their neighborhood. And they got involved in local things occasionally.

Vocal Opinionators had a very strong negative beliefs about government, have large news diets and a strong belief system, and make sure to vote in national elections. They're not civically engaged locally, and they're settled in their neighborhood but do not engage with neighbors or neighborhood activities.

Issues Aware have a strong disengagement with family and neighborhood. They feel that career or school are not a priority, but other obligations are more important than civic pursuits. More than all groups, they feel strongly that government provides useful services, pay attention to the news, and vote in national elections. This group does not know their neighbors and don't feel settled.

The Absentees are the most family oriented of all groups. They are most likely to not be working or studying, and feel they do not have time for civic or community activities and avoid neighborhood interactions. They pay attention to the news but are not likely to do anything as a result. And they are unlikely to vote, feeling it won't make a difference.

Connecting the Quantitative and Qualitative Research
Do these quantitative and qualitative findings overlap? Career is a defining driver of identification and behavior. Neighborhood and local stewardship is important to many people, but many are neighbors in name only and not settled in their neighborhoods. Many see sharing of opinions as a contentious act and worry about the resulting controversy.

Instead of trying to find patterns in the quantitative data, the researchers took an exploratory approach to show what was interesting, rather than trying an approach to confirm the qualitative work. Methodologically, they can only use their quantitative and qualitative approaches for explanatory purposes. They can't make any claims about how their profiles apply across the population. The research takes a point in time snapshot of people's lives—it's not longitudinal research, and it doesn't identify how or why people move from one type to another.

In spite of those constraints, Kate argues that this research identifies a portrait of American civic life that is valuable. And they want to encourage future research to connect the dots.

How Google Uses This Research Internally
After several years of focusing on election information, the Civic Information Team carried out this research to take another look at how might they help people be even more civically aware? The team knew that the least engaged people are by definition not even searching for information. Might Google Now be an important, relevant channel for providing people with civic information that they might not otherwise search for or find?

Google Now is a mobile platform on Android, also on iOS though less well-integrated, which serves up personalized information to users at a the right time based on information that users give Google permission to use.

Election Now Cards

This research has informed the overall goals and strategy of the Election Now Cards product. It helped select the interested bystanders as a target segment for the product. And the research gave the team the confidence to develop the cards.

Question and Answer
Eric Gordon asks: You don't talk positively about the internet or connective technologies in your definition of civic activities. Is there room for other modes online in which people are already engaging, and how does that inform how this research will be useful to others in the future?

Kate responds: We wanted to look into an aspect of civic behavior that many others don't have the resources to study. We didn't want to go in with an assumption that people are already engaging in meaningful ways online and simply look at digital traces. For instance, the question about doing something they recently did which was civic was meant to be open and then they would dive into whatever they mentioned. Our focus was on people who were aware but not particularly involved. That said, Google is obviously a tech company. We asked, "What does this mean in terms about how we or others might design technology products?" The challenge posed by this research is that we need to use design to help people feel like their own interests are aligned with the public interest.

Charlotte responds: There are two major barriers we heard about. The intractable barrier is that the civic ladder is a deep historical memory/expectation about how citizenship is conducted. People sometimes overtly or more implicitly kept referring to things like the Civil Rights movement or the Arab Spring as the ways that change come about. The Internet is new and doesn't yet feel like that great tradition. The shame that people feel about not doing enough is linked with their sense that Internet things aren't enough.

The more tractable barrier is that people really want to do things that they know matter. It's easier to see the effect on change you create with your neighbors in a local context.

Saul Tannenbaum asks: In the range of civic activity both you and Facebook are looking at interventions in elections. I have converted from interested bystander to deeply civically engaged, and I see voting as one of the least important things I do. So why would Google Now intervene on elections when the range of activities you have listed is wider and arguably more valuable? Is it because that's where the data are?

John responds: Google has been working on elections for a long time and has an elections team. But as you can see, the participants were talking about a broader notion of civic life—it goes way beyond elections and voting. We're thinking about what this means and what we can do to help people better engage on the community or neighborhood level.

Alex Howard asks: One of the times Google civically engaged the most people in your history is when you put a link on the Google homepage for people to call their congressperson about the Stop Online Piracy Act. Do you talk to the rest of Google about that kind of thing? Are you thinking about putting links in people's pages telling them about things happening in their area?

John responds: Whether it's the home page space or Google Now, which might be the better place for what you are talking about with local meetings, this is something we are currently exploring but we haven't launched yet.

Alex responds: Google Now is relatively small but the Google homepage is one of the top 10 most visited pages in the world.

John responds: That's a question that is well beyond my pay grade.

Kate responds: Google is not the only actor working in this civic engagement and technology ecosystem. Google is a key place that people go for information, so there is a scale effect at Google. But I think it takes a whole community of actors to do something meaningful.

by erhardt at March 24, 2015 06:27 PM

Jessica Valenti
"The center’s research showed that even when a woman has been raped, it’s “quite common” for victims..."
“The center’s research showed that even when a woman has been raped, it’s “quite common” for...

March 24, 2015 02:25 PM

Global Voices
Cameroon's Government Tries (and Fails) to Blame Embarrassing Photoshop on Hack Attack
Photoshopped picture that appeared on government website of president Paul Biya honoring fallen soldiers. Cameroonian government claims the photo was uploaded by a hacker.

Photoshopped picture that appeared on the government website of President Paul Biya honoring fallen soldiers. The Cameroonian government claims the photo was uploaded by a hacker.

Thirty-eight Cameroonian soldiers who died fighting the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram in northern Cameroon were honored in a ceremony presided over by the country’s Defense Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo'o on March 6, 2015. Noticeably absent from the event was President Paul Biya, who had travelled to Europe a few days earlier for a “brief visit.”

The president had also been absent from a similar ceremony in August 2014 even though he was in the country at the time. To many observers, the president’s continued absence from these ceremonies is a sign of indifference towards soldiers who died defending the country. As the French-language Journal Du Cameroun lamented:

Pas un geste de compassion envers les soldats tombés sur le front dans le grand nord, absence récurrente du chef de l’Etat aux obsèques des soldats tombés dans le grand nord, pas un mot sur ceux qui sont sur le terrain, aucune visite de terrain d'encouragement, moult de questions qui attendent l’appréciation du président de la République dont le silence laisse songeur…

Not a single act of compassion towards the soldiers who died at the frontline in northern Cameroon; repeated absence from the funerals of the fallen soldiers; not a single word to soldiers still on the field; no trip to encourage the ground troops. These are among the many questions that President of the Republic, whose continued silence is food for thought, has to answer.

Critics were quick to point out that just weeks earlier, President Idriss Deby of Chad, Cameroon’s key ally in the war against Boko Haram, had personally honored Chadian troops killed by the group, and even visited wounded Chadian soldiers at the military hospital in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde.

One can therefore easily understand the outrage that erupted when barely three days after the Yaounde ceremony, the website of the Presidency of the Republic published a photoshopped image of the president bowing before the coffins of the dead soldiers.

“The insensitivity is simply mind-boggling and inexcusable… This is an unbelievable shame, and Cameroonians deserve full explanation for the embarrassment,” wrote US-based Cameroonian journalist Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai. Bate Felix, another Cameroonian journalist working with Reuters news agency, concurred in a series of tweets:

An exasperated Nelson Simo wondered:

Is it so difficult to live with the fact that Biya did not personally honor the dead soldiers? What a crude montage.

Faced with the avalanche of complaints on social media, the photoshopped picture was taken down within a couple of hours and replaced with a picture of flag-draped coffins:

The entire article was eventually deleted from the website.

‘Why do you take Cameroonians for morons?' 

This, however, did not end the controversy as the story was picked up in the following days by the print media.

The French-language daily, Le Messager published the photomontage on its front page with the title: “Après avoir déserté… Le Chef des armées nargue les soldats.” (After Deserting… the Commander-in-Chief Mocks the Troops.)

The headline of another French-language daily, Quotidien Mutations, was equally blistering: “Manipulation: Le scandale qui vient de la présidence” (Manipulation: Scandal at the Presidency). Foreign news agencies such as France24 also picked up the story.

Confronted with an embarrassing story that refused to go away, the government finally decided to respond two days later. In a statement in French read on the government-controlled Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), Issa Tchiroma, Cameroon’s minister of communication and government spokesperson, claimed that the image was the work of a hacker:

Toutes vérifications faites, la fausse nouvelle attribuée au site officiel de la Présidence de la République résulte d'un grossier montage photographique, qui est l'œuvre d'un pirate informatique entré par effraction sur ledit site, et sans doute mû par la volonté de porter atteinte à l'honneur et à la dignité du Chef de l'État, de nos forces de défense et de sécurité et de la nation camerounaise tout entière.
Cette ignoble manœuvre intervient au moment où le peuple camerounais dans son ensemble, a décidé de former une union sacrée autour du Chef de l'État et des forces de défense et de sécurité dont il est le Chef, pour sans doute créer la diversion et la distraction, tenter de saper le moral des troupes sur le front de guerre et de démobiliser la nation tout entière, dans le formidable élan de solidarité qu'elle est en train de manifester.

After thorough verification, the false news attributed to the official website of the Presidency of the Republic is the result of a grotesque photomontage by a hacker who broke into the site, and who was undoubtedly motivated by a desire to undermine and dishonor the Head of State, our defense and security forces, and the entire nation.

This despicable maneuver comes at a time when the Cameroonian people are in a sacred union with the Head of the State, Commander-in-Chief of our defense and security forces. No doubt, the person set out to create a distraction in an attempt to undermine the morale of troops at the frontline and break the nation’s extraordinary spirit of solidarity.

Screenshot of flag-drapped confins of dead soldiers which replaced the photoshopped picture after public outcry.

Screenshot of flag-drapped coffins of dead soldiers which replaced the photoshopped picture after public outcry.

The government’s claim was instantly met with derision. An incredulous Felix Bate asked:

Pierre Christian could barely contain himself:

Whaaaaaaaat! Tchiroma says the presidency site was hacked! What stupidity!! What a blatant lie!!

Twitter user Jess Dina asked the minister:

Tchiroma, why do you take Cameroonians for morons? This is very disgraceful.

The French-language daily, Le Jour, roundly dismissed the hacker excuse:

Le site Internet de la présidence et la page Facebook du chef de l’Etat sont truffés de photos grossièrement montées. Contrairement aux dénégations de Issa Tchiroma, les administrateurs de ces sites sont coutumiers du fait.

The head of state’s website and Facebook page are chock-full of photos that have been clumsily photoshopped. Contrary to Issa Tchiroma’s denials, this is a common practice by the administrators of these sites.

Internet sleuths confirmed Le Jour’s assertion as they combed through the social media sites managed by the presidency for evidence that the “grotesque photomontage” was not the first of its kind by the presidency’s webmaster:

The Camerooon-info.net news portal also posted an extensive compilation of photoshopped images from the president’s website and Facebook page.

Arrests and releases

In spite of mounting evidence that the photomontage was not the work of a hacker and most likely the handiwork of an overly creative staff on the president’s communications team, the government stubbornly stuck to its story. In an interview with the government daily Cameroon Tribune, Minister Tchiroma vowed that they would track down and punish the culprit.

According to news reports, the investigation is being carried out by agents of the Ministry of Defense and the Directorate General for External Research (the rather innocuous name for Cameroon’s dreaded intelligence service).

In their desperate bid to catch the alleged culprits, security forces have thus far made two rather bizarre arrests. On March 14, they arrested a certain Foyet Eric Kennedy in Yaounde on suspicion that he was the hacker after he challenged the government’s version of events on a local radio station. He was subsequently set free. That same day in Douala, Gerard Kuissu, a prominent human rights activist and journalist was also arrested in Douala and accused of being the hacker. The evidence? He had shared the photo on his Facebook page. He was subsequently transferred to Yaounde for further questioning then finally released three days later. (Click here for Kuissi’s chilling narrative of his harrowing experience in jail).

Interestingly, while security forces continue to search for what many believe to be an imaginary hacker, officials at the presidency have been busy deleting all photoshopped pictures from the president’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Links that once led to pages with these pictures are no longer active or no longer carry the pictures. However, as Cameroonian journalist Thierry Ngogang has cautioned on his Facebook page about the ongoing cover-up attempt:

La vérité est comme la queue d'un singe: il peut essayer de la cacher entre ses pattes, elle apparaîtra toujours.

The truth is like the tail of a monkey; it always reveals itself no matter how hard the monkey tries to hide it between its legs.

by Dibussi Tande at March 24, 2015 06:57 AM

Protesters in Taiwan Rally Against Nuclear Power
Protesters wrote down what they are willing to do to save energy.Photo is taken by coolloud.org. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Protesters wrote down what they are willing to do to save energy. Photo is taken by coolloud.org. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Major cities across Taiwan recently witnessed mass demonstrations advocating for renewable energy policy and the decommissioning of the country's nuclear power stations.

On March 14, as many as 45,000 people protested against the plan of the state-owned Taiwan Power Company for sending abroad 1,200 highly radioactive used fuel rods from the island’s first and second nuclear plants. Reprocessing of these sent fuel rods would extend the service lives of the plants, which are scheduled to go out of service in the next six years. However, the protesters rejected the reprocessing because it is too expensive, and the radioactive products of reprocessing will be eventually sent back to Taiwan.

Two days after the anti-nuke demonstration, the legislators agreed to freeze the Taiwan Power Company's plan to reprocess the fuel rods overseas.

Concerns about Taiwan’s nuclear power plants have mounted since the Fukushima nuclear accident, which resulted from an earthquake and tsunami hitting Japan in March 2011. Also located on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Taiwan faces significant risks with its three relatively outdated nuclear power plants.

According to Taiwan's existing schedule, its first nuclear power plant, launched in 1978, will be decommissioned in 2018, while the second nuclear power plant will operate until 2021. On March 14, protesters across the country demonstrated to hold officials to this schedule, or perhaps even accelerate Taiwan's shift away from nuclear energy.  

Chiung-Li Sun, a reporter from the independent journalism platform Events in Focus, Taiwan's first plant might go offline even sooner than 2018.

在去年12月10日大修,依原本計畫退出108到112束燃料束,但是由於燃料池的容量,已經不夠了,所以只退出92束,留了10到16束本來該退出的燃料束在爐裡[...]。打開原能會「核能電廠用過核子燃料貯存表」,赫然跳出的數字是,核一廠一號機,貯存容量3,083束,已儲存量3,074束,剩餘9束,這一個統計的時間是「104(2015)年2月」而「預估滿池時間」,是「104(2015)年1月」。燃料束無法退出,將導致核一廠無法運作。[...]
目前,台電已經在核一廠區內,興建「乾式貯存」裝置,燃料束從冷卻池裡拿出來。該裝置已經完工,進行過第一階段的試運轉,但是由於新北市政府尚未核發水保設施完工證明,無法進行第二階段的「熱測試」(相關資料),何時可以啟用,不知道。[...]
台電打算用110億,送1,200束燃料棒出國再處理。[...]原能會主委蔡春鴻就說,就算「再處理」搞成了,也不過是延長2個週期,也就是36個月,剛好到核一執照到期。核一廠一號機的40年大限,是在2018年12月,依法在3年前,也就是今年底前,要除役的話,得提除役計畫。

108-112 spent fuel rods were supposed to be retrieved from the reactor during the major maintenance on December 10 last year. Because the spent fuel pools did not have enough capacity, only 92 bundles of the spent fuel rods were retrieved. As a result, there were 10-16 bundles of spent fuel rods left inside the reactor. [...] If we look at the document, “The Storage List for Spent Fuel Rods in the Nuclear Power Plants” [published by the Atomic Energy Council in February 2015], we'd be surprised by the numbers: The capacity of the spent fuel rods in the First Nuclear Plant is 3,083 bundles, and the current storage is 3,074 bundles, which means it can only store another 9 bundles. According to plant's maintenance schedule, the storage space should have run out in January 2015. If the spent fuel rods cannot be retrieved from the reactor, the nuclear plant can't be operated. [...]

[In response to the situation], the Taiwan Power Co. has built a dry fuel storage in the First Nuclear Power Plant for the spent fuel rods removed from the water pool. Although they finished the construction of the storage space and conducted a first-stage trial run, they cannot proceed the second-stage thermal trial because the New Taipei City government hasn't yet issued them the Certificate of Completion for Water Conservation. No one knows when this storage can be used [...].

Taiwan Power Co. budgeted NTD 11.25 billion [$353 million] to finance the export of 1,200 spent fuel rods to other countries for reprocessing. [...] Atomic Energy Council Chairperson Chun-Hung Tsai has pointed out, however, that the plan for reprocessing the fuel rods could only extend the first nuclear power plant's operational life by an extra two cycles (36 months). The plant's first reactor will finish its 40-year service in December 2018. If the decommissioning process is on schedule, the power company is legally obligated to submit its plan by the end of this year, three years before December 2018.

Because Taiwan Power Company did not find a suitable place for the final storage site of the nuclear waste, the residents of New Taipei City are worried that their homeland might become the final storage site of the nuclear waste if their government approves the dry-spent-fuel storage. Therefore, given concerns about earthquakes and floods, the New Taipei City Government is unlikely to approve the construction of the dry-spent-fuel storage at the first power plant. On the other hand, the legislators’ decision to suspend the Taiwan Power Company's plan to reprocess the fuel rods overseas is likely to scrap the Economic Affairs Ministry's proposal to extend the service life of the First Nuclear Plant, leaving the country's problems with nuclear waste deadlocked.

Several huge demonstrations have been held in Taiwan since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. The country even halted the operation of a fourth nuclear power plant, after a clash between anti-nuclear protesters and riot police in front of the Taipei Train Station on April 28, 2014. As the Atomic Energy Council decided in January that the Fourth plant be mothballed later this year in July for three year, the fate of the plant would have to be decided by a referendum to be held before 2018.

As the Fourth plant was designed to replace the First and the Second, with the above-mentioned complications in the launch of the Fourth plant, the Economic Affairs Ministry endorsed the Taiwan Power Company's proposal to reprocess spent fuel rods abroad in February. However, it denied its intention to extend the service life of the First power plant on March 15 soon after the anti-nuclear demonstration.

Related articles on Global Voices:
2011/3/16 Taiwan: Country's Nuclear Power Plants Are High Risk
2011/3/21 Taiwan: The Reassurance of Nuclear Safety is Not Convincing
2011/3/24 Taiwan: Call for Energy Policy Review
2011/3/29 Taiwan: Anti-Nuclear Protesters’ Lonely Quest
2011/3/31 Taiwan: Nuclear Waste on Orchid Island
2012/5/11 Taiwan: Indigenous Tao People's 30 Year Nuclear ‘Nightmare’
2012/5/16 Taiwan: Could the Future Be Nuclear-Free?
2013/1/6 Taiwan's Nuclear-free New Year's Wish
2013/3/10 Taiwan Denies Entry to Anti-Nuke Visitor Ahead of Protest
2013/8/5 Nuclear Opponents in Taiwan Work to Change ‘Unfair’ Referendum Law
2013/8/7 Referendum on Taiwan's Fourth Nuclear Plant Suspended
2014/5/12 Should Anti-Nuclear Parents in Taiwan Bring Their Kids to Protests?

by I-fan Lin at March 24, 2015 06:48 AM

March 23, 2015

Global Voices
Police Roadblocks in Trinidad & Tobago Stir Public Ire, Not Sympathy
"Directing Traffic in bulletproof vests"; photo by Taran Rampersad,  used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

“Directing Traffic in bulletproof vests”; photo by Taran Rampersad, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

The Monday morning blues took on a new meaning in Trinidad and Tobago today, thanks to massive roadblocks carried out by the country's police service, allegedly in protest over the government's failure to settle wage negotiations.

Social media was the outlet of choice for commuters trapped in traffic. From about 6:30 a.m., Facebook users were crowdsourcing the reason for the gridlock, and drivers who use Waze, the popular, community-based navigation app, began entering information about the roadblocks. On Facebook, Maria Rivas-Mc posted:

Police are doing countrywide road blocks, seemingly protest action to speed along wage negotiations. Traffic snarled everywhere. Hear tell hundreds of school children are walking, maxis are offloading passengers and turning around. Reports are police are checking dipsticks, spare tyres, bags of passengers. Not sure if, without due cause, such action on their part is even legal. Never a dull, no-news day in T&T

Facebook user Rose-Marie Ingrid Lemessy-Forde voiced what many netizens were undoubtedly feeling:

Well well TTPS. I can't think of a better way to get the country to support your quest for better salaries than to hold the entire country to ransom. It's ok for hard working people including school children to spend hours in standstill traffic while Kamla [the country's prime minister] and the PP [People's Partnership government] flashing blue lights possee gets to whizz by. Ingenious move …

Skye Hernandez called the whole fiasco “just plain wickedness”. This Twitter user was much more blunt:

In a country where violent crime is widespread and there are very few arrests and even fewer convictions, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service has not won a whole lot of public sympathy for their cause. Many netizens feel that compensation should be linked to performance and the TTPS has not been living up to its motto “to protect and serve” the citizenry. One irate Twitter user explained it using this analogy:

Back on Facebook, Nicholas Laughlin referenced a 2010 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Citizen Security Survey of the Caribbean (see page 103 of the report), noting that:

…only 21.2 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago respondents believed the police show ‘fairness in dealing with people’ and 16.0 per cent said the police show ‘courtesy to ordinary citizens.’ I wonder what those figures would look like if they re-surveyed the populace today.

Steven Valdez wanted to make the gravity of the situation clear to those who may have been tempted to brush off the curious timing of the roadblocks:

……….take a moment to wrap your brain around what happened in our country this morning due to the action of the T&T Police Service…every sector of business, every school, every government institution, every municipal corporation, every health institution, every elderly and/or sick person, every single individual has been affected in a very negative way…it is inconceivable that this can take place without dire consequences !!!…..

Representatives of the police service appeared to be distancing themselves from any possible consequences of the mass action. Inspector Roger Alexander, who hosts a crime show on a local television station, was interviewed on the station's morning programme as to whether the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Social and Welfare Association was “encouraging unofficial action in the form of roadblocks”. His response was a resounding no — the police were simply trying to lower the incidence of traffic accidents, curb crime and “show the importance of police on the ground.” He advised law-abiding citizens to “walk with [their] breakfast, lunch and dinner”.

Minister of Transport Steven Cadiz said that his ministry had no power to ease the gridlock, but he too questioned whether the exercise was related to industrial action. C News Live's Facebook page posted shortly thereafter that the Minister of National Security, who apparently knew nothing beforehand of the planned roadblocks, announced that they would be immediately discontinued.

The comments thread reflected positions on both sides of the divide. Laila Mohammed-Pantin, whose response garnered 246 “likes” at the time of publishing, said:

I am a proud, hard working citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. I have faith in the protective services even though there are times they mess up. Today, that changed. Do you seriously expect citizens to respect the Police Service after a stunt like this ? How many criminals were caught heading to work on a Monday morning with guns, driving drunk or missing documents ? When you put self before country, when you hold an entire nation to ransom, when you play politics with your duty to protect and serve, you have failed us. Shame on those who instigated, took part and allowed this fiasco. SHAME ON YOU !!!

Facebook user Adrian Juman countered:

Pay the protective services they blasted money ….how is it possible that a clerk is getting more money than a job where you risk your life on a daily basis …..WELL DONE POLICE LOCK D CITY UP

Some netizens took the opportunity to draw attention to the country's need for better traffic solutions. On Facebook, Natasha Ramnauth said:

Now maybe, we will give more credence to decetralisation [sic], school zones, staggered work hours and a host of other solutions.

On Twitter, Attillah Springer added:

Many are concerned about the fact that top brass in the Ministry of National Security and the police service seemingly had no knowledge of the island-wide roadblocks, particularly since all official communication denies that the exercise was linked to industrial action. Had that been the case, public sympathy might have swayed more in the favour of the police; most people can appreciate that working conditions are often sub-par and many police officers are underpaid. As it stands, though, citizens feel that their civil rights have been trampled upon. This, however, did not stop Trinbagonians from injecting humour into the situation:

Still, most netizens interpreted what happened this morning as – at best – an incredible inconvenience and at worst, an infringement on civil liberties. The same Twitter user that called the police action “a terrorists [sic] attack from agents of the state”, made a call for the people to use their own power:

by Janine Mendes-Franco at March 23, 2015 11:51 PM

Six Reasons You Should Visit Malapascua, Philippines, at Least Once in Your Life
Jump in! The boat is waiting for you. Photo Marie Bohner

Jump in! The boat is waiting for you. Photo by author 

There are more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines, which means there are also more than 7,000 reasons to visit the country. But here I will offer a single reason it's worth making the trip to this tropical country: Malapascua.

After the Global Voices 2015 Summit in Cebu, I visited the island with a happy bunch of Global Voicers. Annie, Pantha, Esteve or Pauline, who were among the lucky few from Global Voices who had the chance to visit Malapascua, can tell you in several different languages: visiting Malapascua, a tiny island of 5,000 inhabitants off the northernmost tip of Cebu, is a must.

Malapascua, which, depending on who you talk to, means “bad Christmas” or “bad Easter” in Cebuano (and Spanish), is a little paradise which provides a great combination of intimacy (tourists are relatively few) and access to all possible services, including Wi-Fi (a must for our global connected souls).

Out of thousands, here are six good reasons why you should consider visiting this island in the near future:

A smile to welcome you on board, and let's go for snorkling or island hopping. Photo Marie Bohner

A smile to welcome you on board, en route for snorkeling or island hopping. Photo by author

1. Malapascua is small, and if you are willing to do so, it is easy to feel at home in the small villages of Logon. If you stay just a couple of days and interact with the residents, you will feel like you have been their neighbour forever.

2. You aren't a diver. If you aren't really into jumping into the abyss to meet with friendly thresher sharks, there's no reason you have to. And you might make some interesting encounters in the beach:

3. You are a diver. In that case, you should really see the thresher sharks, the manta rays and the smaller, but colorful, fish and corals in shallower waters. Most of the dive shops in Malapascua are incredibly professional and trustworthy, and open water courses are more affordable here than in some of the other fancy diving spots around the world. You sometimes have to contend with lousy weather, and wait a couple of days until Mother Nature is ready to show you her wonders. But it is worth it, and the grace of the thresher sharks swimming next to you is fantastic to behold, as Elise, our diving GVer, can testify.

4. You like to eat, drink and enjoy incredible sunsets every evening. If so, Malapascua is perfect for you. Happy-hour sunset cocktails—with or without alcohol—are a very nice habit to acquire. Incredible Pork Sisig and Lechon Kawali (the sisig can also be made with squid and is equally delicious) are available at very reasonable prices in the village. Fruit lovers will enjoy eating magnificent-tasting tropical fruit such as rambutans and lanzones, sold every morning on the beach by some charming ladies .

Be romantic : treat yourself to a happy hour sunset coktail. Photo Marie Bohner

Be romantic: treat yourself to a happy hour sunset cocktail. Photo by author

5. You're seeking peace. You have been working too hard for too long and your body aches and clamors for redemption. Malapascua is an island of relaxation, peace and meditative sounds like wind and waves on the beach. Treat yourself! Get a massage on the beach. Go snorkeling. Stroll around aimlessly. The island is not Ibiza: there are parties and discos but in most of parts of the island calm and warm breeze accompany your sweet dreams in the nighttime. There are also no cars—the only way to reach Malapascua is by boat.

Take a deep breath, relax... Violetta in her thoughts. Photo Marie Bohner

Take a deep breath, relax… Global Voices author Violeta lost in her thoughts.

Or practise accro-yoga on the beach if you find a good teacher. Photo Luisa Camara

Or find a good teacher and practise acro-yoga on the beach. Photo by Luisa Camarasa

6. Malapascua was struck hard by supertyphoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda. All the coconut trees are gone, and many community buildings and houses need to be rebuilt (sadly and unsurprisingly, the resorts were rebuilt faster than the locals’ houses, but then one could also argue that the tourist activities are vital to Malapascua's economy). To be able to continue to offer a slice of paradise to its visitors from all over the world, Malapascua's inhabitants need their support. There are several ways to do this. One way is to check out the Save Philippine Seas website or even visit the place and get involved there, on the spot, with the locals.

Despite the beauty of the island, one can still see the destructions of the typhoon everywhere. Photo Marie Bohner

Despite the beauty of the island, one can still see the destruction caused by typhoon Haiyan everywhere.

In case you are still not convinced, then kindly be nice and rush towards Malapascua to respond to Joey‘s “Mayday” on Facebook, as for all we know, he might still be stuck there. Hurry up—don't let him down!:

HELP! I'M STUCK ON A BEAUTIFUL ISLAND WITH AWESOME PEOPLE!

by Marie Bohner at March 23, 2015 10:30 PM

Creative Commons
Wikimedia adopts open licensing policy for foundation-funded research

Last week the Wikimedia Foundation announced it is adopting an open access policy for research works created using foundation funds. According to their blog post, the new open access policy “will ensure that all research the Wikimedia Foundation supports through grants, equipment, or research collaboration is made widely accessible and reusable. Research, data, and code developed through these collaborations will be made available in Open Access venues and under a free license, in keeping with the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission to support free knowledge.”

The details of the open access policy can be found on the Wikimedia Foundation website. There will be an expectation that researchers receiving funds from the foundation will provide “unrestricted access to and reuse of all their research output…”. Published materials, proposals, and supporting materials will be covered under the open access policy. The policy states that media files must be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license (the version currently used by Wikipedia), or any other free license.  In addition, the policy requires that data be made available under an Open Definition-conformant license (with the CC0 Public Domain Dedication preferred), and that any source code be licensed under the GNU General Public License version 2.0 or any other Open Source Initiative-approved license.

The open access policy from the Wikimedia Foundation joins other institutions–including governments, philanthropic foundations, universities, and intergovernmental organizations who have adopted policies to increase access to important and useful information and data for the public good. Thanks to Wikimedia for their continued leadership in support of free knowledge for all.

by Timothy Vollmer at March 23, 2015 10:16 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Russia Will Deploy “Digital Fingerprinting” to Enforce Copyright Online
Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

A register containing information about intellectual property rights holders in Russia will be created by the Ministry of Communications and Media, Deputy Minister Alexei Volin said Friday. RAPSI reports that such a register would likely be based on the principle of digital fingerprinting and would be used to “track and protect copyrighted files online.”

Deputy Minister Volin said that many rights holders are afraid to provide a digital fingerprint of their intellectual property for fear that it could be pirated.

“Digital fingerprinting is a system that can be used to track a desired property while excluding the possibility of illegal distribution,” the deputy minister said.

Volin added that initially the ministry believed that there should be no monopoly in this industry, that the contribution of intellectual property to the register must be voluntary and that it should serve the interests of the entire sector.

Digital fingerprinting is a technique that uses software to identify and extract unique components of digital video or audio files. The unique “fingerprints” can then be used to track content online. Film studios use digital video fingerprinting to locate copies of their films on various websites and enforce their copyright, while YouTube's Content ID and Vimeo's Copyright Match use Audible Magic's audio fingerprinting tool to identify the audio used in uploaded videos and check for copyright violations.

The Russian Union of Copyright Holders had recently proposed introducing “an internet tax”—a blanket solution suggesting all users are automatically charged for accessing copyrighted content on the web, regardless of whether or not they're consuming it. The idea seems to have stalled after it was heavily criticized by industry representatives and government officials.

The Russian anti-piracy law took effect on August 1, 2013, and was met with opposition in the RuNet. Among other things, it holds Internet service providers and hosting platforms liable for the distribution of pirated content over their platforms and puts it upon their shoulders to issue warnings and take down pages and websites containing pirated music, videos, and other materials. In May 2015, new amendments to the law will come into effect, allowing for swifter blocking of websites with pirated content for repeated violations of copyright.

by Tetyana Lokot at March 23, 2015 09:58 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Jad Melki: Developing an Arab Digital and Media Literacy

This is a liveblog of the talk "Developing an Organic Arab Digital and Media Literacy, Pedagogy, and Theory" by Jad Melki on March 23, 2015 at Emerson College, sponsored by the Engagement Lab.


Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change faculty member Jad Melki speaks at the inaugural MDLAB in Lebanon (source)

Emerson professor Paul Mihailidis introduces Jad Melki as director of the media studies program at American University of Beirut and founder of the Media and Digital Literacy Academy of Beirut (MDLAB).

This talk serves two purposes according to Jad: an overview of how digital media is being used in the Arab region and the work that MDLAB is doing in response to that. He highlights one prominent example of the need for media literacy being ISIS's successful online media campaigns, recruiting supporters from around the world by selling a particular vision.

MDLAB was founded in 2006/2007 following the war between Israel and Lebanon. There were some interesting uses of media that coincided with this conflict, but little media literacy among the residents of the region. Media education programs were not teaching critical thinking skills or developing relevant digital media skills—no one was being prepared to be an activist or a professional. 

From Western Media Literacy to Arabic Media Literacy
MDLAB wanted to produce their own organically Arab curriculum dealing with local issues and culture. For instance, media and racism is a topic often taught in Western media literacy courses, but in the Arab region this specifically falls along ethnic and sectarian lines and needs a different angle and approach.

When they launched the program they were bringing Western media literacy scholars or Arab scholars educated in Western universities. Breaking out beyond the Western source of this knowledge and tailoring it to the local universities was a struggle. And it follows a model found in Arabic region journalism trainings that have been sponsored by Western institutions which never get appropriated because the lessons feel disconnected and patronizing.

Alternatively, MDLAB started with a hands-on approach to training Arab students. They relied on Western scholars to teach the first academies but used local examples to translate that knowledge into local contexts. Each year they fill the faculty ranks with a greater percentage of local scholars.

Jad says he's seen two dominant paradigms of media literacy:

  • Radical media literacy, which has historically been a response to a capitalist system of media production (of course, in a different part of the world)
  • Liberal media literacy, exemplified by Renee Hobbs and Henry Jenkins, who emphasize direct participation in media as a path toward literacy

Neither of these models work perfectly locally. Lebanon and other Arab states are postcolonial societies with their own versions of media problems. This is why he is developing an organic Arab media literacy theory. Jad says he is struggling to come up with the right term; he suggests "insurgent" media literacy theory might capture the response to what they are facing in the Arab world.

Media literacy is not just about producing critical, informed citizens, it's about creating empowered citizens who feel the urge and have the right tools and skills to change society, hopefully for the long term. Jad credits Paul Mihailidis's approach in Media Literacy and the Emerging Citizen as exemplifying this perspective of responding to society with material of your own. As such, MDLAB tends to lean toward digital and media literacy that helps them to produce content.

Mashup Videos and Cultural Critiques
Jad shows a video created by his students that responds to the ISIS videos and how they are portrayed on mainstream and social media.

Another student video featured Lebanon's love of basketball, arguing that the media surrounding it actually divides the country along Christian / Muslim divisions from where the teams hail. Chants promote political leaders explicitly and uniforms display religious iconography.

Jad says the students receive minimal training to create their videos: downloading videos from YouTube, creating their text and narratives, then editing it together in Adobe Premiere and uploading it in a short turnaround.

A third student video featured how influential American music has been in changing the tastes of Lebanese. Even local artists often sing in English rather than Arabic, and their music videos imitate Beyonce and Lady Gaga's style pushing this cultural import further.

A fourth video created by a Syrian male students looked at media's portrayal of violence against women. It featured a number of Arabic male pop stars singing about their romantic overtures in terms of killing anyone who tries to approach his girl and affirming his possession of her. The message was violence on behalf of women is the same as violence against women.

Jad says that this particular video was a good indicator to him that they were doing something right with their media literacy training.

He shows a final video that offers 5 types of women depicted in Arab popular media. Most women are submissive and characterized as inferior and irrational to men. The one recent change is the "Abadayeh"—the strong, successful woman. The video argues Arabic media has a long way to go in its portrayal of women on screen.

Looking to the future, Jad is investigating data science / data literacy to push the media literacy project further. He also finds his work more and more connected to health sciences literacy. He wonders how they take advantage of data for their work as well as connect it to these issues of health and wellness for greater impact.

Question and Answer
What are the demographics of the program?

AUB and the MDLAB attract participants from all over the Arab world.

What happens in the MDLAB academy?

Every summer they bring in faculty and graduate students, teaching them media literacy concepts and encouraging them to create curricula to take home to their own universities.

What has been the local response to these videos?

There are two types of responses from Arab audiences: 1) Do you really have to show us these images of scantily clad women; that shows us in such a bad light? 2) Wow. I didn't know that was going on. The male pop stars in particular were illuminating to many as to how violent and sexist the lyrics are. Jad doesn't want to exaggerate MDLAB's impact. Some small groups are starting to react to these issues. He hopes that in the next 5–10 years the students that are being reached by the media literacy education initiatives will start making the region's media with this in mind.

However, one former student is now a producer for the ministry of tourism and updated Lebanon's promotional video to feature much more the rich and diverse culture of the country as opposed to an earlier video that featured party scene of scantily clad women, drinking, and gambling that likely appealed to rich Gulf travelers. Also, a group of Lebanese feminists, some of whom participated in the workshop have since developed a weekly blog looking at depiction of women in the local media.

Has this been brought into schools yet?

They have not succeeded in bringing any of the curricula into high schools. Lebanese schools have a very rigid curriculum and come up with excuses when free teacher training is provided. There is some traditional information literacy, like how how to use libraries, but they haven't succeeded in breaking into that curriculum either.

One exception was Qatar which had a major grant to introduce media literacy into schools. We invited them to MDLAB but have not heard back in the past year. Civil Society and NGOs though have been involved with us and accept many of our students for partnerships.

In one of Paul Mihailidis's earlier classes in the day, he says they talked about ISIS and their media savvy. Is there any danger for your students, and are you focusing on how to combat the high production quality of ISIS?

There is always a risk there. Jad was on the television and asked about the doctoring of an execution video, and he said there was a 50/50 chance it was Photoshopped. This got picked up by other Arab media as "Dr. Jad Melki says 50% of this video is doctored." al-Nusra (the Al Qaeda affiliate) responded online and said Dr. Jad Melki doesn't know what he is talking about: here is how we made this video... "Great, now I'm on the list of al-Nusra."

Jad walks us through ISIS's video about the Jordanian pilot they captured and killed: showcasing their high production skills and careful rhetoric. ISIS begins the video with the Jordanian King calling for Jordanian pilots to bomb ISIS fighters. ISIS calls the Arab leaders traitors and shows them meeting with President Obama. And then they segue to their "solution" to this problem for true believers. The Jordanian pilot is pressed into describing the air strikes himself and calling for the Arab countries to attack Alawites or Jews instead of ISIS, otherwise Arab sons will meet the same fate as "me." It culminates with his dramatic execution. Jad says the video is meant to terrify ISIS enemies and encourages recruits. They list out all the names and photos of Jordanian pilots and offer $100,000 to capture or kill them. Jad notes how the short film uses parallel editing to tell a powerful story for recruitment.

How is media literacy a response to this high quality of production from ISIS; are you provided skills to allow Arabs to see through videos like this?

Jad thinks it goes beyond critical and individual skills here. It's about news literacy too. When he was on Al Jazeera, he argued that ISIS is trying to occupy media space and by giving them a platform to show their video in full, then you are supporting their work. Al Jazeera was not happy about that. That's on the news level, on the media literacy level, Jad ays we need so many people to respond. We need a lot of Arab citizens actively to counter ISIS's recruitment via media. Unfortunately, most Arab residents simply use these media channels for entertainment.

Are their spaces in Arab media that are critical, beyond the mainstream gatekeepers of Al Jazeera or other ideological major media producers?

There are plenty of spaces, and lots of small scattered groups. Jad completed a study a few years ago on activist media and found there were numerous barriers to their success. There is a lot of infighting in the community, fighting over issues and fighting. We don't see anything like the unifying presence of a group like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that stepped in with institutional capacity after the Arab Spring. It will happen much more slowly in Lebanon.

Most groups are much smaller and under-funded. Left-leaning and critical sources like Al Akhbar newspaper are great efforts but they are very small and domestic and fixated on certain issues that alienate larger audiences. The true problem though is that there are few people that are really active. There is a myth after the Arab Spring that Arabic youth are all taking action via social media but they found in a survey that only 4% of youth are using social media for activist purposes, which is common across the globe.

Jad ends with a call to action: We will need to get many more youth active in order to solve the problems in our region.

by erhardt at March 23, 2015 08:50 PM

DML Central
Writing Our Way Into Inquiry and Presearch
Writing Our Way Into Inquiry and Presearch Blog Image

As we continue our efforts to think about writing literacies as a focal point of our inquiry work in a high school library, my colleague Jennifer Lund and I continue to see the power of an old school technology: pen and paper.

We’ve targeted the presearch phase of research projects as a sweet spot for using writing literacies as a medium for critical thinking and making visible student ideas, questions, and patterns of understanding. In their "Pathways to Knowledge" model of information literacy, Pappas and Tepe define presearch as the stage that “…enables searchers to connect their information need and prior knowledge. They may participate in a brainstorming activity to create a web or a list of questions on what they know about their subject or what they want to know” (Harada and Tepe).  Presearch can provide instructional opportunities to show learners “strategies to narrow their focus and develop specific questions or define [an] information need” (Callison and Baker 20). We have combined a variety of written conversation strategies adapted from the work of Harvey Daniels, Visible Thinking learning structures, and mindmapping activities to nurture student curiosity, spark questions, and help students connect existing knowledge to new information introduced through our presearch inquiry activities. 

In our educational landscape that is informed by multiple state and local standardized tests and common assessments, curriculum maps, and large departments competing for limited time and space in the media center and computer labs, helping teachers open up student research learning experiences from ones that are limited and tightly predefined by the teacher to those that give students opportunities to select and develop a topic focus is a huge step forward in our efforts as collaborative instructional partners and designers. Earlier this semester, we tried a tandem of activities, Think, Puzzle, Explore and preserach search term strategy mapping, to see if we could use writing literacies as a more intentional part of the process work of research. 

Think, Puzzle, Explore

In January, Jennifer Lund and I met with two of our 11th grade language arts teachers to plan their upcoming research unit on sustainability. We wanted to do something fun and interesting to introduce the range of topics to students who would engage them and not begin with them just browsing the resources on the project LibGuide. We initially considered using the write-around strategy, but with so many sections of classes and possibilities for topics/subtopics, we felt the prep work involved was a bit overwhelming for the time we had available to get the materials together.

We decided to use another strategy, though, that involved thinking and writing called Think, Puzzle, Explorea routine for learning that “sets the stage for deeper inquiry.” Since many teachers are utilizing strategies from Making Thinking Visible, we felt this would be the perfect learning structure to introduce 11th graders to sustainability topics. With Think, Puzzle, and Explore, students are asked to reflect and share:

1. What do you think you know about this topic?
2. What questions or puzzles do you have?
3. How can you explore this topic? 

Think, Puzzle, Explore Prep Work

We decided to choose eight areas of sustainability and to find an article of interest for each that students could read and respond to individually and collectively as a group. After we searched and selected articles on eight different topics, we made sets of five for each table so that each student could have a copy to read and mark up or annotate. Our library science student helpers gathered multiple sheets of butcher paper and helped us attach the three “Think, Puzzle, Explore” labels Jennifer crafted for each sheet of paper. These labels Jennifer created served as a reminder prompt to nudge students in their responses and as a placeholder for each column where students would record their responses. We were not sure how quickly the sheets of paper would fill up with student work, so we had extra sheets of butcher paper and labels in case we needed them. Initially, we thought all six classes could compile their answers on one sheet, but we realized after two classes we definitely need to rotate the response sheets. During our one period off, 3rd, we finished the prep work for the butcher paper sheets to be used later in the day.

Think, Puzzle, Explore Implementation

We began by introducing the procedures for the activity and explaining the logistics and purpose of Think, Puzzle, Explore to the students. Our goal was for students to sample at least two tables/topics to, hopefully, fuel their interest and pique their curiosity. Once we finished the introductory procedures review, students had about two minutes to select a table; we limited each table to four students at most. We also reminded students to choose their tables by topics and not the safety zone of friends! 

We gave students about five minutes to quietly read as much as they could of their articles (some were longer or more textually complex than others) and strongly encouraged them to mark up/annotate their articles to have some talking points for collaborative conversation. Some students also jotted notes in a notebook during this part of the activity and/or during the collective discussion that followed. Once the five minutes were up, we had students discuss their responses and then collectively compose their responses to “Think, Puzzle, and Explore.” The discussion and collective composition took 5-8 minutes. We then repeated this process a second time and had students choose a different table and topic. 

Once we had completed both rounds, each group got one of our "Steelcase Verb" dry erase boards, and each member contributed their takeaway reflection, reaction, or big question as the ticket out the door; each student put his/her initials by his/her reflection or question.

Curating Student Work, Reflections

As classes transitioned, Jennifer and I quickly tidied up tables and captured student work with a digital camera and our iPhones to curate and share with all classes and teachers. It was a day that was energizing (and a little exhausting) as the work and pace were pretty intense, but we were really pleased with student responses and participation. We got verbal feedback from several students about how much they enjoyed the activity and, for several, the process had given them some topics to think about for subsequent investigation that we’re now starting this week.

In the spirit of crowdsourcing our thinking, we collected all of the “big takeaway” responses and linked to each album on the LibGuide (scroll toward the bottom of the middle column to view by period). We also had our library science students transcribe all of the responses from the butcher paper; I then captured all of them using my scanner app on my phone and uploading the PDFs of the scans to Google Drive, which made it easy to then send to SlideShare and download the PDFs to my PC for transfer to the LibGuide. We did consider providing laptops and shared Google Docs for students to record their thinking, but our experience with our students has been that the tactile aspect of composing and experiencing seeing each other’s thinking on physical paper is powerful; in hindsight, we feel we made the right choice.

Not only did we build prior knowledge through this activity, but we accomplished our goal to engage students in collective thinking and build/play off each other's ideas. Think, Puzzle, and Explore also provided students a medium to learn a little about a topic and tease out some initial thoughts. Now that we have all of their work uploaded, students can visit it if they want to revisit any initial thinking from last week or use it as a brainstorming tool to further investigate one of those topics although they certainly can go in other directions. This activity was the bridge to our next phase of presearch, Presearch Search Term Strategy Mapping, an activity we adapted from our friend and fellow librarian Tasha Bergson-Michelson.

From Think Puzzle Explore to Mapping a Search for a Potential Topic

Like many of you classroom teachers and librarians, Jennifer and I frequently wonder: how can we provide students time and opportunity to dwell, wrestle, and grow as searchers who can develop effective strategies and techniques for finding information and using that information to narrow a topic? How do we help students learn techniques for cropping and focusing a topic area? While we have been advocates for pre-search for a long time, we have been more deliberate this academic year about trying to elevate this aspect of research and inquiry processes as well with our faculty.

In reflecting on our inquiry work with Sarah Rust last semester, I wondered if there might be a better way to get kids to think more intentionally about their search terms and to build some prior knowledge for an initial round of topic focus prior to the work with modified KWLs and annotating I’ve done during pre-search and then mindmapping with both Sarah and other projects I did with teachers while at Creekview High in the past.   After revisiting the work of Tasha Bergson-Michelson and a great post from librarian Carolyn Foote, I decided to adapt Tasha’s search strategy mapping technique for our sustainability research unit with our 11th AP language arts teachers. After running my ideas by Jennifer and doing a little brainstorming together, we decided we would adapt Tasha’s technique to help students map their first round of pre-search strategies to help them find a path to a more focused topic area of sustainability.  

I actually went through the process and worked for about two and a half hours off and on doing search and creating a model I could use as a think aloud with students this week on the first day of formal instruction in the library. I began with the topic of urban garden (food sustainability) and wound my way to a more focused topic of food justice. My first version I did in a freehand fashion, but I replicated it using Mindmeister to show students what their maps might look like if they used a free online mindmapping tool.  I felt it was important to draft models related to their area of study and that would hopefully be accessible to our students.  Here are my drafts:

 

On the first day of presearch, a Monday, I modeled the process for students each period while sprinkling in some search strategies and tips for specific databases; this part of the lesson took about 10-12 minutes. I showed them how I began by skimming and scanning 3-4 articles from sources like databases, search engines, and TED videos. For each place I searched, I noted key vocabulary, terms, and concepts that seemed important and/or new to me. I showed them how I then incorporated new terms into my running list of search terms/phrases I was trying out and how that helped me discover new articles. I shared how my discovery process kept building on each search effort and what I was getting from the reading and how that led me from a topic of urban gardening to a more focused topic of food justice.

We encouraged students to skim and scan at least three articles from three sources to find vocabulary terms, and concepts that could help them grow their search terms; just as I had done in the think aloud modeling, I told them to keep a running list of search terms/phrases they were trying. Because we did not want to overstructure the mapping process, we told students not to worry about citation or identifying specific articles or web resources although they certainly could capture permalinks/bookmarks/URLs for resources that seemed notable. We provided students plain and colored paper (they love choices) as well as Sharpies for those who wanted them. We made sure students also had access to digital and hard copies of my drafts so they had a tangible model to see once we finished the lesson. While we were not able to secure the same timeline Tasha uses with this approach, students did have a day and a half to work on the maps in the library (the submission deadline established by the teachers was the end of class on Tuesday) although some students might have benefited from an additional half or full day to work on their search and maps. We, along with the classroom teachers, told students to use Monday evening to try making progress on their maps and search as well.  While students had the choice of crafting their presearch search term maps by hand or with a tech tool, an overwhelming majority chose to create their maps by hand; this is a choice we have seen across other classes in the last few weeks since this initial effort.

I devised a “lightning reflection” to help students share a little of their process and to help us better understand what we might be seeing in their pre-search strategy maps.

Jennifer and I targeted the students in three specific class sections to complete this form and then attach it to the mapping work they had completed at the end of class yesterday. We then struggled to think about an effective yet fast way to give them some helpful feedback today since we had anticipated returning the maps either today or Thursday. After much trial and error (and some additional revising to add some comment checkboxes related to the search term notes — we noticed after assessing one set of student work, some students were noting more facts than terms and vocabulary, and it was time consuming to write the comment repeatedly), so we crafted this form thinking the checklist and “green, yellow, red” status indicators would help students think about next steps in class this week.

After looking at their green reflection sheets and maps, I spent roughly a day completing the feedback form and providing written comments as needed. Jen assisted me in this process, and we enjoyed seeing patterns of their thinking as well as gaps as looking at student work helps us better understand what students know at this point and where they may need additional help or instruction.

After returning the student assessment feedback forms, we took time to discuss with the classes what they were doing well and strategies for strengthening their presearch work with the maps.  We also shared exemplar maps from their peers for further inspiration; below is a sampler of some of the maps our students created.   

Reflections

We continue to fine-tune our efforts, but overall we are very pleased with the quality of work and thinking we saw from our students in both activities. We’re excited that this strategy worked the way we hoped it would and impressed by how the students used the strategy to move from Point A to B in a thoughtful and more deliberate yet organic way with their search strategies and terms/phrases. It was also exciting to “feel” the student interest in their topics and their discovery process as some of them made some really interesting moves from broad topics to more focused subtopics. We invite you to watch and listen to the feedback some of our students shared with us as they eloquently explain how both activities helped them find, refine, and engage with a topic of authentic value to them.

In conclusion, we continue to see something very powerful about students using writing processes to engage in metacognition and inquiry. While so much of search itself is now done through digital means, the act of “unplugged” writing technologies to not only slow down student thinking but to also help them wrestle with the challenges inherent in information seeking tasks in presearch. Jennifer and I are excited for opportunities like these to incorporate activities that help students question, wonder, and explore as part of the topic selection process. As we continue to work with our teachers and students, we hope to better develop our formative assessments to identify specific learning outcomes and processes of the presearch stage of inquiry and research. We look forward to seeing how we can continue to integrate writing literacies into all stages of inquiry, particularly as we look more closely at ways of information inquiry (Callison and Baker 18).  

Works Cited

Callison, Daniel, and Katie Baker. "Elements of Information Inquiry, Evolution of Models, & Measured Reflection." Knowledge Quest 43.2 (2014): 18-24. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.

Harada, Violet, and Ann Tepe. "Pathways to Knowledge [Trademark]." Teacher Librarian 26.2 (1998): 9. MasterFILE Elite. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.

All images by Buffy J. Hamilton

by mcruz at March 23, 2015 05:38 PM

Global Voices
10 Common Words in Spanish and English That Come From Quechua

The post by Juan Arellano was originally published on the blog Globalizado.

Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire, has had nearly 500 years of contact with Spanish, so it makes sense that each language has influenced the other. The most obvious way, besides the distinctly Quechua flavor that permeates the speech of those bilingual in both languages, are loan words. Everyday Quechua includes many words of Spanish origin, and visa versa, although sometimes that is not as well known.

A large amount of words for animals and agricultural products in Peru were incorporated with slight modifications into Spanish from Quechua, such as llamaguanacovicuna (just to name South American camelid species), potato (papa), quinoa, avocado (palta) and lucuma. But there are many more words that you might not realize came from Quechua.

The following is an informal and non-exhaustive list.

1. Cancha (soccer field)

[Player] Arruabarrena on @SoloBocaRadio: “A Boca fan must see himself reflected on the field by his team.”

This word, which comes from the Quechua kancha, is used throughout Spanish-speaking America to describe the site where a game, especially a soccer game, is held. But it has also other, more local meanings. For example, toasted corn is called also cancha or canchita…yum.

2. Poncho

This word is used almost globally, but the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy, the Madrid-based institution which publishes guidelines for the Spanish language) does not recognize it as Quechua.

The word's origin is uncertain; however, the Quechua word punchu has the same meaning, so unless there is an opinion to the contrary, we have decided to include it on this list. Poncho can also have a different meaning in some South American countries, for example, in this usual usual phrase: No dejarse pisar el poncho (Don't let yourself step on the poncho), which means that you shouldn't let yourself be humiliated or intimidated.

3. Cura (priest)

The doomsday priest give a mass in Antártida.

Cura is a colloquial word for a priest. It's used in almost all Spanish-speaking South America, and its origin is the Quechua word kuraq or kurakas, used to refer to the head of a community in the Inca Empire. The phrase hijo de cura (son of a cura), which at one time was considered an insult referring to a person's illegitimate birth, is used in some places as a sarcastic comment to point out that someone is being overlooked.

4. Gaucho (Argentinian cowboy)

The word gaucho, which refers to cowboys from the Pampas region in the north of Argentina, is used worldwide to refer to Argentinians in general. Its origin may be related to the Quechua word wakcha, which means orphan, and it has gave rise to the Peruvian word huacho, that means alone.

5. Morocho (dark-skinned person)

It's difficult to understand why no one asks for this morocho. Would you like to meet him?

Morocho comes from the Quechua word muruch'u, which is a variety of hard corn. Its most common meaning in Spanish is a dark-skinned person. In some countries, it is used for people with fair skin but black hair. By extension, it also applies to animals with black skin. In Ecuador, morocho is a delicious thick drink.

6. Chacra (ranch)

Veterinary school and management make progress on the Veterinary Hospital project at a chacra in Brío, Uruguay 

In several South American countries, the word chacra is used instead of ranch, meaning a house surrounded by cultivated fields in a rural area. It comes from the Quechua word chajra or chakra, meaning a small partition of arable land. In Peruvian slang, chacra means that something is badly done.

7. Chullo (hat with earflaps)

Some artists like to wear this Peruvian fashion garment, whose name comes from Quechua, as an exotic touch. The term comes from ch'ullu, meaning a cap with earflaps, traditionally made of alpaca wool.

8. Carpa (tent)

Information carpa at Vallmoll. Good atmosphere and good company 

In South America and in Spain, including in Catalan, which is spoken in Catalonia (the above tweet is in Catalan), a carpa is a tent; even a big circus tent is called a carpa. The word karpa is its Quechua origin. Some South American countries have a more colloquial use of this word: Estar carpa (to be like a circus tent), a phrase with a very adult meaning.

9. Pucho (cigarette butt)

That is the way to study… pucho and Coca-Cola

This word, which comes from the Quechua word puchu, is generally used to describe cigarette butts or half-smoked cigars, though it is also used in some countries to describe a whole cigarette. In others countries, when it is used as part of the phrase sobre el pucho, it means immediately or at once.

10. Guano

Guano comes from the Quechua word wanu, and was originally used to name the seabird droppings used as fertilizer. By extension, it is also used to describe other animal droppings. Its use is more widespread than you might think.

Go Quechua go!

PS: No linguist was mistreated while writing this post.

Others posts in English about Quechua:

5 Free Apps, Podcasts and Blogs to Learn Quechua 
Languages: Let's Tweet ans Speak in Quechua

by Liliane Tambasco at March 23, 2015 05:28 PM

Mexico's Airwaves Aren't the Same Without Journalist Carmen Aristegui
La periodista mexicana Carmen Aristegui. Foto: Wikimedia.

Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui. Photo: Wikimedia.

Journalist Carmen Aristegui, considered by some “the most influential journalist in Mexico”, was fired yet again by radio station Noticias MVS, just a few months after exposing a high-profile scandal involving a sitting president. 

It is not the first time that Aristegui has been taken off the airwaves after questioning powerful interests in her country. In 2011, her microphone was temporarily unplugged after she made an editorial comment about the alleged alcoholism of Mexico's former President Felipe Calderón during her radio show.

This time Aristegui was relieved of her on-air duties not long after publicizing, in November 2014, an investigation by Mexican journalists into the expenses of the so-called Casa Blanca (White House) of current President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The investigation revealed a potential conflict of interest involving first lady Angélica Rivera, who is also an actress employed by media company Televisa. Rivera has been criticized for providing an unconvincing explanation for the source of funding that enabled the purchase of the president's US $7 million home in an upscale neighbourhood of Mexico City. 

The luxurious home is neither under the President or his wife's name, but under Grupo Higa, a construction company which was on the verge of benefitting from a lucrative contract to build a train from DF to the city of Queretaro. The house is, however, adjacent to one of the actress’s residences in a neighbouring street.

Aristegui is one of the most influential and recognized journalists in Mexico. Throughout her career she has helmed several radio and television shows. For several years her talk show on CNN in Spanish has been transmitted to several countries in Latin America. She won the National Journalism Award in 2001 and 2005. In 2008 she received the Maria Moors Cabot award from Columbia University. In 2012 she was honored by the French government with the Legion of Honor for her defense of freedom of expression and democracy in her country. The the corporation that employs her, however, appears to find her an inconvenient presence on air.

MVS/Multivisión, the parent company for which Aristegui has worked for the last several years, stated that her dismissal was related to the unauthorized use of its trademark by MexicoLeaks, a new digital platform that, despite not having yet published anything, is already a thorn in the side of Mexico's elite. Two members of Aristegui's editorial team appear in a promotional video for MexicoLeaks in which the MVS logo is visible. The new platform, which has the support of media outlets critical of those in power such as the magazine Proceso and the independent organization of Mexican journalists Periodistas de a pie (Journalists on the ground), invites people to submit anonymous reports about corruption and misbehavior.       

In a message on her morning MVS program, Aristegui said it was “unacceptable” for members of her editorial team —the same team that shed light on President Peña Nieto's real estate investment— to have been fired. 

On the March 13 broadcast of her show, Aristegui called for her collaborators, journalists Daniel Lizárraga and Irving Huerta, to be reinstated. MVS indicated it would not give in to Aristegui’s ultimatum and decided instead to fire her as well. 

On Monday, March 16, Aristegui showed up for work as usual but found her microphone had been turned off. 

Aristegui says her firing is an attack on free speech. MVS disagreed, claiming that the incident was evidence of a “breach of trust.” The last time Aristegui was fired, the company said she had violated its code of ethics. Going forward, Aristegui is likely to have trouble finding air time.

 

 

by Victoria Robertson at March 23, 2015 03:27 PM

Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab
Global Voices
Confessions of Former Japanese ‘Netto-Uyoku’ Internet Racists
1280px-Zaitokukai_rally_at_Shinjuku_on_24_January_2010

Japanese rightists march in Tokyo. Image source: Wikipedia.

Discrimination against other nationalities and cultures has often been at the root of conflicts and hatred around the world.

That said, do we really know how racism starts and how we can stop it from spreading? The following courageous confessions of former supporters of racist discourse in Japan may give us some insight into the questions. 

Twitter user @New-OC-MAN confesses that it was her loneliness and longing for some sort of comfort from her isolation that eventually led her to embrace racist views against China and South Korea as part of Japan's online netto-uyoku (ネット右翼) movement — Internet commenters who support and promote far-right and racist views.

When I watch TV at home, I get the impression that these days the type of programs where foreigners shower their admiration on Japan have become increasingly popular. I personally think this is scary because when I was hikikomori [acute withdrawal from social life], I got myself into reading a lot of those websites that collected open-handed admiration from foreigners towards Japan, and this led me very close to becoming a netto-uyoku [an Internet commenter who supports and promotes far-right and racist views]…

When I was hikikomori and suffering from depression about ten years ago, I was reading only those websites that collected foreigners’ admiration towards Japan and I felt like I was comforted by them.  At that time, I thought of myself as a total dropout from society in every aspect. The only thing that remained was that I was “Japanese”. 

So, when I saw people expressing their love for Japan I felt like they loved me as well…

…As I continued my habit of visiting those websites, their links and references often brought me to other websites where I found a lot of racist comments directed at China and Korea. By then I had become an avid believer of “Japan is great!” so I was easily convinced that all those negative comments towards the two countries were true.

Fortunately, @New-OC-MAN was eventually able to realize by herself that these comments were not true. 

What made me start doubting these comments was how awful they were towards women. I am ashamed to say that I had no problems with their discriminatory comments as far as they were thrown at foreigners or foreign countries, but when they turned to women, when I myself am a woman, I finally came to realize the absurdity and ugliness of their arguments…

According to Tsukushi Kawai writing on his blog, apart from being an escape from his loneliness, it was the pleasure of sharing the information that others did not have that made him get involved with the discriminatory discourse.

さみしかったわけだ。暇だったのもある。だからネットに熱中した。当時はやり始めていたまとめサイト。あれを読むとね、学校やテレビでは「得られない情報」に触れることができたんだと当時は思った。そしてそういう情報を見知らぬ「誰か」だったとしても、共有できるのはうれしかったな。しかも天下国家を論じる話ばかりだ。自分が偉くなった気がしたね。
[中略]
あの当時の自分は、韓国の人を馬鹿にした、あるいはもっと酷い言葉でののしられた文章を見てもなんとも思わなかった。単に罵られている側の人を知らなかったからかもしれんが…自分と違う世界に住む人が何を言われようが、正直どうでもよかったんだと思う。

I was lonely and had nothing to do at that time. So I spent a lot of time on the Internet. This was just as “matome” meme aggregator websites were just becoming popular in Japan. After reading websites that focused on discrimination, I felt great because I thought I had gained knowledge that they did not teach in school nor you could not get by watching TV.

I was also very happy because I was sharing the knowledge with “someone” even though I had not met them in person. The topics we were discussing were often about how to set the world right.
So, I felt I was someone important…

When I saw those comments making fun of the Koreans or even worse, they did not bother me at all. Perhaps it was partly because I didn't know anything about Korea and the Koreans…

In any case, they were living in a different world from mine and frankly speaking it didn't matter to me at all.

Tsukushi says meeting with different people and knowing the existence of genuine and sincere people through reading books eventually helped him overcome his racist views. 

俺がネトウヨを辞めた理由は、3つある。
一つは、一応大学に入れてもらって…今度こそ友達を作ろうとして、いろいろと自分なりに努力したから。
[中略]
見知らぬ人と情報を共有してさみしさを紛らわせる必要もなかった。
二つ目は、たくさん本を読んだからネトウヨ的な考え方がばかばかしく思えるようになったこと。 ネトウヨ時代に見聞きした、愛国サイト、いかがわしい書き込み、そして「保守本」(日本は素晴らしいからこの国を愛そうみたいな)とは違う種類の本を読んだ。自分が特に熱中したのは、昭和維新の生き残りの人の本とプロレタリア文学の人の本だ。詳しくは触れないけど…あの人たちの本には「なぜ自分がこの国を愛そうとおもったのか」とか「なぜ自分が貧しい人々を救いたいのか」が明確に書かれた。昭和維新の生き残りの方でいうならば、軍人として戦場で戦った経験、貧しい部下の新兵の家庭の事情を知ったこと…とかかな。プロレタリア文学ならば、自分が労働者として実際に働いた経験、そこで見聞きした経験なんかが克明に描いてあった。そういう経験を踏んだうえで、今の世の中は間違っている、だから正さなきゃならないんだ…とちゃんと書いてあった。

There were three reasons why I quit being netto-uyoku.

First of all was that I entered a university and this time I made a real effort to make friends there…then I felt no need to console my loneliness by sharing views on the Internet with someone I did not know.

The second reason was books. After reading so many books, I started to see the netto-uyoku views as absurd. I read books from different genres than the usual one that fomented patriotism through simple or absurd arguments that I had been so used to when I was netto-uyo.

Among the books that I read a lot were the ones written by the survivors of Showa Ishin and those from the proletarian literature. I would not go into detail, but I found in them a clear manifestation of why they loved this nation or why they wanted to help the poor.

For example, those from the survivors of the Showa Ishin described their experience on the battlefields as soldiers as well as the extreme poverty that the families of the new soldiers under their command were forced to suffer.

From proletariat literature, I learned in detail about the working conditions those authors themselves were under and what they saw and heard there. Based on their own experience they put forward a clear and legitimate argument that the world they were living was not right and it needed to be made right.

Tsukushi reports he eventually experienced a sort of catharsis: 

[中略]
そしてもう一つ…。それは俺が障害者施設にかかわり始めたこと。
[中略]
見た目は、涎を垂らしているような人でも、何度も話すうちにこの人にも趣味があるんだなーとか、家族がいるんだよなーとか…そういうことを思うようになった。結局ね、見た目は違っても、あるいはできることが違っても、人間ってのはどこかしら似たようなものなのだと…なんとなくだけど気づけた。

And the last one was that I got involved in a day care center for the disabled…

There I discovered, for instance, after talking with someone drooling constantly several times that he had in fact hobbies or had beloved family. Finally, I realized that under our different appearances and abilities or disabilities, we are all similar in nature.

by Takeshi Nagasawa at March 23, 2015 12:02 PM

Why Are Mostly Foreign Artists Representing Kenya at the Venice Biennale?
The Shame in Venice. Acrylics mixed media on canvas by Michael Soi. Artwork used with his permission.

The Shame in Venice. Acrylics mixed media on canvas by Michael Soi. Artwork used with his permission.

Did Kenya sell its art scene to China via Italy?

This is the question Kenyans and lovers of Kenyan art are asking themselves following the revelation that this year's Venice Biennale Kenya pavilion will be represented by only one Kenyan artist, with the other representatives being mostly Chinese artists plus a controversial Italian artist, Armando Tanzini, who is representing the country for a second time at the Biennale.

The ‘Kenyan’ participants are listed here and here.

Founded in 1895 as an International Art Exhibition, this is the 56th edition of the festival, which is now one of the most prestigious cultural events in the world. It will run May 9 – November 22.

In 2013, the Kenyan pavilion had only two Kenyan artists. Among the non-Kenyans representing the country were one Italian-Brazilian, the Italian Tanzini plus eight Chinese. In the same year, Joyce Nyairo, a Kenyan cultural analyst, asked Kenyan authorities to explain the country's disastrous display at the ‘Art Olympics’. She wanted to know why Kenya did not use the opportunity to showcase its contemporary art:

They are a broadly shared outrage — locally and internationally — on account of the casual way in which an opportunity to represent Kenya at one of the foremost art events in the world has been hijacked by charlatans.

In an email interview with Njeri Wangari, a Kenyan poet, blogger and performer, about Kenya's contemporary art scene, Global Voices learned that the Kenyan contemporary art scene is vibrant and growing. However, it still looks towards foreign donor-based art organisations, which is primarily due to the continued failure of the Kenyan government to offer any form of support to the Kenyan arts community. She pointed out that private interests have taken over Kenya's participation at this year's event, just as they did two years ago 

Angered at yet another misrepresentation, Kenyans have created an online petition titled, “Renounce Kenya's fraudulent representation at the 56th Venice Biennial 2015 & commit to support the realisation of a national pavilion in 2017″:

For the third time, a group of well-connected persons, who lack neither the intellectual nor creative capacity to represent Kenya's contemporary art to the international arena, are posturing to the world as the Kenyan Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennial in Italy.

It should be noted that the Venice Biennial carries with it a profound global significance. For Kenya its cultural scene and its contemporary artists, Venice is a big deal and big business. It brings with it the absolute potential to launch the careers of artists, curators, writers, cultural entrepreneurs, cultural managers, collectors, art educators, patrons – both individual and corporate and many other players to monumental heights. It enriches our discourses and articulates our sophistication as a people both to ourselves and to the to the world at large. It also goes a long way to inject much needed commerce and cultural capital into our societies.

Due to multiple failures in our systems, local and international platforms where Kenyan Artists and our socio-creative infrastructure can gain capital have been poorly managed, misrepresented and outrightly appropriated.

This petition therefore, is another urge to amalgamate the resonance of Kenya's contemporary voices and consolidate the outrage that our supporters both locally and internationally feel. It is to seek the comradeship of those who are witness to both the vibrancy and frustration of Kenya's contemporary artists, and those who bear them support.

Explaining the reasons for supporting the petition, Boniface Maina wrote on the petition's website:

I am signing because it is a shame for our slot to be misrepresented in the Venice biennale again as if it wasn't enough already and the government through the ministry stands aside as if nothing is happening. This should stop from happening again and let the real Kenyan Artists represent but not the Chun Chings who pose to be “Kenyan.” Kenya already has excellent Artist who ought to be in that biennale and clearly whoever is in charge of this deal is sleeping heavily in the job… STOP THIS MADNESS..!!!!

Another petitioner, Judith Kibinge asked:

Have we no shame? No cultural pride? Isnt anyone at the Ministry of Culture not sick of misrepresenting kenya and kenyans to the world as a nation of jokers? The people behind this need to be called to account – and jailed / sacked or fined if found guilty of compromising our national pride.

A non-Kenyan supporter of the petition, Kristina Wright, wrote:

Although I am not Kenyan, I have spent a lot of time in Kenya over the last 15 years and consider it to be my second home. I am a long-time admirer of Kenyan art, and am dismayed at the way Kenya is being misrepresented at the Venice Biennale.

Arnola Lakita noted the importance of the arts:

The arts are the last bastion of expression and we can't have that also taken away by corruption and neocolonialism.

On Facebook, Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina had the following questions:

So. Is Armando Tanzini [who is based in Kenya] a Kenyan citizen? A legal resident? Does he have a work permit? Does he have letters of authority from our government to represent us internationally? Why does the Venice Biennale accept his credentials again after the previous scandal? Is somebody qualified to do so writing to Okwi Enwezor the Nigerian curator of the Venice Bienale about this? What action(s) are our arts institutions formally taking about all this? I am speaking about Kuona, Godown and more. What is the position of our Minister of Culture. When will this position be made public. What is the position of our Foreign Ministry. Our Rome Embassy? What action has our Roe embassy taken since 2013?

Reacting to Binyavanga's post, Kenya-born artist Phoebe Boswell identified the main problem with Kenya's pavilion:

The problem with Kenya's Pavilions is the heinous lack of curatorial intention, from choice of artists to the weird, nonsensical titles. Tanzini is obviously a driving force so it's necessary to focus on his role in it.
But the issue with Tanzini is merit-based. Whilst being a longterm resident in Kenya and a longterm maker of ‘stuff’ (I wouldn't call it all ‘art’ but I will credit that), his work is irrelevant to Kenya's contemporary conversation. It is disconnected. And frankly just not very good. More importantly, there are so many Kenyan artists who are better and relevant. More importantly still, and the crux of the whole thing, what is being presented is a curatorial mess. There is no thought process behind it, no criticality, and it makes a mockery of the concept of the Venice Biennale – for countries to present new, progressive, idiosyncratic, vital, current ways of seeing. Tanzini is an opportunist, using it as a vanity project, getting China's (substandard) artists onboard to pay for it, because who doesn't want to show at Venice! And after living in a Kenya 45 years, why wouldn't he want to/be allowed to show for Kenya? It's important to focus on the fact that the work is shit (in a nutshell), the curation of the work is nonexistent, and the whole affair is exploited, weak, and entirely lacking in credibility.

On Twitter, SkepticAfro wondered why the Italian artist Armando Tanzini still represents Kenya at the Venice Biennale when the exhibition itself will be led by Nigerian-born curator, Okwi Enwezor.

(The Swahili greeting used in the tweet above, jambo bwana, was a common phrase the colonised people in East Africa used to greet their colonial masters).

On Twitter, Boswell demanded:

You can follow tweets related to this debate on a storify curated by Phoebe Boswell's journalist sister, Frederica. 

by Ndesanjo Macha at March 23, 2015 09:44 AM

Two Brave Acid Attack Victims Take School Exams From Their Hospital Beds
A protest on February 24, 2015, seeks justice for Sunday's acid attack on school girls Sangita Magar and Sima Basnet in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo by Sunil Sharma. Copyright Demotix.

A protest on February 24, 2015, seeks justice for Sunday's acid attack on school girls Sangita Magar and Sima Basnet in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo by Sunil Sharma. Copyright Demotix.

Two brave girls, bed-ridden from acid attacks almost a month ago, are vying with 574,685 students to pass the most dreaded School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams — nicknamed the Iron Gate — with flying colours.

On 22 February, Seema Basnet and Sangita Magar were attacked with acid by an unidentified male at a Basantapur-based tuition centre in the heart of capital city Kathmandu. Nepalese police announced on 20 March that they had arrested Jiwan BK and accused him of carrying out the attack, 26 days after the incident.

Seema, one of the girls, had written a four-page letter to the Prime Minister Sushil Koirala requesting that she be allowed to appear for the exams from hospital.

The prime minister responded by instructing the Ministry of Education to arrange for the examinations to be taken from the hospital beds.

While Seema wrote her first paper from the Bir Hospital on her own, Sangita took the exams with the help of an assistant at Kathmandu Medical College (KMC) Hospital.

There was a huge uproar in Kathmandu following the acid attack against the teenage girls.

Leading Nepali blogger Lex Limbu posted photos of protests against the violence.

People have increasingly been speaking out to amend the law and increase the punishment as there is no harsh punishment against the crime. The current law carries a fine of up to 2,000 Nepalese rupees (about 20 US dollars) and a maximum sentence of four months in jail.

Ankit Koirala, an assistant professor of agri-economics at Agriculture and Forestry University, Rampur, tweeted:

People also demanded that treatment be provided for free to both girls.

Hinting at the money spent from state coffers on petty issues, Ram Kumari Jhakri, a central committee member of Community Party of Nepal – United Marxist and Leninist, tweeted:

Seven helicopters are flown to meet a sage but if this state doesn’t take care of a girl burned by acid thrown by a criminal, face it – the countdown will begin, scores will be settled.

Thanks to Seema and her courage, after receiving her heart-touching letter the prime minister directed the concerned authorities to provide free treatment to both girls.

Journalist Bhabasagar Ghimire tweeted his interpretation of the girls’ bravery in the aftermath of the attack:

Whoever frightened [me] saying that SLC was an iron gate, [I] need to meet with them and tell them, I have weighed and sold that door to the scrap dealer. Now don’t tell [me].

Salute to these brave girls, who are determined to move ahead and succeed in life and are not getting cowed down despite the violence they have suffered. 

by Sanjib Chaudhary at March 23, 2015 07:23 AM

Global Voices Advocacy
Internet in Iran: Evaluating Rouhani’s First Two Years as President
Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 16.54.16

Small Media assessed Internet policy during President Hassan Rouhani's first 18 months in office.  Image created by Small Media and used with permission.

This post was written by Small Media researcher Kyle Bowen based on the report of the same name. 

“Filtering has not even stopped people from accessing unethical websites. Widespread online filtering will only increase distrust between people and the state.”

These words, uttered by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shortly after winning the 2013 election, raised hopes that the Iranian Internet was about to become a bit more free. For Iranian netizens, this was welcome news, as the final eighteen months of Ahmadinejad’s presidency were marked by a persistent tightening of restrictions on internet freedom.

In January 2012, strict rules were introduced for cyber cafés, requiring owners to keep detailed records of patrons’ personal information and browsing history for at least 6 months. In March of that year, the Supreme Leader created the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC), a powerful and shadowy organisation with the ultimate say on all Internet policy matters. While the council is chaired by the president, it is dominated by conservatives. And in the early months of 2013, government throttling reduced the Iranian internet to glacial speeds ahead of the June 14th election.

In this context of heightened restrictions and creeping censorship, Rouhani’s message of a more open internet struck a consonant chord with the Iranian public. 

But has Rouhani lived up to these lofty expectations? This is the question Small Media’s latest report sets out to address. This research looks at media perceptions, Iran’s censorship institutions, and three years of ICT budget data to put together an internet policy report card for Rouhani’s first 18 months in office. So how has he done so far?

The Good

One positive sign is Rouhani’s willingness to take on Iran’s internet censorship body, the rather verbosely-named Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content (CDICC). When the CDICC passed a motion ordering WhatsApp to be blocked, Rouhani advised his ICT minister Mahmoud Vaezi to refuse to implement it. Naturally, Iran’s censorship body did not respond well to such insubordination, with the CDICC’s hardline secretary Abdolsamad Khoramabadi claiming that Rouhani had no basis for challenging his committee’s directives. It was at this point that Vaezi pulled rank, pointing out that as chairman of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, Rouhani’s say on the matter was final, and the block on WhatsApp would not be implemented. As of this writing, WhatsApp remains available in Iran, temporary disruptions notwithstanding.  

Among other things, this political standoff over WhatsApp illustrated that Rouhani was serious about some of his campaign promises. What’s more, his intervention tangibly impacted Iran’s filtering policy, keeping WhatsApp available in the Islamic Republic. Rouhani’s decision to challenge the CDICC over the WhatsApp ban was certainly a step in the right direction. But when we turn to the ICT budget and examine Rouhani’s spending priorities, some troubling signs begin to emerge.

The Bad

One potential cause for concern is the explosion of the cyber security budget. When Rouhani took office, cyber security funding stood at 42,073 million IRR (3.4 million USD). In the budget for the upcoming year, it has soared to 550,000 million IRR (19.8 million USD), an increase of over 1200% in just three years.

Cybersecurity funding has soared under Rouhani

The ICT budget has increased of over 1200% in just three years. Image created by Small Media and used with permission 

This vertiginous rise, which comes on the heels of the Stuxnet and Flame cyber attacks and the NSA spying scandal, shows that the government is making security a higher priority. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it raises the worry that vague security concerns will be cited to justify further restrictions on internet freedom. Indeed, Iran has a long history of rationalising censorship based on the threat of Western cultural invasion. And the NSA scandal has prompted numerous calls to support Iran’s national internet, from hardliners  and reformists alike.

Another problematic development concerns the ICT ministry’s full-throated support for both SHOMA (the national internet) and intelligent filtering. Last month, Rouhani’s ICT minister Mahmoud Vaezi announced that he was courting private sector investment in SHOMA, perhaps in an attempt to increase efficiency and expedite the development process. Vaezi also explained that work on phase II of the intelligent filtering system began on January 28, after the successful completion of phase one. In January, a number of Iranian netizens complained that testing of the intelligent filtering system disrupted their access to Instagram.

The Future

After assessing Rouhani’s ICT policies thus far, the report concludes with three predictions about the future of internet censorship in Iran. Here are a few things to look out for:

  1. More fights over social messaging apps. Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati recently announced that 9.5 million Iranians are on Viber. As these mobile apps continue to grow in popularity, blocking them will become an increasingly difficult proposition for elected representatives of Iran’s government. But that won’t stop the conservative judiciary from fighting tooth and nail to outlaw their use. We can expect more battles over the blocking of apps like Viber, pitting Iran’s moderate president against its hardline censorship institutions.

  2. Iran is unlikely to be cut off from the global internet, partly because it’s a lifeline to tech entrepreneurs. Iran’s recent launch of a domestic search engine, coupled with its development of a national internet prompted fears that the Islamic Republic would soon be cut off from the World Wide Web. The government is certainly encouraging Iranians to use domestic apps and platforms over which it has greater control. But it’s worth remembering that a substantial portion of Iran’s tech sector still depends on the global internet. For example, Blogfa, one of Iran’s most popular blogging platforms, is hosted in Canada. Moreover, lucrative Iranian startups such as Digikala may soon look to expand to new markets or solicit foreign investment (Iran’s emergent startup scene has aroused considerable interest in the West). Viewed from this angle, it’s clear that any long-term disconnection from the global internet could incur considerable economic and political costs for the Iranian government. Yet temporary disruptions during politically sensitive times are likely to continue.  

  3. Iranians are more concerned about internet access than online security. A recent survey on VPN use in Iran found that Iranians flock to circumvention tools that are free and easy to use, while more secure (but less user friendly) VPNs such as Tor were not as popular. A previous Small Media study reached a similar conclusion, finding that only 6.6% of respondents used VPNs for the primary purpose of enhancing personal security online. The preference for access over security makes sense when you consider what Iranians like to do online. As BBC Persian journalist Hadi Nili explains, “They want to listen to music, watch videos, download both, and update their Android or Apple devices… So even if they need a better security, they might opt to compromise their privacy for the price and ease of use.” 

We can draw a couple of conclusions from these priorities. First, despite all the hype about “Twitter Revolution” following the 2009 election, it seems quite plausible that most Iranians are be more interested in using the internet for entertainment rather than political activism. Second, Iranians’ somewhat blasé attitude towards online security will make VPN users much more susceptible to government surveillance. In the past couple of years there have been a series of arrests related to VPN use in Iran. We can expect this crackdown to continue, and perhaps even accelerate after the launch of SHOMA.

by Small Media at March 23, 2015 04:43 AM

Global Voices
Internet in Iran: Evaluating Rouhani’s First Two Years as President
Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 16.54.16

Small Media assessed Internet policy during President Hassan Rouhani's first 18 months in office.  Image created by Small Media and used with permission.

This post was written by Small Media researcher Kyle Bowen based on the report of the same name. 

“Filtering has not even stopped people from accessing unethical websites. Widespread online filtering will only increase distrust between people and the state.”

These words, uttered by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shortly after winning the 2013 election, raised hopes that the Iranian Internet was about to become a bit more free. For Iranian netizens, this was welcome news, as the final eighteen months of Ahmadinejad’s presidency were marked by a persistent tightening of restrictions on internet freedom.

In January 2012, strict rules were introduced for cyber cafés, requiring owners to keep detailed records of patrons’ personal information and browsing history for at least 6 months. In March of that year, the Supreme Leader created the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC), a powerful and shadowy organisation with the ultimate say on all Internet policy matters. While the council is chaired by the president, it is dominated by conservatives. And in the early months of 2013, government throttling reduced the Iranian internet to glacial speeds ahead of the June 14th election.

In this context of heightened restrictions and creeping censorship, Rouhani’s message of a more open internet struck a consonant chord with the Iranian public. 

But has Rouhani lived up to these lofty expectations? This is the question Small Media’s latest report sets out to address. This research looks at media perceptions, Iran’s censorship institutions, and three years of ICT budget data to put together an internet policy report card for Rouhani’s first 18 months in office. So how has he done so far?

The Good

One positive sign is Rouhani’s willingness to take on Iran’s internet censorship body, the rather verbosely-named Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content (CDICC). When the CDICC passed a motion ordering WhatsApp to be blocked, Rouhani advised his ICT minister Mahmoud Vaezi to refuse to implement it. Naturally, Iran’s censorship body did not respond well to such insubordination, with the CDICC’s hardline secretary Abdolsamad Khoramabadi claiming that Rouhani had no basis for challenging his committee’s directives. It was at this point that Vaezi pulled rank, pointing out that as chairman of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, Rouhani’s say on the matter was final, and the block on WhatsApp would not be implemented. As of this writing, WhatsApp remains available in Iran, temporary disruptions notwithstanding.  

Among other things, this political standoff over WhatsApp illustrated that Rouhani was serious about some of his campaign promises. What’s more, his intervention tangibly impacted Iran’s filtering policy, keeping WhatsApp available in the Islamic Republic. Rouhani’s decision to challenge the CDICC over the WhatsApp ban was certainly a step in the right direction. But when we turn to the ICT budget and examine Rouhani’s spending priorities, some troubling signs begin to emerge.

The Bad

One potential cause for concern is the explosion of the cyber security budget. When Rouhani took office, cyber security funding stood at 42,073 million IRR (3.4 million USD). In the budget for the upcoming year, it has soared to 550,000 million IRR (19.8 million USD), an increase of over 1200% in just three years.

Cybersecurity funding has soared under Rouhani

The ICT budget has increased of over 1200% in just three years. Image created by Small Media and used with permission 

This vertiginous rise, which comes on the heels of the Stuxnet and Flame cyber attacks and the NSA spying scandal, shows that the government is making security a higher priority. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it raises the worry that vague security concerns will be cited to justify further restrictions on internet freedom. Indeed, Iran has a long history of rationalising censorship based on the threat of Western cultural invasion. And the NSA scandal has prompted numerous calls to support Iran’s national internet, from hardliners  and reformists alike.

Another problematic development concerns the ICT ministry’s full-throated support for both SHOMA (the national internet) and intelligent filtering. Last month, Rouhani’s ICT minister Mahmoud Vaezi announced that he was courting private sector investment in SHOMA, perhaps in an attempt to increase efficiency and expedite the development process. Vaezi also explained that work on phase II of the intelligent filtering system began on January 28, after the successful completion of phase one. In January, a number of Iranian netizens complained that testing of the intelligent filtering system disrupted their access to Instagram.

The Future

After assessing Rouhani’s ICT policies thus far, the report concludes with three predictions about the future of internet censorship in Iran. Here are a few things to look out for:

  1. More fights over social messaging apps. Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati recently announced that 9.5 million Iranians are on Viber. As these mobile apps continue to grow in popularity, blocking them will become an increasingly difficult proposition for elected representatives of Iran’s government. But that won’t stop the conservative judiciary from fighting tooth and nail to outlaw their use. We can expect more battles over the blocking of apps like Viber, pitting Iran’s moderate president against its hardline censorship institutions.

  2. Iran is unlikely to be cut off from the global internet, partly because it’s a lifeline to tech entrepreneurs. Iran’s recent launch of a domestic search engine, coupled with its development of a national internet prompted fears that the Islamic Republic would soon be cut off from the World Wide Web. The government is certainly encouraging Iranians to use domestic apps and platforms over which it has greater control. But it’s worth remembering that a substantial portion of Iran’s tech sector still depends on the global internet. For example, Blogfa, one of Iran’s most popular blogging platforms, is hosted in Canada. Moreover, lucrative Iranian startups such as Digikala may soon look to expand to new markets or solicit foreign investment (Iran’s emergent startup scene has aroused considerable interest in the West). Viewed from this angle, it’s clear that any long-term disconnection from the global internet could incur considerable economic and political costs for the Iranian government. Yet temporary disruptions during politically sensitive times are likely to continue.  

  3. Iranians are more concerned about internet access than online security. A recent survey on VPN use in Iran found that Iranians flock to circumvention tools that are free and easy to use, while more secure (but less user friendly) VPNs such as Tor were not as popular. A previous Small Media study reached a similar conclusion, finding that only 6.6% of respondents used VPNs for the primary purpose of enhancing personal security online. The preference for access over security makes sense when you consider what Iranians like to do online. As BBC Persian journalist Hadi Nili explains, “They want to listen to music, watch videos, download both, and update their Android or Apple devices… So even if they need a better security, they might opt to compromise their privacy for the price and ease of use.” 

We can draw a couple of conclusions from these priorities. First, despite all the hype about “Twitter Revolution” following the 2009 election, it seems quite plausible that most Iranians are be more interested in using the internet for entertainment rather than political activism. Second, Iranians’ somewhat blasé attitude towards online security will make VPN users much more susceptible to government surveillance. In the past couple of years there have been a series of arrests related to VPN use in Iran. We can expect this crackdown to continue, and perhaps even accelerate after the launch of SHOMA.

by Small Media at March 23, 2015 04:36 AM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Promise Tracker launches civic monitoring campaigns across Brazil

After a year of collaborative development with partners in Brazil, our newest tool, Promise Tracker, will officially launch in São Paulo this week on March 24th. Over the past 6 days, we ran 5 workshops in 4 different cities throughout the country to introduce the tool to civil society organizations and get some initial feedback. These workshops were the first in a series over the next 2 months that will introduce Promise Tracker to groups across the country that make up the Brazilian Network for Just and Sustainable Cities.

We were overwhelmed by the excitement and energy with which the project was received and by the desire of partner groups to leverage Promise Tracker and civic monitoring initiatives to engage a wider network of actors within their respective cities.

São Luis do Maranhão
On Sunday we flew up north to the capital of Maranhão. The state is the poorest in Brazil and currently in the midst of an exciting political shift. After 50+ years of oligarchy under the notorious Sarney family, Maranhão finally voted new leadership into power in the fall 2014 elections and is welcoming the state’s first governor from the Communist Party. There is a palpable sense of excitement amongst civil society groups in the region and a real desire to take advantage of this opening to transform participation and engagement within the state.

Our partner in Maranhão, Nossa São Luis, is an incredibly motivated movement that works under the wing of a coalition for corporate social responsibility in the city. We had an inspiring group of 15 participants for the workshop, including university students and civil society veterans that have been working in education, transportation, waste management and a variety of other issues for over a decade. Throughout the course of the day, we created campaigns to monitor bike lanes, trash collection sites and the construction of elementary schools. 

Unlike in São Paulo, the local government in São Luis has not yet published a set of goals and promises specific enough to facilitate the type of monitoring we have carried out in other workshops. While preparing a campaign to track the construction progress on promised elementary schools, our education group came across a significant stumbling block. Without a list of the proposed construction sites, how could the group begin to monitor progress?

Throughout the course of the workshop, leaders of Nossa São Luis and other participants got out their cell phones and began calling contacts within City Hall and the Secretary of Education to try to get ahold of the needed information. Though we received only a partial list by the end of the day, Nossa São Luis members recognized this very process as perhaps one of the most important for the use of the tool in Maranhão. If citizen monitoring can increase the demand for detailed documentation on political promises, it has the potential to make significant strides for improving access to information and encouraging accountability of local leaders.

Building on the momentum and energy generated during the workshop, Nossa São Luis will be working with us to develop a team of local trainers in Maranhão and organize a formal launch event for Promise Tracker in São Luis, gathering companies, local government and civil society groups around the tool.

Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais
Following the debut in São Luis, we traveled to the capital of Minas Gerais to run a workshop with partners at Nossa BH. Founded in 2008, the organization brings together community leaders, residents, representatives of local civil society groups and companies to improve quality of life in Belo Horizonte.

Nossa BH invited a group of 10 to participate in the workshop, including university students, urban planners, and a representative from the city transportation authority. The group developed 2 campaigns to track transportation goals related to the new bus system. The first campaign focused on handicap accessibility in stations, the second on the accuracy of arrival times posted on new electronic displays. As a group, we boarded the same bus line and dropped off participants at each of the first 6 stops to collect information at each station. Initial data is available on the Promise Tracker site for accessibility and estimated arrival times.

We will be meeting with Nossa BH this week to discuss the organization of a more extensive accessibility campaign throughout the city and next steps for replicating the workshop with other interest groups in Belo Horizonte.

Betim, Minas Gerais
On Thursday we traveled to Betim, about 45 minutes outside of Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais. The city is an industrial center, home to Fiat Chrysler’s largest manufacturing plant and a Petrobras oil refinery. Well aware of their impact on the city, some of Betim’s largest companies have joined together to support civil society organizations such as Nossa Betim and fund a local vocational school, SENAI.

We worked with a group of 10 participants including members of Nossa Betim’s leadership, a civics and philosophy professor, and a group of technical and communications students from SENAI. The group created 2 different surveys focused on handicap accessibility and maintenance of local parks. The team monitored 6 parks near the city center.

Participants had excellent ideas about how to modify the tool to facilitate more active engagement in and discussion of data collection campaigns. Nossa Betim’s leadership is excited about getting this younger and more tech savvy group involved as local multipliers and partnering to run other workshops with city councillors in Betim in April.

Butantã, São Paulo
To close the week, we gathered a group of local participatory councillors and community leaders who have been engaged throughout the past year in the collaborative development of Promise Tracker in São Paulo. Building on our experience from the week, our goal was to refine the methodology and materials for running future workshops with groups throughout the country.

Together we built the basis of a Promise Tracker trainers’ guide, including a workshop presentation, notes for facilitators, and documentation of key preparation and follow up steps for participants and workshop organizers. Over the next 2 months, we'll be refining the guide and working with local trainers to replicate Promise Tracker workshops around the country.

We look forward to sharing news from the official launch on the 24th and stories from the field as communities across Brazil begin to use Promise Tracker to monitor political promises in their cities!

by emreiser at March 23, 2015 03:58 AM

Promise Tracker launches civic monitoring campaigns across Brazil

After a year of collaborative development with partners in Brazil, our newest tool, Promise Tracker, will officially launch in São Paulo this week on March 24th. Over the past 6 days, we ran 5 workshops in 4 different cities throughout the country to introduce the tool to civil society organizations and get some initial feedback. These workshops were the first in a series over the next 2 months that will introduce Promise Tracker to groups across the country that make up the Brazilian Network for Just and Sustainable Cities.

We were overwhelmed by the excitement and energy with which the tool was received and by the desire of partner groups tool to leverage Promise Tracker and civic monitoring initiatives to engage a wider network of actors within their respective cities.

São Luis do Maranhão
On Sunday we flew up north to the capital of Maranhão. The state is the poorest in Brazil and is currently in the midst of an exciting political shift. After 50+ years of oligarchy under the notorious Sarney family, Maranhão finally voted new leadership into power in the fall 2014 elections and is welcoming the state’s first governor from the Communist Party. There is a palpable sense of excitement amongst civil society groups in the region and a real desire to take advantage of this opening to transform participation and engagement within the state.

Our partner in Maranhão, Nossa São Luis, an incredibly motivated movement that works under the wing of a coalition for corporate social responsibility in the city. We had an inspiring group of 15 participants for the workshop, including university students and civil society veterans that have been working in education, transportation, waste management and a variety of other issues for over a decade.

Throughout the course of the day, we created campaigns to monitor bike lanes, trash collection sites and the construction of elementary schools. The crew started data collection on bike lanes and they are planning to continue to collect data through thematic working groups on urban transportation, education and waste management.

Unlike in São Paulo, the local government in São Luis has not yet published a set of goals and promises specific enough to facilitate the type of monitoring we have carried out in other workshops. While preparing a campaign to track the construction progress on promised elementary schools, our education group came across a significant stumbling block. Without a list of the proposed construction sites, how could the group begin to monitor progress?

Throughout the course of the workshop, leaders of Nossa São Luis and other participants got out their cell phones and began calling contacts within City Hall and the Secretary of Education to try to get ahold of the needed information. Though we received only a partial list by the end of the day, Nossa São Luis members recognized this very process as perhaps one of the most important for the use of the tool in Maranhão. If citizen monitoring can increase the demand for detailed documentation on political promises, it has the potential to make significant strides for improving access to information and encouraging accountability of local leaders.

Building on the momentum and energy generated during the workshop, Nossa São Luis will be working with us to develop a team of local trainers in Maranhão and organize a formal launch event for Promise Tracker in São Luis, gathering companies, local government and civil society groups around the tool.

Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais
Following the debut in São Luis, we traveled to the capital of Minas Gerais to run a workshop with partners at Nossa BH. Founded in 2008, the organization brings together community leaders, residents, representatives of local civil society groups and companies to improve quality of life in Belo Horizonte.

Nossa BH invited a group of 10 to participate in the workshop, including university students, urban planners, and a representative from the city transportation authority. The group developed 2 campaigns to track transportation goals related to the new bus system. One campaign focused on handicap accessibility in stations, the second on the accuracy of arrival times posted on new electronic displays. As a group, we boarded the same bus line and dropped off members at each of the first 6 stops to collect data at each station. Initial data is available on the Promise Tracker site for accessibility and estimated arrival times.

We will be meeting with Nossa BH this week to discuss the organization of a more extensive accessibility campaign throughout the city and next steps for replicating the workshop with other interest groups in Belo.

Betim, Minas Gerais
On Thursday we ran a workshop in Betim, about 45 minutes outside of Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais. The city is an industrial center, home to Fiat Chrysler’s largest manufacturing plant and a Petrobras oil refinery. Well aware of their impact on the city, some of Betim’s largest companies have joined together to support civil society organizations such as Nossa Betim and fund a local vocational school, SENAI.

We worked with a group of 10 participants including members of Nossa Betim’s leadership, a civics and philosophy professor, and a group of technical and communications students from SENAI. The group created 2 different surveys focused on handicap accessibility and maintenance of local parks. In groups of 2, the team monitored 6 parks near the city center.

Participants had excellent ideas about how to modify the tool to facilitate more active engagement in and discussion of data collection campaigns. Nossa Betim’s leadership is excited about getting this younger and more tech savvy group involved as local multipliers and partnering to run other workshops with city councillors in Betim in April.

Butantã, São Paulo
To close the week, we gathered a group of local participatory councillors and community leaders who have been engaged throughout the past year in the collaborative development of Promise Tracker in São Paulo. Building on our experience from the week, our goal was to refine the methodology and materials for running future workshops to introduce the tool to groups throughout the country.

Together we built the basis of a Promise Tracker trainers’ guide, including a workshop presentation, notes for facilitators, and documentation of key preparation and follow up steps for participants and workshop organizers.

We look forward to sharing news from the official launch on the 24th and stories from the field as communities across Brazil begin to use Promise Tracker to monitor political promises in their cities over the next few months!

by emreiser at March 23, 2015 03:45 AM

March 22, 2015

Miriam Meckel
Geschlossene Gesellschaft

WiWo_13_15_Titel_DollarComeback_FIN_WEB

Frankfurt als Kampfplatz der Euro-Rettungsgegner: Falsche Mittel führen nie zum richtigen Ziel.

Der 18. März ist der neue 1. Mai. Und Frankfurt-Ostend das neue Berlin-Kreuzberg. Mit der Einweihung ihrer neuen Zentrale ist der Europäischen Zentralbank (EZB) vergangenen Mittwoch etwas Nachhaltiges gelungen. Sie hat einen Feiertag geschaffen. Für Krawallmacher, gewalttätige Demonstranten und alle, die Kapitalismus, Banken und zu viel Geld schon immer ätzend fanden. Dafür sind jetzt auch Symbole geprägt: brennende Autos auf den Straßen und die Frankfurter Bankenskyline in schwarzen Rauch gehüllt.

Der 18. März wird zum Feiertag für gewaltbereite Randalierer, die jede Gelegenheit nutzen, sich auszutoben, und bei ihren jeweiligen Hassobjekten nicht wählerisch sind. Er wird nicht zum Feiertag einer neuen Bewegung für ein verändertes demokratisches Europa.

Es war wie vorauseilender Gehorsam zur Vermeidung von zu viel Realitätskontakt, dass die Feierlichkeiten der EZB im kleinen Kreis hinter verschlossenen Türen stattfanden. 100 geladene Gäste, Häppchen zum biologischen und akustischen Verdauen. Und dann weiter wie gehabt. Der Sitz der EZB ist eben nicht „Symbol für das Beste, was Europa gemeinsam erreichen kann“, wie EZB-Chef Mario Draghi es in seiner Rede formulierte. Er ist Symbol für ein Europa, das den Menschen zunehmend aus dem Blick gerät. „Heute leider geschlossene Gesellschaft.“

Zugestanden: Die EZB hat geballt abbekommen, was als Protest und Widerstand den Regierungen der Euro-Länder gebührt. Sie sind in der Verantwortung, endlich die Reformen umzusetzen, die eine endlose Hängepartie, wie im Falle Griechenlands, künftig unmöglich machen.

Aber die Demonstranten hätten einen Punkt gehabt: Auf welcher demokratischen Legitimation beruhen eigentlich die Interventionen der EZB? Seit der zweiten Märzwoche kauft sie jeden Monat Anleihen im Wert von 60 Milliarden Euro. Mantraartig beschwören die Beteiligten, die gigantische Geldflutungsmaschinerie sei Bestandteil der Geldpolitik zugunsten von Preisstabilität. Als solche hat sie drastische Wirkungen: Der Euro wertet ab, der Dax schießt zwischenzeitlich über 12 000 Punkte, die deutsche Exportwirtschaft boomt. Aber das ist nicht alles.

Derzeit entscheidet der EZB-Rat von Woche zu Woche über neue Notkredite für Griechenland. Das Überleben des Landes als Teil der Euro-Zone liegt auch in den Händen von 25 Menschen im Entscheidungsgremium der inzwischen mächtigsten europäischen Institution. Demokratische Legitimation? Keine.

Als drittes Mitglied im Bunde neben Internationalem Währungsfonds und Europäischer Kommission ist sie Mitglied der Troika, die nun in Griechenland nicht mehr Troika heißen darf, aber das Gleiche macht wie vorher. Demokratische Legitimation? Keine.

EZB-Präsident Mario Draghi sitzt regelmäßig mit am Tisch, wenn die Staatschefs sich zum EU-Gipfel oder im Rahmen der G20 treffen. Gut, auch die Regierungschefs von China, Saudi-Arabien oder der Türkei können prima ohne freie demokratische Wahlen leben. Aber hier geht es um Europa. Begründung für mangelnde demokratische Legitimation der größten und mächtigsten supranationalen Institution? Keine.

Der französische Integrationsforscher Antoine Vauchez hat soeben ein Buch vorgelegt, das schon im Titel fordert: „Démocratiser l’Europe“. Sein Argument: Politik gestalten in Europa inzwischen vor allem die supranationalen Institutionen, allen voran die EZB. Die gewählten Regierungen folgen ihnen, weil sie selbst keine Wahl haben. Dass sich die Proteste nun gegen die EZB gewendet haben, kann ihnen nur recht sein. Wenn gegen die Zentralbanken gefeuert wird, sind die reformunfähigen Regierungen erst einmal raus aus der Schusslinie.

Am 18. März wurde aus einem berechtigten Anliegen Krawall zum Selbstzweck. Unverhältnismäßig, so wie die Machtfülle der EZB, gemessen an ihrer demokratischen Legitimation. Kein Grund zum Feiern.

wiwo.de

by Miriam Meckel at March 22, 2015 10:17 PM

Global Voices
Thousands of High School Students Protest throughout Macedonia
High school students march in downtown Skopje against controversial educational reforms.

High school students march in downtown Skopje against controversial educational reforms. Photo by Vanco Dzhambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

After university students and professors organized several marches to protest new laws related to Macedonia's education system, high school students in the capital Skopje organized a march of their own, braving a threatening counter-campaign by the government.

Hundreds of high school students gathered in the country's capital and thousands marched throughout the streets of several other Macedonian cities, including Tetovo, Resen, Kumanovo, Negotino, Bitola, and Struga, on March 19 under the motto “Stop the bad reforms in education.”

These protests came after the successful conclusion of a protest campaign by university students and professors, who objected to the new law on higher education, and staged massive protests and occupied faculties since late summer of 2014 and well into the new year. The government finally caved to the demands and agreed to draw up an entirely new law, without the controversial and unpopular external tests for Macedonian educational institutions that have triggered the protests through an inclusive parliamentary process.

External testing has already been implemented in primary and secondary schools in Macedonia, however, and these younger protesters consider it a tool for bureaucratic repression. Based on end-of-the-year multiple-choice tests, its critics claim it doesn't provide objective measurement of the knowledge acquired during the year and is used to traumatize both pupils and teachers, who may get salary reductions or worse if students post low test scores. It also encourages corruption, through dissemination and even sale of leaked test answers.

Networking against the state machine

The digital natives who are part of this protest movement use social media and online tools as their primary means for communicating with the public, including their High School Plenum Facebook page, the Twitter profile @plenumsredno, and the hashtags #СредношколскиПленум (High School Plenum), #СредношколскиМарш (High School March), and others. Communicating with a wider audience, outside their personal and everyday circles, seems to come naturally to many Macedonian high schoolers. 

Hundreds of teenagers gathered for the protest in Skopje on March 21, 2015, and thousands in total gathered in other cities throughout the country.

Hundreds of teenagers gathered for the protest in Skopje on March 21, 2015, and thousands in total gathered in other cities throughout the country. Photo by Vanco Dzhambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

Activist and photographer Vanco Dzambaski provided information about the protests in his photo gallery from the Skopje protest:

Several thousand high school students marched the streets of Skopje, but also several other cities today, holding banners saying “We are the future” and “You will hear us now” starting from the city park and finishing in front of the building of the Ministry of Education and Science.

With this march, the students reinforced their demands aimed at the Ministry of Education and Science to place on hold the law changes on the external testing for high school students, and showed their revolt from the new concept of state graduation exam which begins implementation from this school year. With this, among other changes, taking an exam in Mathematics becomes compulsory for all high-school graduates, regardless of their primary subjects of program stream and future plans for faculties on which they would continue their education.

The protests took place in other cities as well: Tetovo, Resen, Kumanovo, Negotino, Bitola, Struga are some of the cities where high-school students marched the streets in these days. Their protests and actions were met with an anonymous counter campaign, posters with their names and statements that they were paid to organize them and they were controlled to do so, but also messages and phone calls not to protests, and even locked doors in schools at the time of the protests.

The external examination was also a controversial measure at the time it was introduced. Not being piloted before the errors in implementation were removed, its first implementation in 2013 was marked by a flawed process, damaged students, protests and a petition of 26.000 signatures unrecognized by the institutions.

A video by youth-run Internet-based Radio MOF also provides a feel of the atmosphere at the protests in Skopje. Radio MOF also aggregated special coverage of the High School Plenum activities.

‘Horrible methods’

As alluded to in Dzambaski's post,  the ruling party-sponsored campaign against the protesters is full of dirty tricks. In addition to the labelling of the protesters as mercenaries paid by billionaire philanthropist George Soros or opposition leader Zoran Zaev, fake leaflets — branded as if made by the Plenum — have been distributed on the streets of Skopje.

Teachers have also threatened young students with bad grades and warned them their parents may be fired, with some even locking the students in the schools.

On Twitter, organized bribery attempts were reported. For instance, Twitter user @koropanovska wrote about a high school in Resen, a small town in the South of Macedonia:

Horrible methods are used in our school to prevent the kids going out and joining the plenum.

They threaten, they give 50 Denars [about 1 US $] per person, teachers say they will make us fail the year, and the like.

In one instance, Nova TV reported on the blockade of a vocational high school in Veles, a provincial town around 50 kilometres from Skopje, where the principal closed the doors to stop around a hundred students who tried to join the march. About twenty pupils managed to escape by jumping from the windows and over fences, while the rest were detained by the security detail.

by Filip Stojanovski at March 22, 2015 03:31 PM

Giving Voice and Hope to the ‘Forgotten’ Victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The coastal town of Estancia was hit by two disasters in one day: Typhoon Haiyan and an oil spill from a power barge. Photo from the Facebook page of Rep. Tonchi Tinio

The coastal town of Estancia was hit by two disasters in one day on November 2013: Typhoon Haiyan and an oil spill from a power barge. Photo from the Facebook page of Rep. Tonchi Tinio

A group of volunteers and citizen journalists have been documenting the recovery and struggles of villagers in the town of Estancia, Iloilo Province, after typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) left a trail of destruction throughout the region in 2013.

Haiyan was the strongest typhoon in recorded history and killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines, mainly on the islands of Samar and Leyte. Haiyan also hit other islands such as Iloilo but the plight of the victims there is seldom mentioned in mainstream media. Most relief groups and foreign governments are focused on providing assistance to Leyte, the ‘ground zero’ of Haiyan; while badly hit towns on other islands like Estancia received little attention or help in the aftermath of the typhoon disaster.

Estancia, located in northern Iloilo, is a fish trading center. When Haiyan struck the region on November 8, 2013, it almost wiped out the fishing boats in Estancia. It also damaged a power barge which spilled more than 800,000 liters of bunker fuel into the water. Unknown to many Filipinos, two disasters – Haiyan and the oil spill — hit Estancia in a single day.

Haiyan destroyed coastal villages in Estancia. Photo from the Facebook page of Citizens' Disaster Response Center.

Haiyan destroyed coastal villages in Estancia. Photo from the Facebook page of Citizens’ Disaster Response Center.

Government assistance arrived but it came too late and proved too little. During the waiting period, residents organized themselves and campaigned for the gathering and distribution of relief. Church groups, schools, and non-government organizations from Manila and other parts of the country responded by collecting donations and other forms of assistance and giving it directly to Estancia residents.

A year after the Haiyan tragedy, many were still complaining about the failure of the government to rehabilitate the damaged schools, health centers, and houses in Estancia. Many residents were also not compensated for the oil spill disaster which destroyed their livelihoods.

The struggle of Estancia residents for justice and their initiative to provide relief to typhoon and oil spill victims, are documented by the Voices of Hope project, a Rising Voices grantee in 2014.

Ma. Alejane Carbajosa, a Voices of Hope volunteer, articulated the demand of Estancia residents for justice during the first anniversary of Haiyan:

Estanciahanons still cries for help. Oil spill victims are still craving for justice. But the government is blind, deaf and heartless regarding the sentiments of its people. How could the government let its people suffer from pain and agony?

To help residents cope with post-disaster trauma, several activities were organized such as theater workshops and medical missions. A ‘walk for justice’ gathered more than 5,000 people last November and called on the government to fulfill its pledge of providing relief and cash assistance to Estancia residents. Voices of Hope documented these activities, including the disaster preparation efforts initiated by local organizations in the town.

During the 'walk for justice', residents carried banners which read 'rise up for abundant life'.

During the ‘walk for justice', residents carried banners which read ‘rise up for abundant life'.

Medical mission in Estancia. Photo from Facebook page of Nona Prieto.

Medical mission in Estancia. Photo from the Facebook page of Nona Prieto.

Fearing that a coming storm will be as strong as Haiyan, residents readily troop into a school which was temporarily converted into an evacuation center.

Fearing a coming storm as strong as Haiyan, residents troop into a school which was temporarily converted into an evacuation center.

Residents are transported to an evacuation center in preparation for a coming storm.

Residents are transported to an evacuation center in preparation for a coming storm.

A community outreach involves cultural performances, discussion of climate change impact, and feeding sessions.

Community outreach involves cultural performances, discussion of climate change impact, and feeding sessions.

Estancia continues to suffer from neglect and the government has failed to completely clean up the oil spill close to the town. But the residents there proved that even when government is slow giving aid, they can unite and effectively mobilize to gather assistance from other sources.

The photo below symbolizes the struggle of Estancia residents: Solidarity is a rainbow that inspires people to overcome the tragedies that threatened to destroy their lives.

rainbow

Unless otherwise stated, all photos are from Voices of Hope

by Mong Palatino at March 22, 2015 11:23 AM

Tunisian Activists Fear Rights Setbacks After Bardo Museum Attack
The Bardo Museum in Tunis, which houses the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world, will reopen to visitors next Tuesday. Photo by Richard Mortel shared on flickr under a BY-NC-SA creative commons license.

The Bardo Museum in Tunis, which has the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world, will reopen to visitors next Tuesday. Photo by Richard Mortel shared on flickr under a BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license.

Tunisian activists and bloggers have been expressing concerns over rights setbacks in the aftermath of the deadly attack on the Bardo Museum, in Tunis, on Wednesday. In the attack, claimed by ISIS on 19 March, 20 tourists and a Tunisian police officer lost their lives. The two attackers were killed by police.

Following the attack, statements made by politicians and individuals calling for restrictions on rights and liberties and the use of capital punishment raised eyebrows among human rights activists.

Amin tweeted:

There are Tunisians who want less rights, less freedom and less democracy to fight those who oppose freedom and democracy

Wafa Ben Hassine warned:

As the dramatic events were unfolding on Wednesday afternoon, Khawla Ben Aicha, an MP for the big-tent anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party which won the legislative and presidential elections in late 2014 tweeted:

Let's never talk about human rights with this type of individuals, no indulgence. The law must be voted immediately

Ben Aicha was referring to a counter-terrorism draft law set to replace the 2003 law enacted by the former regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Passed under the pretext of preserving security, the 2003 law was deployed as a tool of oppression against peaceful dissent. According to Human Rights Watch, a draft law submitted to the constituent assembly in July 2014 — but eventually not adopted — contained several improvements over the 2003 law, yet its definition of what constitutes a terrorist activity remained broad and ambiguous.

Ironically, at the time of the attack members of the parliament, housed right next to the Bardo Museum, were debating the new anti-terrorism legislation. Speaking to Democracy Now, Amna Guellali director of the Human Rights Watch Tunisia office warned of “a more tightening of the security apparatus and sweeping anti-terrorism operations that would lead to some backsliding on rights”.

The parliamentarian's tweet prompted angry reactions from a number of Tunisian Twitter users:

Selim, a member of the parliamentary monitoring group AlBawsala, tweeted:

Denying human rights won't solve the problem of terrorism, but will rather reinforce it…

Eya Turki responded:

Human rights concern absolutely everyone. Think rationally and stop talking under the effect of hysteria

Tunisian journalist and blogger Malek Khadhraoui expressed his dismay:

You are an absolute disgrace to our assembly. Have some respect to those killed and keep your propaganda to yourself

In an anti terrorism protest on Wednesday, protester holds banner reading: "No to human rights with terrorists. We want life. They want to death. So Death is theirs. Photo shared on twitter by user @RymKH

At an anti-terrorism protest on Wednesday, a protester holds banner which reads “No to human rights with terrorists. We want life. They want death. So death is theirs.” Photograph shared on Twitter by @RymKH

In the aftermath of the attack, calls for the death penalty resurfaced. Supporters of Nidaa Tounes who gathered outside the parliament on the evening of 18 March demanded the use of capital punishment against those involved in “terrorism related activities”, privately-owned Radio Mosaique FM reported.

Tunisia has observed a moratorium on executions since 1991, though judges continue to pronounce death sentences.

The death penalty against every terrorist and every person who supports terrorism in Tunisia and every jihadist in Tunisia

Internet freedom was not spared from blame. The liberal Afek Tounes party, which is a member in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Habib Essid and has eight seats in the parliament, issued a statement calling for “waging a war against terrorism” and taking a number of measures, including declaring a state of emergency and adopting the counter-terrorism law. The party, whose leader Noomane Fehri heads the Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy, also called for filtering sites that incite terrorism and prosecuting those behind them. On the other hand, Essid announced that the ministries of Interior and Communication Technologies are cooperating through a ‘specialized agency to monitor sites that promote terrorism'.

These statements did not pass unnoticed in light of Tunisia's abusive history and restrictive internet legislation.

Lawyer Kais Berrjab tweeted on 19 March:

Analysts, politicians…if you think censorship of the net is an effective measure against terrorism, shut it down

He added in another tweet:

This is the end of net freedom in Tunisia. As a result of Bardo attack, [there is the] possibility of filtering, massive surveillance and reduction of privacy

Previously considered an internet freedom enemy, Tunisia's interim authorities lifted internet filtering practices after the toppling of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's, who had been in power for 23 years. This has allowed users in Tunisia to freely access the web and express themselves, including individuals who adopt extremist ideologies.

For instance, a number of tweets have been posted under the hash tag #غزوة_تونس (Tunis invasion) to celebrate the Bardo Museum attack and commemorate the gunmen.

Some politicians have also joined activists to call for respecting human rights in the fight against terrorism. Former president Moncef Marzouki said that “resorting to tyranny won't solve Tunisians’ problems” and called on the government not to make use of the Bardo attack to “take away what the revolution has snatched [from rights such as] freedoms of expression and opinion”.

MP Sayida Ounissi from the Islamist Ennahdha party tweeted the cartoon below on 21 March:

Will Tunisia uphold liberty and freedom while it battles militants?

by Afef Abrougui at March 22, 2015 08:47 AM

How One Fukushima Family Is Moving on Four Years After the Great East Japan Earthquake
"After Tsunami at Haramachi, Minami-soma, Fukushima, Japan." Photo courtesy Flickr user Jun Teramoto.

“After Tsunami at Haramachi, Minami-soma, Fukushima, Japan.” Photo courtesy Flickr user Jun Teramoto.

March 11 marked the fourth anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Nearly 20,000 people died as a result of the massive temblor and resulting tidal wave, and nearly 230,000 people were forced to relocate.

A Japanese blogger, Takayoshi Saito, has described in detail how the disaster affected the life of his youngest sister and her family. They used to live near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that itself became the scene of yet another large scale disaster following the earthquake and tsunami.

The following post was translated and republished on Global Voices with permission from the author.

‘My Sister Built a New House With the TEPCO Settlement, Soma City is Building a New Municipal Hall’

Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture is my home town. My youngest sister and her family used to live very close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the township of Okuma. Her husband used to work at Fukushima Daiichi as an employee at a security company, a TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company, Inc.) subsidiary in charge of facility management.

Four years ago, on March 11, 2011, the situation at Fukushima Daiichi got so frantic that no one cared about the security of the facilities anymore. So my youngest sister and her husband decided to evacuate from Okuma town with their 1-year-old daughter.

I was in Tokyo, and had no luck when I tried to call my sister and my parents in Soma City. I worried about them so much, but there was nothing I could do so I killed time by tweeting stuff like “Ohhhhhhhh, the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is comiiiiiiiing!!!!

Only once I was able to talk with my parents in Soma over the phone. They gave me an update saying, “Our house is fine. Your youngest sister and her family have evacuated to Tamura City in Fukushima prefecture. Your sister's father-in-law is staying in Okuma because he is a volunteer firefighter.”

After this conversation, I watched TV and learned the evacuation zone had been expanded and Tamura was now included in it.

Then I lost the whereabouts of my sister and her family. I worried if they could evacuate from Tamura, but I couldn't get hold of her. The only thing I could do was browse the Internet. I read polarized discussion between two groups — one which was overly stressing the safety of the situation at Fukushima Daiichi and the other which was highly alarmed by the danger of the situation.

When I was browsing online, I discovered that the first relief supplies to arrive in Soma were coffins. Soma Girls’ High School, which I had been so keen to attend when I was a high school student, had become a temporary morgue.

Many unidentified bodies were brought there from the coast, which had been hit hard by the giant tsunami. The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) had also arrived in Soma and had started rescue operations.

Around the same time, my middle sister who lived in Urawa city in Saitama Prefecture (just to the north of Tokyo) asked her police officer boyfriend to drive up north to look for our youngest sister. They found our sister and her family among other evacuees in Kita Ibaraki city (just down the coast from Soma and Okuma).

They put them in the car and drove back to Urawa city. Meanwhile, I was just surfing the internet. I was such a useless brother in that time of emergency.

My middle sister got in touch with me and said that she was going to share her studio apartment in Urawa city with our youngest sister and her family in a while — that would make four people living in a tiny apartment.

I couldn't be of much help, but thought they would probably need cash. So I withdrew money from Mizuho Bank, which had also been temporarily knocked offline by the sheer number of people trying to make donations to help people affected by the disaster.

I went to Urawa with the money and handed it to my sisters. Urawa was at that time experiencing planned, rolling blackouts in order to conserve power from the weakened electricity grid, and my sisters seemed to have experienced a few blackouts.

When I gave them the money, my youngest sister said: “I'm so happy that everyone was okay”, then cried.

My youngest sister and her family stayed in Urawa for about a month before returning to Soma, where they were able to move in to one of the temporary housing allocations.

When I visited Soma about one year later I saw my sister's temporary housing. It was a wooden house that was clearly built in a hurried manner; the wood at the bottom had already started to rot.

I brought an Anpanman (a popular Japanese animation character) toy for my niece, but I couldn't help feeling pity for them.

Four years have passed since then. My youngest sister's family made lots of savings thanks to the compensation money from TEPCO, and they built a new house in Soma.

A little one was born during this time, and they now have two daughters. My sister's family told me that they were receiving a good amount of monetary compensation from TEPCO because the company pays even to small children, and my sister's family was therefore receiving compensation for four people.

My brother-in-law seems interested in having laser eye surgery or tooth whitening. They are in good financial shape. My relatives in the area do not hate TEPCO as much as TV reports.

In Soma city, construction work has begun on a new city hall. The design for this new hall was inspired by a Japanese traditional storehouse style called “Kura-zukuri”.

The old city hall, however, wasn't damaged by tsunami, and I wonder if there is a surplus in the budget for recovery that they'd rather spend somehow.

I also went to see the coastal area, but the little town where I used to see many guesthouses had turned into a vacant lot. Some of the buildings were left damaged. Soma used to be famous for seaweed cultivation, but it seemed too early to resume the business.

My mother lives in Soma. One time she was listening to a traditional Japanese popular song called Matsukawaura Ohashi Ondo (The Dance of the Matsukawaura Bridge) when she was driving.

My mother said that this song reminded her of Soma before the earthquake. The singer of this song had been killed by the tsunami during the earthquake.

It has been four years since the earthquake.

soma horses

People from Uda village walking in a parade as a part of Soma wild horse chasing festival. I took this photo after the earthquake.

Follow-up

Last month, I visited Soma to tell my family about my latest move to a new condominium. I wished I could have returned to my hometown as someone who had accomplished a great thing. I told my parents: “I couldn't come here because I didn't have any good news.” They said: “It's your home. You can come back anytime.”

I will try again, ever harder, I promise.

About the Author

Takayoshi Saito (齊藤貴義) is the president of Sanbo Honbu, a prominent Japanese web development company. Saito has worked with a number of Japan's top internet companies include Livedoor, where he led development of Livedoor Reader. Saito is generally known online by his Twitter handle @miraihack.

by Takako Nose at March 22, 2015 01:56 AM

March 21, 2015

Global Voices
Are These Wild Ideas Our Last Hope for Saving Africa's Rhinos?
Northern white rhino

While more numerous than the critically endangered northern white rhinoceros, the southern white rhino is under withering assault from poachers. Photo by Flickr user Elizabeth Haslam. CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

This post by Adam Welz was originally published on Ensia.com, a magazine that highlights international environmental solutions in action, and is republished here according to a content-sharing agreement.

In 1909, after completing his second term as U.S. president, Theodore Roosevelt led an ambitious expedition across east Africa to shoot specimens for America’s most famous museums. Along with his son Kermit and a handful of naturalists, he collected thousands of animals — everything from elephants to shrews, large raptors to tiny songbirds. The expedition’s bounty was preserved in 4 tons of salt and carried across vast savannas by large crews of African porters, some of whom died along the way.

The ultimate prize of Roosevelt’s epic scientific safari was the Nile rhinoceros, a mysterious type of square-lipped rhino found along the Upper Nile in the regions today called southern South Sudan and northern Uganda. Zoologists noted that it was remarkably similar to the so-called white rhinoceros of southern Africa but smaller, and that it was separated from the southern white by thousands of miles. Were Nile and white rhinos the same species? Experts couldn’t agree.

Teddy and Kermit shot only nine Nile rhinos between them, though they saw tens more. “Too little is known about these northern square-mouthed rhino for us to be sure that they are not lingering slowly towards extinction,” wrote Roosevelt. “We were not willing to kill any merely for trophies.”

We’re charging headlong into an era in which new technology may allow us to save species once considered doomed, but also in which threats come in previously unimaginable forms. Roosevelt’s caution was warranted: The Nile rhino, having suffered decades of trophy hunting and poaching, is on the very edge of extinction. Now often called the northern white rhino, it has only five individuals left, all in captivity, and none able to breed. The southern white rhino is under withering assault by poachers — although it’s the most numerous of the world’s rhino species, with perhaps 20,000 remaining, conservationists conservatively estimate that if killing continues to increase at current rates, all wild southern whites could be gone within 12 years.

The high-profile plight of these closely related species has brought forth a bewildering array of proposed solutions, many of which trigger serious ethical dilemmas, risk unintended and troubling consequences, or rely on unproven technology. We’re charging headlong into an era in which new technology may allow us to save species once considered doomed, but also in which threats come in previously unimaginable forms that mainstream wildlife protectors cannot handle.

Cryo Conservation

In Teddy Roosevelt’s time, saving a species involved little more than declaring it illegal to hunt and protecting a place where it could live. This either worked, as with the American bison, or didn’t, as with the heath hen, a ground-dwelling North American bird whose 1932 extinction resulted from a cascade of factors (including genetic problems from inbreeding) that conservationists didn’t have the knowledge or tools to deal with at the time.

Northern white rhino cells

Among the cryopreserved cells stored in the the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s “Frozen Zoo” are samples from 12 Nile (northern white) rhinos. Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo.

Had the Nile rhino been in its current predicament a century ago, it certainly would have gone extinct. But today’s conservationists think they can save it by stretching the bounds of reproductive science.

Three of the remaining five Nile rhinos, two females and a male, live at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. These animals have thus far failed to breed due to various reproductive problems. German and South African researchers will now pioneer artificial insemination techniques on a group of southern whites in South Africa that will be applied as soon as possible to the Nile rhinos in Kenya in a last-ditch attempt to breed from them.

The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research houses a “Frozen Zoo” where cells of many threatened animals, including 12 individual Nile rhinos, are deep-frozen in liquid nitrogen. Working in parallel with the German/South African effort, Frozen Zoo staff plan to use a technique developed at the Scripps Research Institute to transform the cryopreserved Nile rhino cells into stem cells, which can then theoretically be used to make embryos that can be incubated in the zoo’s southern white rhinos. Many pieces of the puzzle remain to be figured out, but the San Diego team has just received a grant to map the genetic differences between Nile and southern white rhinos, a vital part of the process.

Some conservationists fear that if scientists figure out how to make new animals from preserved cells cheaply stored in a bottle, so to speak, tax money will be directed away from conservation and into things that are more immediately popular. There are also fears that young Nile rhinos raised by captive southern whites may not learn behaviors vital for their survival in the wild. Can we really say we’ve saved the Nile rhino if it acts like a zoo-dwelling southern white? How important is learned “culture” to the makeup of a species, and how do we revive that?

Moving Experience

The steps being taken to save southern white rhinos from the relentless onslaught of ever more organized poachers and traffickers — who sell their horns for extraordinary sums in Asia to consumers who believe that rhino horn cures cancer and other ailments and businesspeople seeking status symbols — are no less fraught with uncertainty.

Large-scale translocation projects are now moving hundreds of rhino from Kruger and other at-risk preserves to other parks.The largest population of southern white rhinos, perhaps 7,000 animals, resides in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. It’s the epicenter of world rhino poaching: 827 carcasses were found there in 2014, and the actual number poached may have been over 1,000. Despite reinforcing park rangers with military units and gathering extensive intelligence on poaching gangs, park authorities have been unable to stem the slaughter.

Large-scale translocation projects are now moving hundreds of rhino from Kruger and other at-risk preserves to other parks across South Africa and even to neighboring countries like Botswana — their exact destinations shrouded in secrecy because poaching gangs have even been known to hijack relocation trucks to kill the rhinos in them. One plan even calls for establishing populations of African rhinos in Australia.

But many South African conservationists are wary of large-scale rhino translocations because they’re expensive and poachers are extremely mobile, now using low-flying helicopters and night vision equipment to find rhinos in remote areas. Large translocated populations might become new “poaching magnets,” attracting poachers to previously untroubled places. National pride also comes into play; by sending rhinos to other countries, some South Africans feel like they’re admitting defeat.

Carefully designed translocations are a proven part of conservation practice, and have been used to boost rhino populations and save many other species in the past. Clearly, the expense of rhino translocation must be weighed in context and the possibility of creating new poaching magnets should be considered (both these problems can be solved by only moving small, carefully chosen groups of animals). Misplaced national pride was the downfall of the last wild population of Nile rhinos, which lived in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the early 2000s conservationists planned to transfer some of the remaining 30 or so animals to Kenya to create an insurance population. Nationalist Congolese politicians stalled the transfer, poaching intensified, and a 2008 survey found none remaining there.

Altered Appeal

Others aim to save rhinos by making their horns less appealing and valuable.

One group of South African rhino lovers has started injecting brightly colored poison into the horns of live rhinos. Their goal: to make the horns useless to poachers and at least a little dangerous to consumers. The approach is legally controversial, as horn-poisoners might be found liable for harm to consumers, even if the latter are acting illegally. And some scientists say the toxic mixture doesn’t actually saturate the horn, and so is a waste of time.

An influential group of South African wildlife ranchers are taking the opposite tack. If Asian consumers won’t stop paying absurd prices for poached, illegally traded rhino horn, perhaps Africans should change international wildlife trade laws and create a legal trade in horn from farmed rhinos, they say. (Rhino horns can be carefully cut off every few years without harm to the animal; they eventually regrow.) Their idea is to flood the market with legal horn, drive criminals out of business and generate revenue for rhino conservation.

International opposition to a legal horn trade is intense, making it exceedingly unlikely that international treaties could be altered within a timescale that’s meaningful to rhinos.The reasoning is superficially appealing. What’s not to like about generating dollars for rhinos’ welfare without killing them? But critics who understand Asian markets say that legal trade in high-value wildlife products boosts demand by legitimizing them in the eyes of consumers, and creates channels through which to launder poached products. This is evident from the currently legal trade in elephant ivory and farmed tiger products in China. Far from reducing pressure on wild elephants and tigers, legal ivory and tiger parts have made these commodities more visible and desirable in Chinese society, driving poaching to new heights. There’s usually no way of telling poached and legally farmed wildlife products apart, making it easy for illegal material to be sold in legal marketplaces; poached and legally harvested rhino horns look identical, making law enforcement very difficult.

It would also be very difficult, perhaps impossible, for rhino farmers to meet the twin goals of generating large profits to fund conservation and flooding the market to drive horn traffickers out of business. Making money for conservation means maximizing the price of horn. Undercutting the wildlife crime industry means selling horn cheaply. How does one do both at the same time?

In any case, international opposition to a legal horn trade is intense, making it exceedingly unlikely that international treaties could be altered within a timescale that’s meaningful to rhinos.

Military-Grade Solutions

Rhino poaching often takes place in massive, rugged, hard-to-police areas: the Kruger Park, for example, is roughly the size of Israel, and other African parks are even larger. But a few new companies are re-purposing military surveillance technology to boost conservationists’ ability to monitor such expanses. A dizzying array of drones, long-range cameras, hypersensitive microphones, cell phone monitoring stations and cutting-edge software are being packaged with the specific purpose of finding poachers before they strike.

Understaffed anti-poaching squads, desperate for help, are in favor of the military-tech approach. However, some critics balk at the expense of this hardware, pointing out that billions spent on similar gear has failed to stop people and illegal drugs flowing across America’s borders. Others wonder if tourists will visit parks that increasingly resemble military camps.

Grow Your Own

If all that consumers care about is the horn part of the rhino, why not leave the animals in peace by growing horn in a lab? A Seattle-based company, Pembient, aims to grow nature-identical rhino horn (and ultimately other wildlife products) using cutting-edge biotechnology and a hefty dose of Silicon Valley techno-optimism.

Critics are worried that, just as with selling legally farmed horn, this approach may backfire horribly. It may disassociate horn from the gruesome business of poaching in the mind of some consumers, making its use more socially acceptable. And it could counter-productively increase demand for poached horn in other consumers, as “real” horn may be seen as more genuine or potent.

This already has happened with American ginseng, a plant that grows wild on forest floors across much of the northeastern U.S. and is highly desired in China for medicinal use. The creation of a large cultivated ginseng industry has made wild ginseng root appear better and more desirable, driving prices up and increasing pressure on wild populations. Ginseng collecting has gone from a small seasonal occupation to a big money spinner in places like Appalachia. Illegal harvesting is rife and violent conflicts now occur over natural ginseng patches in formerly peaceful rural communities.

Dropping Demand

The ultimate solution to poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife products is, of course, to persuade people not to buy them — an approach known as “demand reduction.” Most conservation groups paid little attention to this in the past, but organizations like the one I represent, WildAid, have made measurable progress in shifting public attitudes against wildlife products and driving down consumption using techniques pioneered by Hollywood and the advertising industry.

There’s always a risk of a campaign having unintended consequences. For example, WildAid partnered with Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming and other celebrities to campaign against the cruel and wasteful killing of sharks for shark fin soup, a status item whose consumption was skyrocketing in China with that country’s growing wealth. The campaign’s TV ads and billboards have been seen by hundreds of millions in China, and last year 85 percent of respondents to a public survey said they’d stopped consuming shark fin in the previous three years, the most common reason cited being anti-shark fin public awareness campaigns. Chinese wholesalers report massive declines in sales, and fishermen across Asia are getting out of the shark fin business because prices are too low.

A range of wildlife groups are now rolling out word-of-mouth, broadcast media and cell phone campaigns against ivory and rhino horn in Asia, and surveys reveal that public attitudes have begun to shift against these products as well. Much needs to be learned, however, in today’s ever-evolving media landscape, and there’s always a risk of a campaign having unintended consequences. Many conservation groups refuse to put a number on the sky-high street prices of rhino horn, for example, for fear of encouraging more trafficking.

Beyond Imagination

In the recent past, conservation was mainly about understanding the biology of endangered species, protecting and managing their habitats, and lobbying for new laws. Today, saving high-value species like rhinos and elephants means outmaneuvering nimble poaching and trafficking networks, which are surprisingly well-funded, able to exploit cutting-edge technology and unencumbered by tedious legal processes and governing committees.

Wildlife protectors, for their part, have to become expert gene manipulators, criminologists, military technologists and marketers. They must deal with practical and ethical problems that previous generations could not have imagined.

There is clearly no silver-bullet solution. Conservationists have no choice but to grasp the future and grapple with its risky technologies if rhinos — and thousands of other species — are to continue to exist in any condition resembling their wild, ancient way.

Adam Welz is a writer/filmmaker, longtime naturalist, addicted birder and inveterate debater. He's the South African representative of WildAid, a nonprofit that focuses on ending the demand for illegal wildlife products. He tweets from @AdamWelz and @WildAid_SA.

by Ensia at March 21, 2015 06:00 AM

5 Animated Videos That Promote Human Rights and Equality in Myanmar
Screencap from an animation video that highlights human rightsabuses in Myanmar

Screencap from an animation video that highlights human rights abuses in Myanmar

A group in Myanmar uses animated videos to promote human rights, equality, and justice across the country.

Equality Myanmar has developed these multimedia resources for their human rights education and advocacy programs to empower people and inspire social transformation. In the past 15 years, the group has trained women, university students, monks and pastors, activists, school teachers, community leaders, farmers, and workers who are now part of their network of human rights trainers and advocates.

Through these workshops, the group is able to address some of the social problems which Myanmar is facing today. Aside from becoming aware about these issues, the participants also learn to understand the relevance of human rights in building a more democratic and inclusive society.

The videos are simple yet educational. They can be used too in other countries because the topics are universal and easy to understand.

Elections

The most recent video uploaded by the group tackles the upcoming election. The video features several voters who were exposed to some of the problems linked to elections such as coercion, cheating, censorship, and various human rights violations:

Women in politics

This video promotes women participation in politics. It tells the story of a young Myanmar girl who dreams of becoming a public servant after she saw the need for better social policies to fight poverty and injustice. Initially, her family discouraged her but she persevered and went on to become a member of the parliament:

Child labor

This video, developed by Maung Maung Aye, exposes child labor exploitation. In the video, a woman rejects her boyfriend after seeing that he is wearing a shirt made by a company that employs child workers:

Hate speech

Another relevant video reminds the public about the dangers of hate speech. The video shows a village living in harmony, but chaos ensued when a vulture (representing hate speech) arrived spreading hostility and animosity. Fortunately, a dove flies above the town spreading love and peace.

This should be widely promoted since online hate speech has intensified in Myanmar, inflaming tension and communal conflicts in various parts of the country.

Diversity and discrimination

Maung Maung Aye has developed a video promoting diversity and encouraging the people not to discriminate against others based on gender, race, religion or skin color. Again, this video is useful to counter the rising racism and ethnic discrimination in the country. Myanmar has more than 100 ethnic groups and majority of the population are Buddhists.

These creative videos offer a better understanding of Myanmar society as well as demonstrate the value of promoting human rights education in advocacy work.

by Mong Palatino at March 21, 2015 03:32 AM

Cambodia’s Women Bloggers (Cloghers) Document Challenges of Rural Life
School in Kanal Province courtesy of Uncle Thon.

School in Kanal Province courtesy of Uncle Thon.

Rural voices in Cambodia are often left unheard in cyberspace. Thanks to the work of the Cambodian Center of Human Rights (CCHR), a new project has been training and supporting new female bloggers hailing from rural communities across the country, where they can learn to tell their story online. These young people's university studies brought them to the capital city of Phnom Penh, enabling them to access this opportunity and connect with others with similar backgrounds and experiences.

The project called “Empowering Cloghers” recently wrapped up its first phase after receiving a Rising Voices microgrant in 2014. The term “clogher” refers to female bloggers in Cambodia. In addition to the workshops on how to create and maintain their own personal space on the web using the WordPress platform, trainers also encouraged the new cloghers to explore issues and challenges facing rural Cambodia, as well as to provide a snapshot of daily life in this part of the country.

To bring out the best in these new cloghers, the project organized a contest to find the most interesting blog posts, where three winners were chosen. At a ceremony called “Cloghers Corner” held in November 2014, the three winners and all participants of the project were recognized. The following are excerpts from the winning blog posts:

Working Conditions of Women in the Textile Sector

Many rural Cambodians find themselves with the need to migrate to other parts of the country in order to find steady employment. However, the tough work environments that they face are often not noticeable from the outside, in particular in the textile industry, where the Ministry of Commerce estimates that 90% of workers in this sector are female, which totals approximately 300,000. In addition to relatively low wages that are not enough to raise a family, workers face other types of hardships. Sum Dany spoke with some of these textile workers, who recounted some of their stories of their working conditions.

ក្នុងនោះ ផង ដែរ មាន នារី ម្នាក់ ទៀត ដែល ធ្វើការ ក្នុង រោង ចក្រ ក្បែ គ្នា នោះ និយាយ ថា “សហជីព របស់ ខ្ញុំ មិន តឹង តែង ពេក ទេ តែ ពិបាក រឿង បន្ទប់ ទឹកឲ្យ តែ ចេញ ចូល លើស ពីរ បី ដង តែង តែ សួរ ឬ ស្តីឲ្យ ហើយ។ ហើយ អ្វី ដែល ពិបាក បំផុត គឺ គ្រូ ពេទ្យ សម្តី អាក្រក់ ណាស់ និង មិន មាន ថ្នាំ ប្រើប្រាស់ គ្រប់ គ្រាន់ នោះទេ ពេល មាន មនុស្ស ឈឺ ម្តងៗ ហើយ គ្រាន់ តែ យក អ្នក សន្លាប់ ទៅ ដាក់ លើ គ្រែ ពេទ្យ និង យក ព្រេង ក្រឡា មក កោស ខ្យល់ ឲ្យ គាត់ មិន ឲ្យ ដាក់ លើ គ្រែ ពេទ្យ នោះ ទេ ខ្លាច ស្អុយ ពិបាក ណាស់ ធ្វើ អី ក៏ ហាមៗ ក្រែងគ្រែពេទ្យនៅទីនេះទុកសំរាប់ដាក់មើលកម្មកររោងចក្រដែលឈឺហែ៎ ”។ ជា ការពិត រោងចក្រ មួយ ចំនួន មើល ពី សំបក ក្រៅ ហាក់ ដូច ជា គោរព ច្បាប់ ការងារ បាន ល្អណាស់ តែ នៅ ខាង ក្នុង វិញ មាន ការ រំលោភ បំពាន សិទ្ធិ ពលក ម្មយ៉ាង ធ្ងន់ ធ្ងរ លើ កម្មករ កម្ម ការណី ក្នុងពេលកំពុងធ្វើការ។

Within that context, there is a woman who works in a nearby factory who said: “My union was not so strict but what is difficult for me is the restroom break, we could not go there for more than three times otherwise we will be asked or blamed. What’s more difficult is the doctor, his/her words are very harsh and there was never enough medicine when people got sick. They only brought those who fainted to be placed on the bed and then started coin massage. They don’t allow to put the patients on the hospital beds because of the smell, it was very hard. The doctors/nurses always blame us. I wonder what the beds are for, if not for the workers who getting sick?” Indeed, some factories, were seen by the outsider as a good factory that obey the law but inside there are a lot of worker’s rights violation.

Rural Families Struggle Hard to Keep Students in Schools

While there are more and more students from rural areas coming to the larger cities to continue their post-secondary education, most of these young people complete their primary and secondary education in rural schools. These communities present challenges such as young people required to help with household or field-related chores. Poverty also comes into play as many parents are unable to pay costs related to keeping their children in school, especially when it's time to pay additional related costs.

Chroeng Sopheakvirya wrote about the schooling system in Kandal Province, located in southeast Cambodia, and how sometimes to get additional benefits the rural teacher is paid extra for extra classes by the parents. However, some parents are unable to pay the extra sum, but schooling goes on as usual:

Parents sometimes owe the payment, but their children still come to class, and teachers still teach them as usual. This kind of situation occurs as a result of understanding. Teachers said they cannot send students back home while those children try very hard to come to class. Teachers further told that they have no choices beside waiting until students’ parents have money to pay or teachers often insist them to pay if there is no payment for 2 or 3 months. Some students comes from poor family, but they are outstanding, so teachers cannot leave them out.

River Clean Up in Phnom Penh

Photo by  Cheng Sreymom.

River clean up in Phnom Penh. Photo by Cheng Sreymom.

In an effort to adapt and become more involved with their new surroundings, many students are taking part in local activities. Cheng Sreymom recently took part in a river clean-up along the Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers, which are important parts of the city's landscape. Unfortunately, the rivers have alarming levels of pollution due to wastes that flow into the river. Trash can also be seen along the riverbanks, and she joined an effort to pick up trash making this part of her new community a little bit better for more to enjoy, and wrote about her reasons for taking part.

ជាការ ពិត តាម ដងទន្លេជា តំបន់ ទេស ចរណ៍ យ៉ាង ទាក់ ទាញ នៅ ក្នុងទី ក្រុង ភ្នំពេញ យើង ទាំងភ្ញៀ វជាតិ និងភ្ញៀវ អន្តរ ជាតិ ដែល តែងតែ មកកំ សាន្តដើម្បីស្រូម យក ខ្យល់អា កាស បរិសុទ្ធ និង សំរាកលំ ហែជា លក្ខណះ គ្រូសារ ជា ដើម។ ប៉ុន្តែ វាគួរ អោយសោក ស្តាយ ដោយសារ ប្រជា ពល រដ្ឋ មួយ ចំនួនខ្វះ ការ យល់ដឹងពីបញ្ហា បរិស្ថាន ដែល ពួក គាត់បា នបោះ សំរាម ចោលពុំ បាន ត្រឹមត្រូវដែល ធ្វើអោយ កន្លែង ទេស ចរណ៍ពោ ពេញទៅ ដោយបរិ ស្ថាន កខ្វក់ សំរាម ស្អុយ រលួយ ធំខ្លិនមិ ន ល្អ ធ្វើអោយ ភ្ញៀ វទេ សច រណ៍វា យតំលៃ ដល់ សង្គម ជាតិ យើង ទាំ ងមូល។ នាងខ្ញុំ Apochcheng ជាពល រដ្ឋ ខ្មែរ មួយ រូប ដែល បាន ចូលរួម ជួយ ក្នុង យុទ្ធនា ការណ៍ សំអាត បរិ ស្ថាន នេះ។ ខ្ញុំ មាន អារ ម្មណ៍ ថា យើង ទាំង អស់ គ្នា ត្រូវ នាំ គ្នា ផ្លាស់ ប្តូរ ទំលាប់ មិន ល្អ ចេញ ដើម្បី អភិវឌ្ឍ ខ្លួន យើង អោយ ខ្លាយ ទៅ ជា ពល រដ្ឋល្អ ដែល មាន សិល ធម៌ ល្អ សំរាប់ យើង និង សង្គម ជាតិ ទាំង មូល មានតែ ខ្មែរ យើង ទាំង អស់ គ្នា ទេ ដែល ជួយប្រ ទេស យើង អោយ រីក ចំរើន បាន។

The riverside is one of the attractive touristic sites in Phnom Penh, both national and international tourists and their families have always visited here in order to catch fresh air and to relax. However, it is very unfortunate because some of our citizens lack knowledge about the environment, always throwing away trash improperly causing the touristic site to be dirty and smelly making the tourists wrongly perceive of our society. I, Apochhceng am one of the citizens who participated in this campaign to clean the city. I feel that we all have to change our bad habits in order to improve ourselves in order to become a good citizen with good morals for both ourselves and the entire society.

While the first phase of the project has come to an end, the experience working with new cloghers across Cambodia has motivated the CCHR to look for additional ways to support new voices. The CCHR's Executive Director Sopheap Chak is seeking to crowdfund future activities.

Thanks to Ramana Sorn for the translation from Khmer into English.

by Eduardo Avila at March 21, 2015 03:28 AM

March 20, 2015

Global Voices
Iranian Social Media's Short Attention Span for #AcidAttacks Against Women
The October protests against acid attacks in Isfahan. Photo was taken by Arian Jafari for ISNA a day before his arrest for covering the attacks. ISNA publishes these photos with permission to reuse.

The October 2014 protest against acid attacks in Isfahan. Photo was taken by Aria Jafari for ISNA before he was arrested for photographing the local protests. His week-long uncharged detention ended on bail on November 1. ISNA publishes these photos with permission to reuse.

As the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani insisted on his Twitter page that women should have “equal opportunity, equal protection and equal social rights.” Nonetheless, the struggle continues for a group of young Iranian women suffering from catastrophic physical injuries and psychological damage. These are the victims of Isfahan's acid attacks.

In October 2014, a series of acid attacks on women in the historic city of Isfahan created a fearful atmosphere and prompted rumours that the victims were targeted for not being properly veiled. Unofficial figures about the number of victims have varied. Local authorities initially confirmed two victims, according to Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), while Fars News Agency collected the unverified figure of up to 13. No news agency could report an exact number. As such, no figure has been officially verified since.

Enraged over the news, citizens of Isfahan took to the streets to protest. Isfahan’s Prosecutor General attempted to appease the crowd by promising prompt prosecution of potential suspects. However, the protesters were dispersed by tear gas shortly after. Civil unrest followed in other major cities. In Tehran, a group of human rights advocates joined the protesters outside Parliament, which led to a number of arrests, including that of Mahdieh Golroo, a prominent women’s rights activist.

The gravity of these attacks and the unprecedented civil mobilization that ensued resulted in quite a bit of attention on social media at the time. In particular, focus turned to the Plan to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, a bill currently under the consideration of Iran’s conservative-dominated Parliament that would protect vigilantes who enforce Islamic dress and appearance for women, and the police's role in not arresting the attackers.

This first tweet depicts a graffiti image that says “Permanent Makeup Remover: Acid.”

The story of #acidattacks on the walls of the city of Mashhad.

The second tweet is in reference to the prompt arrest of the makers of a “Happy” video by Iran's morality police, who boasted identifying and arresting the participants within hours. The image reads as: “We identify any suspect within 2 hours”.

Only 2 hours #acidattacks #Isfahan #theKids_from_theHappyVideo #head_ofHospital_Ziaeian

Iranian conservatives typically propagated against such news going viral on Facebook, Twitter, and similar platforms. The Iranian online community remained focused on the topic for some time before it faded. Golroo spent 45 days in solitary confinement and was released on bail early January after a three-month detention in Evin prison. The opposition media outlets and human rights advocacy initiatives briefly noted the news of her release. 

However, the volume of public engagement was hardly comparable to that of the date of her arrest. Nor did this update bring acid attacks back to any social media trend. The Iranian state’s failure to promptly prosecute suspects, furthermore, fuelled the overall neglect of this issue. As such, we should ask, have acid attacks been effectively archived?

A look at the data

The following graphs delve into the engagement with the topic over a four-month period on three social media platforms: Twitter, Google Plus, and Persian-language platform Balatarin. The selected websites are known for their appeal to different segments of the Iranian online community who represent distinct, and yet overlapping, socio-political interests. The graphs indicate the number of Persian content tagged with “اسیدپاشی“ (Persian for acid attack) on each of these platforms prior to the outbreak of acid attacks news (October 20, 2014) until shortly after Mahdieh Golroo was released (January 27, 2015).

Twitter

اسیدپاشی# (Persian for acid attacks) on Twitter between October 1, 2014, and January 31, 2015. Data used with ASL19's permission.

اسیدپاشی# (Persian for acid attacks) on Twitter between October 1, 2014, and January 31, 2015. Data used with ASL19′s permission.

According to data exported from social media data analytics tool Crimson Hexagon, provided by the team at ASL19, an organization helping Iranians circumvent online censorship, 1,268 tweets were posted and tagged with #اسیدپاشی on October 23, 2014, one day after social unrest followed the outbreak of news. The hashtag pulse is fairly inactive toward the end of November, and rather invisible on January 27, 2015, when Golroo was released. 

Balatarin

اسیدپاشی# on Balatarin between October 1, 2014, and January 31, 2015. Data used with Balatarin's permission.

اسیدپاشی (acid attacks) on Balatarin between October 1, 2014, and January 31, 2015. Data used with Balatarin's permission.

Engagement on Balatarin peaked in October with 1,493 links that were tagged with ”اسیدپاشی” out of the aggregate of 25,853 (5.7% of total links), according to data exported from the Balatarin website backend, provided by the Balatarin team. The number dropped to 91 out of 24,656 in January (0.3% of total links). Balatarin currently hosts 84,792 users, according to the team.

Google+

اسیدپاشی# (acid attack) content on Google Plus between October 1, 2014, and January 31, 2015.  Query results used with NetFreedom Pioneers' permission.

اسیدپاشی (acid attack) content on Google+ between October 1, 2014, and January 31, 2015. Query results used with NetFreedom Pioneers’ permission.

Between October 20 and October 27, when public opprobrium soared over the news, an average of 24 posts per day was published on Google+, according to data generated by a query that explored the application program interface (API) of Google Plus. Query results were provided by NetFreedom Pioneers, an organization that promotes the development of alternative technologies that enable the free flow of information. Less than five posts per day were detected in the last week of January. In a survey of 2,300 people in 2012, 37% of Iran-based Internet users had reported using Google+ regularly.

Remedy for social media's attention span 

Iranian Internet users have historically demonstrated fortuitous interest in social and political issues. Social media campaigns are inherently ephemeral, let alone in Iran where the social scene fluctuates at an incredibly fast pace. More so, few Persian-language campaigns have proved sustainable.

Disturbing news typically cause public anxiety, generating reactions on social media that challenge accountable parties. Nonetheless, the same users may lose interest as soon as it seems they are failing to make a difference. The limited volume of user-generated content on acid attacks signifies the need for vigilant advocacy work to sustain awareness and demand accountability over matters of gender-based violence.

Punishments imposed on gender-based assaults in Iran are neither effectively compensatory nor deterrent. The insufficiency couples at times with vague legislation such as the Plan to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice. The Basij para-militia group is explicitly designated for the enforcement of the plan. To provide equal protection for women, as Rouhani recently called for, public discourse against vigilante violence needs further dissemination. Accountability for such violence will then become an inherent part of public demands.  

Rouhani’s statement on International Women’s Day was a timely reminder that state sovereignty comes with a responsibility to protect the population. The case of acid attacks, however, demonstrated the state’s failure to meet this responsibility with due diligence. Such inadequacy coupled with the short attention span of social media will marginalize the victims even further.

A sustainable social system that steadily urges accountability and augmented support for the survivors is key. Learning about the social impact of one’s online behaviour may keep users engaged with these important conversations. Intense stories such as acid attacks may then live longer and become more relatable through innovative and interactive approaches. It is time that advocacy work for Iran mapped alternatives for involving the public, not only at times of social emergency, but also in their aftermath. 

by Simin Kargar at March 20, 2015 06:22 PM

Why I Love Norooz
Tori Egherman explains Norooz traditions, and why she loves it.  Photo by Ehsan Khakbaz H. via Flickr (CC BY-ND-SA 2.0)

Tori Egherman explains Norooz traditions, and why she loves it. Photo by Ehsan Khakbaz H. via Flickr (CC BY-ND-SA 2.0)

Written by Tori Egherman, Program Coordinator at Arseh Sevom. A version of this first appeared on the Arseh Sevom website.

Norooz (or Nowruz) is a wonderful time of the year to be in Iran. The celebrations begin on the last Tuesday evening before the Spring Equinox with fireworks and fire-jumping. People leap over the fires shouting “Zardiye man az to, Sorkhieh to az man,” which means “Throwing the darkness & ill the in fire, receiving health and joy back from the fire”. They end two weeks later with picnicking.

Norooz marks the beginning of the new year for people in Iran and other countries in the region.

There is an energy and excitement to the celebrations in Iran, a cultural expression that unifies people across class, religion, and ethnicity. Not celebrating the two weeks of holidays in some way or another is unthinkable. When I lived in Iran, the Norooz holidays felt like a kind of welcoming. By this I mean that they allowed me to be an Iranian for two weeks a year. They allowed me room to celebrate without negating any part of myself. The Norooz holiday tradition is open and inviting. It does not demand belief or faith. Celebrations are both private and public, and broad enough for anyone to enjoy.
 
Norooz itself takes place at the moment of the Equinox, usually on March 21. Since the equinox occurs at the same time all over the world, so does the changing of the year. Whether it's 3 am in Los Angeles or 2:30 pm in Tehran, the new year begins.

There are many traditions attending the changing of the year including spring cleaning, making amends, buying new clothes, giving gifts, visiting friends and relatives. Most families decorate their homes with the haft sin (Seven “s's”). A table is covered with all sorts of things beginning with “s.” These items represent common new year themes, including renewal, wisdom, health, and prosperity. You usually see sprouts, pudding, coins, eggs, and other items.

If you want to know more about the traditions of Norooz, a simple internet search will return hundreds of responses. Harvard University has a pdf guide for educators. This link provides an overview of Sizdeh Bedar, the picnic that is the official end of the two-week Norooz holidays.

So, to all who celebrate Norooz: happy new year. To to those who don't: it's not too late to start!

by Arseh Sevom at March 20, 2015 05:05 PM

Japanese Power Utility Finally Admits Fukushima Meltdown
Earthquake and Tsunami damage-Dai Ichi Power Plant, Japan

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in March 2011. Unit 1 reactor is on far right. Image from Wikipedia/Wikicommons.

Large Japanese electricity utility Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) confirmed on Thursday, March 19 that nearly all fuel in one of four damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has melted and fallen into the containment building

With the design of the Fukushima Daiichi plants, the containment building was a very simple shell protecting the reactor from the elements, but provided no real protection in the event of a nuclear accident. Instead, the nuclear reactor was enclosed in primary and secondary containment vessels, which sat atop a thick concrete pad at the base of the containment building.

In the event of a meltdown, the thick concrete pad is the only barrier between highly radioactive molten fuel and groundwater.

While there has been suspicions that nuclear fuel did melt its way through the containment vessel and to the base of the containment building, until Thursday there was no definitive proof meltdown had occurred. 

The implication of the findings is that it will be very difficult to remove the highly radioactive molten fuel from Unit 1. As well, the molten fuel must continue to be cooled with water until it is removed. 

Holes and fractures in the concrete base of the reactor building also means that groundwater continues to seep in and become irradiated before draining into the Pacific Ocean, causing an ongoing nuclear disaster.

Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility was severely damaged following the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011. 

Location of six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Following the earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex lost power and the ability to cool fuel in the reactors. The lack of cooling caused a series of hydrogen explosions that severely damaged four of the six reactors at the Daiichi complex.

The resulting release of radioactivity and fears of even an even bigger disaster prompted the evacuation of towns located within a 30-km radius of the plant.

Meanwhile, the lack of power meant water could not be pumped in to cool the nuclear fuel in the reactors. The fuel rods in the reactor vessel started to melt, eventually pooling on the bottom of the reactor vessel.

Eventually the molten fuel melted through the primary and secondary containment vessels, and pooled on the concrete pad at the base of the reactor.

Ever since March 11, 2011, there have been questions about the state of the nuclear fuel in the containment vessels of the four damaged reactor buildings. The interiors of the reactor buildings remain highly radioactive and lethal for human beings to enter. 

The amount of debris and destruction within the reactor buildings plus flooding has made entry by robots and remotely-operated vehicles challenging.

How meltdown occurred according to experts. [Image shows presumed current location of molten fuel in the basement of Unit 1 containment building, separated from water table by the concrete bad supporting the reactor building.]

The location of the molten fuel was achieved using a technique called muon scattering tomography. Muons are elementary particles associated with cosmic radiation reaching the Earth from outer space. 

While muons penetrate most matter, the particles change direction when encountering certain elements, in this case the uranium in nuclear fuel. Researchers used this characteristic to check for the presence of fuel in the Unit 1 reactor.

However, the behavior of the muon particles indicated that no fuel remains in the reactor itself.

NHK image: A study was conducted in February 2012 searching for the melted remains of nuclear fuel in Unit 1.

>>The study showed that no fuel remains could be found in the reactor (indicating the fuel had melted through the bottom of the reactor into the basement of the reactor).<<

[Captions, from top left: Muon scattering tomography used to analyze interior of Unit 1 reactor; No fuel can be detected within interior of the reactor; (Simulation) Very little nuclear fuel remains in reactor or containment vessel; Nuclear reactor and containment vessel; white areas indicate absence of any fuel.]

As has been predicted, most of the molten fuel has settled on the concrete pad that supporting the containment vessels in the base of the containment building.

Almost none of the molten fuel in the Unit 1 remains in the reactor. [Image caption: Molten fuel melts through the pressure vessel onto the floor of the containment building.]

by Nevin Thompson at March 20, 2015 03:49 PM

Creative Commons
Creative Commons seeks a new director of development

Last year, Creative Commons posted a position for a Director of Development — someone to develop and lead our revenue strategy for 2015 and beyond. We knew it was urgent, but we weren’t ready. We had work to do on organizational strategy and budget before we could hire, so we pulled back. That work is now complete, and today, we’re re-posting this position with an updated job description.

The right person has a strong track record of fundraising strategy and implementation to lead our development programs, and build a more sustainable Creative Commons.Working directly with the CEO, the successful candidate will have experience in US fundraising, particularly major gifts, corporate donations and individual donors, with the numbers to back it up. We’re about a $3M global non-profit, with plans to grow in the coming years. In 2014, we had a strong year-end campaign that increased revenue by over 55 percent, and increased our retention rates by 10 percent. This is the right time for someone to join our team in a leadership role to author and grow our new revenue strategy.

A strong fundraiser can make all the difference in an organization like ours — making sure we have the funds we need to do our work: maintaining the licenses, advocating for open policies, advancing the cause of open education and more. If you’re the right candidate, or know someone who’s looking for an opportunity to shape the future of open content and knowledge around the world, please apply, or help spread the word.

by Ryan Merkley at March 20, 2015 03:39 PM

Global Voices
Pakistani Musicians Captivate Audiences at SXSW in Austin, Texas With Booming Hypnotic Beats
Khumariyaan performing at the Pakistan Showcase at SXSW, March 19, 2015. Photo by author Henna Tayyeb. Used with permission.

Khumariyaan performing at the Pakistan Showcase at SXSW, March 19, 2015. Photo by author Henna Tayyeb. Used with permission.

More than a hundred people packed the historic Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin, full of anticipation for Pakistani traditional, exotic and indie beats on the night of March 19.

The performers had flown thousands of miles for the first ever Pakistani Showcase at SXSW, one of the largest and most eclectic music conferences in the world. The night was organized in conjunction with the Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education (FACE), a non-profit based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.

The showcase kicked off with the energetic, booming sounds of the Sain Tanveer Brothers. The duo, originally from a small town near Sialkot, are the best known dhol players in Pakistan.

Their performance started in the middle of busy 6th street as bystanders gathered. And the pulsing sounds of their drums lead the crowd to the Victorian Room in a dancing procession.

The audience was awestruck as Sain Tanveer hung four dhols around his neck and continued to play, while spinning as fast as possible. The performance ended to thunderous applause.

maidhai1

Mai Dhai performing. Photo by author Henna Tayyeb. Used with permission.

Next, the audience was treated to the melodic and soulful folk sounds of Mai Dhai. Hailing from the Thar desert, Mai Dhai is a traditional Manganiyar singer with influences of song reaching as far back as Sufi mystics and the Mughals of Rajasthan. No one in the room could have ever guessed that the small, fragile woman sitting center stage with her dhol would have a larger than life voice with the power to transform space and time. Accompanied by the tabla, dholak and harmonium, Mai Dhai truly made the audience feel the emotion behind every word as they swayed to her rhythmic beats.

But the rockstars of the night, the ones who stole the audience’s hearts, were Pakhtun musical quartet Khumariyaan.

Khumariyaan, as lead guitarist Sparlay Rawail explained, means “intoxicators.” And the fast and furious sounds of the group were nothing less than intoxicating. Perhaps the secret of Khumariyaan, other than an exuding stage presence, is their use of traditional instruments such as the rubab and the zerbaghali. The rubab almost sounds like a sharper toned banjo, with strings that are plucked to deliver various melodies. The zerbaghali is a goblet-shaped hand drum which provides percussion at various sounds and speeds.

From the moment they started with Bela to the end of their hour-long set, Khumariyaan had the audience on their feet. At one point, lead rubab player Farhan Borga, even led the audience through a demonstration of a traditional Pakhtun dance to much laughter and excitement.

After the show, Rawail shared that he was not sure if anyone back home in Pakistan could truly understand the magnitude and size of SXSW. But for him, there is no difference between the United States and Pakistan because what really matters is the music. Rawail felt proud to know that Khumariyaan’s music had the ability to create influence, regardless of country.

An audience member Sandhya Vadrevu said she decided to attend the event due to her keen interest in South Asian music. She had limited opportunities to experience Pakistani music firsthand in America, and did not want to pass up the chance to see these musicians in her hometown. As an aspiring musician herself Sandhya felt encouraged to know that South Asian music is not only limited to Bollywood films.

“Exposure to artists such as the ones performing tonight sends the message that our music is diverse, multi-faceted and unique,” she shared. “I feel inspired just being here tonight.”

Other highlights of the showcase included the socially conscious indie-rock sounds of Poor Rich Boy (and the toothless winos) and all newly-released songs by former pop idol and reinvented cultural instigator responsible for the “Burka Avenger,” Haroon. Mekaal Hasan Band, with influences of rock, jazz and soul music, paired with Sufi inspired lyrics was the perfect ending to the night.

Mehnaz Parveen, Project Coordinator for FACE, was extremely proud of all the Pakistani artists who made the journey to Austin, Texas for the showcase. She has been traveling with the group since their departure from Islambad on March 12. Parveen was a part of FACE when initial talks to collaborate started with SXSW senior music producer Todd Puckhaber. The senior music producer spoke at Pakistan’s first “Music Mela,” a three-day festival organized by FACE and funded by the US Embassy in Islamabad.

Puckhaber specifically handpicked the six acts that performed as a part of this year’s showcase, according to Parveen. “Music is a connecting bridge between Pakistan and the US and these artists are our cultural ambassadors,” Parveen shared. “We hope by collaborating with SXSW we can share our viewpoints and ideology to break some of the negative stereotypes of Pakistan.”

Both FACE and SXSW organizers hope this showcase becomes an annual part of the music conference.

Besides the Pakistani Showcase, FACE also hosted a Rooftop Pakistani Day Party on March 18 at popular Austin venue The Speakeasy. Mai Dhai performed at the International Day Stage in the Austin Convention Center on Thursday afternoon. Poor Rich Boy, Mekaal Hasan Band and Khumariyaan performed at the Russian House; and the Sain Tanveer Brothers will take part in globalFEST on Friday, March 20. More information on these performances at www.sxsw.com.

Henna Tayyeb lives in Austin, Texas.

by Henna Tayyeb at March 20, 2015 09:05 AM

March 19, 2015

Global Voices
Empty Shelves: Venezuela's Economic Shortage Explained

 

Uno de los tantos memes que circulan en las redes sociales sobre la escasez en Venezuela.

One of the many memes circulating on social networks about the shortages in Venezuela.

Despite the promise of a new year, Venezuelans haven't begun 2015 in the happiest of ways, however, enduring one of the worst economic shortages in recent memory. Long lines for basic products, like food staples, shampoo, diapers, and so on, have become a feature of everyday life. These problems started in the regions, but the crisis has now reached Caracas, where food has always been abundant in the past.

As Venezuelans’ patience wears thin, argument and fights in the streets are becoming more common.

Images uploaded to social networks in January 2015 revealed empty shelves and long queues during, until supermarket chains suddenly started loading their shelves with identical products (to maintain the appearance of full stocks), while also prohibiting the use of cameras on their premises. Meanwhile, government spokespeople warned of provocateurs seeking to spread chaos, recognized as “daddy's little children.”

With or without photos, the shortages seem to be here to stay:

Without production or stability or currencies … there can be only shortages.

The government has attributed the shortage to the “economic war waged by the country's right-wing forces using hoarding, speculation, and smuggling.” Officials have pledged to defend the public from a war waged on Venezuela by big business and the American empire. Some in the government want to install fingerprint scanners in supermarkets as a solution.

Our @NicolasMaduro announces the installation of 20K fingerprint scanners in supermarkets, to continue fighting the economic war.

A fingerprint scanner in the midst of a severe economic shortage is the same as a ration card, whether or not it's designed for that.

Supermarkets across the country has instituted a series of measures designed to manage the allocation of available goods during the shortage, including fingerprint scanners, selling only according to the last number of one's identity card. or requesting the birth certificate to mothers to buy diapers for their children. Venezuelans now find themselves asking endlessly, “What did you get?” “What do you need?”

Economist José Guerra writes:

With a monthly inflation rate of about 11 percent in January, the annualized rate is 81 percent. For that reason @BCV_ORG_VE hides the figures

A massive black market has emerged during the crisis to accommodate people without the time or fearlessness to brave the long liens. Known as “bachaqueros,” these people buy scare products at regulated prices and resell them at 5-10 times the cost, turning enormous profits, and making it impossible for many ordinary people to buy ordinary household goods.

JAIL FOR PEDDLERS BACHAQUEROS AND FOR THE POLICEMEN THAT ALLOW IT..!!

via @_vivianalizet: Good day, Please where can I get diapers because the bachaqueros ask 550 and 600 bolivars per package. Opportunists.

When the minimum wage in Venezuela fell to 5,622.48 bolivars (about $885) per month, it became easier for the poor to queue for a few hours and earn 3,000 bolivars ($472) in one day, selling their place in line.

The business of queues. A place in a queue to buy appliances in Daka costs 3,000 bolivars.

But the underlying problem, according to economists, it is not the smuggler or the businessman but the exchange rate policy that holds back a wider supply of cash. The shortage is noticeable in different sectors of the economy. Recently, auto parts and food industries reported that they've not received any dollars this year, which they need to purchase to import any raw materials, slowing production.

EDO cartoon: you left us a great void.

by Diana Navarrete at March 19, 2015 10:49 PM

Sentenced to Death in Kafkastan
"Kafka statue Prague" by Jaroslav Róna. Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Kafka statue Prague” by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

If you have read Franz Kafka’s “The Trial“, you would understand the meaning of the term “Kafkaesque”.

The protagonist of “The Trial”, a bank clerk called Josef K., is suddenly arrested and must defend himself against charges about which are—and remain—unknown to hm. Along the way, K. discovers the difficulties of challenging a bureaucracy that is wedded to totalitarianism.

A century after “The Trial” was written, humans have obviously eradicated all kinds of totalitarianism and bureaucracy. Innocent people are no longer put on trial. An efficient system of justice prevails throughout the world. The following dream, which I had after reading the novel, is a figment of my imagination. Any resemblance it might bear to reality is the fault of reality alone.

We arrive in a courtroom. The Judge enters the room and the bailiff announces that court is in session. The judge sits and starts reading from a paper: “After examining the evidence provided by the prosecution and the defendants, we have found the defendants guilty as charged. We sentence defendants 1, 2 and 3 to death for premeditated murder of a police officer. We sentence defendants 4 to 11 to life in prison for aiding in the murder of the police officer. We also recommend the Ministry of Interior revoke the citizenship of defendants 1to 8 for terrorism crimes. Court dismissed.”

Guards escort the defendants out of the courtroom. They are handcuffed and taken to a bus with darkened, barred windows. A., (defendant 3), sits on the edge of a two-person seat. Near a window on the opposite side of the bus sits a man. The guard walks through the bus, counting the prisoners. As the guard passes by A., he gives a little smile . The guy on the opposite side notices. He says to A.: “I don’t know what you’re charged with, but this is the first time I see one of them smiling. What’s your story?”

A. answers in a monotone: “I did nothing.”

The other guy replies: “Well, I believe you.” A. replies: “Why would you trust a guy in handcuffs? And may I ask what’s your name?”. The other guy smiles and says: “We are both in handcuffs, and I wouldn’t trust anyone who isn’t handcuffed in this bus. My name is H. and I know you’re innocent.”

“What makes you so sure?” asks A. “Because your body language shows no signs of regret,” replies H. A. releases a deep sigh and says: “Doesn’t my lack of regret make me more likely to have actually committed what I’m charged with?” H. replies in a sarcastic tone: “Those guilty don’t show regret for the crime, they show regret that they were caught. You, on the other hand show no regret for either: you’re a Muselmann.” “What’s a Muselmann?” asks A.

H. didn’t answer the question: “That’s a long story. We might have time for it if we end up in the same prison block. Is it your first time in prison?” “This is my third time,” says A.

“Well, it’s my first time,” says H. “I was found guilty of inciting hatred toward the regime.” A. asks: “And how did they say you did that?” H. answers: “I sell words. I’m a novelist.” A. is surprised. “And what kind of novels did you write? Political novels?” “No, I wrote a love story,” says H., with a smile on his face. “Love stories incite hate? How is that possible,” asks A. “It’s a love story which takes place between a two people from different ethnic groups,” says H., “and it takes place prior to the arrival of the monarchs. They discovered that if I say that people were capable of something as complicated as love in the absence of the monarchy, then everything else is possible.”

H. pauses.”That’s my story,” he says. “Now can I ask you to tell me what you’re not guilty of?”  “Killing a police officer,” says A. “I’m sorry to hear that,” says H. “I did hear that this trial is today as well.” “It’s OK. I have made peace with my destiny,” says A. “What?! You decided to quit?” says H. in an anxious whisper. A. replies calmly: “I’m not quitting. I have acknowledged the fact that I did what I could and now I’m left with no choices.”

 “You will accept that you must die for someone else’s crime?! Please tell me, how were you found guilty?” says H. “I presented a signed testimony that I was at work at the time of the incident. The judge decided not to take it into consideration,” A. says.

“Of course he won’t,” says H. “It’s easier to find someone guilty. This puts an end to the investigations. And it doesn’t matter who is found guilty. After all, tribal justice doesn’t care about the individual: one of “us” was killed, so three of “them” must pay for it. People from the other side will rejoice. Even the media will forget to mention anything about you. You will be stripped of everything that defines you. You will be labeled a member of a certain group or ethnicity. The judge will be rewarded; his brother and father will get a new deal worth millions.”

A asks: “Why didn’t you write about that before then?” H. replies: “It’s illegal. I’d be charged with denigrating an official body.”

“This doesn’t matter now,” says A. “I hope change will come before my sentence is carried out.” H is furious: “And you think those who actually committed the murder will bring change? Don’t you see how they use words like courage, dignity, resistance, principles and others to legitimize their acts, while they would allow an innocent man to be killed for their crime?” A. replies with equal fury: “How do you know that they actually did anything wrong?” “Because they issued a statement saying so,” H. says. “The other day a blogger was with me in my cell. He told me how he was arrested for something others called for, the same people who would usually advocate his release. But they won’t come forward and name who’s responsible. An even more extreme group definitely won’t clear your name.”

As the bus stops and the guards stand to escort the prisoners out, H. makes a final plea to A.: “Promise me something: Don’t quit. Don’t let them make you just another statistic. Show everyone that you’re just like them, that you see what they see, that you feel they way they feel, that when you die you will leave a mother in grief, that your life is not something to be traded for political gain.”

This story, as I said, is fictional. There is no country on earth that sentences innocent people to death. And there isn’t a man sentenced to death waiting to be saved.

 

by Mohamed Hassan at March 19, 2015 09:09 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Art, Sex and the Social Web
Images from the Mujeres Tigre series by Proyecto Kahlo, censored on Facebook.

Images from the Mujeres Tigre series by Proyecto Kahlo, censored on Facebook.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

What makes us describe an image as “graphic”? How do social networks define a line between images that are and are not appropriate for their users? These questions spurred online discussion this week after Facebook blocked a user account for posting the image of a Gustave Courbet painting that depicts a woman’s pelvis and vagina.

When the user, an art teacher, sought legal recourse, arguing that the site had failed to distinguish between art and pornography, a local court ruled it had the jurisdiction to hear cases against Facebook. The social networking giant rejected the ruling, noting that upon sign-up, users agree that only US courts in the state of California have jurisdiction to hear such cases. This clause appears in section 15 of Facebook’s 3357-word “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”

The news led to conversations about other examples of art censorship on Facebook, including that of Proyecto Kahlo, a contemporary feminist art and media collective with members in Venezuela, Argentina, and Spain. With more than 500,000 likes on the social network, the group regularly uses Facebook to promote their online art and photography projects. On March 12, images of a woman’s backside were blocked from the page and the group’s administrator had her account suspended. The group responded by chiding the social network for allowing commercial imagery of women’s rear ends (consider Kim Kardashian) to remain on the site, while censoring images with clear artistic intention.

On a related note, Twitter and reddit announced changes to their policies that attempt to address the rise of revenge porn. Reddit’s privacy policy now prohibits the posting of images depicting anyone “in a state of nudity or engaged in any act of sexual conduct” without the subject’s consent. Twitter similarly changed its community guidelines to prevent the posting of “intimate photos or videos taken or distributed without the subject’s consent.” In both cases, a reporting mechanism is used to take down material, requiring the subject of the photo or their legal representative to request the platform review and remove the pictures. For Twitter, if the company’s employees determine that a photo does violate its rules, they will remove the content from public view and lock the corresponding account until the user deletes the content in question. 

Teen arrested for sharing Facebook post in India

A 19-year-old student in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was arrested and put in judicial custody for two weeks after sharing a post on Facebook. The post wrongly attributed a controversial political statement to local party leader Azam Khan. A member of Khan’s staff filed a complaint with police, leading to the young man’s arrest.

Hunger strike continues for Vietnamese photojournalist

Vietnamese photojournalist Minh Man Dang Nguyen continued a hunger strike to protest the cruel and inhumane treatment she has received while in jail. Minh Man was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years of house arrest in January 2013 on subversion charges for “activities aimed at overthrowing the government.” Her purported crime: taking photos of activist graffiti at a protest in Ho Chi Minh City and posting them online. She has been held in solitary confinement since November 2014. 

Malware attacks on rise in Tibet

Tibetan political activists are seeing an increase in targeted malware attacks that are typically initiated through unsolicited emails containing links and attachments. They suspect the uptick was triggered by the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, which took place on March 10. 

“Cybersecurity” or just plain surveillance?

US Senator Ron Wyden criticized the newly passed Cyber Information Sharing Act, which authorizes companies to share information about potential cybersecurity threats with other companies and the government. Legal experts at the American Civil Liberties Union say the bill lacks sufficient privacy protections and may end up facilitating greater monitoring of Internet users, according to the ACLU. Wyden quipped that “if information-sharing legislation does not include adequate privacy protections then that’s not a cybersecurity bill—it’s a surveillance bill by another name.”

Surveillance chills free speech, says Wikimedia

The Wikimedia Foundation sued the NSA over its mass surveillance programs last week. The lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation and several other organizations, including “The Nation” magazine and Amnesty International, stated that these surveillance activities violated the First Amendment of the US constitution by chilling free speech and open exchange of information and the privacy protections guaranteed by the US constitution. “The surveillance that we’re challenging gives the government virtually unfettered access to U.S. communications and the content of those communications,” said Patrick Toomey, an ACLU attorney.

Former FB engineer calls Facebook’s real name policy a “big problem”

Facebook released a new guide explaining how it applies its community standards, explaining more clearly how it defines things like nudity, hate speech, bullying, and harassment. It also provided more information on its process for determining whether to comply with local government requests, saying the company challenges requests that “appear to be unreasonable or overbroad,” but complies with requests to remove content where it is illegal in that country. Despite these attempts at transparency, Facebook’s policies remain controversial. Software engineer Brielle Harrison, who recently left the company, candidly called the company’s real name policy “a big problem” that is causing an internal divide in the company. According to Harrison, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “just doesn’t understand the trouble that can come from showing your legal identification in a public forum.” Harrison, who identifies as transgender, worked on Facebook’s 2014 release of custom gender options and advocated internally for a change to the policy, which she says can leave people vulnerable to abuse and harassment. 

Netizen Activism

The UK-based Index on Censorship announced the winners of its 2015 Freedom of Expression Awards competition on March 18. Among those recognized were Tamas Bodoky of Hungarian transparency NGO Atlatszo, a partner of Global Voices, and Moroccan political rapper Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat, a close friend of the GV community.

Lebanese civic NGO MARCH launched a legal hotline for bloggers and netizens to consult if they are summoned or questioned by the Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau for anything they post online. MARCH will connect users to a network of lawyers who will provide legal support free of charge. 

New Research

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Bojan Perkov, Sarah Myers West, and Annie Zaman contributed to this report. 

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by Netizen Report Team at March 19, 2015 08:19 PM

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