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Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

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

June 22, 2018

Ethan Zuckerman

On Wednesday, June 20th, Matt Smith and Aura Bogado broke a harrowing story about the Shiloh Treatment Center, south of Houston, TX, one of the contractors the Trump administration is using to house migrant children who were separated from their parents. Their report for Reveal, a Center for Investigative Reporting publication, and The Texas Tribune is based on an analysis of federal court filings, which allege that children held at Shiloh have been forcibly subdued with powerful psychiatric drugs. Released at a moment when media attention has been focused on separation of children from their families at the US/Mexico border, the story was widely shared online – as of this morning, Reveal’s tweet about the story had been retweeted 22,000 times.

The story gained attention for reasons other than its harrowing revelations. When Reveal tried to “boost” their post on Facebook, the platform alerted them that they were “Not Authorized for Ads with Political Content”. This is a new safety feature implemented by Facebook in the wake of scrutiny towards the company’s role in the 2016, permitting over 3000 ads to be illegally posted by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, with the goal of sowing discontent in the US. Facebook is in a tough bind – they need to vet purchasers of political ads far more carefully than they have been, but thus far, their algorithmic review process is flagging some stories as ads, and allowing some ads to pass through unscreened. And Facebook Ads VP, Rob Goldman, didn’t help clarify matters by telling Reveal “…this ad, not the story, was flagged because it contains political content.”

Last night, one of the authors of the Reveal story, Aura Bogado, pointed to another problem she and Matt Smith are experiencing:

One of the long-standing patterns of the news industry is the tendency to copy reporting someone has already done. In the days when most people subscribed to a single newspaper, this copying served a helpful civic function – it helped spread news to multiple audiences, helping citizens have a common basis of news to inform democratic participation. A very clear journalistic ethic emerged around this practice: you prominently credit the publication that broke the story. You’ll see even fierce competitors, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, do this with their biggest scoops.

The internet has changed these dynamics. On the one hand, there’s no longer any civic need to copy stories – you could simply link to them instead. But there’s also a powerful financial incentive to make any story your own – the ad clicks. This story, written by Andrew Hay and bylined “Reuters staff”, shows how easily original reporters and outlets can disappear – it contains original reporting, in that it has a novel quote from Carlos Holguin, a lawyer for the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, who’s cited in the Reveal piece… but it doesn’t mention Smith and Bogado, the Texas Tribune or Reveal. (Reuters is not the only outlet that’s scrubbed provenance from this story. But they are a publicly traded company with 45,000 employees, $11 billion in annual revenue, and have been in the news industry since 1851. They should know better.)

This is not only a shitty thing to do, it’s a profitable thing to do. Reuters gets the ad views from the story they largely rewrote, while the two non-profits responsible for the original reporting get nothing, not even credit.

I’ve been thinking about this problem for some time, because the origins of important news stories is one of the main uses for Media Cloud, the system we’ve been developing for almost a decade at Center for Civic Media and the Berkman Klein Center. One of our first publications, “The Battle for Trayvon Martin: Mapping a Media Controversy online and offline” is at its heart a provenance paper, trying to understand who first reported on Trayvon’s death as a way of understanding how the story turned into a national conversation on race and violence. (TL;DR: Trayvon’s family worked with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump to pitch the story to Reuters and CBS: This Morning. It was well over a week before the internet began amplifying the story with petitions and protests.) Rob Faris and Yochai Benkler’s massive Media Cloud analysis of the 2016 US Presidential elections focuses on provenance, tracing influential stories in mainstream media publications to their origins in the fringes of the right-wing blogosphere that surround Breitbart, Gateway Pundit and others.

Media Cloud works by ingesting (usually via RSS, sometimes via scraping) all the stories from tens of thousands of media publications, multiple times a day. We can often trace the provenance of a story by identifying an appropriate search string – “Shiloh” AND (migrant* OR drug*) might work in this case – and looking to see what stories hit our database first. Often a story breaks in several places simultaneously – that’s often an indicator that it was written in reaction to a statement made by a public official or a corporate leader, not the result of long investigative reporting. This process is imperfect and requires the input of knowledgeable humans to create search strings. What if we could automate it?

We’re working on this problem, looking to create automatic signatures that identify clusters of related stories. Duncan Watts is working on it at MSR as well, generating “fingerprints” for these clusters that rely in part on named entities. And obviously Google has a clustering system working that they use to organize related stories in Google News. With automated signatures and clustering, combined with a deep database of stories collected many times a day, we might be able to identify the initial stream that leads to a later media cascade.

Attention in US mainstream media to “Larry Nassar” from January 2017 to present, via

What then? Well, that would depend on what media platforms did with this data. Consider a major, ongoing story like Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuse of US gymnasts. That horrific story was uncovered by the Indy Star, who began a massive investigative series on sexual abuse within US gymnastics in August 2017, months before Nassar’s name became a household word. When platforms that aggregate, distribute and monetize news – Apple, Google, Facebook – share revenues with publishers, maybe they should check against a provenance service to find out whether they’re rewarding someone who did original journalism, or someone who’s simply chasing clicks. Perhaps one or more platform would end up sharing revenues between the publisher that captured the clicks and the one that initially sponsored the investigation.

Could this ever really happen? Yes, but it would require not only the technology to work, but for there to be pressure from readers for ethically sourced journalism. It took a great deal of work for consumers to demand that their coffee be sustainably grown and that Apple look into whether suppliers are using child labor. What Bogado and her colleagues are asking for is good for anyone who cares about the long-term future of journalism. We need more resources to investigate stories like the abuse of children at the hands of the US government. We don’t need hundreds of news outlets rushing to cover the same stories. Establishing – and rewarding – provenance of stories that start with investigative journalism could help shift the playing field for original reporting.

by Ethan at June 22, 2018 07:21 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Who will be next? Venezuela’s political crisis sees a new wave of censorship, media repression

A student demonstrator speaks to National Guard members in Venezuela, during protests in 2014. Photo by Jamez42 via Wikimedia Commons (CC0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Online censorship and repression of social media users are reaching new heights in Venezuela, where citizens continue to protest dire economic and public health conditions wrought by the country’s ongoing political crisis.

It has become extraordinarily difficult for journalists to report the news, as they face regular accusations of “disturbing public order” or “threatening the revolution”. Social media users who actively engage with a broad public on various civic issues are also being targeted.

In mid-May, popular Twitter user Pedro Jaimes, who offered climate, meteorological and air traffic reports to nearly 80,000 followers, went missing. Shortly before his disappearance, Jaimes had tweeted about the pathway of an airplane carrying Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, information that is available to the public through online news outlet Efecto Cocuyo.

On June 15, more than a month after he went missing, Jaimes called family members to inform them that he had been detained inside El Helicoide, the military facility turned prison belonging to the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

Meanwhile, accessing basic information and communication platforms online is becoming ever-more difficult. With electrical grids faltering for lack of maintenance and periodically deactivated in an effort to ration energy, internet access is never a guarantee. Yet web-based news and communication systems are increasingly the only way that Venezuelans can exchange and obtain information independent of the state.

In early June, the websites of two major news outlets, La Patilla and El Nacional, were blocked, along with access points for the Tor Network, which enables internet users to circumvent online censorship. Major pornography websites have been blocked as well, in what may be an attempt to test the country’s online censorship capacity. In some countries, these types of measures have been a precursor to efforts to increase online censorship.

Palestinian journalists targeted with assault, mobile phone seizure

Journalists covering a labor rights protest in Gaza on June 19 reported to MADA (the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom) that they were assaulted and had their mobile phones and cameras either confiscated or destroyed by uniformed people associated with the Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip.

At a June 15 protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah, journalists reported that Palestinian Authority security forces used similar tactics in an effort to stop them from filming and reporting on the protest.

Nigerian student suspended for lamenting school’s poor infrastructure

Kunle Adebajo, a law student at Nigeria’s University of Ibadan, was suspended for two semesters for writing an article that was deemed critical of the university administration. On April 20, Kunle Adebajo wrote an opinion article, “UI: The irony of fashionable rooftops and awful interiors”, which described the deplorable state of infrastructure in student residences in his university. University administrators then summoned Adebajo to a disciplinary panel, which described Adebayo's article as “rude, defamatory and insubordinate” and issued his suspension.

In an article for Sahara Reporters, Fisayo Soyombo, an award-winning investigative journalist and an alumnus of University of Ibadan, described the disciplinary action against Adebajo as “a clear uppercut on press freedom.”

Cuban authorities revoke press credentials from renowned blogger

Veteran blogger and former BBC correspondent Fernando Ravsberg, an Uruguayan journalist who has made his home in Cuba since the late 1990s, was denied press credentials by Cuban media regulators for the first time. Ravsberg had long used earnings from his work as an accredited foreign journalist to support his popular blog “Cartas desde Cuba” (Letters from Cuba), where he writes critical commentary about public life and politics in Cuba, and where a single post regularly garners hundreds of comments from readers. Ravsberg reflected on the move in his own words:

Over these past 10 years, they have tried to tame me with kind words of advice, hidden threats, with breaking my teeth, demanding that I be expelled from the country, and ‘warnings’ directed at my children. None of this has worked until now, but removing my foreign media credentials has allowed them to give Cartas a coup de grace.

In Nicaragua, pro-government forces seem to be changing peoples’ WiFi network names

With anti-government protests still raging in Nicaragua, hundreds of people reported in mid-June that their SSID (their Wi-Fi network names) had spontaneously changed in the middle of the night. All of those reporting the change were subscribers to Claro, a subsidiary of the Mexican telecommunications giant América Móvil.

WiFi networks were renamed “QuitenLosTranques,” which means “StopTheBarricades” — a reference to a common local protest tactic of blocking roadways. This message has been used consistently, and as a social media hashtag, by government actors and supporters online. Barricades have been popping around the country in an effort to pressure President Daniel Ortega to leave power and protect communities from state violence.

Program in India offers free phones to poor — but won’t ensure privacy

A mobile phone access initiative is offering free mobile phones to female heads of household living below the poverty line in the northeast Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Although the phones come free of any monetary charge, people who join the program must provide their national ID numbers — associated with India’s controversial Aadhaar national ID scheme — and sign a document giving the government “consent to use those Aadhaar numbers.” An investigation by independent news site showed that participants have not been told how the government might use their Aadhaar numbers.

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by Netizen Report Team at June 22, 2018 03:25 PM

June 19, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Can the United States connect Cubans to the internet? A historical review from the Cuban perspective

Illustration: MONK (Periodismo de Barrio). Used with permission.

The inaugural meeting of the Cuba Internet Task Force (CITF) was held on February 7, 2018 and led by the State Department’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, John Creamer.

What was said is already well-known: Low internet access in Cuba is mainly the result of a political decision by the government. The hourly cost is prohibitively expensive. Access to the internet is vital for the development of civil society, independent journalism, and the protection of human rights. Increasing access to the internet could contribute to improvements in health, agriculture, tourism, and provide new opportunities for business.

No direct fiber optic cable connection exists between Cuba and the United States, a piece of infrastructure that would allow the country to quickly restore connectivity if it were lost after a hurricane.

To understand why this was under discussion, we must go back to the beginnings of the CITF.

On January 23, 2018, the State Department announced the official creation of CITF in accordance with the Presidential National Security Memorandum, as a further step of intentionally strengthening United States policy toward Cuba since June 2017.

The stated objective was to “examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access and freedom of expression in Cuba.” That paragraph hit mainstream national news the next day and spread like wildfire across international media, blogs and social media.

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) delivered a note to the US chargé d'affaires in Havana eight days later, saying that the actions described in the paragraph were an attempt “to flagrantly violate Cuban sovereignty.”

All funding needed for the organization and operation of CITF would be provided by the Western Hemisphere Affairs Office and participating agencies.

CITF was to be composed of departmental and agency representatives from the United States government and by non-governmental organizations or private entities related to the Internet.

Two subcommittees were created after the first meeting: “one to analyze the role of media and the flow of free and unregulated information in Cuba and another to explore access to the Internet within the country.” So it is likely that the Cuban reader of this article is being accompanied by a member of the subcommittee dedicated to the role of independent media from his office.

In summary, what CITF must deliver to the Secretary of State and the White House when its work is completed in 2019 is a report with recommendations.

Requesting recommendation reports to increase Internet access in Cuba is not just another one of Donald Trump’s quirks. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have done so before him. Before Bill Clinton, the Internet did not exist in Cuba (recall that it was during his administration the island's first Internet connection was finally authorized in 1996).

It was during his administration the island's first Internet connection was established in 1996, in relative sync with other countries in Latin America.

Illustration: MONK (Periodismo de Barrio)

Is it technologically possible to connect Cubans to the internet without the government knowing about it?

Ask Alan Gross. For those unfamiliar with him, he is a US citizen who traveled to Cuba and passed through customs five times with portable satellite communication equipment intended to provide Internet access to several Jewish communities in the country (at least in principle). Gross was not a philanthropist, but a contractor of the private company Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI). In 2008, DAI was subcontracted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with the aim of increasing Internet access in Cuba.

Gross was sentenced to prison in Cuba for 15 years in 2011 and released after five, as part of negotiations by the administration of Barack Obama, when the two countries re-established diplomatic relations.

The series of unfortunate events that led Gross to imprisonment began with the administration of Bill Clinton and the signing of the Helms-Burton Act in 1996. This federal law was created and passed in order to strengthen the embargo against Cuba, seek sanctions against Castro's government and support government change. Interventions like the one that landed Gross in prison years later were fostered by the Helms-Burton Act.

Working under the fiscal agency of his small company, JBDC LLC, Gross signed a subcontract in February 2009 with DAI for a payment of $258,274.00. This included the purchase of the technology needed to establish Internet access networks via satellite in Cuba. The proposal, called “ICT4Cuba” or by its trade name “ICTs For the Island,” had “to train a primary group on the use and maintenance of information technologies and terrestrial and non-terrestrial communications currently available in the market.” Over longer term prospects, the pilot project would help establish a practical base to improve the management of transition initiatives toward democracy through the construction of technological networks, but JBDC would first work with the Jewish and then the Freemasons communities.

Gross made his first trip to Havana just a month later, in March 2009. According to the transcript of the trial held in the Provincial Court of Havana on March 11, 2011, “he was able to carry in the technology without being detected by customs at José Martí International Airport and then pass along equipment to the BGAN unit that allows satellite communication in the synagogue of the Jewish community in Havana.”

On the night of December 3, 2009, before his fifth return to the United States, Gross was arrested by Cuban authorities and charged with crimes against state security.

After his arrest, he was transferred to Havana’s Villa Marista prison and then to Carlos J. Finlay military hospital, where he was kept in maximum security. After 14 months of detention, he was accused of having committed “acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the State,” of being involved in “a subversive project aimed at overthrowing the revolution,” and of  violating Article 91 of the Penal Code due to the work he was doing for DAI and USAID. Results of the trial as decreed by the Supreme Court: 15 years’ deprivation of liberty.

Alan and his wife Judy Gross sued the US government for negligence by repeatedly sending Gross to do work for which “the government knew he was ill-prepared, without providing the most basic education, training, or warnings required in the directives by the government itself.” But they lost the suit. The most they achieved was an agreement with DAI for an unpublicized settlement.

On March 22, 2016, at the Havana Grand Theatre, Obama delivered a speech to the Cuban people:

The Internet should be available across the island, so that Cubans can connect to the wider world — and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history. […] And I can tell you as a friend that sustainable prosperity in the 21st century depends upon education, health care, and environmental protection. But it also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas. If you can’t access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential. And over time, the youth will lose hope.

In the context of detente and with the objective of “increasing access to communications for Cubans and their ability to communicate freely,” US telecommunications companies were authorized to “establish the necessary mechanisms and infrastructures to provide Internet and telecommunications services on the island.” In addition, the commercial sale of “certain communications devices, software, applications, hardware, and other services for the establishment and updating of systems related to communications” was permitted.

So Cuba, are you feeling lucky?

Since 2014, representatives from Google periodically visited Havana. In 2016, Google opened a technology space at the studio of Kcho, an artist who until recently had close ties to the Cuban government and Communist Party. Located in the outlying city section of Playa, the Google + Kcho.Mor studio offered free internet access to the public, on 20 Chromebooks, which people could use for one hour at a time, if they provided state ID first. At the time of its opening, Google's Brett Perlmutter said that the company was confident that the project would be part of a broader cooperative effort to bring Internet access to the Cuban people.

In May of that same year, T-Mobile announced an interconnection and roaming agreement with the Telecommunications Company of Cuba, S.A. (ETECSA), which enabled the expansion of communications between the United States and Cuba, offering cheaper (but still relatively expensive) voice calls for US customers who wanted to keep in touch with friends and family in Cuba, as well as data plans for customers traveling to the island. As a result of the agreement, T-Mobile Simple Choice plan customers  could “call landlines and cordless phones in Cuba from the US for $.60 a minute.”

ETECSA also had roaming agreements with Verizon Wireless, based in New York; Sprint, based in Overland Park, Kansas; and AT&T, based in Texas. At AT&T, data cost $2.05 per megabyte.

Trump’s Task Force isn’t the first – and neither does it appear to be the last – of a US administration. We will have to wait until October 2019 to know what they’re going to recommend to the White House and State Department.

Over time, US authorities have tried two different models for expanding Internet access in Cuba: the Alan Gross formula, under which initiatives were carried out in secret or semi-secret terms; and the Obama model, where in the US government openly and publicly sought to push for change, while still carrying out some semi-secret intervention programs.

The former method bysteps Cuban authorities (and specifically the ETECSA monopoly) entirely, defying customs laws, installing technologies in communities of interest (such as religious groups, political opponents, youth, etc.), and in the case of Alan Gross, ending with a 15-year prison sentence, reduced to 5 after intense negotiations. Nevermind maintenance costs of operations unmaintainable even for USAID, or, in the most laughable of cases, a possible ultimate outcome of Cuban civil society more interested in downloading pornography than political news.

The latter, in which talks with the Cuban government and ETECSA kicked off with Obama's announcements in December 2014, has not managed to significantly increase access, lower costs, or promote free flow of information within the island.

Ultimately, the biggest achievements of these efforts have only thus far culminated in faster downloads on Havana's Google servers (under the eye of ETECSA) of singer Marc Anthony and music group Gente de Zona YouTube videos.

by Periodismo de Barrio at June 19, 2018 04:43 PM

June 15, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: New rules in Cambodia and Tanzania force independent media to quiet down — or shut down altogether

A newsstand advertising The Citizen, an independent newspaper in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo by Adam Jones via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

With elections approaching in July, Cambodia’s National Election Committee has published a set of plans intended to monitor and control online news.

A new inter-ministry working group, formed to investigate media outlets deemed to be spreading “fake news”, has put forth a new regulation that bans journalists from including “personal opinion or prejudice” in their reporting, publishing news that “affects political and social stability”, conducting interviews at polling stations or broadcasting news that could sow “confusion and loss of confidence” in the election. Violations are punishable by fines of up to USD $7,355.

The Ministry of Information will be empowered to censor websites and social media pages found in violation of the regulation. Internet service providers will be required to install software that enables the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications to “easily filter or block any websites, accounts or social media pages that are deemed illegal”.

These measures follow the demise of the country's only two independent newspapers — The Phnom Pehn Post and The Cambodia Daily. After receiving crippling tax bills, the Daily ceased its operations in September 2017, while the Post's owner sold the newspaper. The publication now belongs to Sivakumar S Ganapathy, who is the managing director of a Malaysia-based ASIA PR company that has worked on behalf of Cambodia’s ruling party and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Meanwhile in Tanzania, a much-maligned “blogger tax” goes into effect on June 15, and will require bloggers and independent website owners to register and pay roughly $900 USD per year to publish online.

If blogs and other types of online content, such as YouTube channels, operate after June 15 without a license, they may be punished by a fine “not less than five million Tanzanian shillings” (around $2,500 USD), or imprisonment for “not less than 12 months or both.”

Multiple major independent news sites have preemptively closed up shop, saying that the costs are high — both financially and legally. The extremely popular Jamii Forums — which has been dubbed both the “Tanzanian Reddit” and “Swahili Wikileaks” — has shut itself down last week on grounds that the law creates insurmountable regulatory barriers for sites like Jamii. In December 2016, Tanzanian police arrested Maxence Melo, co-founder, and director of Jamii Forums, for refusing to disclose information on its members, a demand made under the Cybercrimes Act.

Reporters Without Borders has called on the government to scrap the new regulation.

Bangladeshi secular writer and activist assassinated in public

Bangladeshi secular writer Shahzahan Bachchu was shot and killed near his home town of Munshiganj. Bachchu was known as an outspoken activist for secularism, and printed poetry and books on humanism and free thought. He was reportedly dragged out of a pharmacy and gunned down by men on motorcycles.

Bachchu’s death follows a series of attacks on humanists and freethinkers in Bangladesh, including the murders of writers and digital advocates Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananto Bijoy Das and Niloy Neel, among others. In the past, government officials including the prime minister Sheikh Hasina have blamed the attacks on atheists for criticizing religion.

Algerian blogger gets 10 years in prison for video interview

Algerian blogger Merzoug Touati was sentenced to ten years in prison in late May for reporting online about austerity strikes, job protests, and human rights violations. Touati, who has been in jail since January 2017, was convicted of providing “intelligence to agents of a foreign power likely to harm Algeria’s military or diplomatic position or essential economic interests” after posting an interview with an Israeli official online. Touati is expected to appeal the sentence.

Facebook user in India arrested for complaining about poor infrastructure

A man from Kerala, India was arrested by police after writing a Facebook post about a damaged road, calling on a local politician to repair it. The politician alleged that the post was “defamatory” and that insulted her gender and religion. She filed a complaint with police who subsequently made the arrest. The man was released on bail shortly afterward.

Russian journalist forced to resign over Instagram comments

Russian reporter Alexandra Terikova was forced to resign for posting an Instagram video of kindergarten students singing a song for Russian President Vladimir Putin and then giving an interview about the video to an independent channel. The video was posted alongside a sarcastic hashtag and a message critical of the jingoistic tone of the song.

A death sentence and a viral video mark the end of Telegram in Iran

An Iranian man is facing the death penalty for posts made on his Telegram app channel, where he allowed users to freely post their opinions. Hamidreza Amini will go to trial on June 25 on charges of “insulting the prophet”, “insulting the supreme leader”, “acting against national security”, “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public opinion”.

Amini was held in solitary confinement and interrogated without access to legal counsel after his arrest. He went on hunger strike on June 3 to protest his conditions and was hospitalized but then transferred back to prison before receiving adequate treatment, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

The Iranian Judiciary issued an order on April 30 to block Telegram on national security grounds. Since then, a parody song about the filtering of Telegram by the Iranian musical group DasandazBand has gone viral on social media, poking fun at government attempts to get Iranians to adopt the state-owned messaging platform Soroush platform.

Leading news sites blocked in Venezuela

Two Venezuelan news outlets that have managed report on the country’s ongoing political and economic crises for the past four years were knocked offline on major state-affiliated internet service provider networks during the first week of June. Anecdotal evidence and technical testing confirmed that both La Patilla and El Nacional were inaccessible on CANTV, the country’s largest telecommunications provider, which is controlled by state authorities.

The block followed a court-issued fine of one billion Venezuelan Bolivares (about USD $10,000) against El Nacional, on claims by the state that the newspaper had inflicted “moral damages” on United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) Vice President Diosdado Cabello, when he served as president of the National Assembly.

Pakistani political party website blocked

Ahead of elections in Pakistan on July 25, the website of a political party named Awami Workers Party was blocked on multiple ISPs in Pakistan for at least three days. Despite writing to election commission and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (which is responsible for the blocking), party officials have been given no explanation for the block.

Brazil Electoral Court kicks off new fake news regulation

On June 7, Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court (TSE) ordered Facebook to take down “untruthful information about [presidential] candidate Marina Silva” within 48 hours of the ruling. This was the first time that an injunction has been issued based on a 2017 resolution intended to regulate the spread of disinformation during the 2018 elections.

The court ruled in favor of the presidential candidate and her political party Rede, which challenged five links posted in 2017 by the right wing page “Partido Anti-PT” (the Anti-Worker's Party, in Portuguese) claiming Silva was being investigated by Operation Car Wash, a major money-laundering investigation involving more than 100 Brazilian oil executives and politicians. There have been no formal accusations of corruption against Silva. The page has more than 1.7 million followers.

Will France get a “fake” news bill?

The French parliament started debating a government-proposed bill aimed at curbing the “manipulation of information” in the three-month period preceding an election. The law would allow candidates to complain about the dissemination of false information about them online and judges will have 48 hours to decide on a case. During a parliamentary session discussing the bill on 7 June, leftwing and rightwing MPs from the opposition slammed the bill.

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by Netizen Report Team at June 15, 2018 05:19 PM

Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari shot dead

Shujaat Bukhari, Srinagar based Journalist/Writer and Editor-in-Chief of Rising Kashmir. Image via Twitter account of Shujaat Bukhari

Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of prominent Kashmiri English daily Rising Kashmir, was shot dead in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, sending shock waves throughout the region.

His vehicle was surrounded by a group of suspected militants who opened fire on him and his security personnel. Two security personnel later died as a result of their injuries at a hospital.

Bukhari's colleague said that he had just stepped outside his office after finishing his daily work and was heading to break his fast when the attack took place.

(Warning: Graphic image in the tweet below.)

Bukhari was one of the few moderate and bold voices in Kashmir who stood for dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Read more: The Kashmiri People Versus the Indian State

Protests for independence (called “azadi”) and self-rule in the Kashmir Valley have been active since 1989 and ever since, Jammu and Kashmir has been under Indian military presence with statutes such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act giving them wide-ranging powers. The Indian government has officially stated that it believes all of Jammu and Kashmir to be an integral part of India.

An Indian policeman stands near an alley in the uptown of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir. Image by the author via Instagram.

Bukhari had worked for several top national and international publications and written hard-hitting articles, never shying away from taking an unpopular stand. He was special correspondent with The Hindu newspaper from 1997 to 2012 and continued to write for Frontline magazine.

The Press Club of India has expressed its shock and dismay over the incident in the Kashmir valley.

The Editors Guild of India tweeted a statement:

Condolences are pouring in via social media.

Siddharth Varadarajan, the Editor of the Wire news portal, tweeted:

Marvi Sirmed, a member of the executive council of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and special correspondent for the Daily Times Pakistan, tweeted:

This wasn't the first time that Bukhari was targeted.

On July 8, 1996, a militant group abducted 19 local journalists in the Anantnag district and held them as hostages for at least seven hours. Bukhari was among those abducted.

He was also given police protection after an attack against him in 2000.

Student politician Shehla Rashid tweeted:

Former chief minister of Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, tweeted:

According to Reporters Without Borders, Shujaat Bukhari escaped a murder attempt by armed men in June 2006. Shujaat Bukhari told Reporters Without Borders, “It is virtually impossible to know who are our enemies and who are our friends.”

Despite this, the guns couldn't silence his pen.

by Ieshan Wani at June 15, 2018 02:02 PM

June 14, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Nicaraguan protesters and journalists face violent attacks on the streets and online

“Stop the blockades”, a common phrase among Daniel Ortega's supporters referring to the blockades people have made in different cities in Nicaragua to limit people and vehicles circulation as a way of protesting against the government. Detail of the image shared by Twitter user Ricardo Zambrano, widely shared through social media.

Since April 18, 2018, Nicaragua has fallen into chaos and the rights of protesters and media have come under direct threat.

While demonstrators demanding social security and government accountability have endured violent attacks by police, military and other actors, journalists have been attacked and had their equipment and footage stolen. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights estimates that 146 people have been killed in protests and crossfire, including video journalist Angel Gahona, who was shot as he filmed a protest on April 21.

Online censorship and intimidation of journalists and protesters have also been rampant. Multiple independent news outlets have had their websites attacked and in some cases brought down altogether. Just this week, Nicaraguans began reporting that their Wi-Fi networks were being hacked and re-named with a slogan supportive of the ruling government.

As political demands for regime change keep spreading, the effects of these incidents feel ever more acute, limiting access to information when it is needed most.

How it began

The crisis began on April 18, when the government – led by President Daniel Ortega and First Lady Rosario Murillo, who is also the vice president – unilaterally adopted an executive decree reducing the pension allowance by 5% and implementing additional social security taxes to employers and employees.

In response, retirees and students organized peaceful demonstrations to voice their disagreement but were met with anti-riot police forces and members of the Sandinista Youth parastatal group. Chaos erupted from there. Clashes have since turned violent and some protesters have reported that police are using live ammunition.

After failed attempts at a dialogue with Daniel Ortega for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, many Nicaraguans called for him to resign.

Physical attacks on journalists

Many journalists have faced threats online and in real life since mid-April. In one recent incident on June 10, Josué Garay, a journalist for La Prensa Nicaragua, was assaulted and robbed by people whom he believes are local members of the Sandinista Youth. His passport and cellphone (which contained video footage and information from his investigative work) were stolen.

It appeared the attackers wanted to threaten Garay and prevent him from leaving the country, on the basis of his journalistic activities. Garay shared his testimony on Facebook:

En la madrugada dos hombres entraron a mi casa y directamente, entre amenazas con machete y tubo, me exigieron el celular (corporativo de La Prensa), mi billetera y mis documentos, entre ellos mi pasaporte. Me golpearon la cara y reventaron mi boca. Me sacaron de la casa y tiraron al patio, exactamente al sitio donde boto la basura. Cuando uno de ellos me iba a machetear le pedí que no me hiciera daño y el otro le dijo: “Hay dejalo, ojalá escarmiente”. Gracias a Dios estoy bien. Sin celular, así que toda comunicación por acá. Gracias a quienes han estado atentos y me han ofrecido su casa para quedarme. Dios nos proteja de este régimen.

En the early morning, two men broke in my house and, in between threats [and holding] a machete and a pipe, directly demanded my cellphone (which is a corporate phone from La Prensa), my wallet, my documents, among those my passport. They hit me in the face and burst my mouth. They threw me outside and on the patio, exactly where I throw my garbage. When one of them was going to slice me with the machete, I asked him not to hurt me and the other one said to him: “Leave him, let's hope he'll learn his lesson.” Thank God I am alright. Without a phone, so every communication will be done here [on Facebook]. Thanks to those who have been attentive to me and offered me to stay at their home. God protect us from this regime.

This was not the first time he was attacked. On May 9, police officers threatened Garay and colleagues with firearms while they were reporting. Other journalists from La Prensa, including Uriel Molina and Ivette Munguía, have been assaulted and had their gear stolen by mobs and police. And on June 8, the studio of state-run Radio Nicaragua was set on fire.

SSID hacks

With mainstream media outlets accused of bias towards the government, many Nicaraguans have become especially dependent on the internet to stay informed. But this too is becoming difficult.

This week, hundreds of people reported that their SSID (their Wi-Fi username) had spontaneously changed in the middle of the night. All of those reporting the change are subscribers to Claro, a subsidiary of the Mexican telecommunications giant America Movil.

WiFi networks were renamed “QuitenLosTranques”, which means “#StoptheBarricades” — a reference to a common protest tactic of blocking roadways. This message has been used consistently, mainly as a hashtag, by government actors and supporters online. Barricades have been popping around the country in an effort to pressure Ortega to leave power and protect communities from state violence.

Demonstrators form a tranque in the Nueva Guinea region of Nicaragua. Photo shared on Twitter by Rezaye Alvarez.

This is the internet of the company CLARO in Nicaragua, @ClaroNicaragua. The people are the ones who pay internet service, not the government. Revise this or we won't pay. #sosnicaragua #OrtegaMurilloOut

Claro, which dominates the telecom market in Nicaragua, has publicly stated that the hack happened outside of their control and that they do not wish to engage with any type of political message

While it is clear that the perpetrators of these hacks are on the side of the government, it is not clear exactly who is responsible. But the technical components of such a hack could also allow the attacker to spy on the network activity of the subscriber, suggesting that this may be a tactic intended to intimidate subscribers.

Some Nicaraguans fear that the attacks are being carried out by hackers who support — or are working for — the Ortega government. Others suspect that Claro, the telecommunications company, is to blame. Claro has already been criticized for having complied to the government’s request of taking down three TV channels when the protests first started in April.

Apart from the censorship of [TV] channels that you applied before, the constant errors on Facebook and Twitter which weren't downloading the comments under posts, and you still say that the SSID name change is not your fault?

— #RespectTheCountry

Twitter users share ways to secure people’s SSID and change the username into one of the protests’ mottos, #QueSeRindaTuMadre (#YourMotherShouldSurrender).

Out of nicaragua 🇳🇮 respect the people

by Melissa Vida at June 14, 2018 02:34 PM

June 13, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Leading independent websites go dark as Tanzania’s ‘blogger tax’ deadline approaches

Jamii Forum founder Maxence Melo. Photo via Facebook. Used with permission.

Alongside scores of independent blogs and social media pages, Tanzania's most popular independent news and user comment site, Jamii Forum, have shut themselves down in anticipation of the country's soon-to-be-implemented “blogger tax.”

On June 15, 2018, Tanzanian bloggers will have to register and pay over $900 USD per year to publish online. If blogs and other types of online content, such as YouTube channels, operate after June 15 without a license, they may be punished by a fine “not less than five million Tanzanian shillings” (around $2,500 USD), or imprisonment for “not less than 12 months or both.”

While the registration fee and subsequent fines are steep, many bloggers say the concern is not just about the money but also about the complexity and ambiguity of obliging the new regulations.

Since the directive was first issued by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) on March 16, 2018, Tanzanian bloggers and civil society organizations have responded actively to the new regulations in a variety of ways.

A coalition of the Legal and Human Rights Centre and other civil society organisations including Tanzania Human Rights Defenders, Media Council of Tanzania, Jamii Media, Tanzania Media Women Association and Tanzania Editors Forum created a petition which was presented at the Mtwara High Courts on May 4. The judge asked the team to resubmit their petition on technical grounds, during which time they secured a temporary injunction until May 28. However, their case was ultimately dismissed with the judge arguing that “the organizations failed to demonstrate how they would be affected by the regulations.”

Tanzanian bloggers have creatively protested against the new blogging regulations, openly commenting on the blogging regulations online. Aikande Kwayu, who has blogged particularly about Tanzanian politics and the 2015 elections (and also writes book reviews and flash fiction) suspended her website on May 1 in an act of protest.

Mtega, a tech and development blog owned by Ben Taylor who resides in the United Kingdom, invited Tanzanian bloggers to write guest posts on his blog. Chambi Chachage handed ownership of his blog Udadisi (“Curiosity” in Swahili) on April 27 to Takura Zhangazha, who resides in Zimbabwe. And Elsie Eyakuze put her blog The Mikocheni Report on hold, taking a break to become a “digital refugee”:

On June 11, the extremely popular Jamii Forum — which has been dubbed both the “Tanzanian Reddit” and “Swahili Wikileaks” — decided to shut down, creating big waves on the Tanzanian social media scene.

In December 2016, Tanzanian police arrested Maxence Melo, co-founder, and director of Jamii Forums, for refusing to disclose information on its members, a demand made under the Cybercrimes Act.

On June 12, Elsie Eyakuze tweeted with a reference to how social media has connected people offline in Tanzania, as well as Jamii Forums’ significant role as a platform for whistleblowers leaking documents related to corruption:

In an interview, Jamii Forum founder Maxence Melo told The Citizen: “It is obvious that our platform was being targeted when this regulation was formulated.”

The $900 USD annual license fee is a substantial amount of money in a country where nearly one-third of the population still live in extreme poverty. The requirement to register platforms and obtain a tax clearance certificate may be a bureaucratic hurdle as most bloggers are individuals without registered companies. Blog and online media owners are first required to be granted a license, and then, to make matters more complicated, they must adhere to a rather complex set of regulations.

On June 12, Aikande Kwayu elaborated in a tweet:

On April 12, Ben Taylor explained some of these complexities, highlighting that the regulations require a blog owner “must be able to identify everyone who posts content”, and a blog owner “must cooperate with law enforcement officers” in relation to these regulations.

A screenshot of TCRA regulations detailing questions and definitions related to the new law shared on Twitter.

Taylor suggests that this could entail “demands to reveal the identity of anyone posting on your site, making anyone who posts anonymous comments on blogs, newspaper sites or web forums vulnerable to having their identity exposed.”

In Tanzania, political tensions have risen over the past few years. Since the presidential elections in 2015, Tanzania's opposition has been restricted by a ban on opposition rallies and the stifling of independent media, sanctions, intimidation, and punishment of citizens for criticising President John P. Magufuli of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Swahili for “Revolutionary Party”).

The country's Cybercrimes Act, passed in 2015, has played a significant role in stifling dissent. In 2015 and 2016 alone, at least 14 Tanzanians were arrested and prosecuted under the law, for insulting the president on social media.

Tanzania is not the only country taking control of its citizens’ use of online media in recent months. Uganda and Kenya have recently issued new online restrictions to content production and regulation.

by Pernille Baerendtsen at June 13, 2018 01:27 PM

Iranian parody band sings a love song for Telegram after its block

“Lovers of Telegram” is a parody love song for Telegram, after millions of Iranians were blocked by the government from using it.

Iranian musical group DasandazBand has recently seen their parody love song about the filtering of Telegram go viral on social media.

Think of the American Lonely Island band, but cultivated in the Islamic Republic of Iran and dealing with Iranian issues, and you'll get a sense of the comedy musicians behind DasandazBand. Instead of explicit material such as “I Just Had Sex” or “The Creep,” this musical troupe tackle controversial issues such as travelling with groups of friends that include men and women in “When you have friends who are game for a journey, but nowhere to go.”

Another is “The state of Iranians who go outside of Iran for five days,” which jokes about all the fake luxury such Iranians post on their social media accounts alongside their misplaced sense of being non-Iranian.

When you have friends who are game for a journey but you have nowhere to go 🤦😂

Sponsor: Otaghak

The state of many Iranians when they leave the country for five days. 😂

The music video that went viral from DasandazBand, however, was about the government's decision to censor a platform used by almost all of Iran's internet users: the messaging service Telegram. Iran counted more than 40 million users of the app who relied it for a wide range of purposes including business, entertainment, communicating with friends and family, news, university, work, and politics.

The Iranian Judiciary issued an order on April 30, 2018 to block Telegram on national security grounds, a decision which seems to have been driven by the platforms perceived role of the platform during the January 2018 protests. Other reasons given for the order included Telegram’s failure to relocate its servers in Iran in compliance with Iranian law – i.e. potentially making the data of its Iranian users accessible to authorities – and its refusal to work with the Iranian authorities to regulate content on the platform.

The band released the video on their Telegram channel on May 8, a few days afterward. DasandazBand is based in Iran and maintains a channel on Iranian video host Aparat (YouTube is blocked in Iran), a platform that abides by the Islamic Republic's moral and political guidelines and thus censors content. It's notable, therefore, that DasandazBand has not featured its Telegram music video on Aparat, but only on their Twitter and Telegram accounts – both platforms that are now blocked in Iran.

💔The lovers of Telegram 😂😭@durov@telegram #filter #Telegram #filtering_Telegram 

The lyrics poke fun at the government's filtering of Telegram and their attempts to get Iranians to use the government-developed Soroush platform:

One day you came along and asked me to stay with you, and you promised you'll stay forever too. Now you're not around for me to tell you this, that someone wants to take your place with the name of Soroush.

They say he has everything you have and you'll not be missed that much but everyday I think of you and the walls that separate us, oh Telegram.

Just when I was relying on you, you were suddenly blocked and gone and all I have left is this VPN, that's the only bridge between you and I.

I remember all our groups and memories, what am I going to do with your stickers?

You were with me through all these years, now how can I install Soroush while you still linger?

On Telegram, DasandazBand's small following of only a few thousand saw the video receive over 40,000 views and widely shared and discussed on Twitter as well.

Measurements by the University of Tehran's Social Labs and the Google App store in Iran have both indicated that despite the censorship of Telegram, Iranians are increasingly finding effective circumvention tools to access the app. While usage of Telegram dipped when it was first filtered on April 30, recent weeks have shown usage in Iran slowly returning to former levels.

by Advox at June 13, 2018 10:59 AM

June 12, 2018

Joi Ito
On Tea with Teachers

One of the greatest things at MIT are the student run programs. One program is Tea with Teachers. It's a fun thing where they do short interviews with various "teacher" types at MIT and post them on YouTube. I got to do one with them in September last year and they just posted it last week.

They also let me "highjack" their Instagram feed for a week too.

And I'm sorry about the chicken.

by Joi at June 12, 2018 04:03 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Telegram channel administrator could get death penalty for “insulting the Prophet”

Weakened by his hunger strike, prisoner of conscience Hamidreza Amini was transferred to a hospital in hand and ankle cuffs but was returned to prison before the treatment was completed. Photo shared with CHRI and reposted with permission.

Below is an edited version of an article that first appeared on the Centre for Human Rights in Iran website.

Hamidreza Amini could face the death penalty if he is convicted of “insulting the Prophet” for the content of his Telegram app channel, a source close to the prisoner of conscience told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on June 5, 2018.

Amini is due to go trial on June 25, 2018, for the charges of “insulting the prophet,” “insulting the supreme leader,” “acting against national security,” “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public opinion,” said the source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivities in Iran around speaking to foreign media.

A 47-year-old mobile phone repairman, Amini was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization in Tehran on December 2, 2017, for activities on his Telegram channel, which he managed under the pseudonym, “Ariyobarzan.”

According to the source who spoke with CHRI,

Hamidreza had created a Telegram channel where anyone could post her/his views, the IRGC held him responsible for everything others had written and when he told the investigator that he did not write those things, he was told that his channel and related groups had been shut down and therefore the IRGC could accuse him of anything they want.

“First of all, anyone is free to express his or her views and that’s what Hamidreza and the people in his group did,” the source said. “But most of the things he has been accused of, including ‘insulting the prophet,’ were written by others… He is being prosecuted for what 3,000 people did.”

Article 262 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code stipulates:

Anyone who swears at or commits qazf [slander] against the Great Prophet [of Islam] (peace be upon him) or any of the Great Prophets, shall be considered as Sāb ul-nabi [a person who swears at the Prophet], and shall be sentenced to the death penalty.

After his arrest, Amini was held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison’s Ward 2-A where he was interrogated without access to legal counsel.

In late February 2018, he was moved to the Great Tehran Penitentiary in Fashafouyeh, 20 miles south of Tehran, without a court order. However, he was returned to Evin Prison on June 3 after going on hunger strike to protest his condition, according to the source.

The source added that Amini was hospitalized for the effects of the hunger strike but transferred back to the prison before the treatment was completed.

by Center for Human Rights in Iran at June 12, 2018 02:49 PM

June 11, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian journalist forced to resign for criticizing pro-Putin propaganda on Instagram

Russian police cadets from Volgograd, Russia, singing a praise song for Russian president Vladimir Putin. Screenshot by Runet Echo. Source: YouTube

On May 24, 2018, reporter Alexandra Terikova was forced to resign for posting an Instagram video of kindergarten students singing a song for Russian president Vladimir Putin and then giving an interview about it to an independent channel.

Terikova, who works with N1, a small local TV network in Nizhnevartovsk in western Siberia, posted a video of her daughter and other children in their nursery school singing a song with the chorus “Uncle Vova, we are with you!”

Uncle Vova, we are with you. Now in our kindergarten as well. I’m not actually very keen about any commanders leading my Alisa to a last-ditch battle. #unclevovawearewithyou #staples

The hashtag #staples (#скрепы) is a sarcastic nod to Vladimir Putin's annual address to the Russian parliament in 2012 where he lamented Russian society's lack of “spiritual staples” holding the nation together. She also quotes the song's lyrics (Vova is short for Vladimir):

Двадцать первый век настал, шар земной от войн устал
Население шара гегемон достал
В Евросоюзе мнения нет, Ближний Восток стонет от бед
За океаном лишен власти президент


А нам от северных морей, вдаль до южных рубежей
От Курильских островов, до Балтийских берегов
А на земле сей был бы мир, но если главный командир
Позовет в последний бой, дядя Вова, мы с тобой

А что достанется тому, поколению моему
Дать слабинку, потеряем всю страну
А наши верные друзья, это Флот и Армия
Память дружбы деда красная звезда


Не достанется гряда, самураям никогда.
Грудью встанем за столицу янтаря.
Севастополь наш и Крым, для потомков сохраним.
В гавань Родины Аляску возвратим.

The twenty-first century is here, the planet is tired of wars,
The planet's population is tired of hegemony,
There's no unity in the European Union, the Middle East is languishing in misfortune
And a president across the ocean is robbed of his power.
And our land is the northern seas, all the way to the southern frontiers,
From the Kuril islands to the Baltic shores.
We wish the Earth could live in peace, but if our commander in chief
Beckons to fight the final battle, we are with you, Uncle Vova!
And what will my generation have left,
If we let our guard down and lose the country?
Our truest friends are our Army and the Navy,
The memories of friendship and my grandpa’s red star.
We will never surrender this ridge to the Samurai,
We will defend the amber capital [Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost exclave] with our lives,
We will preserve Sevastopol and our Crimea for future generations
And we will return Alaska to its home harbor in the motherland.


The song initially appeared last November as a music video directed by Anna Kuvychko, a State Duma (lower chamber of the Russian parliament) lawmaker with the ruling party United Russia. The video, starring students from a local cadet school in Volgograd — formerly Stalingrad, the site of the most ferocious and deadly battle of the Second World War — has a ratio of 17,000 likes to 40,000 dislikes on YouTube and caused a massive backlash online for its jingoistic tone and exploiting children for militaristic propaganda: 

On June 6, Terikova gave an interview to TV Rain (Dozhd), an independent TV channel, where she explained that some of her fellow parents in the kindergarten were quite supportive of the performance and cheered on their four and five-years-old kids as they awkwardly sang out lyrics. She protested to the teacher, but her complaints were dismissed, she says.

On June 8, Terikova’s supervisor, her network’s chief executive officer, “very rudely” informed her that “with political ambitions like yours, your place is at the channel you just gave an interview to”, said Terikova in a follow-up interview to TV Rain.

She then posted a photograph of her resignation notice, saying that she was the first Nizhnevartovsk reporter to be fired for her dissident views.

Journalists losing their jobs over critical statements or attending opposition rallies are a common occurrence in Russia. In 2012, Pavel Lobkov, who now works for TV rain, was fired from the NTV channel. In 2015, Konstantin Goldenzweig was fired from the same NTV for giving an interview to a German TV station where he referred to Vladimir Putin's “well-known cynicism.”

by RuNet Echo at June 11, 2018 06:09 PM

Algerian blogger sentenced to ten years in prison, in another blow to free expression

Merzoug Touati. Photo shared on the facebook page of his blog Alhogra

An Algerian court in the city of Bejaia sentenced blogger Merzoug Touati to ten years in prison on 24 May. His crime? Reporting online about anti-austerity strikes, job protests, and human rights violations committed by Algerian authorities.

Touati, who has been in jail since January 2017, was convicted of providing “intelligence to agents of a foreign power likely to harm Algeria's military or diplomatic position or its essential economic interests”, for conducting and posting online an interview with an Israeli official.

On 9 January, 2017 Touati posted an interview with Hassan Kaabia, the Israeli foreign ministry's spokesperson for Arabic-speaking media on YouTube and on his blog, Alhogra, which is no longer online. The interview focused on protests and riots that erupted in the northern province of Bejaia and other parts of the country, with Algerians voicing their opposition to austerity measures including an increase in value-added, income and property taxes, and a decrease in fuel subsidies.

In the interview, Touati asked Kaabia about claims made by an Algerian government minister that foreign powers had meddled in the country's affairs and orchestrated the protests. Kaabia denied any Israeli involvement.

Kaabia also told Touati that before 2000 there was “communication” between the Algerian and Israeli governments, but could not confirm if Algeria hosted a diplomatic office representing Israel in the past.

Algeria and other Arab league governments, with the exceptions of Egypt and Jordan, do not officially recognize or have diplomatic relations with Israel due to the latter's occupation of Palestinian territories. However, some governments currently and in the past have maintained communication channels with or hosted offices representing Israel. Such relations are often kept secret by Arab governments due to the popular support to the Palestinian cause in the region.

Touati is expected to appeal the sentence in the coming weeks.

In a press release, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Regional Director Heba Morayef said:

Merzoug Touati’s arrest, trial and sentence is further proof that freedom of expression remains under threat in Algeria, where the authorities continue to use a range of repressive laws to quell dissent.

Freedom of expression is under siege in Algeria and Touati's conviction is but the latest of a series of legal threats targeting people who cross certain red lines. Many social media users, bloggers and journalists who have cast a discerning eye on ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika (who has been ruling the country since 1999), the police, the judiciary, and religious institutions have been subject to legal threats from state authorities.

Blogger Slimane Bouhafs is currently serving a three-year jail sentence over posts deemed insulting to Islam. Saïd Chitour, a media fixer and stringer who worked for international media outlets such as the BBC and the Washington Post, has been in jail for a year now. Algerian authorities accuse him of “complicit relations with a foreign power”.

Despite the threats and the restrictions, a number of activists gathered in Bejaia in the evening of 6 June to demand the release of Merzoug Touati.

Will their calls be heard? Or will they once again fall on deaf ears?

by Afef Abrougui at June 11, 2018 06:08 PM

June 08, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Jogging through Tiananmen Square: What happens when Facebook meets China's censorship regime?

Mark Zuckerberg jogs through Tiananmen Square in March 2016. Photo via Facebook.

In March 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a trip to China.

While in Beijing, Zuckerberg went for a jog. As if he were a regular tourist, posting updates to his buddies back in Silicon Valley, he wrote on his Facebook page:

It's great to be back in Beijing! I kicked off my visit with a run through Tiananmen Square, past the Forbidden City and over to the Temple of Heaven.

This was remarkable on several levels. Facebook has been almost continuously inaccessible in China since 2009, as some of Zuckerberg's followers were quick to point out — practically speaking, how did he post that update? Others remarked on the conspicuous cloud of smog hanging in the background.

But several netizens seized on the particulars of this seemingly harmless act of jogging through Beijing. Tiananmen Square, they noted, is no ordinary public plaza. In the comment field beside the post, an argument broke out between users — much of it written in Chinese — about exactly what happened 29 years ago in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

One user wrote that on that date, 29 years ago this week, 6,400 peacefully demonstrating students were shot and killed by police. Another retorted that only students who attacked police were shot at. Users offered vastly different estimates of how many students died that day.


Multiple users remarked on pollution and human rights after Mark Zuckerberg posted about his jog through Tiananmen Square in March 2016. Photo via Facebook.

It is not surprising that Zuckerberg's followers had such wide-ranging ideas of what truly happened. After all, this history has been systematically disappeared from the public record in China, both online and off.

The 1989 protests and ensuing massacre at Tiananmen Square represent the most sensitive and heavily censored topic on the Chinese internet — conversations like the one on Facebook can scarcely take place on Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo, if at all.

The Chinese government prohibits all forms of offline and online discussion on the Tiananmen protests. It requires internet companies and platforms to censor websites, stories and academic texts related to the protests, along with all online posts that mention “Tiananmen Square”, “June 4″, and “Hu Yaobang” (the politician whose death sparked the protests). Even images of candlelight, symbolizing a vigil, have been banned in the past.

Facebook is no stranger to this regime. Despite having been blocked in mainland China since 2009, the 2.2 billion user social media network is accessible and popular in Taiwan and in Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region of China that has a semi-autonomous system of governance, but ultimately lies under the thumb of Beijing.

In 2017, approaching the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, a user in Hong Kong created a profile picture frame commemorating the victims. Facebook’s picture frame function allows users to change their profile photos in support of a cause. The frame in question, pictured below, carries messages calling for justice for Tiananmen protesters and an end to “dictatorial rule” in China.

Fung Ka Keung (right) and the June 4 profile picture frame. Photo: Fung Ka Keung/HK Alliance, via Facebook.

Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union Chief Executive Fung Ka-keung, who made the frame, received a notification within 24 hours saying that his design was rejected. Facebook said the frame “belittles, threatens or attacks a particular person, legal entity, nationality or group.”

This was a surprising response for a social media platform once lauded for its catalytic effect on social movements against authoritarian governments in countries ranging from Egypt to Ukraine to Venezuela.

Facebook users in Hong Kong protested the removal of the frame and expressed concern that the site was curbing their freedom of expression, in what they suspected was an effort to appease the central Chinese government and perhaps increase Facebook's chances of re-entry into the lucrative Chinese market.

After the incident was reported in the news, the social media giant publicly apologized and approved the frame. In a brief statement, Facebook called the rejection a “mistake”.

But did the company really remove the frame in error? It is impossible to know. Was this the decision of a machine? Of a human moderator who thought the word “vindicate” was reason enough to reject the frame?

Or was it — as Hong Kongers suspected — a more calculated move, intended to kowtow to Beijing?

Just last week, another message promoting solidarity with the Tiananmen protesters was censored on Facebook. The message invited supporters to join an event in Hong Kong called “The Voice of Dissent”, on the eve of the 29th anniversary of the massacre. Automated messages from Facebook identified the message as spam. This may have been a technical designation, due to a generic email address that appeared in the message, but it still raised suspicion among Hong Kongers that something was amiss.

Screen shot of Voice of Dissent message, with Facebook response.

In its current form, Facebook does not offer users a way to ask questions about the company's actions and be guaranteed a concrete, specific answer. When a piece of content is removed from the platform, there is not a meaningful process of appeal where users can expect an explanation of why this piece of content, specifically, was removed.

When we are left to wonder if the reasons are purely technical, or not. For some of us, it is too easy to imagine that, when it comes to China, there is a bigger political agenda at stake.

Between the Cambridge Analytica revelations, congressional hearings in the US and the EU's freshly-implemented General Data Protection Regulation, there is a strong chance that Facebook's ability to monetize user data will soon face new limitations. This means that Facebook will need to find new ways to make money and grow its business. Entering the Chinese market — if the Chinese government will give its blessing — would be a surefire way to secure the company's future.

And when we think back on Mark Zuckerberg happily jogging in the same public space where thousands of students were killed by their the same government that Zuckerberg seeks to appease, it is difficult to imagine that this, like the rejection of the commemorative frame, is just a mistake.

For some years now, Zuckerberg has been too powerful and had too many resources at his disposal not to know how his actions are interpreted by the global public. He cannot claim ignorance at this point in the game, nor can he afford to.

These and many other gestures of good will toward the Chinese government send clear signals of deference to the state and the Chinese Communist Party, and clear signals of disregard to human rights advocates, political prisoners and victims of human rights abuses.

As human rights activist Cao Yuzhou put it:

The floor you stepped on has been covered by blood from students who fought for democracy. But, enjoy your running in China, Mark.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at June 08, 2018 09:09 PM

Whether or not Papua New Guinea bans Facebook, critics say free speech still under threat

Students in IT class at the Hohola Youth Development Centre. Flickr photo by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (CC BY 2.0)

Papua New Guinea’s reported plan to ban Facebook for a month has raised concerns about government suppression of free speech.

On 29 May 2018, the Post-Courier newspaper reported on a proposal of the Communications and Information Technology Department to ban the social network in order to analyze its use and protect the safety of users. The article quoted Communications Minister Sam Basil as follows:

The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed…We cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.

Basil even suggested that the government can ask local tech companies to develop a similar platform “that is more conducive for Papua New Guineans to communicate within the country and abroad as well.”

The proposed ban was widely condemned in and outside of Papua New Guinea.

But Basil was quick to deny that the ministry has a plan to ban Facebook and accused the Post-Courier of distorting his statement. The newspaper stood by its story and the reporter who interviewed the minister.

During a subsequent parliamentary session, the governor of the Eastern Highlands province asked about the possibility of regulating and even banning Facebook to stop the spread of misinformation.

Opposition members of parliament accused the ruling party of trying to stifle public criticism. This was what MP Bryan Kramer told the media:

I believe the real intent behind the plan is to silence growing public criticism against the Government in relation to corruption. There is also the issue of prosecuting those who are staunch critics and running anti-corruption campaigns naming high level Government officials.

Kramer also called Basil’s proposal as “dumb” on his Facebook page. After this, Basil threatened that Kramer could be charged and arrested for defamation because of his Facebook post.

Gary Juffa, another member of the opposition, urged his fellow politicians to accept criticism and focus more on debating the other more urgent concerns of the citizens:

Let's debate and act on how our people's feelings are hurt and indeed their well-being is affected because they cannot access the services they deserve rather than be outraged because people have said something about us. Mere words.

The Media Council of Papua New Guinea also released a statement expressing concern about the reported Facebook ban:

While we appreciate that there is available content on Facebook that is classified illegal and deemed detrimental to the future of our people, we feel that any attempt to censor, curb, or restrict our people’s protected right to freedom of expression in any form, is an attack against our freedom as the media.

Facebook ban during APEC Summit?

The opposition also suspects that the government’s Facebook ban could be linked to the country’s hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit set for later in the year. Basil has denied this.

Paul Barker, the director of the Institute of National Affairs, rejected the idea of banning Facebook during the APEC summit:

It would be a travesty if PNG sought to close down Facebook during the APEC month, making PNG seem rather foolish, as it would be both an attack on embracing technology, undermining the information era and mechanisms for accountability, but also damaging business and welfare.

Writer Scott Waide concurred:

It is a highly embarrassing position to be in as members of APEC discuss the region’s economic future with e-commerce and social media being a pivotal focus of the talks.

Any shutdown of Facebook for any length of time is contrary to the spirit of the discussions where wider access to ICT forms the basis of future economic policies.

He also emphasized the importance of Facebook for small businesses and other needs of the community:

In Lae City where I live, Facebook is a primary means of reporting crimes to the police. The Lae Police Metropolitan Command has a Facebook page linked to its crime reporting systems and toll free number. It is an integral part of policing.

Researcher Kasek Galgal is skeptical about the methodology that the government will use in undertaking an in-depth study of Facebook. He gave this reminder:

If the government is serious about protecting its citizens online, then creating an environment where they can safely use the internet should be the goal, not blocking parts of it altogether.

According to news reports, Facebook has reached out to Papua New Guinea authorities to address the concerns of the government.

by Mong Palatino at June 08, 2018 08:46 PM

Netizen Report: In another blow for free speech, Egypt’s parliament passes cybercrime law

Army truck and soldiers in Tahrir Square, Cairo, January 2011. Photo by Ramy Raoof via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

On June 5, Egypt’s parliament approved a cybercrime law that will dictate what is and is not permissible in the realms of online censorship, data privacy, hacking, fraud and messages that authorities fear are spreading “terrorist and extremist ideologies.”

The law gives investigative authorities the right to “order the censorship of websites” whenever a site hosts content that “poses a threat to national security or compromises national security or the national economy.”

The law also creates a stronger legal basis from which authorities can pursue voices of dissent or political criticism. While the Egyptian government is notorious for censoring websites and platforms on national security grounds, there have been no laws in force that explicitly address this practice until now.

In the month of May 2018 alone, authorities picked up multiple bloggers and well-known social media activists on similar grounds.

On May 23, Egyptian police raided the home of journalist and blogger Wael Abbas and arrested him. His whereabouts are still unknown but authorities confiscated his personal computer, phones, and books, according to a statement published by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). The network condemned the arrest, describing it as a “kidnapping,” given that authorities forcibly entered Abbas’ home, blindfolded him and took him into custody while still in his night clothes.

While Abbas was able to publish a brief sentence on his Facebook account which said: “I am being arrested,” no official statement has yet been issued by the Egyptian authorities on the incident. An Egyptian journalist, known to be closely allied with the authorities, blamed Abbas for publishing “fake news” about military operations in Egypt’s Sinai region.

Just a few days prior, another blogger, human rights activist and labor lawyer Haitham Mohamedein, was seized by Egyptian authorities. He had been accused of a number of crimes, including “using the internet to incite against the state” and “incitement to protest.” He was detained for 15 days while authorities investigated his activities.

Shadi Abou Zeid, who had previously worked as a producer for a well-known satirical show featuring a chatty puppet character named Abla Fahita, was also arrested for “spreading false information on Facebook about the economic and political states of the country with the intention to undermine trust in the Egyptian state.” He is currently in custody as part of a 15-day detention and is awaiting formal charges.

Nigerian woman loses her job over critical tweets

A Nigerian woman employed by the presidential amnesty office lost her job after criticizing Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife Aisha on Twitter. The office described her tweets as a “threat to national security” and dismissed her under public service rules that define “false claims against government officials” as serious misconduct.

Azerbaijani human rights lawyer abducted, detained

Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Emin Aslan was abducted by men in plainclothes just days after re-entering his native country, after completing a law degree in the US. During that time, his Facebook account — which had been deactivated for months — suddenly became active. His phone also appeared to be in use, even though since his return to Azerbaijan, Aslan had not used his phone. More than a day later, authorities revealed that Aslan was in their custody, and was being held in administrative detention for 30 days on charges of “disobeying the police”.

Facebook shared your data in order to create ‘Facebook-like experiences’

Facebook established data sharing agreements with phone and device makers including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Samsung that granted the companies access to substantial amounts of data on users and their friends without their explicit consent, according to a report by the New York Times. Some partners can retrieve information including a user’s relationship status, religion, political leaning, and events, among other data. In a response, Facebook asserted that the APIs it developed for device makers were necessary to create “Facebook-like experiences” on their devices, and that the partners signed agreements preventing them from using the data for any other purpose.

“We are not aware of any abuse by these companies”, Facebook said, but added that it is winding down access to them and has already ended 22 of its partnerships. The report raises more questions about Facebook’s commitment to privacy protections in the wake of this spring’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data mining company used data from Facebook beyond the boundaries of the two companies’ initial agreement.

Google drops drone footage analysis program after employee protest

Google announced it will not renew its contract for Project Maven, a controversial project to provide artificial intelligence to the US Department of Defense to aid in analyzing drone footage. Thousands of Google employees signed a petition asking the company to cancel its contract for the project, and dozens resigned in protest.

Civil society calls for input on digital future at the G20

A coalition of civil society advocates working at the intersection of human rights and technology wrote an open letter calling on government participants in the G20 summit in Argentina to ensure that “the evolving digital society supports a healthy web ecosystem and puts people first.” They touched specifically on the importance of meaningful access to ICTs, privacy and data protection rights, freedom of expression, cybersecurity and increased competition in digital services.



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by Netizen Report Team at June 08, 2018 07:53 PM

June 05, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Freedom abroad, fear at home: Azerbaijani human rights lawyer detained for 30 days

Emin Aslan with his fiancée, Nura. Photo by Emin Aslan.

For Emin Aslan, going back to his native Azerbaijan after completing his studies in the US meant seeing his friends, and marrying his fiancée.

As a human rights lawyer, he worried that he might be detained once in Azerbaijan. Prior to leaving the country, he had worked with local non-government organizations and had prepared multiple complaints brought before the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Azerbaijani citizens.

But after answering a few questions from authorities, he crossed the border and passed through customs. There was less to fear. Or so he thought.

Then everything changed. For me, it began with a message on my phone's screen: “Emin Aslan detained”. It took me a minute to process this news about my friend. I had just spoken with Emin's fiancée two days before and we had made plans to see one another in the coming months. How could it be? The news started circulating online just a few minutes later.

Lawyer Emin Aslan was taken in an unknown direction by plainclothed men today in Baku. There is no information on his whereabouts.

For more than twelve hours, Emin Aslan's whereabouts were unknown. Family members called one police station after another, only to be told that police did not know where Emin was being held. But as his friends and allies began to put the pieces together, the answer became clear.

Acclaimed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was once a client of Emin's, wrote on Facebook:

Another human rights defender is arrested today.

Emin Aslan is a lawyer. He represented me in several Freedom of İnformation litigations and libel cases when he was one of the lawyers of Media Rights Institute. Three days ago he completed his studies in Syracuse university and came to Azerbaijan.

He is engaged and was planning to marry. Today, he was kidnapped in front of his fiancee, forced to the car and taken in unknown direction. The car, that he was forced to belongs to Mehman Teymurov – officer of Bandotdel – Anti Organized Crime Unit of Interior Ministry – the unit that is notorious for tortures.

Emin Aslan is a human rights defender and he was also mentioned in the famous NGO case which caused arrest of Intigam Aliyev, Anar Mammadli, Rasul Jafarov and myself in 2013-2014. Possible arrest was the reason why he left the country. He thought it might be safe now. No it isn't.

Ismayilova further posted about the car that was seen taking Emin away:

Emin Aslanı aparan avtomobil (90 XG 017) Teymurov Mehman Vaqif oğluna məxsusdur. Eyni adlı adam Baş Narkotiklərlə Mübarizə İdarəsinin əməkdaşı olub. Sonra bu ad soyadlı şəxs Nardaran işində iştirak edib. Mütəşəkkil Cİnayətkarlığa Qarşı Mübarizə İdarəsinin (Bandotdel) əməliyyatçısı qismində. Emin Aslan bandotdeldədir demək.…/files/1%28106%29300%281%29.pdf

The car license plate (number 90 XG 017) that reportedly took Emin Aslan belongs to Mehman Teymurov. The man by the same name worked as an employee of the Department to Combat Drugs. Later, the same name, appeared in Nardaran case as an employee of the Department for Combating Organized Crime [aka Bandotdel]. This means Emin Aslan is kept at “Bandotdel”.

The next day, on June 5, the Department for Combating Organized Crime confirmed it was holding Emin.

Human rights defender Anar Mammadli posted on Facebook:

Vekil Elçin Sadıqova MCQMİ-den (Bandotdel) Emin Aslanın orada olduğunu tesdiq edibler. Ancaq ona Eminle görüş icazesi verilmeyib.

The Department for Combating Organized Crime confirmed with lawyer Elchin Sadigov that Emin Aslan is being held there. However, the lawyer was not allowed to see him.

On June 5, a local court sentenced Emin to 30 days in administrative detention on charges of disobeying the police. The real reasons for his detention are still unknown, leaving his friends and family puzzled.

Although he will remain in police custody for the next 30 days, the sentence of administrative detention (in contrast to pre-trial detention) has left his family with some hope that he will be released thereafter.

Writing on her Facebook, his fiance, Nura, wrote:

Biz indi Eminlә evlilik/viza işlәri ilә mәşğul olmalı idik, amma indi tәcridxana üçün çantasın hazırlayıram. Bu biabırçılıqdı, bu iyrәnclikdi. Bizim hәyatımızdan 30 gün oğurlayıblar vә buna sevinirik.

30 gün nәdir ki, bir göz qırpımında gәlib keçәcәk. Amma yaşadığım stres, mәyusluq hәmişә mәnimlә qalacaq. Amma hәrşeyә baxmayaraq, möhkәmik, başqa yolu yoxdur, onsuz.

Right now, Emin and I were supposed to deal with marriage/visa paperwork but instead I am preparing a bag for him to take with me to the detention center. This is shameful and disgusting. They have stolen 30 days from our lives and yet we are celebrating. What is 30 days anyway, it will pass by in an instance but this stress will always stay with me. Despite everything we are strong, there is no other way.

Emin is a recent graduate of Syracuse University College of Law, in the US, where he completed a LLM degree. After completing his studies, he returned back to his native Azerbaijan on May 30. Four days later, he was abducted.

Prior to leaving for his studies, Emin worked in Tbilisi, Georgia with Human Rights House Tbilisi office. On Facebook, Emin's former colleagues expressed concern about his disappearance and alleged abduction.

Emin Aslan at his graduation from Syracuse University. Photo by Emin Aslan via Meydan TV.

Similarly, the Eastern European Center for Multiparty Democracy issued the following statement:

We have learned today that Mr. Emin Aslan, our former colleague, has been kidnapped in Baku by the unidentified individuals. We are very concerned with his fate in the face of widespread kidnappings and mistreatment of journalists, human rights activists and pro-democracy leaders in Azerbaijan.

While Emin was held incommunicado, his Facebook account — which had been deactivated for months — suddenly became active. His phone also appeared to be in use, even though since his return to Azerbaijan, Emin had not used his phone.

Emin's arrest is one of multiple recent government attempts to persecute the remaining voices of Azerbaijan's civil society. Scores of opposition party members have been rounded up and held on bogus charges. And while many more questions remain unanswered in Emin's case, this illustration by exiled Azerbaijani cartoonist sums it all well.


by Arzu Geybullayeva at June 05, 2018 09:52 PM

June 01, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Videos allege Indian media houses promised to favor Hindu nationalism in exchange for cash

Operation 136 Logo. Via Cobrapost. Fair use.

A viral series of videos on social media show that Indian media houses may be accepting large sums of money in exchange for flattering coverage of the ruling party and Hindu nationalist ideology.

With a few exceptions, Indian mainstream media outlets have become notoriously gentle in their journalistic treatment of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So when the New Delhi High Court attempted to block news site CobraPost from publishing a cache of videos showing evidence of collusion between government and media last week, it caught people's attention.

A small media outlet known for taking risks and sometimes employing unorthodox tactics, CobraPost nevertheless went ahead and released the videos on social media.

CobraPost made the videos in a “sting” operation in which one of its journalists posed as a wealthy religious man from a monastery. He approached various mainstream media houses proposing to pay large sums of money before the elections of 2019, to ensure Modi's BJP wins the vote. Most of the publications agreed to join the crusade. Others said they were already on the job.

Some of the videos show prominent executives in media houses agreeing on camera to promote Hindutva ideology (the preferred form of Hindu nationalism of the BJP party) and describing how editorial content could be tailored through strategic public relations, all in exchange for large sums of money in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.

The videos also allege that many news organisations including Benett and Coleman Ltd (publisher of Times of India, Mirror tabloids, Economic Times, et al) had become part of a broader campaign to normalize Hindutva ideology and to polarize the country in an effort to shore up political support for the ruling party.

This campaign has coincided with numerous lynchings of Muslim men, attacks on Dalits (groups historically treated as an underclass in India's caste system) and protests against Muslims offering prayers on Fridays.

Journalist Meghnad commented on the revelations:

CobraPost used no other secondary sources to confirm that these media houses were accepting money for promoting pro-government content. But it is almost open knowledge in India that the practice takes place.

Alongside the ethical questions raised by CobraPost's methods, the videos immediately cast doubt on the editorial integrity of news organisations covering the Modi administration in India's highly polarised political environment.

In a press release quoted by Scroll, CobraPost stated how India's leading publications are willing to “not only cause communal disharmony among the citizens but also turn the electoral outcome in favor of a particular party – and all in return for cash.”

The report has come to light amid a rapid rise of “fake news” websites in India that seem intended to promote religious and communal tension.

Indian regional daily Dainik Bhaskar moved the Delhi High Court to seek an injunction against CobraPost, but the publication stood firm and published its findings.

Major publications including the Times of India, HT Media, India Today, the Zee group, and TV18 have been named in the stinging sensation as well. But since the release of the videos, most of these outlets have stayed mum and avoided reporting on the video revelations.

Politician Yogendra Yadav questioned the coverage of CobraPost in Indian newspapers or lack thereof:

Indian singer Vishal Dadlani questioned the news coverage and BJP's involvement:

On May 31, six days after the videos went public, India Today media group filed a legal notice demanding that CobraPost remove the videos implicating India Today and claiming that their content was manipulated. A subsequent article on the Times of India website described the videos as “a case of doctoring of content and falsification, as no media organisations named in it agreed to any illegal or immoral activity and no contracts were signed.”

YouTube vlogger Dhruv Rathee retorted to trolls questioning CobraPost's journalism and ethics:

Several media personalities and senior journalists also expressed their views on the sting and about editorial integrity.

Prominent media personality Raju Narisetti offered insight on how this affects India's media credibility in the long run:

Indian TV anchor and journalist Rajdeep Sardesai meanwhile questioned the investigations for painting the entire country's media as compromised:

Journalist Sagarika Ghosh followed Rajdeep's lead and said publications she had worked for had never pressured her to cover government agencies in a flattering light.

Independent researcher Akshaya Mukul demanded that India's Editors Guild step in and take action against erring publishing platforms:

Novelist Manu Joseph poked fun at the incident:

Marathi journalist Wagle Nikhil underscored the need for independent media to counter the polarising narrative:

The incident also highlights the degree to which a healthy media environment requires independent streams of funding. Without this, media outlets are often left with little choice but to compromise their coverage at the behest of their benefactors.

by Vishal Manve at June 01, 2018 05:37 PM

Netizen Report: Uganda’s ‘WhatsApp tax’ and SIM card regulations will make it harder to stay connected

Telco ad on a van in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

The Ugandan government approved a new tax law that will apply levies to a range of goods and services, including mobile money accounts and social media services such as Facebook and WhatsApp.

When policymakers first proposed the so-called “WhatsApp tax”, supporters — among them President Yoweri Museveni — argued that it would help to reduce “gossip” on social media. It was also popular among local telecom providers, who do not directly benefit from the use of foreign-based “over-the-top” services such as WhatsApp.

In an interview, Ugandan blogger and Global Voices author Pru Nyamishana told BuzzFeed:

one of the two biggest challenges that we face in internet governance is access. This tax is locking people out….we also believe it is a deliberate move to censor Ugandans and cut down on dissenting voices.

Citing a recent rise in murders and kidnappings, the Ugandan government has also ended a two-month freeze on SIM card sales and ordered telecom companies to register all new mobile SIM cards with the National Biometrics Data Center. It has banned the sale of scratchable recharge cards as well.

Authorities say violent criminals communicate using unregistered SIM cards in order to plan the attacks without being traced.

While the ban on SIM card sales has been lifted, new regulations will now require Ugandans to provide vendors with their national identification cards so that their personal data can be verified on electronic card readers at the time of purchase. Under the new law, which goes into effect July 1, customers will also be made to use mobile money accounts in order to recharge their SIM cards.

In a press statement, the Uganda Consumer Protection Association said SIM card regulatory measures would not reduce the crime rate. Writing about the new tax law, Juliet Nanfuka of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) called it “the latest in a series of government actions that threaten citizens’ access to the internet.”

Taken together, these new policies will make it more costly for Ugandans — especially those living in poverty — to communicate and perform everyday tasks using their mobile devices.

Internet shutdown in India’s Tamil Nadu state following massacre of protesters

After police shot and killed 13 civilians at a public demonstration in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, fixed and mobile internet networks were shut down in three districts at the order of local government authorities. The demonstrators were protesting the expansion of a copper plant that they say is polluting the air and water in their district and putting their health at risk. Videos of police acting violently or cruelly toward protesters have been circulating on social media, leaving many skeptical of the government’s motivations for cutting off internet access.

According to the Software Freedom Law Center of New Delhi, there have been 55 regional internet shutdowns in India so far in 2018.

Papua New Guinea puts a one-month ban on Facebook, citing ‘fake users’

Officials in the southern Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea will impose a one-month-long ban on Facebook, in what they say is an effort to better understand the platform as a catalyst for the spread of false information.

In an interview with The Guardian, digital media scholar and Global Voices author Aim Sinpeng expressed concern about the ban, but also noted that it would have less impact there than in other parts of the world, given the country’s low proportion of internet users. Papua New Guinea has a population of just over eight million and an internet penetration rate of only 12 percent.

UAE human rights advocate faces 10 years in prison for social media activism

Emirati human rights advocate Ahmed Mansoor was sentenced to ten years in prison by an Abu Dhabi appeals court for allegedly spreading “hatred and sectarianism” and publishing “false information” on social media. He was also issued a one million dirham fine (roughly USD $272,000) for “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE.”

Mansoor, who has been held in detention since March 2017, is among a handful of vocal human rights advocates in the Gulf country and received the 2015 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. He was also jailed in 2011, after he campaigned for democratic reforms in UAE and signed a pro-democracy petition. From this time until his most recent arrest, he faced harassment and surveillance both online and off.

With new software, is helping governments surveil US residents has developed its own facial recognition software, Rekognition, a product the company says can perform “real-time face recognition across tens of millions of faces, and detection of up to 100 faces in challenging crowded photos.”

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union obtained and released emails proving that Amazon has been selling the software to local governments in the US states of Arizona, California and Oregon and that the company had trained and consulted with government officials under a non-disclosure agreement initiated by Amazon.

The organization also co-wrote a coalition letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, demanding that Amazon “stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch were among signatories.

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by Netizen Report Team at June 01, 2018 01:39 PM

May 31, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Ukrainian authorities stage journalist's murder, taking ‘fake news’ to the next level

Arkady Babchenko in Tskhinvali, Georgia, in 2008. Photo by anonymous via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The murder of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko broke on May 29, with multiple media outlets reporting that Babchenko suffered three fatal gunshot wounds in the back at his apartment building in Kyiv.

The news shook the world, prompting leaders in media and government to express outrage and condolences to his wife and daughter — until it was revealed, just a day later, that the murder was a fake.

At press conference on May 30, Ukrainian officials brought out Babchenko, clearly alive and well, to the shock of all those around him. Officials explained with pride that the incident was staged by the SBU, Ukraine's domestic intelligence agency, as a part of a special operation to stymie an alleged plot to assassinate Babchenko and 30 other Russian political emigres in Ukraine and other countries. 

A veteran war reporter and a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin's policies, Babchenko fled Russia in 2017 after a controversial post on Facebook where he refused to mourn the victims of a fatal plane crash. It made him a target of a propaganda campaign on Russian state media and provoked numerous threats on his life.

According to the head of SBU, Vasyl Gritsak, the murder of Babchenko was ordered by the Russian security services, who had recruited a Ukrainian army veteran through a local subcontractor. The price for the execution of the murder was reported to be $40,000.

The plan was allegedly foiled after the veteran contracted to assassinate decided to cooperate with Ukrainian law enforcement and is now as a witness in the trial. In order to convince the conspirators behind Babchenko's assassination of its success, SBU faked a photograph of the ‘dead’ journalist, complete with a pool of pig blood, as Babchenko himself revealed during the press conference.

Ukraine's security services were so visibly triumphant during the press conference that some journalists covering Ukraine found it disconcerting:

Other journalists were caught red-faced after sharing heartfelt obituaries and breaking what seemed a genuinely tragic news story at the time:

Associated Press reporter Nataliya Vasilyeva raised concern about the implications of the stunt pulled by Babchenko and SBU on the credibility of the media in general:

The incident deeply undermines the credibility of Ukrainian officials and journalists. And in a region where “fake news” and disinformation already run rampant, the prospect of actual events being faked or distorted sets the bar even higher for journalists seeking to report the truth.

Similar concerns were raised by media freedom advocates. Harlem Desir, the Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, criticized Ukrainian authorities’ decision:

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists had a similar message:

What is known is that the Ukrainian government has damaged its own credibility. And given the SBU is an intelligence agency, which engages in deception, obfuscation, and propaganda, determining the truth will be very difficult.

After miraculously coming back to life, Babchenko wrote on Twitter that he was “tired” of dying:

Screw them. I won't give them the satisfaction. I made a promise to die at the age of 96, after dancing on Putin's grave and taking a selfie on an Abrams tank on Tverskaya street [Moscow's central thoroughfare] — and I'll do my best to accomplish it. It must be my fate: coming back from the dead every four years. My god, dying is so tiresome. Good morning.

The investigation into Russia's alleged plot to assassinate Arkady Babchenko is pending.

by RuNet Echo at May 31, 2018 08:17 PM

May 30, 2018

Ethan Zuckerman
Six or Seven Things Social Media Can Do For Democracy

Social media doesn’t work the way we think it should. That’s the conclusion many people have come to in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s mining of Facebook data to build political profiles and sway elections. Perhaps the concerns go further back, to the election of a US president in 2016 who seems fueled by social media, the more polarizing and divisive the better. Or perhaps it was Brexit that broke you. Or a gunman “self-investigating” the Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor, spurious accusations of crisis actors at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and the amazingly inventive web of conspiracies the internet seems to engender. The cyberutopians have retreated, the creators of the modern internet are doing penance and we’re all social media critics now.

Photo by Tim Green, Flickr

Those critics include (suddenly) self-reflective executives at social media platforms, who are desperate for ideas on how their tools can return to society’s good graces. Having learned that platforms manage to metrics, making business decisions to maximize revenues, pageviews or engagement, there’s a new urgency to create a metric that will give us better social media, tools less likely to isolate, polarize and radicalize us. Tristan Harris has preached the gospel of Time Well Spent to newly receptive audiences at Facebook. At Cortico, my MIT colleague Deb Roy is working to define measures of healthy online communities, so Twitter and other platforms can optimize to encourage these behaviors.

These are worthy projects, and I am following both with optimism and interest. But I am concerned that we’ve not had a robust conversation about what we want social media to do for us.

We know what social media does for platform companies like Facebook and Twitter: it generates enormous masses of user-generated content that can be monetized with advertising, and reams of behavioral data that make that advertising more valuable. Perhaps we have a sense for what social media does for us as individuals, connecting us to distant friends, helping us maintain a lightweight awareness of each other’s lives even when we are not co-present. Or perhaps it’s a machine for disappointment and envy, a window into lives better lived than our own. It’s likely that what social media does for us personally is a deeply idiosyncratic question, dependent on our own lives, psyches and decisions, better discussed with our therapists than spoken about in generalities.

I’m interested in what social media should do for us as citizens in a democracy. We talk about social media as a digital public sphere, invoking Habermas and coffeehouses frequented by the bourgeoisie. Before we ask whether the internet succeeds as a public sphere, we ought to ask whether that’s actually what we want it to be.

I take my lead here from journalism scholar Michael Schudson, who took issue with a hyperbolic statement made by media critic James Carey: “journalism as a practice is unthinkable except in the context of democracy; in fact, journalism is usefully understood as another name for democracy.” For Schudson, this was a step too far. Journalism may be necessary for democracy to function well, but journalism by itself is not democracy and cannot produce democracy. Instead, we should work to understand the “Six or Seven Things News Can Do for Democracy”, the title of an incisive essay Schudson wrote to anchor his book, Why Democracies Need an Unloveable Press.

The six things Schudson sees news currently doing for democracy are presented in order of their frequency – as a result, the first three functions Schudson sees are straightforward and unsurprising. The news informs us about events, locally and globally, that we need to know about as citizens. The news investigates issues that are not immediately obvious, doing the hard work of excavating truths that someone did not want told. News provides analysis, knitting reported facts into complex possible narratives of significance and direction.

Schudson wades into deeper waters with the next three functions. News can serve as a public forum, allowing citizens to raise their voices through letters to the editor, op-eds and (when they’re still permitted) through comments. The news can serve as a tool for social empathy, helping us feel the importance of social issues through careful storytelling, appealing to our hearts as well as our heads. Controversially, Schudson argues, news can be a force for mobilization, urging readers to take action, voting, marching, protesting, boycotting, or using any of the other tools we have access to as citizens.

His essay closes with a seventh role that Schudson believes the news should fill, even if it has yet to embrace it. The news can be a force for the promotion of representative democracy. For Schudson, this includes the idea of protecting minority rights against the excesses of populism, and he sees a possible role for journalists in ensuring that these key protections remain in force.

This is perhaps not an exhaustive list, nor is the news required to do all that Schudson believes it can do. Neither does the list include things that the news tries to do that aren’t necessarily connected to democracy, like providing an advertising platform for local businesses, providing revenue for publishers, or entertaining audiences. And Schudson acknowledges that these functions can come into conflict – the more a news organization engages in mobilization, the more likely it is that it will compromise their ability to inform impartially.

In this same spirit, I’d like to suggest six or seven things social media can do for democracy. I am neither as learned or as wise as Schudson, so I fully expect readers to offer half a dozen functions that I’ve missed. In the spirit of Schudson’s public forum and Benkler’s digital public sphere, I offer these in the hopes of starting, not ending, a conversation.

Social media can inform us.

Many of us have heard the statistic that a majority of young people see Facebook as a primary source for news, and virtually every newsroom now considers Facebook as an important distributor of their content (sometimes to their peril.) But that’s not what’s most important in considering social media as a tool for democracy. Because social media is participatory, it is a tool people use to create and share information with friends and family, and potentially the wider world. Usually this information is of interest only to a few people – it’s what you had for lunch, or the antics of the squirrel in your backyard. But sometimes the news you see is of intense importance to the rest of the world.

When protesters took to the streets of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, they were visible to the world through Facebook even though the Tunisian government had prevented journalists from coming to the town. Videos from Facebook made their way to Al Jazeera through Tunisian activists in the diaspora, and Al Jazeera rebroadcast footage, helping spread the protests to Tunis and beyond. The importance of social media in informing us is that it provides a channel for those excluded by the news – whether through censorship, as in Tunisia, or through disinterest or ignorance – to have their voices and issues heard.

Places don’t need to be as far away as Tunisia for social media to be a conduit for information – when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, many people learned of his death, the protests that unfolded in the wake, and the militarized response to those protests, via Twitter. (And as news reporters were arrested for covering events in Ferguson, they turned to Twitter to share news of their own detention.) Social media is critically important in giving voice to communities who’ve been systemically excluded from media – people of color, women, LGBTQIA people, poor people. By giving people a chance to share their under-covered perspectives with broadcast media, social media has a possible role in making the media ecosystem more inclusive and fair.

Finally, social media may be in helping replace or augment local information, as people connect directly with their children’s schools or with community organizations. This function is increasingly important as local newspapers shed staff or close altogether, as social media may become the primary conduit for local information.

Social media can amplify important voices and issues.

In traditional (broadcast or newspaper) media, editors decide what topics are worth the readers’ attention. This “agenda setting” function has enormous political importance – as Max McCombs and Donald Shaw observed in 1972, the news doesn’t tell us what to think, but it’s very good at telling us what to think about.

That agenda-setting power takes a different shape in the era of social media. Instead of a linear process from an editor’s desk through a reporter to the paper on your front porch, social media works with news media through a set of feedback loops. Readers make stories more visible by sharing them on social media (and help ensure invisibility by failing to share stories). Editors and writers respond to sharing as a signal of popularity and interest, and will often write more stories to capitalize on this interest. Readers may respond to stories by becoming authors, injecting their stories into the mix and competing with professional stories for attention and amplification.

Amplification has become a new form of exercising political power. In 2012, we watched Invisible Children use a carefully crafted campaign, built around a manipulative video and a strategy of sharing the video with online influencers. Within an few days, roughly half of American young people had seen the video, and US funding for the Ugandan military – the goal of the campaign – was being supported by powerful people in the US Congress and military. (That the organization’s director had a nervous breakdown, leading to the group’s implosion, was not a coincidence – Invisible Children managed to amplify an issue to a level of visibility where powerful backlash was inevitable.)

Amplification works within much smaller circles that those surrounding US foreign policy. By sharing content with small personal networks on social media, individuals signal the issues they see as most important and engage in a constant process of self-definition. In the process, they advocate for friends to pay attention to these issues as well. Essentially, social media provides an efficient mechanism for the two-step flow of communication, documented by Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz, to unfold online. We are less influenced by mass media than we are by opinion leaders, who share their opinions about mass media. Social media invites all of us to become opinion leaders, at least for our circles of friends, and makes the process entertaining, gamifying our role as influencers by rewarding us with up to the second numbers on how our tweets and posts have been liked and shared by our friends.

Social media can be a tool for connection and solidarity.

The pre-web internet of the 1980s and 1990s was organized around topics of interest, rather than offline friendships, as social networks like Facebook organize. Some of the most long-lasting communities that emerged from the Usenet era of the internet were communities of interest that connected people who had a hard time finding each other offline: young people questioning their sexuality, religious and ethnic minorities, people with esoteric or specialized interests. The spirit of the community of interest and identity continued through Scott Hefferman’s, which helped poodle owners or Bernie supporters in Des Moines find each other, and now surfaces again in Facebook Groups, semi-private spaces designed to allow people to connect with likeminded individuals in safe, restricted spaces.

Social critics, notably Robert Putnam, have worried that the internet is undermining our sense of community and lessening people’s abilities to engage in civic behavior. Another possibility is that we’re forming new bonds of solidarity based on shared interests than on shared geographies. I think of Jen Brea, whose academic career at Harvard was cut short by myalgic encephalomyelitis, who used the internet to build an online community of fellow disease sufferers, a powerful documentary film that premiered at Sundance, and a powerful campaign calling attention to the ways diseases that disproportionately affect women are systemically misdiagnosed. Brea’s disease makes it difficult for her to connect with her local, physical community, but social media has made it possible to build a powerful community of interest that is working on helping people live with their disease.

One of the major worries voiced about social media is the ways in which it can increase political polarization. Communities of solidarity can both exacerbate and combat that problem. We may end up more firmly rooted in our existing opinions, or we may create a new set of weak ties to people who we may disagree with in terms of traditional political categories, but with whom we share powerful bonds around shared interests, identities and struggles.

Social media can be a space for mobilization

The power of social media to raise money for candidates, recruit people to participate in marches and rallies, to organize boycotts of products or the overthrow of governments is one of the best-documented – and most debated – powers of social media. From Clay Shirky’s examination of group formation and mobilization in Here Comes Everybody to endless analyses of the power of Facebook and Twitter in mobilizing youth in Tahrir Square or Gezi Park, including Zeynep Tufekçi’s Twitter and Tear Gas, the power of social media to both recruit people to social movements and to organize actions offline has been well documented. It’s also been heartily critiqued, from Malcolm Gladwell, who believes that online connections can never be as powerful as real-world strong ties for leading people to protest, or by thinkers like Tufekçi, who readily admit that the ease of mobilizing people online is an Achille’s heel, teaching leaders like Erdogan to discount the importance of citizens protesting in the streets.

It’s worth noting that mobilization online does not have to lead to offline action to be effective. A wave of campaigns like Sleeping Giants, which has urged advertisers to pull support from Breitbart, or #metoo, where tens of thousands of women have demonstrated that sexual harassment is a pervasive condition, not just the product of a few Harvey Weinsteins, have connected primarily online action to real-world change. What’s increasingly clear is that online mobilization – like amplification – is simply a tool in the contemporary civic toolkit, alongsite more traditional forms of organizing.

Social media can be a space for deliberation and debate.

Perhaps no promise of social media has been more disappointing than hope that social media would provide the public forum function Schudson celebrated. Newspapers began experimenting with participatory media through open comments fora, and quickly discovered that online discourse was often mean, petty, superficial and worth ignoring. Moving debate from often anonymous comment sections onto real-name social networks like Facebook had less of a mediating effect that many hoped. While conversations less often devolve into insults and shouting, everyone who’s shared political news online has had the experience of a friend or family member ending an online friendship over controversial content. It’s likely that the increasing popularity of closed online spaces, like Facebook groups, has to do with the unwillingness of people to engage in civil deliberation and debate, and the hope that people can find affirmation and support for their views rather than experiencing conflict and tension.

Yet it is possible to create spaces for deliberation and debate within social media. Wael Ghonim was the organizer of the We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page, one of the major groups that mobilized “Tahrir youth” to stand up to the Mubarak regime, leading to the most dramatic changes to come out of the Arab Spring. After the revolution, Ghonim was deeply involved with democratic organizing in Egypt. He became frustrated with Facebook, which was an excellent platform for rallying people and harnessing anger, but far less effective in enabling nuanced debate about political futures. Ghonim went on to build his own social network, Parlio, which focused on civility and respectful debate, featuring dialogs with intellectuals and political leaders rather than updates on what participants were eating for lunch or watching on TV. The network had difficulty scaling, but was acquired by Quora, the question-answering social network, which was attracted to Parlio’s work in building high-value conversations that went beyond questions and answers.

Parlio suggests that the dynamics of social networks as we understand them have to do with the choices made by their founders and governing team. Facebook and Twitter can be such unpleasant places because strong emotions lead to high engagement, and engagement sells ads. Engineer a different social network around different principles, and it’s possible that the deliberation and debate we might hope from a digital public sphere could happen within a platform.

Social media can be a tool for showing us a diversity of views and perspectives.

If the idea of social media as a space for deliberation and polite dialog doesn’t convince you that I’ve been replaced with a cyberutopian dopplegänger of myself, this assertion might. I wrote a book, Rewire, that argues that social media tends to reinforce homophily, the tendency of birds of a feather to flock together. Given the apparent track record of social media as a space where ethnonationalism and racism thrive, is it reasonable to hope for social media to operate as a tool for increasing diversity of views and exposure to alternative perspectives.

Yes, but not without conscious intervention to help social networks operate differently than they do now. Contemporary social networks have an enormous amount of potential diversity, but very little manifest diversity. In theory, you can connect with 2 billion people from virtually every country in the world on Facebook. In practice, you connect with a few hundred people you know offline, who tend to share your national origin, race, religion and politics. But a social network that focused explicitly on broadening your perspectives would have a tremendous foundation to build upon: networks like Facebook know a great deal about who you already pay attention to, and have a deep well of alternative content to draw from. Projects like FlipFeed from MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines and from my group at the MIT Media Lab explicitly re-engineer your social media feeds to encourage encounters with a more diverse set of perspectives. If a network like Twitter or Facebook concluded that increased diversity was a worthy metric to manage to, there’s dozens of ways to accomplish the goal, and rich questions to be solved in combining increased diversity with a user’s interests to accomplish serendipity, rather than increased randomness.

Schudson’s suggestion that news could promote representative democracy was intended as a challenge to news organizations to take their democratic responsibilities more seriously. I offer my seventh suggestion for social media in the same spirit.

Social media can be a model for democratically governed spaces.

Users in social networks like Twitter and Facebook have little control over how those networks are governed, despite the great value they collectively create for platform owners. This disparity has led Rebecca MacKinnon to call for platform owners to seek Consent of the Networked, and Trebor Scholz to call us to recognize participation in social networks as Digital Labor. But some platforms have done more than others to engage their communities in governance.

Reddit is the fourth most popular site on the US internet and sixth most popular site worldwide, as measured by Alexa Internet, and is a daily destination for at least 250 million users. The site is organized into thousands of “subreddits”, each managed by a team of uncompensated, volunteer moderators, who determine what content is allowable in each community. The result is a wildly diverse set of conversations, ranging from insightful conversations about science and politics in some communities, to ugly, racist, misogynistic, hateful speech in others. The difference in outcomes in those communities comes in large part to differences in governance and to the partipants each community attracts.

Some Reddit communities have begun working with scholars to examine scientifically how they could govern their communities more effectively. /r/science, a community of 18 million subscribers and over a thousand volunteer moderators, has worked with communications scholar Nathan Matias to experiment with ways of enforcing their rules to maximize positive discussions and throw out fewer rulebreakers. The ability to experiment with different rules in different parts of a site and to study what rulesets best enable what kinds of conversations could have benefits for supporters of participatory democracy offline as well as online.

It’s fair to point out that the social media platforms we use today don’t fulfill all these functions. Few have taken steps to increase the diversity of opinions users are exposed to, and though many have tried to encourage civil discourse, very few have succeeded. It’s likely that some of these goals are incompatible with current ad supported business models. Political polarization and name-calling may well generate more pageviews than diversity and civil deliberation.

Second, as Schudson observed about the possible functions for media, these democratic functions for social media may be mutually incompatible. It’s likely that the communities that favor solidarity and subgroup identity, or turn that identity into mobilization, aren’t the best ones to support efforts for diversity or for dialog. The ways in which different networks may be necessary to accomplish multiple democratic goals points to the fact that we may not need One Network to Rule Them All, so much as we may need a diversity of networks for different purposes. The place where I swap war stories about continuous glucose monitors with fellow type 1 diabetics may not be the place I argue politics – and it may be a massive mistake to collapse those communities and functions into the same platform

Finally, it’s also fair to note that there’s a dark side to every democratic function I’ve listed. The tools that allow marginalized people to report their news and influence media are the same ones that allow fake news to be injected into the media ecosystem. Amplification is a technique used by everyone from Black Lives Matter to neo-Nazis, as is mobilization, and the spaces for solidarity that allow Jen Brea to manage her disease allow “incels” to push each other towards violence. While I feel comfortable advocating for respectful dialog and diverse points of view, someone will see my advocacy as an attempt to push politically correct multiculturalism down their throat, or to silence the exclusive truth of their perspectives through dialog. The bad news is that making social media work better for democracy likely means making it work better for the Nazis as well. The good news is that there’s a lot more participatory democrats than there are Nazis.

My aim in putting forward seven things social media could do for democracy is two-fold. As we demand that Facebook, Twitter and others do better – and we should – we need to know what we’re asking for. I want Facebook to be more respectful of my personal information, more dedicated to helping me connect with my friends than marketing me to advertisers, but I also want them to be thinking about which of these democratic goals they hope to achieve. Second, I don’t believe we should have only one or two social media networks. My hope is a world where we could have dozens of interoperable social networks focused on different goals and purposes. When I’ve proposed publicly-funded social media networks, it’s not because I believe taxpayers should pay for a replacement for Facebook. It’s because I think we need networks that take seriously problems like deliberation and diversity, and I don’t yet see those projects emerging from the market.

In suggesting the roles news has within a democracy, Michael Schudson had the support of Thomas Jefferson, who declared that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”. There’s no guarantee that our founders would have embraced social media as a critical pillar of democracy – though I’ve made the case that Franklin, at least, would have found it very familiar. But if our response to the shortcomings of contemporary social media is to move beyond the idea that we should burn it all down, it’s critical that we ask what social media can do for democracy and demand that it play its part.

As I mentioned early in this essay, I’m unconvinced that I’ve identified the correct seven functions for social media in a democracy, or that there’s six or seven. And while I have the intuition that our democracies are better with social media than without them, I’m interested in all arguments, including the argument to burn it all down. I hope you’ll take advantage of participatory media as a space for dialog to offer your thoughts in the comments on this, or in your own writing elsewhere online. Thanks for reading and engaging.

by Ethan at May 30, 2018 03:20 PM

May 28, 2018

Joi Ito
Citing Blogs

On May 13, 2018, I innocently asked:

240 replies later, it is clear that blogs don't make it into the academic journalsphere and people cited two main reasons, the lack of longevity of links and the lack of peer review. I would like to point out that my blog URLs have been solid and permanent since I launched this version of my website in 2002 but it's a fairly valid point. There are a number of ideas about how to solve this, and several people pointed out that The Internet Archive does a pretty good job of keeping an archive of many sites.

There was quite a bit of discussion about peer review. Karim Lakhani posted a link about a study he did on peer review:

In the study, he says that, "we find that evaluators systematically give lower scores to research proposals that are closer to their own areas of expertise and to those that are highly novel."

Many people on Twitter mentioned pre-prints which is an emerging trend of publishing drafts before peer review since it can take so long. Many fields are skipping formal peer review and just focusing on pre-prints. In some fields ad hoc and informal peer groups are reviewing pre-prints and some journals are even referring to these informal review groups.

This sounds an awful lot like how we review each other's work on blogs. We cite, discuss and share links -- the best blog posts getting the most links. In the early days of Google, this would guarantee being on the first page of search results. Some great blog posts like Tim O'Reilly's "What Is Web 2.0" have ended up becoming canonical. So when people tell me that their professors don't want them to cite blogs in their academic papers, I'm not feelin' it.

It may be true that peer review is better than the alternatives, but it definitely could be improved. SCIgen, invented in 2005 by MIT researchers creates meaningless papers that have been successfully submitted to conferences. In 2014 Springer and IEEE removed more than 120 papers when a French researcher discovered that they were computer-generated fakes. Even peer review itself has been successfully imitated by machines.

At the Media Lab and MIT Press, we are working on trying to think about new ways to publish with experiments like PubPub. There are discussions about the future of peer review. People like Jess Polka at ASAPbio are working on these issues as well. Very excited about the progress, but a long way to go.

One thing we can do is make blogs more citation friendly. Some people on Twitter mentioned that it's more clear who did what in an academic paper than on a blog post. I started, at the urging of Jeremy Rubin, to put credits at the bottom of blog posts when I received a lot of help -- for example my post on the FinTech Bubble. Also, Boris just added a "cite" button at the bottom of each of my blog posts. Try it! I suppose the next thing is to consider DOI numbers for each post although it seems non-obvious how independent bloggers would get them without paying a bunch of money.

One annoying thing is that the citation format for blogs suck. When you Goggle, "cite blog post," you end up at... a blog post about "How to Cite a Blog Post in MLA, APA, or Chicago." According to that blog post, the APA citation for this post would be, "Ito, J. (2018, May). Citing Blogs. [Blog post]." That's annoying. Isn't the name of my blog relevant? If you look at the Citing Electronic Sources section of the MIT Academic Integrity website, they link to the Purdue OWL page. Purdue gives a slightly more cryptic example using a blog comment in the square brackets, but roughly similar. I don't see why the name of my blog is less important than some random journal so I'm going to put it in italics - APA guidelines be damned. Who do we lobby to change the APA guidelines to lift blog names out of the URL and into the body of the citation?

by Joi at May 28, 2018 08:05 PM

My email and task management protocol

November 2010
November 2010, before I "settled down" with a "real job."

The last blog post I wrote was about how little time I have to do email and the difficulty in coping with it. Often when I meet new people, they quickly take a look at my blog and read the top post, which in this case is a whiny post about how busy I am - fine, but not exactly the most exciting place to start a conversation. The fact that I haven't written anything really interesting on this blog since then is a testament to the fact that I haven't solved my "busy problem", but I thought I'd give you an update on the somewhat improved state of things.

After the last post, Ray Ozzie pointed out in the comments that I was looking at the problem the wrong way. Instead of trying to allot partial attention to doing email during meetings, he suggested I should instead figure out how to effectively process email where the input and output flows are balanced. I took his feedback to heart and have embarked on trying to make my inbox processing more efficient. In case it is useful for people, here are a few protocols that I've instituted.

While I don't get to inbox zero every day, I get to near inbox zero at least once a week. I feel that I'm mostly on top of things, and if I'm unable to do something or meet someone, it is because I really am unable to do it, rather than just accidentally missing it. This feels much better.

My next step will start after the new year, when I'll start scheduling exercise, learning and "mindfulness pauses" into each day and pushing my bar for saying "yes" to requests much higher to try to make room for this.

So far, I've implemented the following steps, which you, too, might find effective:


My signature file says, "Tip: Use NRR to mean No Reply Required - thank you!", and I've tried to make it a "thing" for my associates to let each other know when you are sending a message that doesn't need a reply. This cuts down on the "thanks!" or "OK!" type emails.


I use Sanebox which is a service that sorts your email behind the scenes into various folders. Only people who you have written email to in the past or people or domain names that have been "trained" end up in your inbox. You train Sanebox by dragging email into different folders to teach it where they should go or you can program domains, or certain strings in the subject line to send the message to a particular box. I have four folders. "Inbox" which is where the important messages go, "@SaneLater" where email from people I don't know go, "@SaneBulk" where bulk email goes and "@SaneBlackHole" where things go that you never want to see again.


Gmail has a nifty feature that allows you to give access to your inbox to other people. Two people have access to my inbox to help me triage and write replies. They also keep an eye on "@SaneLater" for messages from new people who I should pay attention to. Requests requiring actions or replies that are substantial go to Trello. (More below about Trello.) Information requests, requests that need to be redirected to someone else, or meetings that I can't possibly attend get processed right in my inbox. Email that needs a reply but won't take more than a few minutes ends up getting converted into a ticket in Keeping and assigned to whoever should be involved. (More on Keeping below.)


We have a Media Lab Slack channel and any interaction that can be settled on Slack, we do on Slack and try not to create email threads.


Trello is a wonderful tool that allows you to track tasks in groups. It's organized very much like a "Kanban" system and is used by agile software developers and others who need a system of tracking tasks through various steps. Trello lets you forward email to create cards, assign cards to people to work on, and have conversations on each card via email, a mobile app and a desktop app.

I have two "boards" on Trello. One is a "Meetings" board, where each meeting request starts life in the "Incoming" list with a color coded tag for which city the request is for or whether it is a teleconference. I then drag meetings requests from "Incoming" to "Someday Soon" or "Schedule" or "Turn Down."

The cards in "Schedule" are sorted roughly in order of priority, and my team takes cards from the top of the list and starts working on scheduling them in that order. Meetings where we have suggested dates and are awaiting confirmation go to the "Waiting For Confirmation" list, and cards that are confirmed end up in "Confirmed" list. If for some reason a meeting fails to happen, then its card gets moved to "Failed/Reschedule", and when meetings are completed, they end up in "Completed." At least once a week, I go through and archive the cards in the "Completed" list after scanning for any missing follow-up items or things that I need to remember. I also go through "Incoming" and "Someday Soon" lists and make more decisions on whether to schedule or turn down meeting requests. And I try to check the priority ranking of the "Schedule" list.

In addition to the "Meetings" board, I have a "To Do" board.

The To Do boards has a similar "Incoming" list of things that others or I think might be something worth doing. When I've committed to doing something, I move it to the "Committed" list. When something isn't done and instead gets stuck because I need a response from someone, it moves to a "Waiting" list. Once completed, it goes to "Completed" and is later archived after I've given myself sufficient positive feedback for having completed it. I also have "Abandoned" and "Turn Down" and "Delegated" lists on this board.


Keeping is a tracker system very similar to what a customer support desk might use. It allows you to convert any email into a "ticket" and you can create an email address that is also the email address for the ticket system. More people have access to my ticket system than my inbox. Once an email becomes a ticket, everyone on the team can see the ticket as a thread, and we can put private notes on the thread for context. Keeping manages the email exchange with the "customer" so that anyone can take care of responding to the inquiry, but the people who are assigned to the email have it show up as "open" in their personal list. When a thread is taken care of, the ticket is "closed" and the thread is archived. Threads that are still not finished stay "open" until someone closes it. If someone replies to a "closed" thread, it is reopened.

Keeping is a Chrome and Gmail plug in and is a bit limited. We recently started using it, and I think I like it, though some of us use a desktop mail client which limits features you can access such as assignment or closing tickets. Keeping also has a bit of a delay to process requests which is annoying when we're triaging quickly. Keeping also can be redundant with Trello, so I'm not positive it's worth it. But for now, we're using it and giving it a chance to settle into our process.

You can book me

I've found that 15-minute office hours are an effective (but tiring) way of having short, intense but often important meetings. I use a service called It lets me take a block of time in my calendar and allow people to sign up for 15-minute slots of it via the website, using a form that I design. It automatically puts the meeting in my Google calendar and sends me an email and tracks cancellations and other updates.


I have a number of people who are good at editing documents ranging from email to essays and letters. I use Google docs and have people who are much better than me copy edit my writing when it is important.

by Joi at May 28, 2018 09:56 AM

May 27, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Acquittal of Fiji Times sedition case hailed as victory for press freedom in Oceania

Fiji Times executives and supporters celebrate the court verdict which acquitted the paper of sedition charges. Screenshot from the YouTube video uploaded by Fijivillage CFL

The Fiji Times, its three executives, and an opinion columnist were cleared of the sedition charges filed by the Fiji government after a High Court judge concurred with the ‘not guilty’ ruling of the court’s three assessors.

On April 27, 2016, weekly indigenous-language newspaper Nai Lalakai published a letter by Josaia Waqabaca which tackled the need for a national reconciliation between the country’s indigenous population and Muslim minority groups. Nai Lalakai is part of Fiji Times Ltd.

Two months later, charges of inciting communal hatred were filed by the Fiji government against Waqabaca, Nai Lalakai Editor Anare Ravula, Fiji Times Editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, and the paper’s publisher and general manager Hank Art. The government said the article “promoted feelings of ill will and hostility among Muslims and non-Muslims.” A year later, the charges were amended to sedition which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

On May 18, 2018, the court’s three assessors ruled in favor of the accused. After four days, this decision was affirmed by High Court judge Justice Thushara Rajasinghe who said that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused abetted and committed sedition.

The ruling was welcomed by several regional and global media monitoring groups as a victory of free speech in Fiji. Many consider Fiji Times to be the last independent media outlet in the country where free speech has been undermined ever since the military took power in 2006. Elections were held in 2014 but threats against media freedom have remained.

Reacting to the court verdict, Art said the newspaper will continue to fulfill its mission:

We should now be encouraged to keep going with the way we have been, stay within the law and decency but report honestly and balanced without fear.

Wesley insisted that the paper is working neither in favor nor against the government:

We will continue to endeavour to stay true to the ideals of good journalism.

We are not pro-government, and neither are we antigovernment.

We will endeavour to allow a platform that offers people, irrespective of their political leaning, an opportunity to voice their concerns.

Aman Ravindra-Singh, Waqabaca's lawyer, explained the importance of the court ruling:

This is a victory for freedom of speech and expression and the right to have freedom of speech and expression for the people of Fiji.

It has become quite obvious that the government of Fiji has continued to charge people with sedition to suppress freedom of speech and also political dissent. This particular case and outcome is a huge victory for the people of Fiji.

Fijian Media Association reminded the government that there are other ways to correct the mistakes of the media without going to the courts:

We reiterate our call on the Government to use the provisions and apply the procedures in the Media Industry Development Decree of 2010 – that a complainant against a media organisation should lodge a complaint with the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) to resolve first. Court proceedings should be the last resort.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Islands News Association highlighted the regional impact of the Fiji verdict:

The decision is important not only for Fiji Times, but for the media in Fiji and the wider Pacific region. We applaud our colleagues at Fiji Times for their tenacity and resolve in fighting for and protecting media freedom and democracy in our region for the past two years.

Fiji’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions will appeal the ruling of the High Court.

by Mong Palatino at May 27, 2018 12:16 AM

May 25, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian anti-corruption activists are jailed for ‘inciting riots’ based on their tweets and retweets

Riot police closing in on protesters on May 5, 2018, in Moscow // DonSimon, CC0

Anti-corruption activists who protested against Vladimir Putin’s fourth inauguration as president have seen their tweets, and in some cases their retweets of others’ publications, used by authorities as evidence of inciting mass disturbances.  

On May 5, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), Russia’s leading opposition organization, held a series of rallies across Russia under the common slogan “He’s not a tzar to us.” The demonstrations were met with violent resistance from both the police and loyalist groups.

In Moscow, the rally on Pushkinskaya square was attacked by men in Cossack uniforms (whom the government often uses as paramilitary squads to harass the opposition while avoiding blame for direct police involvement,) as well as by regular and riot police. Dozens of people were injured, including at least 25 reporters, and more than 1,600 were detained.

Several dozen participants were put to trial for “taking part in an unsanctioned protest” or “resisting police.” Alexey Navalny, FBK’s leader who was arrested at the Moscow rally, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for “repeated violations of public order.”

More arrests came after May 5. Over the next weeks, 28 FBK organizers and activists in total were taken into custody, charged with inciting riots based on their tweets or retweets, according to the organization's lawyer Ivan Zhdanov — who himself was arrested on May 24. While some were only fined and released, others were sentenced to the longest possible term for a misdemeanor under Russian law, 30 days.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s longtime campaign manager, said:

Ivan Zhdanov has just been detained outside our office. He’s facing the same article 20.2 [“Violating the established procedure for arranging or conducting a meeting, rally, demonstration, procession or picket” in the Russian administrative violations code] (but it’s his first time, so he’ll only get 10 days, not 30), so there goes another “organizing a rally by retweet.” Looks like this time they’re just locking up everyone.

Elena Malakhovskaya, a news presenter on Navalny LIVE, FBK's YouTube channel, was arrested near her home for covering the May 5 protests on the channel — or “organizing an unsanctioned rally,” according to the police.

News presenter @elmalakhovskaya has been detained near her home.

In most other cases, the incriminating evidence against FBK activists were their tweets or retweets. For example, Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press officer, was sentenced to 25 days based on the following message:

We did not vote for those in power. To go out and protest on the 5th of May means to say to yourself and those around you: I don’t agree with what’s happening. Since we have been deprived of our right to choose, the only way to make our voices heard is this:

Yarmysh’s tweet links to a YouTube video on Navalny’s channel promoting the May 5 rally. The video has accumulated over 3 million views at the time of writing.

Another Navalny LIVE host, Ruslan Shavetdinov, was also jailed for 30 days based on his retweet of a similar message — although he was merely one of many thousands to do so.

Human rights groups are saying this is part of a larger trend where more and more Russians are jailed for their online activity. Agora, a pro-bono law firm that offers legal assistance to defendants in such cases, says the number of prosecutions for posts and even reposts on social media in Russia is growing exponentially. According to their latest report, in 2017 a Russian internet user was sent to jail every eight days.

by Advox at May 25, 2018 12:10 PM

May 24, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Mexico's new copyright law allows censorship of online content, rights advocates warn

“The Problem with Censorship is XXXXXXXXX.” Image from Flickr by user Cory Doctorow under license CC BY-SA 2.0.

Legal censorship of online content could be much easier in Mexico due to recently approved changes to the country's copyright laws.

On April 26, the Mexican Senate passed a bill that modified the Federal Copyright Law, enabling judges to order the removal of internet content that allegedly violates copyright law without needing to prove it in court or by sentence.

The bill allows the suspension and removal of public content and includes “precautionary measures” against the equipment that enables the spread of such content. Approval of these changes was given hastily without following legislative procedures.

The announcement was widely circulated under the label #MadrugueteAInternet. “Madurguete” is an expression in Mexican Spanish referring to an attack or an action that has taken place when the other party was distracted, limited or not prepared. The hashtag describes the passing of this law as a legal ambush:

With 63 votes in favor, the @senadomexicano made a #MadrugueteAInternet and approved a change to the Federal Copyright Law, which allows censorship online through copyright law.

Organizations, unions, and associations that work on issues related to digital rights and technologies for information and communication have all criticized the changes to this law. They claim this will open a path to preemptive censorship on the internet and is a threat to freedom of expression in the digital world.

The MX Internet Association put out a statement, which reads:

The Senate expects to approve a ‘Decree for which an Article 213 Bis and a Second Paragraph to Article 215 of the Federal Copyright Law’ will be added, which will allow the imposition of precautionary measures in judicial proceedings. Those who claim that an alleged violation of the right to commercial exploitation of artistic works has taken place (which may be serious or not) will be able to do so without providing irrefutable proof of the existence of the supposed violation.

The above-mentioned measures include, among others: a) the suspension of public representation, communication, and/or implementation; and b) precautionary measures against instruments, materials, equipment, and supplies used in the public representation, communication, and implementation.

The change has the goal of hindering the spread of information and content without requiring proof that a violation of copyright law took place, which constitutes as a means of preemptive censorship that violates the right to share ideas (expression) and printed materials, as well as the right of access to information and culture.

Additionally, it will allow the preemptive confiscation of instruments, materials, or equipment, and can lead to the seizure of servers, routers, and other equipment used to provide access to telecommunication networks. This will seriously affect the provision of public service vital to the country's economy and society.

The approval of the above-mentioned bill violates fundamental rights such as free expression of thought, printed material, and course of trade and can leave online enterprises in a state of vulnerability, such as internet service providers as well as the content and applications to establish measures that will seriously affect their operation, all without having demonstrated that a violation of copyright law occurred.

According to the reform that is about to be approved by the Senate, they will be able to give these orders without an existing sentence which establishes that, effectively, the right of commercial exploitation of protected intellectual property was violated, and without the existence of a specified amount of material in dispute, which can lead to the imposition of disproportionate methods and which leave the victims in a state of vulnerability, violating the right to due process.

The Mexican chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation warned that the approved changes “criminalize the act of publishing” and “legalize acts of violating the fundamental and constitutional rights of spreading ideas, free expression, free press, personal communication, broadcasting, and information.”

It should be noted that any initiatives or verdicts which are subject to a debate by the Senate must go through a specific legislative process, which, in this case, was not respected.

The said process provides that any initiatives must be subjected to a debate by Committees associated with the bill's issue. They then analyze and discuss matters in alternating turns in order to develop and vote on a draft bill. Once the draft bill is approved by the respective Committees, the President of the Senator's Committee must be notified so that the bill can be presented and voted on in a plenary session.

Users who have been following the issue used social media to criticize the misconduct of the senators that bypassed the bill's submission to the plenary session.

Twitter user Carlos Alvarez worried:

Is it just me or is anyone else worried because Javier Lozano Alarcón pushed a change to the Federal Copyright Law that censors the internet through the Senate without passing it through commissions? What is happening in Mexico that legislators are doing what they want without consulting the citizens?

Javier Lozano Alarcón is a Mexican attorney and politician. He currently serves as a senator representing the state of Puebla.

Twitter user Erik Gtz noted:

Javier Lozano Alarcón submitted statements without signatures to the @senadomexicano to approve the bill to change the intellectual property law! This is a total slap in the face to democracy and an insult to Legislative Power.

The pictures in his tweet reads:

…the collective management organizations to those who have entrusted their rights to the administration will be able to request that a competent judicial authority allow preventative measures in accordance with this Law.

Transitory Provision

Sole Article- This decree will come into effect on the day after its publication in the Official Journal of the Federation.

Mexico City, December 13th, 2016.

By the Commission of Culture

The only way for the senators to have gotten away with modifying the Senate's agenda would have been with the consent of the Senate's chairman who, in fact, voted in favor of the bill.

The bill has already been sent to the executive branch. It only needs to be approved by President Enrique Peña Nieto for the changes to go into effect.

Organizations such as the Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D) have expressed their interest in disputing the bill not only to declare it unconstitutional but also to demand that the changes not take effect until the Supreme Court of Justice determines their validity. Otherwise, the dispute could be a process that takes years, during which users’ rights to free expression on the internet may be violated.

by Advox at May 24, 2018 11:00 AM

Malaysia’s new government urged to implement media reforms

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim greets his supporters during a rally in 2013, a year before his incarceration. He was released on May 16, 2018, a few days after the victory of the opposition party. He is expected to assume a big role in the new government headed by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Photo by Flickr user Firdaus Latif (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Civil society groups are urging Malaysia’s new government to uphold its election campaign pledge of enacting reforms in governance which include the abolition of laws that undermine free speech.

On May 9, 2018, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) party defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) which has dominated Malaysian politics over the past 60 years. BN’s defeat was attributed to the people’s clamor for a change in leadership after former Prime Minister Najib Razak was implicated in several corruption scandals. The Najib government was also accused of using repressive laws to detain opposition leaders, intimidate critics, and censor the media.

During the campaign period, PH released a manifesto which listed some of the immediate reforms it will implement if it succeeds in the polls such as the establishment of a media council made up of media leaders and the revision of all draconian laws.

Now that PH is the head of the new government, various civil society groups are reminding it to fulfill its commitment to reverse the oppressive laws, policies, and programs existing under the previous ruling party.

Amnesty International reiterated its proposed human rights agenda, which includes:

…rights to freedom of expression and association, better protections for refugees and people seeking asylum, respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples, protecting LGBTI individuals, abolishing the death penalty and ending the persecution of human rights defenders.

The Lawyers for Liberty asked the new government to unblock the websites and blogs blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). These websites were blocked by MCMC for reporting about the corruption cases of Najib.

It also joined other groups in calling for the immediate repeal of laws that were often used by authorities to attack human rights advocates and critics of the government such as the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and the recently passed Anti-Fake News Act 2018.

So far, the initial response of the new government has been welcomed by many people.

First, it worked for the release of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who had been under hospital arrest on politically motivated charges of corruption and sodomy.

The PH-led government also formed a Committee on Institutional Reforms to accept proposals on reforming the bureaucracy.

Some news websites were also unblocked on May 17 such as the Sarawak Report and Medium.

The travel ban on political cartoonist and activist Zunar, a fierce critic of Najib, was also lifted on May 14.

The new home minister also affirmed that the government will quickly review controversial laws like the Sedition Act.

But a statement by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad that the government will amend the anti-Fake News law by providing a clear definition of what constitutes fake news has alarmed civil society organizations because PH has earlier vowed to abolish the law.

The Sarawak Report explained why the entire law must be scrapped:

Journalists and citizens must be allowed speak freely and even be allowed to get it wrong, if they can show their intentions were to inform about something they genuinely had good reason to believe and are willing to correct and amend if found mistaken (as opposed to intended and malicious lies). These are the principles that have now evolved after much pain and argument in most modern democracies and Malaysia would do well to join them.

Around 20 civil society organizations signed a statement expressing disappointment over the “mixed messages from the ruling coalition on the repeal of the Anti-Fake News Act.” They proposed an alternative:

We believe that the more effective solution to any disinformation and misinformation is the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act at the federal level.

They also reminded PH that legislative reforms are not enough to undo what BN has done to Malaysian bureaucracy:

…legislative reform must go hand-in-hand with the restructuring of national institutions to ensure accountability, independence, and respect for human rights. Moreover, the new government must meaningfully engage civil society in a program of reform that is inclusive and participatory.

Human rights groups also criticized the police for arresting a man who “insulted” Prime Minister Mahathir on Facebook. The police said they merely responded to a complaint lodged against the suspect:

Veteran politician Lim Kit Siang asserted that this behavior of the police should change in the “new” Malaysia:

In the New Malaysia, police response must not depend of “who” lodges police reports, but “what” was in the police report, and actions where civil remedy is available should not be criminalised just because the subject-matter involves the Prime Minister or any Minister for that matter.

Mahathir said he also disagreed with the action taken by the police and said the parliament will prioritize the review of vague laws that criminalize the mere criticism of public officials.

The Centre for Independent Journalism welcomed the statement of Mahathir with regard to this incident and appealed for a moratorium on the use of repressive laws that continue to have a chilling effect in society. The group also summarized the challenge posed by free speech advocates to the new government:

It is critical at this juncture for the Pakatan Harapan coalition government to commit to defending a vibrant space for public discussion as the nation is headed towards transformation, to enable greater public participation in this process. This include clearly and unequivocally defending the right to freedom of expression, whether offline or online.

by Advox at May 24, 2018 08:10 AM

May 23, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Tunisian journalists say police union attacks are having a chilling effect on press freedom

Tunisian police officer watches over protesters gathered outside the constituent assembly in December 2013. Photo by Amine Ghrabi. CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr

In Tunisia, police are obligated to protect journalists not only because they are citizens, but also because attacks against journalists are a crime punishable by jail time. But when coverage has questioned the conduct of security institutions, law enforcement officials and their powerful unions have too often ignored duty and issued direct threats against media workers — both online and off.

These attacks have largely gone unpunished. To further complicate the situation, a controversial draft law promoted by the interior ministry and the police unions would create a new layer of protection for security forces, shielding them from criticism and accountability mechanisms.

“Some of these unions represent a serious threat to the rule of law, as they aim to establish a police supremacy over other citizens: full powers, complete freedom and total impunity,” journalist and radio commentator Haythem El Mekki told Global Voices in an email interview.

El Mekki himself was the target of such abuse. Throughout January, as anti-austerity protesters took to the street, the government responded with a heavy hand, with police detaining and harassing several journalists while they were doing their work. On 29 January 2018, El Mekki and Mosaique FM radio host Boubaker Ben Akecha invited a member of the journalists’ union to discuss the issue. 

A day later, Wahid Mabrouk, the secretary-general of the Gafsa region's internal security forces union, called El Mekki and Ben Akecha “media’s bacteria” in Facebook posts. “What you air on Mosaique FM is but poison that you’re spreading in our society,” he wrote. Mabrouk also called on Tunisians to boycott their radio program and declared, “may you [the two journalists] suffer from an incurable disease.”

The posts weren't the only case of law enforcement attacking journalists and media for drawing attention to violations. We documented [cases of] dangerous speech, statements and positions inciting to violence against journalists and their union. We have been targeted in a way that clearly demonises us,” Mohamed Yousfi, the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) board's assistant secretary-general on press freedom issues, told Global Voices.

Yousfi pointed to one instance involving the branch of the internal security forces’ union in Sfax (270 kilometers south of Tunis). After the SNJT spoke out against the interior ministry's press freedom policies, the official Facebook page of the regional internal security forces union published a post describing journalists as “traitors.” And the branch's spokesperson, Noureddine Ghattasi, insulted journalists on his personal Facebook page and went as far as to call on police to rape them: ”The men of the interior [ministry] can make you pee blood and can get the male pregnant before the female,” he wrote.

These threats have a chilling effect on press freedom in Tunisia, particularly at a time when human rights groups, journalists and activists continue to raise questions about abuse by security officers. Just recently, in early May 2018, video footage that circulated online showed police officers chasing and assaulting two brothers, after the end of the match of their local basketball team. And on 1 April, the supporter of one of Tunisia’s most popular football teams drowned in a canal as he was chased by police. 


Tunisia’s police unions: a threat to democracy and human rights?

Days after the fall of the Ben Ali regime in January 2011, members of the Tunisian security forces began street demonstrations and general strikes all over the country, asking for — among other rights — the right to form unions. Interim authorities accepted their demands, and the Internal Security Forces’ Union (SNFSI) was created in March 2011. In May of the same year, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) statute was amended to allow the police to form unions.

Since then, most of the interior ministry's different services established their own unions. In addition to the SNFSI, there are two other big unions: the Syndicate of Officials of the General Directorate of the Intervention Units (SFDGUI), and the National Union of Syndicates of Tunisian Security Forces (UNSFST). Each of these unions has regional branches.

These unions have proven to be powerful, and have often acted above the law, going so far as to defy the judiciary. On 26 February, 50 members of the Syndicate of Officials of the General Directorate of Public Security (SFDGSP) invaded a court in Ben Arous (southern suburbs of Tunis), to demand the release of five police officers who were on trial for torture. Brandishing their guns, the protesting officers called on its members to protest within the court and not to ensure the security of the trial.

The Ben Arous court incident has further put police conduct and abuse under the spotlight. In a joint open letter, 16 local and international human rights groups described what happened at the court as an ”indicator of the prevailing impunity in Tunisia”, and called on the government to end ”impunity that prevails for human rights violations by the Tunisian security forces.”

Restricting speech to “protect security forces from attacks”

“Hate speech and campaigns of demonization and incitement to violence against journalists directly threaten press freedom since they place the professional and physical integrity of journalists at risk and create a culture of self-censorship to the detriment of press freedom and the right to information,” Yousfi said.

He continued: “With [their] militia practices” some security unions “have become the arms of the interior ministry and a few of its leaders, to target the national syndicate of journalists and workers of the media sector.”

It is not hard to see why Yousfi sees a link between the conduct of police unions and the interior ministry’s policies.

After all, the ministry together with police unions has been pushing for a bill “on the protection of the security forces from attacks.” If adopted, the bill would restrict freedom of the press, speech and assembly by criminalizing speech deemed “denigrating” towards the police and banning unauthorized filming or recording inside security and military headquarters and at sites of military and security operations.

Rights groups have also slammed the bill over provisions that would shield police from criminal liability for use of excessive and/or lethal force to repel attacks against their homes, vehicles, police and security headquarters, and the military's arms and ammunition storage facilities.

Although submitted to the parliament more than three years ago, the bill has not been adopted yet, and several members of parliament (MP) expressed concerns that it threatens freedoms. This delay has angered police unions. In November 2017, after a police officer died in a knife attack, they threatened to stop providing personal protection to MPs and political party leaders if the parliament does not approve the bill within two weeks. Those threats are ”tantamount to blackmail,” Sharan Grewal, who researches democratization in the Middle East, wrote in a paper on the need ”to reign in Tunisia's police unions.”

The parliament responded by resuming the bill’s discussion at the legislative commission and inviting human rights groups and security unions to discuss their recommendations. In January 2018, at the parliament’s security and defense commission, interior minister Lotfi Brahem reiterated the ministry’s demand for a legal framework to protect security and armed forces.

Impunity for abuses “is almost becoming a norm”

At the same time, the authorities have not done enough to address threats against journalists, making it less likely that those responsible are held to account, according to the journalists’ union. The interior ministry “rejected the principle of dialogue” and the current minister “did not bother to address abuses by security forces’ unions,” Yousfi said. “Members of security unions who have been involved in such violations are after all affiliated with the interior ministry as officers and employees, and they should be held to account,” he added.

According to article 14 of the 2011 press code, journalists are considered “public servants”; therefore, anyone who intimidates, attacks or threatens them by any means (including online) could face up to one year of imprisonment and a fine of 120 Tunisian dinars (47 US dollars) in accordance with article 125 of the penal code. Yet, no judicial conviction of a member of the security forces or of their unions has happened, even though several complaints were filed and numerous investigations conducted.

Impunity for security forces

A 2018 study by the SNJT documented 25 complaints submitted to the judiciary by journalists who were victims of attacks.

By the time the findings of the study were published in February, 44% of these complaints were still in the early investigation process, which led 93.4% of polled journalists to believe that the judicial procedure is often slow.

64.4% of the polled journalists who reported that they were attacked by security forces said they did not receive any apology from the police or the ministry of interior. Furthermore, only 4.5% of the perpetrators were administratively punished.

Journalist Haythem El Mekki, who has filed such a complaint, is not confident about the seriousness of the judicial process. “I did not get any response about my complaint, although this does not surprise me,” he told Global Voices.

While the Sfax prosecutor started an investigation against Ghattassi, who threatened journalists with rape, it remains unclear whether it will lead to any conviction. He, along with three other police officers, was expelled from the union representing internal security forces, for “immoral behavior towards others”, the union said in a statement published on 5 February. The statement did not state attacks against journalists as the reason behind this decision.

Impunity for abuses committed by police unions and security forces “is almost becoming a norm that should not be normalised,” Yousfi warned.

by Advox at May 23, 2018 02:35 PM

May 19, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: What do Iran, Pakistan and Russia have in common? They all ban Telegram.

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash. Free to use.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world.

In a concerning development for the future of encrypted mobile apps, Iran and Russia blocked the messaging service Telegram within weeks of each other in April.

A Moscow court announced the ban on April 13 after Telegram’s CEO repeatedly refused to comply with demands to give law enforcement agents access to the app’s encryption keys.

But instituting the ban was easier said than done. After Roskomnadzor, the country’s federal media regulator, ordered Russian ISPs to make Telegram’s IP addresses unavailable to users, the company switched to cloud back-up services.

Roskomnadzor then began banning millions of IP addresses in the attempt to shut down the service — incidentally blocking business sites and other communications platforms including Viber, Slack, and Evernote.

Later that month, the Iranian judiciary issued an order to block Telegram, asking ISPs to ensure it is inaccessible even when using circumvention tools.

Authorities cited national security in their decision to ban the app, which had been temporarily censored during anti-government protests in December 2017 and January 2018.

Since the order went into effect, Iranians have also reported that they’ve experienced the throttling of encrypted traffic and problems when trying to access other platforms like the Apple App store and WhatsApp.

It’s not the first time a country has made Telegram unavailable. Pakistan instituted a block on Telegram across all telecommunications networks in November 2017 following an order by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.

The agency has not yet provided a clear reason for the ban, though some have speculated it may be linked to Telegram’s encryption, which company CEO Pavel Durov said he refuses to compromise.

And Indonesia briefly blocked access to the messaging service in 2017 over concerns that it was being used to spread “terrorist propaganda.” In response, Durov promised at the time to take swifter action to shut down public channels containing “terrorist-related content.”

New ownership bodes poorly for Cambodia’s last independent news site

Concerns are high over the editorial independence of Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post after it was sold to a Malaysian public relations executive. Editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong was fired after he refused to remove an article about links between the new owner’s PR firm and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Following Kimsong’s termination, several editors and staff reporters also resigned in protest.

Media freedom advocates say Israel is targeting Palestinian journalists

Since protests in Gaza began on March 30, journalists on the scene have come under fire by Israeli soldiers. Two Palestinian reporters, Yasser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein, were killed, despite wearing gear that clearly identified them as press. Photojournalist Yaser Qudeih was shot in the stomach and remains in serious condition. Several others have been injured, hit with live ammunition, rubber bullets, or chemical gas. Reporters Without Borders has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate.

Uzbekistan no longer has any journalists behind bars

In a move celebrated by human rights defenders, Uzbekistan released Bobomurod Abdulloev and Hayot Nasriddinov, two journalists detained in late 2017 for “anti-constitutional activities.” For the first time in the last two decades, there are no journalists imprisoned in Uzbekistan, once known as one of the world’s most despotic regimes.

Anti-Putin protesters complain of widespread network disruptions

Activists protesting against Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as Russian president reported that their mobile phone signals were intentionally degraded by telecom operators. Others reported their phone numbers were de-listed on law enforcement authorities’ request. One of the companies, Beeline, denied de-listing phone numbers and blamed the disruptions on network overload.

Indian filmmaker booked over “derogatory” tweets about prime minister

Mumbai police filed a complaint against filmmaker Ram Subramanian for tweeting comments that they alleged were derogatory about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his mother on Mother’s Day. Subramanian’s account was then temporarily suspended by Twitter shortly afterward for having “violated the Twitter Rules.”

Facebook reveals details of how it enforces community standards

For the first time, Facebook published a transparency report about how it deals with content that violates community standards. According to the report, most of the posts removed by the company in the first three months of 2018 were spam or from fake accounts, while 21 million were taken down for featuring adult nudity and sexual activity, 3.5 million were scrubbed or given a warning label for showing violence, and 2.5 million were deleted for containing hate speech. While the company says it uses automated techniques to flag nudity and graphic content, the technology “still doesn’t work that well” for hate speech.

Leaked documents explain Instagram’s content moderation policies

Documents obtained by Motherboard offer insight into how Instagram polices content, revealing that the Facebook-owned company will disable an account if two or more parts of the profile violate the site’s policies, if over 30 percent of the account’s media violates the site's policies, or if any part of the profile violates Instagram’s policies on drug sales, revenge porn, sexual solicitation, suicide and self-injury, or terrorism. Reviewers are instructed to follow a “progressive review” process by moving from the username, to the profile bio and picture, media, and comments.

Google employees say tech giant “should not be in the business of war”

More than 3,100 Google employees signed a letter in protest of the company’s involvement in Project Maven, a US Department of Defense-funded initiative to improve drone strike targeting with artificial intelligence. A second letter signed by more than 700 researchers urged Google executives to support an international treaty prohibiting autonomous weapon systems.

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by Netizen Report Team at May 19, 2018 10:38 AM

May 18, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
In the fight against pro-Kremlin bots, tech companies are suspending regular users

Image: Jan Kristoffersen, Flickr, shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 // Collage by Runet Echo

With election interference investigations going full force in the US, social media companies are being pushed to find new, fast ways to identify government-linked bots and trolls on their platforms — Russian ones in particular.

On April 10, Reddit announced plans to publish a list of accounts that the company suspected of having links to Russia's Internet Research Agency, commonly referred to as a “troll factory”. Reddit's in-house “Trust & Safety” and “Anti-Evil” teams identified these accounts in cooperation with broader inquiries by the US Congress into electoral interference on social media.

Multiple users were then banned from the platform. But not all of these users had provable links to the Kremlin.

On April 12, one user who lost their account implored Reddit to check its work:

Reddit's quick-fix approach to bot-hunting seemed to have dragged a number of innocent victims into its nets. For this user, it appears that the key “suspicious” thing about their account was their location — Russia.

What made this possible? Using custom Python scripts and open-source research tools, I decided to take a closer look at these accounts, in an effort to understand what led to this outcome.

At the outset, I could see that the distribution of their creation dates was typical of a troll factory's intensive output: an overall period of registrations ran from May 2015 to October 2016, with large peaks of activity from May to July 2015.

Histogram showing creation period of suspicious accounts on Reddit. Image by Lawrence Alexander.

This was an unsurprising finding, and a possible reason that the accounts might have triggered the system.

Next, I wanted to see whether the Reddit usernames had been re-used on other social media sites. I ran a script to query both Twitter and the Russian social network VKontakte (VK) for matching accounts. Although VK didn't return any of interest — only a couple that were likely coincidental hits — there were 106 common usernames live on Twitter.

On examining these Twitter accounts, two showed possible links pointing to the IRA troll farm of Savushkina 55 (in late 2017 their office moved to a different address in Saint Petersburg.)

First there was @shomyo, a sketchy profile with “john Doe” as a given name, following only six accounts, mostly Russian, including a Saint Petersburg football team. It was otherwise unused.

Twitter account @shomyo. Image by Lawrence Alexander

The second example pointed more substantively to the Internet Research Agency, but has been dormant since 2015. @rapitangnyy, with a linked pro-Kremlin LiveJournal account, tweeted links to similar patriotic blogs. Furthermore, this handle was included on a leaked list of IRA accounts from former IRA insider Lyudmila Savchuk released that year; it is quite possible that Reddit used this list to derive some of the indicators for their investigation. I published my own analysis of similar pro-Kremlin content on LiveJournal, also in that year.

rapitangnyy, an Internet Research Agency Twitter account. Image by Lawrence Alexander.

The matching rapitangnyy Reddit account (archive) was largely used to promote the Russian-language LiveJournal blog posts, most of them painting Ukraine and the West in a bad light. It has been inactive for two years. So this is, without doubt, a Russian troll factory account — but not one deployed against the US during the election.

Rapitangnyy – Internet Research Agency Reddit account. Image by Lawrence Alexander.

Perhaps the most noteworthy findings during my trawl through Reddit's “suspicious” users were those that likely weren't products of a troll factory at all.

Among the Russian accounts with a matching Twitter handle was @ajcrwl, a user giving their location as “Stuck in Omsk”. Their website was dedicated to digital art and graphic design.

I was intrigued — could this person be a remote employee of the infamous Saint Petersburg troll farm, industriously producing anti-American memes to order? Had their identity been revealed by their ill-judged reuse of the same username across multiple platforms? As previous work by RuNet Echo has shown, this would not be unprecedented.

After further research and verification, however, this prospect seemed less and less likely. Although the Reddit account /u/Ajcrwl was created in October 2016, during the broader troll activity period, the account itself showed no sign of any anti-US or pro-Kremlin activity; instead, there were posts concerning rose growing and the video game Dishonored 2.

ajcrwl, whom I noticed earlier tweeting at Reddit, was not acting like a guilty party. I contacted them a day later, curious to learn how they landed on Reddit's radar during the investigation.

“I don't think anyone from Reddit even bothered to check [my account(s)] outside of Reddit”, they responded.

When I asked whether they ever used a VPN, or interacted with the platform in an unusual way, they wrote:

Sometimes I use a VPN connection, and I think I've been flagged in January when I deactivated one of my Reddit accounts and immediately created another. There's a chance I logged into the third one back then as well. I've also been logged into two accounts from my phone.

ajcrwl willingly shared with me the AS number (a code that identifies a range of IP addresses used by a particular service provider) and VPN addresses (based in London, Poland and Atlanta) they had used before their ban. None of them matched with any of the infrastructure I have on file (my records, derived from open sources, are robust though not exhaustive) as being linked to the Internet Research Agency, RIA FAN, or the IP addresses of their associated forum trolls.

Rather, it seems more likely that ajcrwl's use of a VPN, in combination with activity involving three accounts, set off Reddit's tripwire.

On April 17, I returned to Reddit's suspicious accounts list and found that ajcrwl and three additional accounts had been removed from it, and unbanned. ajcrwl confirmed that two of the accounts also belonged to them.

The fourth account belonged to RobbyDelaware, an American based in the country of Georgia who was previously interviewed by VICE's Motherboard in November 2017 after his Twitter account, with an identical handle, was unexpectedly hit by the ban hammer.

Despite this publicity and apparent vindication, I noticed on May 9 that Delaware's Twitter account had been marked as restricted due to “unusual activity”.

Twitter account of RobbyDelware, marked restricted to due “unusual activity”. Image by Lawrence Alexander.

On that same day, ajcrwl also found — to their chagrin — that their Reddit block appeared to be haunting them on Twitter:

Through further analysis I discovered that Twitter had taken similar action against nearly all of the 106 accounts with usernames matching those on Reddit's “suspicious” list, even @LGBTUnited, a now-inactive LGBTQ-themed promoter with no apparent connection to the troll farm page of the same name. Some other accounts marked restricted at time of writing included apparently real people with no obvious ties to Russia, such as @hcaner, a growth hacker from Brazil.

Yet some of the accounts that appeared to be fake or spreading spam, such as @Meepopeep or @LaserAthletics, escaped this fate. Twitter appeared to be using the first revision of Reddit's “suspicious” list as its primary indicator, with little or no verification.

I got in touch with Robby Delaware, explaining that his account @robbydelaware — which he hadn't tweeted from since October 2017 — had been restricted.

In this exchange, I learned that Delware was one of the first Twitter users to draw attention to an early attempt by the Internet Research Agency to manipulate American audiences in 2014, actions which may ultimately have contributed to his blocks on both platforms.

When he noticed some unusual activity on the hashtag #ColumbianChemicals, he notified Twitter's security team:

Bot and troll activity on #ColumbianChemicals was revealed the following year by the New York Times as an IRA-linked campaign. But Delaware had called it out right as it hit the web, even setting up a Pastebin of his sleuthing efforts (he also posts as iPad_App_Bugs).

Delaware has the rare distinction of being banned on Twitter then reinstated; banned on Reddit then reinstated; and then being censored once again on Twitter, apparently for attempting to draw attention to a pro-Kremlin campaign.

He received no explanation from either company, simply an acknowledgement from Reddit that they restored his account.

Notification from Reddit to Robby Delaware of his ban being overturned. Image courtesy Robby Delaware.

Unlike ajcrwl, Delaware told me he had never used a VPN, but a regular internet service provider in Georgia, his country of residence. It is possible that a Georgian IP, in combination with activity around a hashtag associated with a troll farm campaign, set off Twitter's algorithms — but a cursory manual inspection would made it clear why Delaware had used hashtag in the first place. He told me:

I do believe that Twitter used the most basic methods of automation to flag my account. I believe that the Columbian Chemicals hashtag, along with 3 tweets in Russian language, caused my account to be flagged.

Delaware in fact posted seven tweets in Russian from his original account — as indicated by ‘ru’ in the language field of his tweets’ metadata — but they were satirical or politically neutral, not genuinely pro-Kremlin. He also re-tweeted a tweet by pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda journalist Dmitriy Smirnov showing a meeting between Vladimir Putin and former Former President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev. But context is vital — this alone is no indication that Delaware was sympathetic to his politics.

These two case studies suggest that while some counter-disinformation efforts by Reddit and Twitter appear to have been largely successful, their approach has brought significant collateral damage for a seemingly small group of regular users.

One can see many reasons why Reddit and Twitter would share such information, applying automation, or using the same sources to derive indicators of suspicious activity. But it is surprising to think that they might do so without critically interpreting this information with additional technical analysis, manual verification or open-source research. With such a relatively small number of accounts, individual perusal by human investigators would be feasible.

This strategy would lower the rate of incorrect bans and increase user confidence in the fight against disinformation, while reducing the risk of pro-Kremlin media capitalizing on these minor errors and presenting the investigations as baseless or illegitimate.

by Lawrence Alexander at May 18, 2018 12:46 PM

May 13, 2018

Joi Ito
On Ethics and Techno-Utopianism at the Media Lab

I received a lot of excited feedback from people who saw the 60 Minutes segment on the Media Lab. I also got a few less congratulatory messages questioning the "gee-whiz-isn't-this-all-great" depiction of the Lab and asking why we seemed so relentlessly upbeat at a time when so many of the negative consequences of technology are coming to light. Juxtaposed with the first segment in the program about Aleksandr Kogan, the academic who created the Cambridge Analytica app that mined Facebook, the Media Lab segment appeared, to some, blithely upbeat. And perhaps it reinforced the sometimes unfair image of the Media Lab as a techno-Utopian hype machine.

Of course, the piece clocked in at about 12 minutes and focused on a small handful of projects; it's to be expected that it didn't represent the full range of research or the full spectrum of ideas and questions that this community brings to its endeavors. In my interview, most of my comments focused on how we need more reflection on where we have come in science and technology over the 30-plus years that the Media Lab has been around. I also stressed how at the Lab we're thinking a lot more about the impact technology is having on society, climate, and other systems. But in such a short piece--and one that was intended to showcase technological achievements, not to question the ethical rigor applied to those achievements--it's no surprise that not much of what I said made it into the final cut.

What was particularly interesting about the 60 Minutes segment was the producers' choice of "Future Factory" for the title. I got a letter from one Randall G. Nichols, of Missouri, pointing out that "No one in the segment seems to be studying the fact that technology is creating harmful conditions for the Earth, worse learning conditions for a substantial number of kids, decreasing judgment and attention in many of us, and so on." If we're manufacturing the future here, shouldn't we be at least a little concerned about the far-reaching and unforeseen impact of what we create here? I think most of us agree that, yes, absolutely, we should be! And what I'd say to Randall is, we are.

In fact, the lack of critical reflection in science and technology has been on my mind-I wrote about it in Resisting Reduction. Much of our work at the Lab helps us better understand and intervene responsibly in societal issues, including Deb Roy's Depolarization by Design class and almost all of the work in the Center for Civic Media. There's Kevin Esvelt's work that involves communities in deployment of the CRISPR gene drive and Danielle Wood's work generally and, more specifically, her interest in science and racial issues. And Pattie Maes is making her students watch Black Mirror to imagine how the work we do in the Lab might unintentionally go wrong. I'm also teaching a class on the ethics and governance of AI with Jonathan Zittrain from Harvard Law School, which aims to ensure that the generation now rising is more thoughtful about the societal impact of AI as it is deployed. I could go on.

It's not that I'm apologetic about the institutional optimism that the 60 Minutes piece captured. Optimism is a necessary part of our work at the Lab. Passion and optimism drive us to push the boundaries of science and technology. It's healthy to have a mix of viewpoints-critical, contemplative, and optimistic-in our ecosystem. Not all aspects of that can necessarily be captured in 12 minutes, though. I'm sure that our balance of caution and optimism isn't satisfactory for quite a few critical social scientists, but I think that a quick look at some of the projects I mention will show a more balanced approach than would appear to be the case from the 60 Minutes segment.

Having said that, I believe that we need to continue to integrate social sciences and reflection even more deeply into our science and technology work. While I have a big voice at the Lab, the Lab operates on a "permissionless innovation" model where I don't tell researchers what to do (and neither do our funders). On the other hand, we have safety and other codes that we have to follow--is there an equivalent ethical or social code that we or other institutions should have? Harrison Eiteljorg, II thinks so. He wrote, "I would like to encourage you to consider adding to your staff at least one scholar whose job is to examine projects for the ethical implications for the work and its potential final outcome." I wonder, what would such a process look like?

More socially integrated work in technology has continued to increase in both the rest of society and at the Lab. One of my questions is whether the Lab is changing fast enough, and whether the somewhat emergent way that the work is infusing itself in the Lab is the appropriate way. Doing my own work in ethical and critical work and having conversations is the easiest way to contribute, but I wonder if there is more that we as a Lab should be doing.

One of the main arcs of the 60 Minutes piece was showing how technology built in the Lab's early days--touch screens, voice command, things that were so far ahead of their time in the 80s and 90s as to seem magical--have gone out into the world and become part of the fabric of our everyday lives. The idea of highlighting the Lab as a "future factory" was to suggest that the loftiest and "craziest" ideas we're working on now might one day be just as commonplace. But I'd like to challenge myself, and everyone at the Media Lab, to demonstrate our evolution in thoughtful critique, as well.

by Joi at May 13, 2018 07:17 AM

May 11, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Gambia Supreme Court ruling leaves the future of free speech uncertain

Protesters in the Gambia following the election of Adama Barrow in 2017. Screenshot from YouTube video, widely circulated.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

The Supreme Court in the Gambia struck down the 2013 Information and Communication Amendment (ICA) Act, declaring it unconstitutional. The court nevertheless upheld key sections of the country’s sedition law. Both have been used as tools for media repression.

The ruling is the result of a 2015 court filing by the Gambia Press Union challenging the constitutionality of sedition, libel, criminal defamation, and false news laws. The regional court of the Economic Community of West African States recently ruled on the same laws, in a case brought by four exiled Gambian journalists, and found them all unconstitutional.

But the Gambian Supreme Court thought differently. The ruling upheld sedition laws that can be used to punish critical speech or journalistic investigations related to the president, while it struck down the a 2013 amendment to the ICA, which criminalized online defamation and the spread of “false news” on the internet. Violators were subject to heavy fines and prison terms of up to 15 years in prison.

On Twitter, Gambian journalist Sanna Camara described the ICT Act as one of the “toughest internet laws in Africa.” Camara himself faced legal threats in the Gambia for his coverage of human trafficking, published by The Standard. In 2014, Camara was accused of publishing “false news” and fled the country shortly thereafter.

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Angela Quintal described the decision as “one step forward, two steps backwards.”

“[The ruling] sends a message that journalists are still not free to work without the threat of criminal prosecution,” she said.

The ruling marks the court’s first major decision affecting free speech since the 2017 transition of power from long-time ruler Yahya Jammeh to current president Adama Barrow. Shortly after assuming office, Barrow freed hundreds of prisoners and launched a series of investigations into alleged human rights violations under the Jammeh regime. But activists and citizens who speak their minds in public spaces online and off have continued to do so under pressure.

In February 2018, a university lecturer was detained over comments he made to a local media outlet. Just this past week, youth activists were arrested after calling attention to the threat of environmental degradation caused by Golden Lead, a Chinese-owned fish processing factory in the coastal settlement of Gunjur.

Tanzanian court puts ‘blogger tax’ on hold, for now

A Tanzanian High Court has halted the implementation of the US $900 “blogger tax” imposed by the government as part of the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations which demanded that bloggers paid a fine or cease blogging.

Six human right groups in the country had asked the court to review the regulations, arguing that the Minister of Information acted outside his authority and in violation of the right to freedom of expression. Though temporary, the high court ruling is a win for free speech in Tanzania.

Honduran journalist followed after receiving death threats on Facebook

Honduran broadcast journalist Mauricio Ortega received a death threat over Facebook messenger, not long after conducting a series of reports on incidents of passengers being physically assaulted on public transport. Later that day, he was followed by a car with no license plates. In an interview with the Honduran Committee for Free Expression, he said:

…las amenazas en contra de nosotros es lamentablemente hasta normal, estamos acostumbrados a que los que se sienten ofendidos nos insulten, amenacen y nos desacrediten y tristemente no hay confianza ni eficiencia en los entes encargados de administrar o impartir justicia, esto nos vuelve más vulnerables.

…threats against us have unfortunately become normal, we’re accustomed to being insulted, threatened and discredited by those who take offense at our work. And sadly, there is little trust or efficiency in those who are supposed to ensure justice, which leaves us that much more vulnerable.

Mobile networks falter as Russians protest Putin’s inauguration

As protests broke out across Russia, approaching Vladimir Putin's official inauguration into his fourth term as president, several activists reported that their mobile phone signals became weak or non-existent. Some said Russian telecom operators were intentionally degrading the quality of service or even delisting their numbers at the orders of the authorities. Activist Denis Styazhkin reported that his telco operator, Beeline, told him that his number had been de-listed on police orders.

China’s censors have their eyes on Peppa Pig

A Chinese internet subculture connecting the TV cartoon character “Peppa Pig” with “Shehuiren”, a term that refers to organized crime syndicates, has resulted in a muddy puddle for the popular porker. After leading state media outlets criticized the inkage, the popular Chinese video platform Douyan removed more than 30,000 videos of the cheerful pink character and made the term “Peppa Pig” unsearchable on its website, likely anticipating an all-out ban on Peppa.

Egyptian legislators move to monitor Uber rides

On May 7, Egypt’s parliament passed a law that will require ride-hailing services like Uber and the UAE-based Careem to establish servers in Egypt for the processing of all data pertaining to Egypt-based users. The law, which is still awaiting executive approval, obligates these companies to provide user data (including information about the location of both riders and drivers) to security authorities at their request. Both companies were temporarily suspended in March 2018 after a group of local taxi operators sued the companies on licensing grounds.

Will biometric ID cards become mandatory in Europe?

The European Commission proposed new counterterrorism measures including the mandatory inclusion of biometric data in ID cards and residence documents for EU residents and their family members. This measure would require the majority of EU residents to be fingerprinted so that biometric identifiers can be checked at border points.

One voter got Cambridge Analytica to hand over his data. What about the rest of us?

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office has given Cambridge Analytica 30 days to hand over all the data and personal information it has on one American voter, or face a criminal prosecution. The voter, David Carroll, found that because Cambridge Analytica had processed US voter data in the UK, he could assert his rights under British laws. Cambridge Analytica announced this week that it has gone into liquidation.

Declaration from World Press Freedom Day

Participants at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day International Conference released the Accra Declaration calling on UNESCO member states to create and strengthen legal and policy frameworks to ensure respect for free expression and privacy and to protect safety of journalists and media workers.

New Research


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by Netizen Report Team at May 11, 2018 05:05 PM

May 10, 2018

Ethan Zuckerman
Two Bens and a Mark: a talk at Ben Franklin Hall in Philadelphia

I’m speaking today in Ben Franklin Hall in Philadelphia for a conference of Media Impact Funders. And, at the request of the organizers, I’m cosplaying the great hustler himself. My talk builds on one I gave a couple of years ago at Data & Society, but veers in some different directions as I wonder what Franklin might have told an audience of folks with money and good intentions about how to fix some of the problems of our contemporary media environment.

The event is being livestreamed here, if you’d like to tune in.

This is a talk about two Benjamins and a Mark. The first one should be obvious to you. I’m a Franklin fan, and not only because people have observed a resemblance. (Personally, I don’t see it, but whatever.)

Actually, if you’re going to have a favorite founding father, Ben Franklin is not a bad choice. He wasn’t just an inventor, a scientist, a printer and a diplomat — he was a hustler. (As the scholar P. Diddy might have put it, he was all about the Benjamin.) Ben was a businessman, an entrepreneur, and he figured out that one of the best ways to have financial and political power in the Colonies was to control the means of communication. The job he held the longest was as postmaster, starting as postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737 and finally getting fired from his position as postmaster general of the Colonies in 1774, when the British finally figured out that he was a revolutionary who could not be trusted.

(You’d think this might have tipped them off – because Ben had franking privileges he could send letters for free by writing Free – B. Franklin, as he did on this note to John Hancock. But more often, he wrote B. Free Franklin, a coded message to show his support for independence.)

But free and subversive letters weren’t the only privileges Ben got from the post office. He had ample opportunities to hand out patronage jobs to his friends. But his real genius was in seeing the synergies between the family business — printing — and the post. Early in his career as a printer, Franklin bumped into one of the major challenges to publishers in the Colonies — if the postmaster didn’t like what you were writing about, you didn’t get to send your paper out to your subscribers. Once Ben had control over the post, he instituted a policy that was both progressive and profitable. Any publisher could distribute his newspaper via the post for a small, predictable, fixed fee.

What resulted from this policy was the emergence of a public sphere in the United States that was very different from the one Habermas describes, born in the coffee houses of the european bourgeoise. It was a distributed public sphere of newspapers and letters, one that was uniquely well suited to the American experiment. For a nation that spanned the distance between Boston and Charleston, a virtual, asynchronous public sphere mediated by print made more sense that one that centered around meeting face to face.

Franklin died in 1790, but physician and revolutionary – and fellow Philadelphian – Benjamin Rush expanded on Franklin’s vision for a post office that would knit the nation together and provide a space for the political discussions necessary for a nation of self-governing citizens to rule themselves. In 1792, Rush authored The Post Office Act, which is one of the subtlest and most surprising pieces of 18th century legislation that you’ve never heard of.

The Post Office Act established the right of the government to control postal routes and gave citizens rights to privacy of their mail — which was deeply undermined by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, but hey, who’s counting. But what may be most important about the Post Office Act is that it set up a very powerful cross subsidy. Rather than charging based on weight and distance, as they had before Franklin’s reforms, the US postal system offered tiered service based on the purpose of the speech being exchanged. Exchanging private letters was very costly, while sending newspapers was shockingly cheap: it cost a small fraction of the cost of a private letter to send a newspaper. As a result, newspapers represented 95% of the weight of the mails and 15% of the revenue in 1832. This pricing disparity led to the wonderful phenomenon of cheapskates purchasing newspapers, underlining or pricking holes with a pin under selected words and sending encoded letters home for the price of a paper rather than a letter.

The low cost of mailing newspapers as well as the absence of stamp taxes or caution money, which made it incredibly prohibitively expensive to operate a press in England, allowed half of all American households to have a newspaper subscription in 1820, a rate that was orders of magnitude higher than in England or France. But the really crazy subsidy was the “exchange copy”. Newspapers could send copies to each other for free, with carriage costs paid by the post office. By 1840, The average newspaper received 4300 exchange copies a year — they were swimming in content, and thanks to extremely loose enforcement of copyright laws, a huge percentage of what appeared in the average newspaper was cut and pasted from other newspapers. This giant exchange of content was subsidized by high rates on those who used the posts for personal and commercial purposes.

This system worked really well, creating a postal service that was fiscally sustainable, and which aspired to universal service. By 1831, three quarters of US government civilian jobs were with the postal service. In an almost literal sense, the early US state was a postal service with a small representative government and a tiny military attached to it. But the postal system was huge because it needed to be — there were 8700 post offices by 1830, including over 400 in my home state of Massachusetts alone, which is saying something, as there are only 351 towns in Massachusetts.

I should note here that I don’t really know anything about early American history — I’m cribbing all of this from Paul Starr’s brilliant The Creation of the Media. I also recommend Winnifred Gallagher’s How the Post Office Created America, which continues to modern day and looks at how the post office advances technologies like aviation and, indeed, the internet.

But I teach these stories about the 18th century every year to my students because it helps explain the unique evolution of the public sphere in the US. Our founders built and regulated the postal system in such a way that its function as a sphere of public discourse was primary and its role as a tool for commerce and personal communication was secondary. They took on this massive undertaking explicitly because they believed that to have a self-governing nation, we needed not only representation in Congress, but a public sphere, a space for conversation about what the nation would and could be. And because the US was vast, and because the goal was to expand civic participation far beyond the urban bourgeois, it needed to be a distributed, participatory public sphere. To be clear, this was far than a universal public sphere – the founders saw this as a space for propertied white men – but the infrastructures of post and mail created powerful tools for abolitionists, for newspapers that helped free black men connect across vast distances, that helped carry the case for women’s suffrage.

As we look at the challenge we face today — understanding the influence of algorithms over the public sphere — it’s worth understanding what’s truly novel, and what’s actually got a deep historical basis. The notion of a private, commercial public sphere isn’t a new one. America’s early newspapers had an important civic function, but they were also loaded with advertising — 50–90% of the total content, in the late 18th century, which is why so many of them were called The Advertiser. What is new is our distaste for regulating commercial media. Whether through the subsidies I just described or through explicit mandates like the Fairness Doctrine, we’ve not historically been shy in insisting that the press take on civic functions. The anti-regulatory, corporate libertarian stance, built on the questionable assumptions that any press regulation is a violation of the first amendment and that any regulation of tech-centric industries will retard innovation, would likely have been surprising to our founders.

An increase in inclusivity of the public sphere isn’t new — in England, the press was open only to the wealthy and well-connected, while the situation was radically different in the colonies. And this explosion of media led to problems of information overload. Which means that gatekeeping isn’t new either — those newspapers that sorted through 4300 exchange copies a year to select and reprint content were engaged in curation and gatekeeping. Newspapers sought to give readers what an editor thought they wanted, much as social media algorithms promise to help us cope with the information explosion we face from our friends streams of baby photos. The processes editors have used to filter information were never transparent, hence the enthusiasm of the early 2000s for unfiltered media. What may be new is the pervasiveness of the gatekeeping that algorithms make possible, the invisibility of that filtering and the difficulty of choosing which filters you want shaping your conversation.

Ideological isolation isn’t new either. The press of the 1800s was fiercely opinionated and extremely partisan. In many ways, the Federalist and Republican parties emerged from networks of newspapers that shared ideologically consonant information — rather than a party press, the parties actually emerged from the press. But again, what’s novel now is the lack of transparency — when you read the New York Evening Post in 1801, you knew that Alexander Hamilton had founded it, and you knew it was a Federalist paper. Research by Christian Sandvig and Karrie Karahalios suggests that many users of Facebook don’t know that their friend feed is algorithmically curated, and don’t realize the way it may be shaped by the political leanings of their closest friends.

And finally, fake news certainly wasn’t new. It certainly wasn’t new to Ben Franklin – in fact, fake news reached an early peak in the run up to the English civil war in the 1650s, a half century before Franklin’s birth. You remember, of course, that the English civil war broke out when Charles I married a Catholic, decided to rule without convening parliament, which basically tried to starve him out by denying him money to fight a war with Scotland, leading Charles to arrest five members of the House of Commons and the country to split into warring factions of royalists and parliamentarians, with led to a series of civil wars which the parliamentarians eventually won, executing Charles on 1649 and leading to Oliver Cromwell’s ascent as Lord Protector of the Realm and eventually to the restoration of the monarchy in 1661 by Charles’s son, Charles II. You know all that, of course.

What you may not know is that one of the causes of the civil wars was that Charles, broke and profoundly focused on his own survival, basically could no longer control the press. 1642 – the year the war broke out – “More printed material was published in the year 1642 than in the entire preceding 165 years since William Caxton set up the first London printing press in 1476.” What resulted was a fury of “obnoxious and unlicensed” publications which included satire, complaint literature, lots of radical religious texts. But perhaps the most important publications were “newsbooks”, irregular proto-newspapers, whose content was essentially user-generated, poorly sourced, highly partisan and often shockingly inaccurate. You had two rival orbits of newsbooks, with the parliamentarians in London and the Royalists in Oxford. You had reports of military defeats, reports that the king was dead, all of which were more or less impossible to verify in an age of slow travel on bad roads, long before the telegraph. And you had conspiracy theory – especially anti-Catholic conspiracies – ruling the day. Catholics, of course, were a small minority and an easy target for racial and ethnic hatred, convenient scapegoats for all that was wrong with the kingdom.

Basically, fake news was a significant cause of the English civil war. That’s the bad news. The good news is that England found some ways to recover from the avalanche of fake news. Some are methods we probably wouldn’t endorse – there’s amazing stories of pamphleteers being pilloried and having their ears removed – and the biggest factor in combatting fake news was probably the Great Fire of 1661… which would be like solving Facebook with a California earthquake. But there was also the establishment of the Royal Society.

Michael Hunter’s “Establishing the New Science”, makes the case that the Society was established in part to heal the country, to create a body of knowledge that wasn’t designed to promote either the royalists or the parliamentarians. Writing about the Royal Society, Stephen Marche points out that their motto was – and still is – “Nullius in verba” – take no man’s word for it. Marche suggests that we inscribe this motto on all the world’s cellphones.

When I think of a Royal Society for our age, I don’t think of a central body that checks our facts and tells us what’s true and what’s not – that’s absolutely not what the Royal Society was. Instead, it was a group of thinkers who through experimentation and careful study sought to understand the world how it actually was. This is awfully self serving, but when I look for parallels today, I look towards academics who are trying to build the tools and conduct the studies so that it’s not only the researchers inside Facebook and Twitter who understand these companies and can help hold them responsible.

I mentioned that this talk was about two Bens – Franklin and Rush – and a Mark. Much as we understand the decisions made in the founding of our democracy in terms of archetypical figures – Washington the noble warrior, Franklin the hacker entrepreneur – we think of our contemporary moment through similar personifications. Mark Zuckerberg is the techno-utopian geek we don’t quite trust. He’s very smart, and seems to truly believe that what he’s doing will make the world a better place, but he’s either shockingly naive or profoundly deceptive, because nothing else explains how many times he’s screwed up and how surprised he seems to be every single time something utterly predictable goes wrong.

I feel like the Bens have a lesson or two for Mark. Franklin was an entrepreneur, an inventor. a technical genius and a hustler, much like Mark. He was also a civic visionary, founder of libraries and volunteer fire companies, much as Mark seems to see himself becoming. Franklin ran many successful businesses, including those based around his inventions, but he also published widely, and his work was subject to vigorous public debate in Paris and London. Indeed, while Franklin was made one of the very few non-English members of the Royal Society, his work on lightning rods was the subject of a great deal of controversy, which Franklin followed closely. (As it turns out, he was wrong – pointy lightning rods, which he favored, don’t work as well as blunt ones. But it took over 200 years to figure that out.)

I’d like to see Mark – and the other tech pioneers he’s representing in this talk – do a better job of engaging with their critics, with civil society, with academia, with everyone who sincerely wants them to succeed in making the world a better place and worries they are badly off the mark. I’d like to see Mark learn from Parlio, a brilliant experiment from Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim, a social network build around rules that encourage polite, respectful and serious debate. Or from Mastodon, a decentralized social network that allows different nodes with different rulesets. Or even from Gobo, a project from my lab that lets users control aspects of their newsfeeds – how serious or funny it is, how diverse the political viewpoints are, whether you’d like all the men to shut up and let the women talk for a change.

But I also would like to see us learn from Benjamin Rush, who really brought to fruition Franklin’s vision of the public sphere of print, using the superpower of bureaucracy, regulation and government subsidy to build a public sphere that allowed the peculiar genius of American democracy to evolve. It’s not always enough for a single genius to envision the world – sometimes we need pressure from governments, from activists, from civil society to demand that we live up to aspirations of our tools. Sometimes the free market needs a hand from regulators who have a vision of how they want the world to be, a way that’s more consonant with our vision of how democracy works. With projects like Gobo, I’ve argued that we need many social networks, not just one, and that they can have different rulesets, different audiences and different purposes. I’d love for at least one of those networks to focus on helping us prepare to be citizens in a diverse and complicated world. That network probably needs public support, much as children’s television needs public support if we want it to work well.

So I leave you with a Franklin aphorism: “Well done is better than well said.” It’s well and good for folks like you and me to speculate about what social media is doing well and doing poorly. What we need is vastly more doing, more experiments, more attempts to build the worlds we want to see. I’m glad you’re hearing next from Eli Pariser, a friend who’s both a thinker and an experimenter. And I hope he and I can challenge you to make sure we move from saying to doing, from watching to experimenting, from worrying to making the world better. Thanks for listening.

by Ethan at May 10, 2018 03:03 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Billions served? Human rights in the Facebook era

A protestor at Dhaka University in Bangladesh, during 2015 social media shutdowns. The poster reads “How many excuses more? Open Viber, Messenger, WhatsApp and Facebook NOW.” Photo by Zaid Islam, used with permission.

This post draws on stories originally reported by Fernanda Canofre, Sahar Habib Ghazi, Ellie Ng (via Hong Kong Free Press), Dalia OthmanInji Pennu and Thant Sin.

During the 2011 Arab Uprisings, Facebook proved itself to be one of the most powerful technological catalysts for free speech and democratic mobilization that the world had ever seen. While it did not cause the uprisings, it was a critical driver of their growth.

In that same year, the number of Facebook users in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East (i.e. the “Global South”) surpassed the number of users in Europe in North America. From this moment on, it was truly a global platform, despite being a US company.

Since this time, it has become apparent that Facebook — along with many other social media platforms — can serve as a tool for citizens to speak out and defend their rights. But governments have also awoken to the fact social media can serve their own interests and gains, from monitoring people's activities and behavior to promoting political campaigns or ideologies.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on stage at Facebook's F8 conference. Photo by pestoverde via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Global Voices community knows these dynamics all too well. As a community of writers and activists, we’ve faced censorship, harassment and direct threats because of our activism on Facebook since the early days of the platform. We’ve been writing about these experiences for more than a decade.

We also know that for Facebook, and for anyone trying to understand how tech platforms and policies interact with free speech, privacy and other civil and political rights, past experience is instructive.

Here is a look back at some of our most influential coverage of hate speech, harassment, and political censorship on the world’s largest social network.

For a full list of past stories, visit our Facebook coverage archive.

Women in Kerala protest in solidarity with the girls who were raped and lynched in UttarPradesh, India. Photo by Sthreekoottayma, used with permission.


For Indian activists, “real” names can have real-life consequences

In 2015, after a woman activist in southern India became a top target for sexual harassment and threats of violence on Facebook, her account was suspended. Someone had reported her for violating the company's “authentic identity” (or “real name”) policy. With no warning, she was instantly locked out. And the only way she could regain access to her account was by sending Facebook some form of official ID. With no other option, this is what she did.

Facebook reinstated her page using her full name, which included her caste name. She had never used her caste name on her Facebook page, or anywhere else in her public identity. This left her more exposed and subjected to harassment than ever before.

In concert with a coalition of digital rights and LGBT groups, Global Voices co-authored a letter to Facebook identifying the multiple issues that this case raised, concerning the abuse of Facebook's systems, and the company's lack of cultural sensitivity on the question of what constitutes a “real name” or “authentic identity”.

Today, users can no longer be instantly suspended over a single report of “authentic identity” policy abuse. But the company still has a long way to go in resolving the question of how to respect the personhood users who are not known by their legal names.

This work taught us a great deal about the complexities of identity within the internet. How does a technology determine who is a “real” person? How do ideas like citizenship and nation take shape online, especially when ethnic and territorial disputes are in play?

Our coverage of Palestine and Israel regularly touches upon these questions, both online and off.


Palestine: Hate speech and the digitization of occupation

During the 2014 war in Gaza, a Facebook page called “Until our boys are returned – we will kill a terrorist every hour” became immensely popular. The page featured multiple posts in Hebrew calling for violence against Palestinians and Arabs, including a post that called on readers to “burn Gaza” and bring “death to the Arabs.”

Despite many formal abuse reports filed by Facebook users, the page was not taken down for more than three weeks. When Global Voices writers spoke about it with Facebook staff, they did not directly address the page in question. They simply reiterated their commitment to their Community Standards.

Since this time, we have seen periodic media coverage of meetings taking place between Facebook staff and Israeli government representatives. What little information we have has left us concerned that Facebook may be employing a double standard on behalf of the Israeli government. A rapid rise in arrests of Arab and Palestinian Facebook users for their postings has contributed to these concerns as well.


A widely shared illustration comparing the “world view” or international perspective on the conflict with “reality”. Screenshot from Twitter, September 4.

In Myanmar, Facebook should ‘focus on context, rather than code’

In Myanmar, social media networks in the country exploded with hate speech, fake news photos, and racist narratives when the Myanmar military clashed with Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in August 2017 and launched ‘clearance operations’ in the villages of Rakhine state, forcing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee the country.

During this time, ample anti-Rohingya propaganda spread online. Rohingya people and others who sought to protect them faced direct threats of violence on Facebook. As has been widely reported since the Zuckerberg hearings, when Burmese civil society groups asked Facebook to help by removing these threatening posts, the company was painfully slow to respond.

One tactic Facebook has tried to deploy in the country was an automatic censorship technique that removed all posts containing the word “kalar” or ကုလား (in Burmese script), a term used by ultra-nationalists and religious fundamentalists to attack Muslims in Myanmar. Users in Myanmar discovered this tactic when they found any post containing the word — including those discussing use of the word, or even posts with words that contained the word kalar (ie “kalarkaar”, which means curtain) — had been removed and labeled as hate speech.

In response, Global Voices’ Thant Sin wrote: “instead of simply deciding to censor the word “kalar”, [Facebook] should have reviewed and learned from ongoing initiatives that aim to combat online hate speech in Myanmar that focus on context, rather than code.”


Censoring Tiananmen: Facebook activism in Hong Kong

The “Special Administrative Region” of Hong Kong represents another complex territory when it comes to the adjudication of speech on social media. While the government in mainland China employs an aggressive censorship regime in which Facebook is blocked altogether, the network is accessible and popular in Hong Kong, especially among pro-democracy activists.

The distinction between these territories is regularly tested when citizens attempt to discuss politically sensitive topics. The 1989 massacre of student protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square might be one of the most enduring of such topics.

In 2017, our partners at Hong Kong Free Press co-published with us a story of about Fung Ka Keung, a leader of Hong Kong's teachers’ union who created a temporary profile picture frame commemorating the mass killing of student protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, in 1989.

Fung Ka Keung (right) and the June 4 profile picture frame. Photo: Fung Ka Keung/HK Alliance, via Facebook.

Within 24 hours, Fung Ka Keung received a notification from Facebook saying that his frame was rejected, for failing to meet the company’s terms and policies. Fung received a message from Facebook explaining that the frame “belittles, threatens or attacks a particular person, legal entity, nationality or group.”

After the incident was reported in local media, the social media giant issued an apology and approved the original frame. Why did Facebook reject the frame? Many speculated that it might was not just a simple error, but rather an attempt to kow tow to mainland China, where Facebook has been blocked since 2009.

Alongside activism and content that is intentionally political, stories or even rumors on Facebook can escalate to situations of vigilante violence or real-life harm. Our final story looks at one such incident that took place in Brazil in 2014.

Killed by a lynch mob, and a false rumor

In Brazil, Fabiane Maria de Jesus died at the hands of a lynch mob driven by a series of vicious online rumors, which rapidly escalated on Facebook.

Alerts about a woman who allegedly had been kidnapping children in the seaside resort town of Guarujá, in Brazil, were sent to 24,000 people through the Facebook page Guarujá Alerta (Guaruja Alert). The alert included a sketch, which closely resembled de Jesus. When one user erroneously suggested that the woman in the sketch was de Jesus, online outrage escalated into a real-life lynch mob.

Local police had no records of missing children at that time. The sketch was from a different child kidnapping case from 2012 in Rio de Janeiro and had appeared, also on Facebook, in several different contexts, and was falsely linked to crimes in other Brazilian states.

According to A Tarde newspaper, a group of friends of one of the suspects united to protest in front of the police department. The group yelled:

Quer prender todo mundo? A culpa é de todo mundo! A culpa é de ninguém! A culpa é da internet!

Do you want to arrest everybody? It’s everybody’s fault! It’s nobody’s fault! It’s the internet’s fault!


For a full list of past stories, visit our Facebook coverage archive.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at May 10, 2018 02:37 PM

Montenegrins protest the latest armed attack on journalist, demand end to impunity

“Stop the violence” protest in Podgorica, 9 May 2018. Photo by Damira Kalac, used with permission.

Montenegrin journalist Olivera Lakić was shot in the leg on May 8, in what appeared to be a targeted attack.

On May 9, several hundred people protested in the capital city of Podgorica, demanding end to impunity for violent crimes and life without fear.

Unknown perpetrators shot Lakic, a journalist with the daily news outlet Vijesti in front of her apartment building in the center of Montenegrin capital. After she fell wounded on the pavement, she saw two men running away. Vijesti reported that while she has to remain in hospital, the wound to her right leg is not considered life-threatening.

With about 643,000 inhabitants, Montenegro is one of the smallest countries in Europe. Since 1991, the Balkan country had been ruled by the same political elite, headed by current president-elect Milo Đukanović. Journalists who report on crime, corruption, business and politics say that intimidation and direct threats are not uncommon.

Balkan Insight reported that Lakic has been attacked in the past. In 2012, she was physically attacked by a man in front of her apartment building, shortly after she had reported on the activities of the Montenegrin Tobacco Company.

Similar to other journalists covering corruption issues in the region, she had been receiving death treats for years.

Local police announced they've “blocked the city,” but no suspects have been apprehended yet.

Journalist Sloba Georgiev compared the situation with that of Slovakia, where massive protests after the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak triggered the resignation of Prime Minister Róbert Fico.

The intensive smear campaign by the Montenegrin authorities against all who express different opinions created fertile ground for a murderer to step out from the dark and shoot our female colleague from Vijesti.

Citizens of Montenegro should react too, maybe like the citizens of Slovakia did.

Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro (DPNCG) called for protest in front of the government on May 9, noting that:

Bezbroj nerazjašnjenih napada, od kojih neki I ubrzo zastarjevaju, kao posljedicu imaju atmosferu gdje sačekuša novinaki ispred zgrade nije ništa neobično iako je već viđeno. Zabrinutost je tim veća jer se ovaj put koristi oružje, što je do sada bio slučaj samo prilikom ubistva Duška Jovanovića…

Countless unsolved instances of attacks, including some which soon become obsolete [i.e. the authorities are no longer required by law to resolve them], create an atmosphere where ambushing a female journalist in front of her home becomes nothing unusual, but a regular event. We are even more concerned in this case because a firearm was used. The only other time this has happened was in the murder of Duško Jovanović…

Social media users from Montenegro are using the hashtag #BezStraha, meaning “Without Fear” when posting about the attack and the protest.

Several hundred people, including journalists, opposition party members and civil society activists joined the May 9 protest in front of the government. Vijesti Director Željko Ivanović said that such crimes are not surprising in a society where all critics of the government of Milo Đukanović are defamed as traitors.

Tweet: Photo story from the civic protest due to the attack on Vijesti journalist Olivera Lakić. #WithoutFear
Signs: “The situation is extraordinary/emergency” [pun]; “Stop the violence”; “For life without fear”; “It's not a standard to get a bomb per capita”;

At the protest, Ivanović said that this attack would not have had happened if the authorities had conducted a proper investigation of the 2012 attack on Lakic. According to him, the institutions gave the impression that they had solved the previous attack on Olivera Lakić by arresting some “lowlife from the suburbs”, but had never identified who ordered the attack on the journalist.

“Olivera Lakić shot: Someone will have to answer for this in the future” – screenshot of a page from Vijesti website.

Nikola Marković, head of the Commission for Investigating Attacks on Journalists, said that they have been warning that a backlog of unsolved cases enables impunity. “None of the cases of attacks against ‘Vijesti’ had been solved properly,” he said at the protest.

Several hundred citizens gathered in front of the Government of Montenegro to express their dissatisfaction with the latest attack on our colleague Olivera Lakić, journalist of Vijesti daily! #VilenceAgainstJournalists #FreedomOfMedia #Media #Montenegro

NGOs and citizens also contributed with their reactions:

The attack on the Vijesti journalist Olivera Lakić is an attack on the freedom of speech and investigative journalism in Montenegro, said executive director of the NGO Prima Aida Perović Ivanović.

Some citizens also criticized the insensitive statements of public officials, who focused on the gender and not the essence of the attack.

These assertions about this being an “attack on a Woman!” by Government Minister Nuhodžić and his team are horrifying.

Human being, Mr. Minister, a human being was attacked. An attack against a being. An attack against a profession. An attack against the truth. Not an attack on a sex or gender.

Others also criticized the turnout at the protest, which they considered too low.

At the protest, as expected – #Montenegro has no citizens.


by Marko Angelov at May 10, 2018 02:27 PM

May 09, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Cambodia's last independent news site sold to PR firm that worked for the ruling party

Phnom Penh Post Facebook cover photo

Several editors and staff reporters of Cambodia's Phnom Penh Post resigned after expressing concern that the sale of the 26-year old newspaper to a Malaysian public relations executive would undermine its editorial independence.

Phnom Penh Post was recently bought by Sivakumar S Ganapathy, who is the managing director of Malaysia-based ASIA PR company.

Staff at the Phnom Penh Post published a news article about the sale, which described the business profile and interests of ASIA PR and mentioned that the company completed a project entitled “Cambodia and Hun Sen’s entry into the Government seat.”

The project appears to have been conducted on behalf of Cambodian incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for three decades. ASIA PR's website does not offer further details about the project.

Representatives of the newspaper’s new owners asked the editor-in-chief, Kay Kimsong, to remove the article, alleging that it contained “factual errors”.

Kay Kimsong refused and was fired as a result. Other editors and foreign reporters of the paper have resigned in protest.

The article was soon removed from the website but it has been saved and reposted online.

The newly resigned Phnom Penh Post editors took to social media to expose how the editorial policy of the new management could undermine freedom of the press in Cambodia.

Cambodia's last independent news site

Phnom Penh Post has been widely regarded as Cambodia’s only independent professional news site since the government shut down dozens of radio stations over tax and licensing issues in 2017. Cambodia Daily, a major English language daily, was forced to close operations after it was slapped with a hefty tax.

The selling of Phnom Penh Post to a company with alleged links to the ruling party has worried many groups, including the political opposition. Many fear that it will completely stifle criticism and press freedom in the country.

This is happening at a time when people with dissenting views are being detained, the opposition party is facing legal persecution, and Hun Sen is being accused of suppressing free speech ahead of upcoming general elections.

Chak Sopheap of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights paid tribute to Phnom Penh Post while highlighting the implications of changing the paper’s editorial independence and integrity:

It is difficult to overestimate the crucial role that the Post has played in Cambodia over the years. It has consistently spoken truth to power, fearlessly exposed corruption, and unflinchingly held a mirror to Cambodian society – often revealing uncomfortable truths.

Cambodian democracy and its pillars – press freedom and civil society – lie in ruins.

by Mong Palatino at May 09, 2018 02:00 PM

Uzbekistan releases its “last detained journalists”

Bobomurod Abdulloev, Uzbek journalist. Photo by Radio Ozodlik

Once known as one of the world’s most despotic regimes, Uzbekistan continues to move closer to a free society since new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in September 2016.

On May 7, 2018, the former Soviet Central Asian republic freed two journalists, Bobomurod Abdulloev and Hayot Nasriddinov, who were detained in September and October 2017 for “anti-constitutional activities”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed this move by the Uzbek authorities and declared that for the first time in last two decades there are no journalists left behind bars in Uzbekistan. Other international organizations also expressed their approval of the move. The international community had been keeping a special eye on this case, as it was the first time since the arrival of Uzbekistan's new president that journalists had been detained in the country.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, welcomed their release and urged that “all remaining charges should be dropped.”

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan had been ruled by the iron-handed Islam Karimov, until he died in September 2016. Karimov’s long-serving Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev replaced his late boss, launched some economic and political reforms at home, and catalyzed changes in regional integration. Among the political changes was the release of several political prisoners who had served decades in prison. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, five journalists, not including the two released this week, were also freed in the past one and a half years.

It was during this period of political reform that journalists Bobomurod Abdulloev and Hayot Nasriddinov were detained on the same charges Islam Karimov’s regime had used to imprison political opponents and journalists for years. The outcome of this case would show whether President Mirziyoyev was committed to continuing his reforms and an open-door policy or just temporarily playing the role of “good cop” to win people’s support for his internal political battles.

The detained journalists were charged with writing articles calling for the violent overthrow of the regime in Uzbekistan under a pseudonym. The journalists recognized that their articles had raised problems, but denied that this included calls to violence.

When security forces officers in charge with investigating the case became themselves embroiled in a power struggle between the powerful former head of Uzbekistan’s security forces, Rustam Inoyatov, and the new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, many hoped that the journalists Abdulloev and Nasriddinov would be freed.

On May 7, the court acquitted Hayot Nasriddinov of all charges, but found Abdullaev guilty of “extremism”, sentencing the journalist to three years of community service. The judge released both directly from the courtroom.

Minutes after breathing in the air of freedom and hugging his family members, Abdullaev gave an interview to his local colleagues, saying:

The fact that I am free now, and the fact that the court hearing was open, are fruits of the liberal politics of the President Mirziyoyev.

Uzbekistan, like many other former Soviet republics, is a country where even small political moves are subject to the ruler’s approval.

As CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova commented:

Now that the country has freed its press from physical custody, authorities must build on this progress to ensure that the media are able to do their job independently and without fear of reprisal.

by Salam Aleik at May 09, 2018 01:41 PM

May 07, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Moscow activists say telcos disrupted mobile coverage during protests, at order of police

Several activists complained about widespread network disruptions during the May 5 protests in Russia // Ervins Strauhmanis, Flickr CC BY 2.0, collage by Runet Echo

Two days before Vladimir Putin's official inauguration into his fourth term as the president of Russia, protests broke out across the country.

In multiple cities on May 5, crowds of protesters chanted the slogan “he is not a tsar to us.”

Many protesters were violently dispersed by riot police, with hundreds arrested, many of them teenagers.

It’s not a joke at all, cops are violently apprehending kids, which is a clear violation of the law.

At the height of the protests, several activists reported that their mobile phone signals became weak or non-existent. Some said Russian telecom operators were intentionally degrading the quality of service or even delisting their numbers at the orders of the authorities.

Mediazona, an independent online outlet which covers political trials and Russia’s prison systems, said their own reporter felt the consequences:

Yesterday Tele2 [one of Russia’s telecom operators] switched off both the cell phone coverage and the mobile internet access around Pushkinskaya square (our reporter felt it himself.) The operator blamed the disruptions on “quality of service improvement works” which happened to be held on May 5.

Mediazona attached to their tweet a screenshot of a chat between a Tele2 customer and the operator’s customer service department:

Tele2: Приносим извинения за неудобства, в компании проводились работы по улучшению качества связи, из-за чего могли возникать временные ограничения. На данный момент ограничений не зафиксировано. Возможно, что-то еще можем подсказать?
Абонент: улучшения вот прямо в определенном месте и в определенный момент? Я правильно понял?
Tele2: Да, в определенное время. Работы затрагивали указанный вами адрес. Подсказать что-то еще?

Tele2: Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience, our company was working on improving the quality of service which may have led to disruptions. There are no service disruptions at the moment. Is there anything else I could help you with?
Customer: You were improving the quality of your service in this particular place at this particular time? Did I get this right?
Tele2: Yes, it was this specific time period. The maintenance works affected the area you mentioned. Is there anything else I could help you with?

Activists also saw evidence of Beeline, Russia’s second largest telecom operator customer, de-listing phone numbers. Denis Styazhkin said the company de-listed his number on police orders:

Beeline finally unblocked my number and here’s their response: the number was blocked at the law enforcement’s request!!!!
Screenshot: Phone number [redacted], Denis Styazhkin. Why is it blocked?????
Response: Hello! Your number has been suspended at the law enforcement authorities’ request. It has already been unblocked.

In a statement to the press, a Beeline representative denied de-listing phone numbers on police orders, and claimed not to have de-listed Styazhkin's number. The company blamed the disruptions on network overload, and added that Styazhkin could have been blocked for violating the terms of service, not specifying a particular violation.

Other activists have also reported widespread network disruptions on multiple major telecom operators during the protests.

by RuNet Echo at May 07, 2018 02:41 PM

‘Peppa Pig’ has gotten too naughty for China's censors

Friendship between Peppa and Suzy has been interpreted as plastic or fake by some Chinese netizens. Screen capture from a Peppa Pig derivative video.

The latest addition to China's extensive list of censored cultural products and programs is the objectively adorable cartoon pig Peppa.

The popular video platform Douyan recently put Peppa Pig, a children's cartoon mega star, on its censorship list. The company removed more than 30,000 videos of the cheerful pink character and made the term “Peppa Pig” unsearchable on its website.

What could the precocious pink pig possible have done to land herself on the censorship list? Has she disrupted China's Harmonious Society?

In April 2018, commentary on state and party media outlets Xinhua and People’s Daily hinted that the ban might be imminent. One commentator from party-affiliated news outlets criticized a certain subculture that makes an association between Peppa Pig and “Shehuiren”, a term that is literally translated as “man in the society” and refers to hooligans with a triad background. In China, a triad is commonly known as a branch of any one of a number of transnational organized crime syndicates.

The commentary from People's Daily said:


The more Peppa Pig is associated with Shehuiren, the more people worried that Peppa Pig would be destroyed. Quite a number of primary and junior high school students are showing off with their Peppa Pig accessories. Some are even taking advantage of the subculture by selling counterfeit products to make a profit. We should be wary of these kinds of subcultures. We should not let Peppa Pig ruin kids’ childhoods, flout the rules and disregard the bottom line.

The state-run China Central Television officially imported the Peppa Pig series into mainland China in August 2015. It was subsequently shown on the online video platforms Youku and Aiqiyi. Within a year, the cartoon was screened more than 10 billion times. On Youku alone, Peppa Pig has garnered more than six million daily views.

Peppa Pig derivatives

Without a doubt, Peppa Pig is a popular cartoon among kids. But in China, teenagers and young adults are her biggest fans. This is because they are not watching the original version of the show, but rather an ongoing series of “derivative works” featuring the animation from the Peppa Pig program, but with dubbing in different Chinese dialects, with different language.

The YouTube video below is one of the most popular Cantonese-dubbed Peppa Pig episodes:

Drawn from an episode in which Peppa and Suzy Sheep get into an argument, the video is dubbed with adult language. The story line instead has Peppa and Suzy competing for the attention of prospective boyfriends.

Naturally, these derivatives can easily fall into the category of vulgar content, as defined by related state regulations for online content.

But however naughty these videos might be, they have existed for years without facing a problem, making Douyan’s ban seem more of a reaction to state mouthpieces’ ideological critique of the Peppa Pig/Shehuiren crossover subculture, and the affiliated emergence of Peppa Pig products like stickers, watches, and mobile phone covers.

Peppa pig tattoo. Screen capture from viral video.

The culture emerged towards the end of 2017, when a viral video that showed a drawing of Peppa Pig on a man’s back triggered a chain reaction of the video memes on various platforms, giving birth to a popular expression:


Wear a Peppa pig tattoo, Shehuiren receives applause.

An earlier version of the expression linking Shehuiren to hooligan culture also went viral on various video platforms:


Wear a Guan Yu tattoo, Shehuiren receives applause.

Guan Yu is a historical figure worshiped by Chinese underground criminal society. Since the meme was attached to videos which reflected Shehuiren characteristics, the term has since evolved into the mockery of video platform users who don’t follow mainstream work ethics.

The symbolism of Peppa Pig

One comment from Sina Tech, however, pointed out that a majority of people who embrace the Peppa Pig/Shehuiren crossover are young adults who follow rules and regulations:


Those who work in big cities often feel repressed and anxious. They may want to resist, but eventually they have to obey. The tension keeps mounting and they end up using Peppa Pig to express their aspiration of being a Shehuiren — a person who follows their heart regardless of social norms.

One user offered a similar sentiment in a Weibo comment about a Peppa Pig watch :

自从买了社会人小猪佩奇手表,终于感觉我是一个社会人了,拥有这个表,我感觉走路都带风了。不仅仅是一块表,不仅仅是社会人的身份地位的象… ​​​​

Since I have bought a Peppa Pig Shehuiren watch, I feel that I am a Shehuiren. With this watch, wind follows me while I walk. This is not only a watch, but a symbol of Shehuiren status…

On Zhihu, China’s most popular question and answer platform, many netizens have expressed their belief that Peppa Pig’s crossover with Shehuiren is a mockery of social norms — economic power, hypocrisy and family background — in mainland China. Some of their interpretations of Peppa’s social status include:

1. Peppa’s family is rich — they live in a villa.
2. Peppa is plastic — she is cheerful, confident, carefree and never has to worry about money.
3. Peppa’s mother is second generation rich — her parents live in a villa with a big garden and a yacht. Peppa’s mother knows how to play the violin and speaks French.

Both the hooligan culture and the critique of social norms can be seen as subversive to China's vision of a Harmonious Society. This subculture also has a huge impact on the cultural economy.

The Global Times reported that on Taobao, China's largest e-commerce website, one online shop sold 30,000 Peppa Pig/Shehuiren tattoo stickers and 110,000 Peppa Pig-themed watches in just one month. The China-based distributor of Peppa Pig has seen its copyright revenue escalate, while the UK-based Entertainment One announced that the sales revenue from product authorization in China achieved a growth of more than 700% in the first half of 2017 — and the Chinese market has kept right on expanding.

However, Douyan's ban signals that the Chinese censorship authorities have the power to crush the cultural market if Peppa Pig or any other foreign-owned cartoon characters become too naughty.

by Oiwan Lam at May 07, 2018 02:29 PM

May 03, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: In Afghanistan and Pakistan, journalists honor slain colleagues on World Press Freedom Day

Image licensed to public domain, without attribution.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. We dedicate this edition to journalists who have been threatened or killed this year, in honor of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018.

In only a few months, 2018 has proven itself a difficult year for journalists around the world. Just days before World Press Freedom Day, ten media workers were killed in Afghanistan, nine of them in a suicide bombing in Kabul.

Reporters and photographers from the BBC, AFP, Radio Free Europe and local outlets Tolo News, 1TV, and Mashal TV died in the blasts. Multiple outlets reported that the bomber had enmeshed himself among the journalists, pretending to be a reporter.

Tweeting to honor his colleagues from the close-knit circle of journalists reporting on conflict in Kabul, Afghan journalist Tahir Qadiry shared a photograph of the bloodied engagement ring of fallen cameraman Yar Mohammad, who was to be married next month.

In Pakistan,more than 80 media workers and rights advocates signed a statement on April 19 expressing their deep concern over the deterioration of media freedom in the country. They cite the recent ban on the major news network Geo, increasing censorship of news stories online, and threats faced by journalists, particularly those covering “rights movements.”

“There is growing self censorship and increasingly, discussions on ‘given news’ rather than real news, violating the citizens’ right to information,” the statement read.

Media rights advocates say soft censorship by media outlets has been especially prevalent surrounding issues of political tension. Media outlets have removed stories about the Pashtun rights movement in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, possibly under pressure from government censors.

On May 3 journalists who rallied in Islamabad to honor World Press Freedom Day were confronted by police, who barred them from marching towards the Parliament building. While some clashed with authorities, others sat in silent protest.

Filipino radio journalist shot and killed after broadcast

In the Philippine city of Dumaguete, a gunman fired multiple shots at radio reporter Edmund Sestoso as he rode home from his morning broadcast on April 30. When a tuk-tuk driver attempted to take him to the hospital, the gunman shot out the tires of the tuk-tuk as well. Sestoso died of the gunshot wounds on May 2. His wife told local media that Sestoso had received threats related to his radio reporting before his killing.

Murder of Slovak journalist remains unsolved

In a recent meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the newly elected leader to solve the March 2018 murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, who was killed in February along with fiancee Martina Kusnirova.

Police and people close to Kuciak suspect his death was related to his work. His most recent investigation, which had yet to be published, looked at connections between Slovak government politicians and Italian mafia interests in eastern Slovakia and whether they aimed to defraud the European Union.

Several days after the murder, Slovak police arrested but then released Italian citizens Antonino Vadala, Bruno Vadala, and Pietro Catroppa, who all are allegedly connected to the large-scale Italian organized crime group ‘Ndrangheta, which Kuciak was investigating prior to his death. No further arrests have been made in the investigation of the killing.

Myanmar judge admits new witness in defense of jailed Reuters journalists

On May 2, the judge presiding over the case against Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in Myanmar agreed to hear testimony from a police officer who claims that police orchestrated the journalists’ arrest as part of a “trap.” The two were arrested shortly after they had investigated a mass grave in Rakhine state, home to most of the country’s embattled Rohingya Muslim population. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were charged under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act and could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

Cumhuriyet journalists convicted of ‘aiding terrorist organizations’

Journalists and other staff from the independent Turkish daily newspaper and website Cumhuriyet were convicted by an Istanbul court of “aiding terrorist organizations,” in a case brought by public prosecutors who claimed the newspaper staff had followed or aided exiled Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The fourteen media workers now face between two and seven years behind bars.

CPJ: 18 journalists have been murdered because of their work this year

The US-based media freedom group the Committee to Protect Journalists maintains an active database of killings, motives and other contextual details of journalists’ deaths. Thus far in 2018, the group has identified 18 cases of murder in which they were able to confirm a motive. They include:

Afghanistan: Abadullah Hananzai, Abdul Manan Arghand, Ali Saleemi, Ghazi Rasooli, Maharram Durrani, Nowroz Ali Rajabi, Sabawoon Kakar, Saleem Talash, Shah Marai, Yar Mohammad Tokhi

Brazil: Jefferson Pureza Lopes

Colombia: Juan Javier Ortega Reyes, Paúl Rivas Bravo

India: Navin Nischal, Sandeep Sharma

Mexico: Leobardo Vázquez Atzin, Leslie Ann Pamela Montenegro del Real

Slovakia: Ján Kuciak

Global Voices expresses its deepest condolences to journalists facing threats, and to the families of journalists who have been killed because of their work. We stand in solidarity with all media workers seeking to protect freedom of expression online and off.

New Research


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by Netizen Report Team at May 03, 2018 09:04 PM

May 01, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
In Mexico, an indigenous community telco will continue to operate — for now

Image from Rhizomática Wiki used under a Creative Commons license.

Indigenous Community Telecommunications (ICT), a civil society association in Mexico, has withstood an important legal battle for the right of indigenous communities to establish and manage their own community networks of mobile phones and internet.

ICT, which provides voice and data services at affordable costs in remote areas of southern Mexico, obtained a special legal protection (or amparo, in Spanish) exempting it from a fee of around one million pesos (approximately US $50,000) to use the radio spectrum for its operations. This fee is typically assessed by Mexico's Federal Institute of Telecommunications (the regulator for radio broadcasting and telecommunications) for corporate enterprises. ICT is a non-profit.

The Collegiate Circuit Court on Administrative Matters, Specialized in Economic Competition, Broadcasting and Telecommunications ruled that this does not exempt ICT from payment, but it does instruct the Federal Institute of Telecommunications to reconsider the required fee. As a not-for-profit, ICT argues that it should not be treated the same as the commercial service providers.

In the ruling, the Court recognized that ICT's services relate to the defense of indigenous peoples’ human rights including freedom of expression. It also acknowledged that the pro homine principle (pro persona) must be applied when reviewing human rights issues to encourage the broadest protection of individual and group rights at all times.

Organizations such as Rhizomática and Networks for Diversity, Equality and Sustainability who helped establish ICT published a press release welcoming the Court's decision and thanked supporters who joined them on this difficult journey.

Inequity and discrimination within the licensing process

Global Voices (GV) spoke with Erick Huerta, deputy general coordinator of the Networks for Diversity, Equity and Sustainability, advisor and legal strategist for ICT, about the challenges that lie ahead:

Nosotros sentimos que el fallo del Tribunal es un parteaguas en cuanto a los derechos a la comunicación de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas y en cuanto a cómo debe realizar sus funciones la entidad autónoma [el Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones].

El artículo 1 de nuestra Constitución es muy claro respecto a que todas las personas gozarán de los derechos humanos, sin discriminación, y, en caso de que exista alguna duda, la interpretación de las normas debe hacerse de tal forma que se favorezca la más amplia protección de los derechos humanos. Esta interpretación es una obligación que le corresponde hacerla tanto al poder judicial, como al poder ejecutivo y a los órganos autónomos.

La sentencia del Tribunal es muy bonita en ese sentido, ya que le señala al ente autónomo que está obligado a interpretar la ley en favor de los derechos humanos, y a considerar la situación especial de los pueblos indígenas y sus derechos específicos a la comunicación.

En otras palabras, no por aplicar estrictamente una ley fiscal [en este caso, aquella que determina que debe pagarse por el uso del espectro radioeléctrico], vas a negar un derecho básico.

Para nosotros, el que tuviéramos que pagar un millón de pesos significaba que dejaríamos de operar y se les negaría a las comunidades, entonces, su derecho humano a la comunicación, simplemente por un tema administrativo.

La sentencia dice ‘Toda ley está sujeta a interpretación. Es más, las leyes fiscales son de interpretación estricta, pero eso no quiere decir que no se interprete’.

No puedes aplicar las leyes a rajatabla, tienes que ver cómo se ubica dentro del sistema, si es equitativo o no.

We feel that the Court's ruling is a watershed in terms of the communication rights of indigenous peoples and communities and how the regulator [the Federal Institute of Telecommunications] should perform its functions.

Article 1 of our Constitution states very clearly that all people shall enjoy human rights, without discrimination, and if there is any doubt, the interpretation of the rules must be done in such a way as to support the broadest protection of human rights. This interpretation is an obligation of the judiciary, and also of the executive and regulatory bodies.

The Court's judgement is very good in that sense, since it indicates to the regulator that it has an obligation to interpret the law in support of human rights, and to consider the special situation of indigenous peoples and their specific rights to communication.

In other words, the judgment indicates that regulators should not strictly apply a tax law [in this case, the one that determines what should be paid for the use of the radio spectrum] which would deny a basic right.

For us, having to pay a million pesos would have meant that we would stop operating and the communities then would be denied their human right to communication, simply because of an administrative issue.

The sentence says “Every law is subject to interpretation. Moreover, the tax laws are strictly interpreted, but that does not mean that they are not interpreted.”

You cannot apply the laws strictly, you have to see how they are in the context of the system, whether they are equitable or not.

According to Huerta, the regulatory body has already issued a resolution to interpret the law in question, but a payment exemption will not be granted until ICT obtains the status of “authorized grantee” by the Tax Administration Service, given to civil society organizations or trusts to receive tax-deductible donations. Given the situation, Huerta says that ICT may be forced to reject the Institute's ruling.

Additionally, ICT filed for another special legal protection against inequity and discrimination in the process of granting licenses in broadcasting and telecommunications.

Huerto explains:

Para radiodifusión, no hay pago del derecho por el uso del espectro, ni en concesiones sociales ni en las comerciales. Su derecho se paga en tiempos fiscales [espacios de transmisión que ocupa el Estado Mexicano].

Para las radios comunitarias e indígenas no hay pago en tiempos fiscales. Entonces, no tendría por qué haber un pago por el uso del espectro radioeléctrico para concesionarios que están en la misma categoría. Si existe la misma razón [brindar un servicio de índole social, comunitaria, indígena], debe existir la misma disposición.

Desafortunadamente, hay varios ejemplos en los que si se trata de beneficiar a un particular, con gran poder económico, todo parece muy fácil y hasta se llegan a violar principios. En otros casos, en donde incluso existe una resolución judicial como es el caso que nos ocupa ahora, la autoridad se presenta muy poco flexible.

Estos distintos parámetros evidencian discriminación.

For broadcasting, there is no payment for the right to use the spectrum, neither for community licenses, nor for commercial ones. Their right is paid in the form of time periods that are reserved for public service broadcasting.

For community and indigenous radio there is no payment in public service broadcasting. So, there should not be a required payment for the use of the radio spectrum for providers that are in the same category. If the same logic is applied here [to provide a social, community, indigenous service], the same provision must exist.

Unfortunately, there are several examples in which, if it is to benefit a private individual with great economic power, everything seems very easy, even if principles are violated. In other cases, even where there is a judicial resolution, as is the case that concerns us now, the authority is very inflexible.

These different parameters show discrimination.

ICT's future stands for indigenous rights

ICT, known for its independent, disruptive and innovative initiatives that follow in the footsteps of indigenous technology projects like the community cell phone network, has never wavered in its virtues and has vowed to continue to fight for indigenous rights.

Huerta believes:

Hay quienes se posicionan para favorecer a los poderosos. Nosotros seguiremos los caminos necesarios, confiando en que, al final, lo que se privilegie sean los derechos de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas.

There are those who position themselves to support the powerful. We will follow the necessary paths, trusting that, in the end, what is privileged will be the rights of indigenous peoples and communities.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at May 01, 2018 02:14 PM

Media censorship surrounds the Pashtun rights movement in Pakistan

Massive crowd at the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement public gathering in Lahore. Photo from Facebook. Used with permission.

In the past months, the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement has been mobilizing in Pakistan's major cities to demand basic rights for the Pashtun minority community, including the “right to live without fear” of extrajudicial killings.

The Pashtuns (or Pathans) are an ethnic minority group who mostly live in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Discrimination and violence are constant threats for Pashtuns, half a million of whom have been internally displaced due to conflict between the army and the Taliban militant group. In 2016, Pashtuns were given official clearance to return to their home in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, but landmines planted there mean many can't can't safely return.

Read more: The Pashtun Long March Asks for Justice After Years of Ethnic Targeting

The Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, known as PTM for short, has become a rallying point for thousands to speak up about these injustices. But their challenges are many.

Members have faced legal harassment, with repeated arrests. Local human rights defenders say the Pakistani mainstream media, especially TV channels, are ignoring the movement altogether. And in one case, a digital outlet that covered the movement from a critical angle experienced disruptions to their website, in what some editors feared was a targeted technical attack.

Social media has been the only local platform where Pakistanis can reliably find robust and continuous coverage of the moment. So when Twitter suspended the account of one of the movement's most prominent leaders on April 26, many feared it was silencing the voice of an activist demanding equal protections for human rights.

The account belonged to Manzoor Pashteen, a 26-year-old human rights activist at the helm of the PTM. For his efforts to denounce what he sees as abuses by Pakistan's armed forces, Pashteen has been accused by some Pakistanis of spreading hatred and misleading information. In March 2018, police in the Balochistan province filed criminal charges against Pashteen for “criticizing the government and state security agencies.”

Politician Bushra Gohar questioned Twitter over this action:

Journalist Ahsanullah Amiri tweeted:

Pashteen's account was later restored, and Twitter has yet to comment on why it happened.

‘Fall in line and sign the dotted line’

Self-censorship is not uncommon in Pakistan's journalism sector. Neither is overt censorship. In November 2017 amid anti-blasphemy protests, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority blacked out all private news channels for 26 hours.

Most recently, Geo TV, one of Pakistan’s leading television news channels, was blocked for a few weeks in April 2018, allegedly for its critical coverage of the military.

Murtaza Solangi, a senior Pakistani journalist, described for Gadhara, an outlet that is part of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, what message this censorship is meant to send:

[The censorship is prompted by] insecurity of the military establishment determined to get a positive outcome of [their liking] in the next polls. [This is why] banning Geo TV is also a message to all and sundry to fall in line and sign the dotted line.

In response to the trend, hundreds of Pakistani journalists recently sounded the alarm in a collective statement:

Beginning with a crackdown against select media groups and banning the broadcast of various channels, there now is enhanced pressure on all media houses to refrain from covering certain rights-based movements. Media house managements under pressure are dropping regular op-ed columns and removing online editions of published articles. One media house even asked its anchors to stop live shows.

When it comes to the PTM, daily newspaper The Nation reportedly refused a piece of commentary about PTM by columnist Gul Bukhari for being critical of state institutions. Another online publication called Naya Daur later published the article, but its website soon suffered problems, which the outlet feared had been censored by authorities.

Three or more articles were taken down from online portal The News which were about the movement and many other websites refused to publish articles related to the March.

Pashtun Tahafuz Movement public gathering in Lahore on April 22, 2018. Photo from Facebook. Used with permission.

PTM's demands and achievements

Pashtuns in the FATA area are still heavily policed in their day-to-day lives. Residents must pass through military checkpoints in order to travel through the region. Protests were held in Swat weeks ago, demanding the removal of military checkpoints after a child died waiting for clearance at a checkpoint.

But police also are taking action against protesters for causing a nuisance. This type of response by the administration is creating controversy over the legitimate demands of the protesters, with authorities suggesting that they are somehow “anti-state”.

Pashteen responded to these accusations, saying:

Yes, we do want “Azadi” (independence), the Azadi that is enjoyed by the rest of Pakistan.

Their efforts are not in vain, some of their demands seem to have met. Authorities have agreed to protesters’ demands to end the Watan Card (an identity card) which originally launched in 2010 to provide financial assistance to the flood-affected population. This became a de-facto passport for people from FATA to travel within the country and is now increasingly being used to discriminate between (and against) specific ethnic groups. In mid-February 2018, the card was done away with.

In other gains, many missing persons have returned home, and there are reports of bomb disposal teams working on the removal of landmines in Waziristan.

However, PTM believes there is a long way to go and they would continue the struggle until sufficient and satisfactory action is taken.

An Apex committee including the army officials and the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has agreed to hold negotiations with PTM. Meanwhile, the movement continues with peaceful demonstrations across the country.

The movement has inspired others as well to speak up about the violation of their rights and is being joined by other ethnic minority groups in the country.

by Annam Lodhi at May 01, 2018 12:26 PM

April 29, 2018

Ethan Zuckerman
Because America’s Family Leave Policy Sucks, Too.

When my friends and colleagues began working on the first Make the Breast Pump Not Suck hackathon in 2014 (, they were focused on the machine itself. The breast pump has evolved very little from its hospital origins, and it’s widely hated as loud, painful, hard to clean, ugly and awkward. The hackathon they organized did amazing work to design better breast pumps, but it also revealed a larger problem: It’s not just the breast pump that sucks – America’s family leave policy sucks, too.

The breast pump often becomes such a problem because mothers don’t have paid family leave and some need to get back to work immediately after giving birth. This puts parents in impossible positions – they want to do what’s right for their baby, but everything in American society is stacked to prevent them from caring for their child.

When the hackathon team reloaded and started working on the 2018 hackathon, we added a policy summit, focused on questions of paid family leave policy, a two-day discussion focused on issues of equitable design of policy and practical strategies for winning paid leave at federal, state or company by company levels.

What’s remarkable to me as a newcomer to this movement is the coherence of the ask. The panelists we heard from today were unified on what family leave should include:

  • At least 12 weeks of paid leave
  • Robust coverage – at least 2/3rds of salary, up to $4000 a month
  • Universality – the benefit applies to everyone in the business, with no carve out for small employers. The same benefits apply to freelancers and self-employed people
  • Portable, so people in the gig economy can take the benefit from one job to another
  • Comprehensive – Family leave includes not just parental leave, but govers a wide range of issues. We need to care not just for new babies, but for aging parents or sick children
  • Secure against retaliation – we need to overcome the danger that someone loses employment for taking family leave

There’s also widespread support for the idea that family medical leave needs to happen at the federal level, if only because we know that many states won’t opt to offer the benefit, and those states are ones whose citizens need this support the most. The differences are around tactics. Vicki Shabo of National Partnership for Women and Families is seeking support for the FAMILY act, Co-sponsored by Senator Gillibrand and Representative DeLaura. 32 bipartisan senators are now on board, as are 154 House members. The bill accomplishes most of the goals stated above and is funded through a small payroll tax on employees and employers (0.4%, split between the employer and employee) and administered through a new federal agency.

Sherry Leiwant of Better Balance pointed out that states are often the laboratories for policy experimentation where new ideas get worked through. She sees potential to build family leave around temporary disability insurance, which was instituted through payroll taxes in some states in the 1940s and 50s, but excluded pregnancy and childbirth until the late 1970s. But while TDIs give states a framework they could use to implement family leave, they aren’t universal, usually cutting out agricultural workers, seasonal workers and part time workers.

Some of the most exciting moves towards family leave policies have come from businesses. Erik Rettig of Small Business Majority points out that 85% of his member companies support paid family leave. Small businesses tend to be like families, he explains – they don’t want to lose employees that they have personal relationships with and have spent time training. But he notes that small businesses, individually, have little political power. As advocates, we should be targeting chambers of commerce, business leagues and other groups that can influence at scale.

Brianna Cayo Cotter of PL+US and Girshriela “Gigi” Green, OUR Walmart had the most powerful story about making change at scale through influencing corporations. Gigi explains that she and other Walmart associates began pushing the company for reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers as early as 2011. When she and colleagues learned that salaried managers were receiving 10 weeks paid maternity leave, and hourly associates were receiving none, she and colleagues started a petition campaign that ended up with more than 100,000 signatures.

Petitioning the company directly didn’t work. Gigi and Our Walmart, with support from PL+US, spoke in front of the Walmart shareholder meeting, addressing an audience of 15,000, demanding that the company implement fairer policies. Shortly after, Walmart agreed to offer equivalent benefits to full time associates, though they insisted that they made this decision without outside pressure.

The scale of this change is hard to overstate: Walmart is the largest employer of women in the world. The victory is far from complete. This isn’t true family leave, but maternity leave, and it doesn’t address part time workers who work full-time hours. But it’s an amazing step forward. Gigi chokes up talking about it, telling us that she’d worked with women whose children had died on Walmart properties because they had inadequate leave and support.

Brianna from PL+US believes that shareholders can be the most powerful voice for change within corporations. She’s begun working with a firm that invests hundreds of billions of dollars, and is using their leverage to push for change within the companies they support. “They’ve become very powerful activist voices, pushing for these rights within the companies they invest in.”

Today’s conversation pivots to tactics to reach these common goals. What campaigns, pressures and strategies will bring family leave to more Americans. Erik argues that we work best when we understand what businesses need, and how our asks are consistent with business priorities and processes. Brianna reminds us that businesses care about customers, investors and their board – pressure them and you can win. Gigi puts it simply: “I know what didn’t work. Going to them politely and asking for what was right didn’t work. It wasn’t until we petitioned and sooke out that change really happened.”

More to come, on the new strategies emerging from the policy summit, and new inventions from the hackathon.

by Ethan at April 29, 2018 02:21 PM

April 27, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Telcos must disclose more data about internet shutdowns, say civil society groups

A demonstration against mobile shutdowns in North Sinai. Banner reads: “We don't want to use Israeli networks because of your neglect.” Photo by Sinai2014/SinaiOutofCoverage group page.

When activists in Egypt organized protests against mobile and internet shutdowns in the Northern Sinai region back in 2014, in the “Sinai out of Coverage” campaign, they probably did not expect that it would still be relevant today.

But just a few months ago, as the Egyptian army launched another military operation in Egypt's Northern Sinai region, the government once again ordered a region-wide shutdown of internet and telecommunications services. Like so many times over the past five years, the shutdown left residents disconnected from the other parts of Egypt, and the world, and unable to communicate or call for help.

In recent years, internet shutdowns have become all too familiar for users in a number of countries, and for digital rights groups documenting them. The issue has gone as far as the United Nations, where the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in June 2016 condemning “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law.”

And the issue is global. In India, the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) documented 70 incidents of regional internet shutdowns in 2017, compared to 31 shutdowns in 2016 and just 14 shutdowns in 2015. So far this year, there have been 40 shutdowns in the country.

In Cameroon, for more than a year, internet in the country's Northwest and Southwest Anglophone regions has either been completely cut off or slowed down to a point of uselessness.

In Sri Lanka, authorities completely shut down the internet in the district of Kandy in March 2018, in response to acts of sectarian violence. The government blamed social media for spreading hate speech and calls to violence.

As far as researchers know, most of these shutdowns have occurred at the behest of government authorities, who order telecommunications companies to press the proverbial ‘kill switch.’

Telecommunications companies usually have little choice but to follow these orders. In some cases, they offer subscribers some explanation of the cut in service. But more often, they don't.

New research from Ranking Digital Rights, a nonprofit research initiative that evaluates internet and telecommunications companies’ practices affecting user rights to freedom of expression and privacy, shows that the world's largest telecommunication companies disclose little to no information about their processes for responding to government requests to restrict access to networks or to certain services and platforms.

Ranking Digital Rights: 2018 Corporate Accountability Index

The 2017 Index ranks 10 telecommunications companies and 12 internet companies on a set of 35 human rights indicators designed to measure if and how well companies disclose policies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy. The Index evaluates policies of the parent company, operating company and those of selected services, depending on company structure.

Read about the RDR methodology, research and scoring criteria.

In a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), both government and “non-state actors” have ordered internet shutdowns or network disruptions, according to Asser Khattab who covers network shutdowns in the region for Social Media Exchange (SMEX), a Beirut-based media development and digital rights organisation.

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a network of freedom of expression advocacy groups in Africa, characterized shutdowns as becoming “rampant” in multiple African countries.

Shutdowns most often occur in times when public safety or stability are under threat, such as armed conflicts, security operations, protests and political crises. But in these times where safety is of the utmost concern, network shutdowns hinder users’ access to information and communication services at a time when they are most in need.

In India, where freedom of expression is in decline, network shutdowns are “yet another blunt instrument” to restrict this fundamental right, Mishi Choudhary, legal director at the SFLC told Global Voices. For instance, as part of the government’s crackdown against independence protests in Kashmir, Indian authorities repeatedly resorted to banning social media platforms and disrupting access to mobile internet networks and the internet, thus limiting residents’ capabilities to communicate, organize and express themselves.

In areas of conflict, shutdowns can put people’s lives at risk.

In these cases “the implication could be very risky,” said Asser Khattab who covers shutdowns across the MENA region including in areas that are going through conflicts like Syria, Northern Sinai in Egypt and Yemen. He added: 

I have heard about people who were wounded or in a dire health situation but were not able to access emergency services, like calling an ambulance, because of network disruptions. It also becomes harder to report on cases of collateral damage, or cases of death, in time. People may not be able to hear the news about what is really going on around them, which would create an atmosphere of stress and fear, especially for those who suddenly lose touch with a loved one who’s not home for instance

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Internet Without Borders (ISF), a nonprofit organization that works to promote digital rights in Africa, documented the many ways that an internet shutdown can get in the way of peoples’ work and vital day-to-day needs. Small businesses, tech startups, banking and money transfer operations, health professionals who use social media apps to communicate with patients in remote areas, journalists who depend on communication networks to cover and send stories, and even job-seekers are just some of those most affected.

ISF Executive Director Julie Owono told Global Voices, “shutdowns are not not only negative for them [telecommunications companies] but [are] also negative for the clients that they are supposed to serve and ultimately it’s also negative for whole layers of society.’’

Graphic by Olivia Solis

How should telecommunications companies handle government shutdown requests? Although companies may have little choice but to follow official orders, they could endeavor to give the public more detailed information when shutdowns occur. Who ordered the shutdown and for what purpose? Where is it taking place? How long is it expected to last?

RDR's Corporate Accountability Index requires companies to:

  • inform the public of how they respond to government network shutdown demands, including under whose authority a shutdown is ordered, so that those responsible can be held accountable;
  • commit to directly notify users about these types of restrictions;
  • commit to push back on requests to shut down a network or restrict access to a service; and
  • publish data about the number of shutdown requests they receive.

Only two companies, Vodafone and Telefonica, scored 50% on this indicator. All eight remaining companies, including French multinational group Orange, South-Africa based MTN group and AT&T scored below 20%. Vodafone was the only company to clearly disclose its process for responding to these types of government demands and to clearly commit to push back against demands when possible. Telefonica was the only company that disclosed the number of shutdown requests it received.

SFLC's Choudhary commented that these results “[did] not surprise [her] at all.” In India, she said, users are “most often” not informed about these shutdowns before they take place, “leaving [them] to wonder if it is a technical glitch or a shutdown.”

RDR’s 2018 Index includes Indian telecommunications services provider Bharti Airtel which revealed almost nothing about the circumstances under which it complies with government shutdown requests, scoring only 6% on the indicator that assesses network shutdown policies as the graph above shows. Bharti Airtel’s poor performance is on par with those of the Malaysian telecommunications group Axiata and the Qatar-based Ooredoo. The second MENA region company evaluated by the Index, the UAE-based Etisalat, also performed poorly scoring 13% on the same indicator. 

Operators in the MENA region “usually do not like to talk about it and feel uncomfortable to answer any questions after stating that this was ordered by the government,” Khattab told Global Voices. “Sources in Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate said that they are never notified about the shutdowns which could last around 10-12 hours, which adds up to their concern about the nearby military operations,” he added.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, when operators do communicate to users about shutdowns, such communication often “comes too late,” said Owono. “[Users] just know that they cannot access the network and that’s it.”

Telecommunications companies are facing increasing burdens in this area, from all sides. Companies that push back on shutdown orders can risk losing their licenses or having their employees sentenced to jail. In Egypt, the parliament recently approved a provision in a controversial cybercrime bill that will fine ISPs and jail their employees for up to one year if they refuse to comply with content censorship orders.

Nevertheless, operating in a repressive regulatory environment should not prevent telecommunications companies from at least communicating to the public how they respond to shutdown requests, notifying users when shutdowns are about to happen, and naming the authorities that ordered the shutdown when they are not legally prevented from doing so.

Publishing such information can help users and digital rights groups prepare to fight shutdowns when they are about to happen, hold to account those responsible, and raise awareness about their negative impacts.

Owono stressed the importance of this type of information for the public:

“If telecommunication [companies] do not even communicate, objectively they are putting themselves on the side of the oppressor, which in this case an oppressive regime.”

by Afef Abrougui at April 27, 2018 11:21 AM

April 26, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Protests in Nicaragua trigger media bans, DDoS attacks and the killing of journalist Angel Gahona

Protesters in the streets of Managua, Nicaragua's capital, in April 2018. Photo by Voice of America, released to public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

According to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, at least 34 people, including one journalist, have been killed during demonstrations in Nicaragua over the past several days.

What began as a protest against social security reforms has expanded into a broad-based public outcry against the administration of President Daniel Ortega, who has been in office for 11 years but has held political power in the country in various roles since the 1979 Sandinista Revolution. Some are now calling for his resignation.

Multiple TV networks have been taken off air or banned from broadcasting the demonstrations and one radio station was set on fire. Independent local news sites La Prensa and Confidencial suffered what appeared to be distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Both had been reporting the most up-to-date accounts from the ground.

Confidencial was knocked offline for seven hours on April 23. In a tweet confirming the attacks, Editor Carlos Chamorro wrote:

TO OUR READERS For the past three hours, the Confidencial website has been out of service. We have determined that the cause is a targeted attack by the enemies of press freedom. Our technical staff are working to reestablish the site connection. We will continue posting updates on our social media channels.

The Inter-American Press Association the website condemned the attacks.

In the city of Bluefields, on Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast, video journalist Angel Gahona was shot and killed while filming and broadcasting a confrontation between protesters and police on Facebook Live. Gahona lived with his family and ran a small media outlet called El Meridiano. Multiple witnesses said the police were the only people in the area with weapons powerful enough to shoot and kill a person. Police have yet to release a statement regarding Gahona’s death.

Gahona did not die immediately on impact, and thus managed to capture the moments after he was shot, which have now been seen worldwide via YouTube and news media outlets. In an interview with Univisión, his sister said: “I never imagined that he would film his own death.”

The Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have condemned the media bans and the killing of Angel Gahona. His family members are soliciting support for funeral costs and their future on GoFundMe.

Spanish activist arrested for insulting monarchy on Facebook

Roberto Mesa, a digital activist in the Spanish island of Tenerife was arrested by police at his home on April 18 after he posted a message on Facebook suggesting that the Bourbons (the royal family) should go “to the sharks”. In Spanish, the message rhymes: “Los Borbones, a los tiburones.” Supporters anticipate that he will be charged under Spain’s public security law, commonly referred to as the gag law (“Ley Mordaza”), which places multiple prohibitions on public and online protest.

Tanzanian news and discussion website suffers DDoS attack

Tanzanian news sharing and discussion platform Jamii Forums was briefly kicked offline this week due to a DDoS attack. Known for intense political discussions and revelations of corruption that take place on its comment and discussion threads, in a style similar to that of Reddit, Jamii is one of the most popular local sites in East Africa. The site’s co-founder and owner Maxence Melo is currently fighting charges under Tanzania’s Cybercrimes Law for refusing police requests for forum members’ personal data.

LGBT content gets uncensored in China, thanks to citizen pressure

The social media campaign #IamLGBT pressured China’s information control apparatus to scale back its censorship of LGBT content on social media. But after Weibo announced a three-month crackdown on games, multimedia and LGBT content, the hashtag #IamLGBT was used 500,000 times and had roughly 500 million views. Within days, the Chinese Communist Party publication the People’s Daily published a memorandum announcing LGBT content should not be confused with vulgar, violent or pornographic content, and Weibo announced its three-month crackdown would no longer target LGBT content.

Is a Russian troll farm really launching a news agency?

A Russian troll farm with connections to Saint Petersburg’s Internet Research Agency announced its plans to launch a new venture entitled “USA Really” next month. The project, initially reported by EU vs Disinfo, takes a stance consistent with the anti-Western, anti-liberal narrative of previous Internet Research Agency efforts, which grabbed international headlines in 2016, before and after the presidential elections in the United States. The self-described “news organization” RIA FAN announced:

The information flow coming from the US and its allies, which is aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation, should not remain unanswered by the Russian media…The Federal News Agency (FAN) is not going to put up with the hegemony of the US authorities in the information field.

YouTube takes down millions of videos, mostly for images of abuse and violence

YouTube removed more than 8.2 million videos between October and December 2017, 6.68 million of which had been flagged automatically by systems that are built to identify sexual abuse and violent extremism imagery. The company published this information in its most recent transparency report, marking the first time that a major Silicon Valley company has included this level of detail about content removed from its platform. Who will be next in line?

Facebook releases internal guidelines for content moderation

Facebook took steps toward making its content moderation processes more transparent by publishing most of the internal guidelines its moderators use to enforce its community standards. The company excluded information about issues like terrorism to prevent users from taking advantage of the publication of the guidelines.

The company also announced plans to allow users to appeal the removal of a photo, video or post in addition to the removal of an account or page for certain categories of content. In the future, Facebook says it will give people the opportunity to provide additional context and to allow users to appeal content that is reported and left up.

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by Netizen Report Team at April 26, 2018 07:18 PM

April 25, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
The chilling effect of officials discussing Telegram's imminent ban in Iran

A cartoon from the semi-official state news website Fars News, depicting a Iranian user drowning in Telegram. Image published with the intent to redistribute.

Recent discussions surrounding Telegram's imminent censorship amongst Iranian officials have rattled Iran's “filternet,” or its controlled and restricted Internet space, like never before.

The parliamentary National Security Commission announced at the end of March that Telegram would cease to be accessible in Iran by the end of April 2018.

Since 2015, the popular mobile messaging app has become a key communications technology inside of Iran. While internet penetration hovers around 50 million, Telegram users number around 45 million in Iran.

Telegram's exponential growth in Iran has raised key concerns about the privacy of its users and elicited increasing pressure from the Iranian government to try to control the platform.

The issue came to a brief fever pitch during the protests that erupted across the country during December 2017 and January 2018 when the government temporarily censored the app. But Telegram has been a bone of contention for some government officials for years.

The Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content within the Judiciary has deliberated on Telegram multiple times since October 2015, with concerns over the “immoral” content and misinformation that is rampant on the platform. However, it seems that pushback from moderate and reformist politicians, especially those attached to President Hassan Rouhani's administration, were previously able to prevent the platform from becoming censored.

Although the app has not yet been blocked — by all accounts, it is as usable as ever — statements about Telegram coming from officials within the Iranian government, and from across the spectrum of political factions, nevertheless seem to be driving Iranians to use Telegram less and less.

For example, on March 12, the head of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC), Seyed Abolhassan Firouzabadi, expressed the following:

البته در این راه خود مردم هم باید بررسی کنند که کسب و کارها و خدمات آموزشی و جدی خود را بر بستر خارجی صورت ندهند. زیرا به هر حال بستر خارجی به دلیل عدم تبعیت از قوانین جمهوری اسلامی هر لحظه امکان دارد که به طور موقت یا دائم فیلتر شود. به همین دلیل توصیه ما این است که مردم و خصوصا پایگاه‌هایی که کاربر زیادی دارند، حتما در یک پیام‌رسان ایرانی ارائه خدمت داشته باشند.

Of course, on this basis people should make sure that their educational and business activities are not dependent on external platforms. These external platforms may be temporarily or permanently filtered at any moment because of their non-compliance with the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. For this reason, we recommend that people, especially those with sites with lots of users, switch to Iranian messengers.

Many others in power shared his sentiment pushing Iranians away from Telegram–and towards local alternatives–through the fear of censorship.

The most influential statement, however, came from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader and the ultimate arbiter of Iranian politics and policy, who often has the final say in major national policy decisions.

So when on April 18 Khamenei posted on his official Telegram channel that he was ceasing his activity there, many saw it as a definitive sign that Telegram would soon become inaccessible in Iran:

⛔ توقف فعالیت KHAMENEI.IR در تلگرام

🔰در راستای پاسداشت منافع ملّی و برای رفع انحصار از پیام‌رسان تلگرام، پایگاه اطلاع‌رسانی دفتر حفظ و نشر آثار حضرت آیت‌الله العظمی خامنه‌ای (KHAMENEI.IR) فعالیت خود را در این پیام‌رسان، از این لحظه متوقف می‌کند.

🔹این اقدام KHAMENEI.IR که پیش از شروع برنامه‌ی رسمی نهادهای کشور در توقف استفاده از تلگرام انجام می‌شود، برای حمایت از پیام‌رسان‌های داخلی و رفع انحصار فضای مجازی از پیام‌رسان‌های غیرایرانی است.

📲از این پس اطلاع‌رسانی درباره اخبار و‌ مطالب مربوط به رهبر انقلاب اسلامی در پیام‌رسان‌های زیر انجام خواهد شد:

⛔The end to the activity of the Telegram of KHAMENEI.IR

🔰In order to protect national interests and to remove the monopoly that Telegram messenger maintains, the office of information for Ayatollah Khamenei will from this moment on stop disseminating his words and publications on this messenger.

🔹We started this KHAMENEI.IR initiative before the country's institutions launched an official program to support internal messengers and eliminate the monopoly of cyberspace from non-Iranian messengers.

📲 From now on, information about the news and articles related to the leader of the Islamic Revolution will be made on the following messengers:


Elsewhere, the supreme leader has offered only vague statements on whether he supports the decision to censor Telegram completely by the end of April.

For his part, President Hassan Rouhani expressed opposition to the move to block Telegram in an Instagram post dated April 23. But he also voiced his support for ending Telegram's “monopoly” over Iranian communications:

Instagram caption (and image translation): Removing a monopoly and helping to strengthen local messengers does not mean we have to limit other social networks. People have #the_right_to_choose and can work together to be active on various social networking platforms.

The twelfth government will protect cyberspace people ability to access and communicate with the public.

In a similar vein, the head of the presidential Strategic Management Center issued a directive to all government institutions to stop using Telegram for official communications.

If Telegram is banned and the move becomes permanent in the same way that Twitter and Facebook were blocked in 2009, it will indeed be a blow to Rouhani's rhetoric about providing a free and open internet for Iranians. In fact, a week before censorship was implemented during the 2017-2018 protests, Rouhani promised that “my minister is here and he promises not to place his finger on the filtering button…the ability for people to communicate with the world will be preserved. We're not looking to filter social networks.”

In many ways, Rouhani's ability to keep foreign social media platforms such as Telegram and Instagram unfiltered has been seen as one of the most significant progressive victories of his administration.

However, the president and the supreme leader are aligned in their desire to encourage Iranians to use local platforms, and to thus dismantle the so-called Telegram “monopoly” on mobile messaging in Iran. This follows the logic of the National Information Network (NIN), which the Rouhani administration has been working to establish. NIN is an effort to centralize all data and systems into technical infrastructures that are based inside the country–and therefore controlled by Iranian authorities. Naturally, it means moving away from foreign communications applications hosted outside of the country, like Telegram.

Although the technical censorship has yet to be implemented, these discussions warning of Telegram's imminent blocking have resulted in actual dips in Telegram usage amongst Iranians. Data across more than 700,000 Persian-language Telegram channels collected by the Social Networks Lab at the University of Tehran shows that since the announcement of Telegram's fate, usage has dropped to levels only previously seen when the platform was temporarily censored during the protests.

While only time will tell if authorities follow through on blocking Telegram at the end of this month, what is clear is that the uncertainty surrounding the situation has produced a chilling effect on the app with similar, if not the same, results as outright censorship.

by Mahsa Alimardani at April 25, 2018 12:26 PM

April 24, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Why did China take its own propaganda film offline? Netizens point to US tech sanctions

Amazing China ranked 1.1 out of 10 on IMDb. Screen shot.

Amazing China, a documentary film that displays China’s achievements in science, technology and poverty reduction under the leadership of Xi Jinping, had suddenly been taken offline.

In an April 19 letter to multimedia platform operators, the film's distributor, China film Co. Ltd, wrote:



We are grateful to your company’s support for our copyright business. In order to nourish a harmonious online environment, we are issuing an announcement about the distribution of “Amazing China”

We received notice from the leader of the propaganda department instructing all commercial online video platforms to take down [the film] until further notice. Please follow the instruction seriously and please accept our apology for the inconvenience caused.

The documentary film, which was based on a series of feature reports produced by the China Central Television, was released and shown in cinema on March 2, 2018.

As “Amazing China” is a major propaganda film, a majority of state and party affiliated organizations and companies were mobilized to watch the documentary. By April 14, the film had earned RMB 465 million yuan [approximately USD $105 million], setting a new record for documentary film earnings in China. Below is a trailer promoting the film.

There is no official explanation for why the film would affect China's “harmonious” online environment. Some have wondered if the take-down was just intended to extend the film's time in theaters.

However, Twitter user “Four seasons commentary” posted the take-down notice and speculated that the film was taken down as a response to the new US sanctions of ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications hardware company:

“Amazing China” said China has successfully developed quantum semi-conductors and conducted experiments on carbon nanotubes. Even the US has not mastered such advanced technology. Now that the ZTE incident has been exposed, the grand documentary has to be taken down all of a sudden. Who has harmed our country?

The above tweet references the putonghua pronunciation of Amazing China which is Li hai le, wo de guo. This can also mean “You have harmed my country.”

Last week, the US government banned American companies from doing business with China’s ZTE Corp for making false statements during an investigation of the company’s business deal with Iranian entities.

On Weibo, China's most popular social media platform, many users also see the US-China trade war and the ZTE incident as a heavy blow to China's image as a strong country.

A popular Weibo post said:


US sanctions on ZTE should have shattered the illusion of “Amazing China”. China was on the weak side in the US-China trade war and could only restrict agriculture imports to press Trump's voters in the agricultural section. But the real impact is small considering the US economy. On the other hand, the US has monopoly status in advanced technology – semiconductors, compression ignition engines, optics, biomedical, new materials, chemical, precision machine tools. Any sanctions on these technological sector products would hit the Chinese industry really hard.

Indeed, the incident has exposed China's vulnerability as a technology innovator. China relies heavily on the import of semiconductors for the manufacturing of computers, mobile phones, aircraft, vehicles and more. Currently, 60 percent of computer chips sold globally go to China every year.

But “Amazing China” tells a different story. The film presents China as a country that once imported chips but has ascended the ranks and now become a major chip exporter. It also suggests that China is leading the world in semiconductor technology.

As anticipated, people reacted to the contradictions between the film propaganda and what appears to be the real story. Twitter user Zhang Yujin said:

It has taken me some time to get a copy of “Amazing China,” a propaganda film for a new era. This is a grand production in which you see China as a chip export country which holds the largest number of chip patents. The scale of performance has broken the world record, etc. I am so confused. How come ZTE did not buy chips from the film director?

by Oiwan Lam at April 24, 2018 04:22 PM

April 23, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
#SOSNicaragua: At least 25 killed in Nicaragua protests, including one journalist, say human rights groups

Protesters killed in Nicaragua, confirmed by independent news site Confidencial. Photo compilation by Confidencial. Individual photos via various social media channels.

In Nicaragua, what began as demonstrations against social security reforms have become a national outcry against corruption, censorship and overall repression.

In just five days of demonstrations, the government has carried out a violent crackdown. While state sources are reporting a death toll of 10, human rights and protest groups estimate that at least 25 people have been killed in protests, with many more injured, and dozens detained or disappeared. One journalist and one police officer are among the dead.

Multiple TV networks have been banned from broadcasting the demonstrations. Access to Confidencial, a local independent news site reporting on the protester death toll, was faltering shortly before this article was published.

On April 18, the government – led by President Daniel Ortega and First Lady Rosario Murillo, who is also the vice president – unilaterally adopted an executive decree reducing the pension allowance by 5% and implementing additional social security taxes to employers and employees.

In response, retirees and students organized peaceful demonstrations to voice their disagreement but were met with anti-riot police forces and members of the Sandinista Youth parastatal group. Chaos erupted from there. Clashes have since turned violent and some protesters have reported that police are using live ammunition.

Video journalist Ángel Gahona was shot dead on April 21 while live broadcasting a protest through Facebook Live.

Other journalists have been attacked and assaulted, and have had their equipment stolen. In parallel, at least three TV channels were banned from reporting on the protests.

In a country where media freedom is fleeting, censorship has not deterred Nicaraguans, who are live broadcasting, tweeting and video blogging about the crisis on the ground.

Hashtags such as #SOSNicaragua, #SOSINSS and #QueSeRindaTuMadre have gone viral on Twitter and Facebook, and raw videos are being uploaded on Dropbox. Through online activism, Nicaraguans are pleading for international support — though they are specifically asking the US not to intervene.

Demonstrators in Managua. Screenshot from Euronews video.

While college students are the face of the movement, Nicaraguans from across the political spectrum are actively supporting them, starting with feminist and peasant groups, retirees, and students’ parents. This is why demonstrators stress they are not linked to a specific political party, but are making demands in the name of human rights and democracy in Nicaragua. The protestors call themselves “the self-organized, self-summoned.”

Journalist Wilfredo Miranda filmed a demonstration where protesters ironically shout “here is the minority,” in reference to Vice-President Murillo's belief that the outcry only represents a minority of Nicaraguans.

Since students have born the brunt of police killings and aggression, civilians are gathering supplies and medicines for them in universities and in the Managua Cathedral, as the Church backs the upheaval.

In a video posted to Facebook by Franklin Leonel, we see students and doctors caring for the wounded in university halls. In a caption, he writes:

No son pandilleros!!! #SOSNicaragua masacran a nuestros estudiantes!!!

They are not criminals!!! #SOSNicaragua they're killing our students!!!

The government’s official position has been shifting in public statements, but the state-enforced violence seems to continue.

President Ortega publicly ignored the protests for three days, before making an appearance on April 21. Military troops multiplied on the streets thereafter. Later, he declared that he was open to a dialogue with the private sector, who accepted the invitation under certain conditions, such as inviting other sectors of society at the table. President Ortega did not reply and instead repealed the social security reform altogether on April 22.

But the protests now have expanded beyond the cause of the social security reform. Demonstrators are demanding justice for those who have been killed by police and military gunfire, and are demanding an end to government corruption. Some are calling for the overall dissolution of Ortega’s government.

On Facebook, protest supporter Leonor Zúniga posted a video explaining the situation:

…the people are tired. It’s been 11 years that we’ve been in a very authoritarian [state], where we've been constantly repressed, where state decisions are made in secret, where we’re never taken into account.


I think that [the social security reform] was the last straw.

The now-repealed social security reform was, as Zúniga says, the last straw in a decline of government accountability, economic conditions, environmental degradation (including recent wildfires in the Indio Maíz nature reserve) and democratic institutions at large.

Nicaragua, a country of six million people, lived under the Somoza authoritarian regime until the Sandinista Revolution toppled the government in 1979. In the 1980s, a civil war raged between the Sandinista regime and the “Contras”, opposition fighters financed and armed by the US government. Daniel Ortega, a former guerrillero and member of the Sandinista National Liberal Front (FSLN in Spanish) was elected president in 1985. He remained in office until he lost a reelection bid in 1990, which brought about the end of the civil war.

Ortega was reelected in 2007 and has remained in power ever since. His tenure has been marked by the abolition of presidential term limits, an increasingly muzzled press, opaque business deals, and direct control over the police, the military and both the judiciary and legislative branches of government.

by Melissa Vida at April 23, 2018 06:37 PM

Troll farm takes aim at American audiences in new web campaign

Russian troll farm's latest media adventure is little more than a placeholder page at the moment. Screencap by Lawrence Alexander.

On April 4, 2018, RIA FAN, a self-described news organization with known connections to Saint Petersburg’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), revealed its plans to launch a brand new venture, entitled “USA Really”, within the next month.

The project, initially reported by EU vs Disinfo, takes a stance consistent with the anti-Western, anti-liberal narrative of previous Internet Research Agency efforts. Examples include the now defunct Russian language sites,, and, all registered in 2014.

The agency, also the subject of the 2015 eponymous exposé in the New York Times Magazine, grabbed international headlines again in 2016, before and after the presidential elections in the United States.

The IRA's previous attempt in 2014 to influence American audiences via a traveling photographic exhibition titled “Material Evidence”, has already been documented by RuNet Echo and others. The troll farm also produced a bizarre, scatological attempt at humor, “I am Ass”, aimed at US readers: (“There’s shit in Obamacare.” “Shit is in Health Care, in spy scandals.” “US National Debt is the biggest piece of shit.”)

Although “USA Really” is less crude, anti-American themes remain. As RIA FAN announced:

The information flow coming from the US and its allies, which is aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation, should not remain unanswered by the Russian media…The Federal News Agency (FAN) is not going to put up with the hegemony of the US authorities in the information field.

On April 4, 2018, at least nine different domains —,,,,,,, and — were registered using the moniker “usareally”. They all had different top-level domain extensions, perhaps chosen to provide superficial credibility for American audiences. The last domain is the only one with a Russian extension, and as yet, there is no site attached to it.

On closer examination, the project bears further hallmarks of Russian origins. For example, the designated mail server for ( belongs to the Russian Yandex service, even though the site's main contact e-mail ( gives no such indication.

In addition, viewing the site's source code reveals that its Google Fonts API address is set to support Cyrillic and Extended Cyrillic typefaces as a subset to the standard Western character set, though no Russian text is displayed to the reader. This may be a default setting left over from RIA FAN's many Russian-language sites:

Source code of Image by Lawrence Alexander.

Source code of Image by Lawrence Alexander.

But there are also more direct clues pointing specifically to the infamous troll farm. All but one of the domains was registered anonymously on April 4, 2018, through, part of — a Russian domain registrar that the Internet Research Agency has previously employed:

Most of the USAReally domains were registered using a Russian service, Reg.RU, centered on IP address Image by Lawrence Alexander.

Furthermore, overall domain anonymization was poorly realized, with including unredacted contact information under the name of Evgenii Zubarev, the CEO of RIA FAN, and similar “news agencies” sharing the same physical building and web infrastructure as the IRA. This includes a Russian Yandex e-mail address,, and a Saint Petersburg telephone number:

WHOIS information for

WHOIS information for Image by Lawrence Alexander.

The Internet Research Agency's network of anti-US and pro-Kremlin social media pages and sites, along with their allies and amplifiers, wasted no time in heralding the arrival of the project. On April 4, no more than a few hours after the USAReally domains had been registered, at least 20 such VK pages (including PolitDigest, Politstar and Putin Speaks) published links to the RIA FAN press release:

Pro-Kremlin VK pages amplify release announcing USAReally. Image by Lawrence Alexander.

In the press release, the “news agency” says it intends to recruit English-speaking contributors to assist with the project. To this end, offers readers a humble invitation: “if you need this job, e-mail us”:

Main page of Image by Lawrence Alexander

Main page of Image by Lawrence Alexander

It is clear that attempts to disguise the Russian and pro-Kremlin origins of the US-centred project have been both ill-conceived and quite limited. Links between the “Federal News Agency” and the Internet Research Agency have already been widely reported, and although six different domains have been registered, only one currently resolves to an active website.

At present, USAReally has probably received more attention from observers of pro-Kremlin propaganda on Twitter than from the uninformed readers for which it is intended:

If the project was indeed conceived by the Internet Research Agency as an exercise in covert disinformation against the United States, it seems unlikely that it will now fulfill this purpose.

by Lawrence Alexander at April 23, 2018 02:58 PM

Angolan authorities bring journalist Rafael Marques back to court, for investigating corruption

The journalist Rafael Marques in a seminar in Stanford in September 2016. Photo: YouTube screenshot/Stanford CDDRL

Angolan journalist Rafael Marques is once again being brought to court for his investigative work.

This time, Marques is facing charges of “insulting public authorities” after having published an article in October 2016 on the independent news website Maka Angola (of which he is the founder and editor) that raised questions over possible corruption against now-former Attorney General João Maria de Souza.

Mariano Lourenço, chief editor of the newspaper O Crime, which published the article in print, is facing the same charges. Marques is also being accused of “offending an organ of sovereignty” for allegedly having offended the ex-president José Eduardo dos Santos in the same piece.

The article reveals the ex-Attorney General’s acquisition of three hectares of land (around four football fields) in 2011, for 600,000 kwanzas (2,500 USD), to construct a residential compound. It is a beach front property in the city of Porto Amboim, around 220 km south of the capital Luanda, according to documents obtained by Maka Angola.

Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola has been under the leadership of the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), the party of the current president João Lourenço, who was elected in August 2017. Lourenço replaced José Eduardo dos Santos, who was in power for over 35 years and headed a government accused of human rights abuses and restrictions on freedom of expression, with journalists and critics frequently harassed.

Souza's attorneys say that the Angolan journalists published the article a year after he lost the land's concession for failing to pay its fees. Rafael Marques’ defense contends that there nevertheless have been irregularities in the land's acquisition.

His lawyer Horácio Junjuvili told Deutsche Welle in March:

“A factualidade apontada pelo Ministério Público incide diretamente sobre a liberdade de imprensa e de expressão. Nestes termos, o que começa por estar em julgamento neste caso é a liberdade de imprensa, designadamente no que tange ao combate à corrupção.”

The facts indicated by the prosecutor directly concern the freedom of the press and of expression. In those terms, what is on trial in this case is the freedom of the press, specifically when it concerns the fight against corruption.

Charges were first brought against Marques in December 2017. The trial finally began on 19 March. The last hearing, scheduled for 16 April, was canceled due to the absence of João Maria de Souza, who argued that, as a retired judge, he could claim immunity from the proceedings and thus decline to be brought before the Provincial Court of Angola.

The judge presiding over the case determined that João Maria de Souza will be compelled to appear on 24 April in one of the rooms of the Public Prosecutor's Office, behind closed doors.

A longstanding target of the authorities

This is not the first time that Marques has faced prosecution for his journalistic work in Angola. In 1999, he spent 42 days in prison, without any formal charge against him, after having published a piece in which he described then-president José Eduardo dos Santos as a “corrupt dictator”.

In 2016, he was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine for publishing the book Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola (Diamantes de Sangue: Tortura e Corrupção em Angola), edited in Portugal in 2011, which denounces human rights abuses in the country’s diamond mines. Marques was accused of libel against mining companies and Angolan army generals involved in the diamond trade.

In May 2016, following pressure by international and civil society organizations, all the accusations against Marques relating to the book were withdrawn by Angola’s authorities.

According to Marques’ then defense lawyer, David Mendes, this trial has seen a series of irregularities, among them the fact that the court declined to hear testimony from experts and witnesses, apart from Marques himself. He told DW at the time:

“Para quem acompanhou o processo, viu-se que não houve discussão da causa. Foi ouvido o réu mas não foi discutida a matéria fática ou seja os factos não foram discutidos. Ouviu-se o réu e as testemunhas e os declarantes foram dispensados. O juiz não pode decidir com aquilo que vem da instrução. Então não havia razão de haver um julgamento. […] O julgamento só serve para o apuramento das razões facticas da justificação ou não dos elementos constituintes do crime. Não foi discutido o crime, não foram discutidas as matérias que teriam levado a convicção do tribunal. De onde o tribunal partiu da convicção para condenar?

For those who followed the trial, they saw that there was no discussion of the case. The defendant was heard but the factual matter was not discussed, that is, the facts were not discussed. The defendant was heard, but witnesses and speakers were dismissed. The judge cannot decide with that what comes from the hearing. Then there was no reason to have a trial […] A trial only serves to verify the factual reasons for the justification or not of the constituent elements of the crime. The crime was not discussed, the issues which would have persuaded the court were not discussed. Where did the court’s certainty come from to pass sentence?

The Portuguese editor of Tinta da China made available a free PDF download of the book Blood Diamonds.

Harassment of human rights activists

When it comes to people working to uncover human rights violations, Rafael Marques is not the only one to face pressure from the Angolan government.

In one case, known as 15+2, a group of activists was arrested in June 2015 during a group study session on Angolan politics, focusing on the book From Dictatorship to Democracy by the American writer Gene Sharp, which proposes peaceful forms of protest.

In March 2016, the courts gave them prison sentences varying from six months to two years and three months, accused of preparing rebellion and conspiracy. In May 2016, the sentences were reduced to house arrest.

Another activist targeted by authorities is José Marcos Mavungo, founder of the human rights organization, the Mpalabanda Civic Association of Cabinda (Mpalabanda Associação Civica de Cabinda). Mavungo was detained in March 2015, accused of rebellion, and later sentenced to six years in prison. In May 2016 he was freed due to “lack of evidence”.

Cabinda, currently an enclave of Angola north of the River Congo, was a Portuguese protectorate from 1885 to 1956, when the colonial administration decided to govern the region from Angola, but without the agreement of local leaders. Since the 1960s, the region has faced an armed separatist insurgency that intensified after the independence of Angola, which inherited sovereignty over the area from the Portuguese.

The conflict has caused a lot of suffering to Cabinda’s people. Over the years, various international organizations have criticized Angola’s military operations in Cabinda for human rights violations and restrictions on freedom of expression.

In December 2017, 28 activists belonging to the organization Association for the Development of Human Rights Culture (ADCDH) in Cabinda were detained when they were preparing to participate in a peaceful demonstration. They were freed the same day.

by Dércio Tsandzana at April 23, 2018 02:40 PM

April 22, 2018

Joi Ito
Earth Day Energy Summit 2018 in Hawaii

On Friday, I spoke at the Elemental Excelerator Earth Day Energy Summit in Honolulu. The discussion was about the push for Hawaii to become 100% free of fossil fuels.

It reminded me of when my mother and I lived in Hawaii in the 80s and she was working with the late Senator Dick Matsuura and others to explore the idea. My mother and father worked for Energy Conversion Devices (ECD). (I got my first job working with computers as a 13-year-old at ECD. I would later join the board of directors from 1995 - 2000.) ECD was a pioneer in the field of solar power having created the first amorphous photovoltaic cells and the first roll-to-roll process for manufacturing them. ECD was founded by the late Stanford Ovshinsky who was a great mentor to me. I remembered how 30 years ago, solar in Hawaii seemed like an obvious idea, but a somewhat dreamy one.

It was truly exciting to see solar energy become a reality and the goal of a solar powered Hawaii within reach. Huge congrats to everyone who has gotten us so far.

Saturday, I participated in a board meeting of the Excelerator (as an advisor) which is doing an amazing job supporting renewable energy companies.

My mother loved Hawaii and when she died in 1995, we buried half of her ashes in our grave of 17 generations in Iwate at our family home. The other half of her ashes were released into the ocean off of Maui in a traditional Hawaiian ceremony. It was a full circle connection to my mother and her dreams of a solar powered Hawaii and my current role working on climate and energy issues with my friends at the Emerson Elemental.

by Joi at April 22, 2018 03:48 PM

April 20, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Chinese netizens’ #IamLGBT campaign pushes change at Weibo

Image remixed from Wikimedia. CC: AT-SA.

The viral social media campaign #IamLGBT (#我是同性戀) has successfully pressured China’s most popular social media platform, Weibo, to scale back its censorship of LGBT content.

The shift does not signal an end to the silencing of LGBT voices online, but it demonstrates a significant departure from the company's standard line.

On April 13, Weibo announced plans to launch a three-month crackdown on cartoon, game and multimedia content, in accordance with China's cybersecurity law, which emphasizes ideological control and “socialist core values” as key components of maintaining state security. The law does not explicitly address content reflecting LGBT topics.

The company specifically stated that content related to LGBT topics would be targeted, and that it had already deleted 56,243 posts, removed 108 user accounts and shut down 62 topical discussion threads.

On the next day, “LGBT voices”, a popular LGBT user account made an announcement on their Weibo:

【公告】由于不可抗力原因,同志之声微博编辑部将无限期暂停工作。在暂停工作期间,我们将不再使用@同志之声 官方微博更新任何同志资讯。感谢新浪微博多年来对同志之声的支持与帮助!感谢2009年至今关注同志之声的微博读者:你的每一次评论、转发与点赞,都是在完成一次对爱的发声。愿明天会更好!

[Public announcement] Due to matters beyond our control, the Weibo editorial of LGBT voices will cease operations indefinitely. During this period, we will not use the official Weibo of LGBT voices to publish updates on LGBT news. We want to express our thanks to Weibo for supporting LGBT voices all these years. I want to thank Weibo users who have been supporting us since 2009. Every comment, like and share is a voice out for love. Let’s hope we have a better tomorrow.

The above message was shared for more than 37,000 times.

Soon after the news spread, a large number of Weibo users began posting the hashtag #IamLGBT to protest the censorship. In less than one week, the hashtag had been used 500 thousand times garnered roughly 500 million views. Censorship authorities attempted to crack down on the online protest by deleting the topical pages, but could not keep apace with users as they continued speaking out and as mainstream media outlets outside China began to followed the story.

Under the pressure of strong public opinion, the People’s Daily (an official publication of the Chinese Communist Party) published a memorandum on April 15 stating that LGBT content should not be confused with vulgar, violent or pornographic content.

The next day, Weibo amended its announcement stating that its three-month censorship measures would not specifically target at LGBT content, but would focus only on vulgar, pornographic and violent content.

The LGBT voices account on Weibo restored its operation with another announcement on April 16:

【公告:#同志之声微博恢复更新#】感谢每一位参与发声的你。没有阿声的 48 小时所发生的一切,足以证明:发声才有可能改变。@同志之声 微博编辑部即刻重新出发!—— 48 小时内,全因有你:同志之声 7 年前发起的 #我是同性戀# 微博话题阅读量超过 5 亿,超越 #撑同志反歧视# 成为中国互联网历史上最高阅读量的同志微博话题;48 小时内,世界十大报纸、党和政府的《人民日报》撰稿发文为同志发声;@微博管理员 最终修正错误决定,不再将同性恋列入违规内容清查范围。

——以上所有,都将被历史铭记。同志公益事业的路上,有你更有力量!我们将继续不遗余力传播健康的、科学的、有见地的同志资讯,让公众更客观、更科学地了解同志群体,从而消除歧视。同志之声也将不忘初心,继续在多领域为中国 LGBT 群体服务。

[Public announcement: #LGBT voices restores its operation#] Thank you so much for speaking out. What has happened in the last 48 hours could prove that just by speaking out, one can bring change. The editorial of @LGBT voices can continue again — within 48 hours because of you. The hashtag #IamLGBT, which we started using seven years ago, accumulated more than 500 million views. It became the most read LGBT topic surpassing the hashtag #SupportLGBT against discrimination in China’s internet history. Within 48 hours, more than 10 media outlets outside China and the government and party affiliated People’s Daily spoke out on the issue. @Weibo admin has amended its decision and will no longer list LGBT content in its censorship list.

All of this should be recorded in history. With you standing by us, LGBT community work will remain strong. We will continue to spread healthy, scientific and informative LGBT content so that the public will develop a more comprehensive and scientific understanding of the LGBT community. This is the best way to tackle discrimination. LGBT voices will stick to our mission and continue serving the Chinese LGBT community.

But this is just one barrier lifted, among many others that remain firmly in place.

The Weibo censorship announcement was not an isolated incident, nor was it a random mistake made by the company. It was the result of pressure from the censorship authorities. LGBT content has been a target of censorship crackdowns in recent years. WeChat user @Freedom-404 has documented the following LGBT content censorship incidents (via China Digital Times):

March 2018: A screening of the award-winning film, Call me by your name, was cancelled at the Beijing Film Festival. The movie, which tells the love story of a homosexual couple, won the Best Adapted Screenplay at the US Academy Awards and was nominated for the Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Original Music.

May 2017: Local media outlet, Metropolis Weekly, prepared a special feature for the International Day Against Homophobia. The outlet was forced to withdraw the series of reports.

June 2017: The Online Audio Visual Service Provider Association issued a guideline demanding that online platforms censor content related to abnormal sexual behaviors including incest, homosexuality, sexual violence, sadism and masochism. Soon after, online audio and visual content platforms, including and Youku had taken down a significant proportion of its LGBT content.

July 2017: When feminist scholar Li Yinhe spoke out for the LGBT community against the crackdown, her account was suspended for three months.

July 2015: A popular online video program, “Should I come out to my parents?” was banned by the the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The official reason for the ban was that the guests were too sympathetic to “abnormal” sexual behavior and that the program challenged conventional values and morality.

Weibo’s amended decision and the reappearance of LGBT voices will probably do well to temper public outrage, but it doesn’t mean that LGBT content will be spared from the latest censorship crackdown.

by Oiwan Lam at April 20, 2018 06:38 PM

April 19, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Russia is blocking millions of IP addresses, all because of the Telegram #IPocalypse

Blocking Telegram in Russia is easier said than done. Image mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

On April 16, Russia’s state media watchdog started blocking Telegram, the popular messaging app. Or at least it tried to.

The ban followed an April 13 court ruling asserting that Telegram had broken the law when the company refused to hand its data encryption keys to Russian security services.

In response, the Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor, which has no powers of its own to block websites, began sending orders to Russian ISPs to make Telegram’s IP addresses unavailable to Russian users.

This marked the beginning of a cat-and-mouse game in which Telegram reverted to cloud backup services provided by Amazon and Google. This in turn caused Roskomnadzor to start banning entire subnets containing millions of IP addresses in what is being referred to on social media as the #IPocalypse. Myriad business sites, communication platforms including Viber, Slack and Evernote, and nearly all websites hosted by Digital Ocean have been rendered inaccessible over the past three days. Just before this report was published, users reported that Microsoft Azure also had become inaccessible.

Ironically, Telegram itself is still up and running.

Will Iran follow Russia’s lead on Telegram?

Days after Russia announced its ban, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei announced that government entities would no longer be using Telegram, but instead would be promoting local social media networks. Global Voices’ Mahsa Alimardani told The Verge that though it “definitely seems more likely” that this could lead to an all-out ban on the service, it remains unclear whether the announcement signals a move toward shutting down Telegram in Iran.

Dear Facebook users: unless you’re in Europe, the GDPR won’t save you

With the European Union’s highly anticipated General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) set to take effect on May 25, technology companies and users are trying to make sense of what the changes will mean for people in and outside of the EU.

Currently, the accounts of all Facebook users outside the US are governed by terms of service set by the company’s international headquarters in Ireland, which is part of the EU. But on April 17, Facebook told Reuters that it will be changing its terms of service so that only EU-based Facebook users will benefit from the privacy protections of the new EU rules.

Once in effect, the data of users outside the EU — all 1.5 billion of them — will instead be governed by US privacy laws, which are less comprehensive and more lenient by far than the EU framework.

Facebook’s WiFi Express is collecting user data in Kenya — but how much?

In Kenya, Facebook’s WiFi Express program may be collecting more user data than users realize. The program offers low-cost WiFi hotspots at bus stations, markets and meeting areas, in a partnership with ISPs wherein Facebook provides the WiFi hardware and ISPs provide the connection. The program is also running in Tanzania, Indonesia, India and Nigeria.

According to The Daily Nation, Facebook made an agreement with Ubiquiti, the company that built the WiFi hotspot operating systems, in which Facebook would be allowed to “insert its own software, or, as one industry insider described it, ‘little black box’, into each access point.” It remains unclear precisely how much or how little data these systems are capturing. But in light of recent events surrounding the unauthorized use of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, it may be cause for concern.

Singaporean free speech advocates harassed at congressional hearing on disinformation

A congressional committee in Singapore conducted 50 hours of public hearings on the issue of “deliberate online falsehoods,” or disinformation. Representatives from Twitter, Facebook, and Google, various academic and policy groups and civil society organizations spoke.

Civil society members who argued against creating new legislation to curb the spread of disinformation reported that they were “harangued, harassed, threatened and misrepresented” in the hearings. Multiple speakers were interrogated about their previous writings and research, but not invited to offer their opinions on the matter at hand.

Tanzania’s new ‘blogger tax’ is already taking a toll on free speech

As of March 2018, Tanzanian bloggers must register and pay over USD $900 per year to publish online. The new rule is the result of updates to the east African country’s Electronic and Postal Communications Regulation. Another update imposes prohibitions on content including nudity, hate speech, extreme violence, “content that causes annoyance” and fake news. The new rule has taken effect swiftly. Just this week, pop music artists Diamond Platinumz and Nandi were arrested for having allegedly posted “indecent” content on social media.

Google updates App Engine, nixes ‘domain fronting’

In a recent update to the company’s App Engine, Google eliminated “domain fronting”, a technical maneuver that had become an important loophole for circumventing online censorship. Services like Signal, and Psiphon’s VPN services had used Google as a proxy, through which they could route traffic, to mask its actual origins. While the company is aware of the ways in which websites and services used the loophole, Google told The Verge that this was never an intended feature of their system.

Egyptian ISPs could face criminal charges if they refuse to block websites

Internet service providers in Egypt will soon be vulnerable to criminal prosecution if they refuse to block online content. Under Article 31 of Egypt’s pending cybercrime law, ISP administrators could be subject to up to one year in prison and a fine of LE $500,000 for disobeying censorship orders issued by the Criminal Court. Under the terms of the law, such a move would constitute a “threat to Egypt’s national security.”

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by Netizen Report Team at April 19, 2018 06:11 PM

April 18, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Will Singapore's plan to combat ‘deliberate online falsehoods’ stifle free speech?

Screenshot of YouTube video during the Parliamentary committee hearing on “Deliberate Online Falsehoods.” Some civil society groups questioned why witnesses were subjected to intense interrogation during the hearings as if they were accused of doing something wrong.

A committee was created by Singapore Parliament in January 2018 to address the problem of “deliberate online falsehoods”, or disinformation on the internet.

The committee's mandate is to examine “causes, consequences, and countermeasures” related to the spread of disinformation. In a rare move for Singapore, the committee solicited the views of the public and held public hearings to discuss various sides of the issue.

Alongside 170 written submissions, the committee received and heard the presentations of 65 individuals and organizations over the course of 50 hours of public hearings. Written statements represented the views of diverse groups which included media organizations, technology companies such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google, academics, policy experts, religious groups, civil society organizations, and even foreign offices like the Russian embassy.

Charles Chong, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, summarized the work of the committee after the public hearings concluded on March 29:

We heard how there is no one silver bullet and how we need a suite of different measures to address this complex problem, including public education, media literacy, fact checking, quality journalism, technology and legislation.

We heard evidence about how current laws had limits of scope, speed and adaptability and why we need new legislative levers…Some witnesses were opposed to any legislation at all, even if today’s laws were inadequate in countering the harms posed by deliberate online falsehoods.

Chong's summary touched on a key area of dispute, but did not directly acknowledge the committee's treatment of civil society members who oppose creating new legislation.

Civil society members ‘harangued’ and ‘harassed’ at hearings

Although a wide range of voices were heard, civil society members who argued against new legislation reported that they were “harangued, harassed, threatened and misrepresented” in the hearings.

In contrast to the official summary, artist Alfian Sa'at offered this observation:

What I see are some activists and academics trying to give their views in good faith. But rather than being listened to like citizens representing the spectrum of political views in Singapore society, they are instead treated with sneering hostility, as if they were not witnesses giving evidence but the accused.

It seems as if the effect is to intimidate those with contrary views from making submissions to the government in the future. How can this ever be good for Singapore?

Some participants even used the hearings as an opportunity to directly undercut the work of civil society and academia.

Singapore Community Action Network reported that historian Dr. Thum Ping Tjin was questioned for six hours “over his work and expertise on Singapore history and whether there was evidence of a Communist United Front conspiracy in the 1950s and 1960s.” Although the historian had submitted recommendations on how to mitigate online disinformation, the committee did not ask or allow him to address these.

The group also described the committee's questioning of writer Kirsten Han, who is also a Global Voices contributor.

Kirsten Han was questioned over an article she had written for an online news publication. It was suggested that she had presented a misleading picture within the article. It was not clear how this was relevant to the Select Committee’s Terms of Reference. The exchange ended with Committee member Edwin Tong issuing a veiled threat that Ms Han had “not yet” been sued or jailed.

Some submissions to the hearings took a similar tack. A paper submitted by the People's Action Party Policy Forum (affiliated with the ruling party which has been in power since the 1960s) focused mainly on refuting the December 2017 report of Human Rights Watch about the decline of free speech in Singapore. It argued that the report is based on deliberate online falsehoods.

Due process, public education…or a ‘fact-checking council'?

While some maintain that Singapore's legal framework is already sufficiently equipped to address legal aspects of the issue, others (many of them lawmakers) argue that new legislation or regulatory measures are needed.

The senior editors of Channel News Asia, a mainstream media company, proposed that Singapore establish a “fact-checking council”:

It will be useful to establish a “fact checking” council, committee or body made up of diverse representatives to assess and thereafter designate ‘deliberate online falsehoods’ as specifically defined. This council should be independent, transparent and be able to react to emergent ‘deliberate online falsehoods’ quickly.

It should include Singaporean representatives from academia, NGOs, civil society, including from the legal community, and other social groups that are representative of Singapore society. Its mandate must include identifying ‘deliberate online falsehoods’ and thereafter recommending appropriate remedial actions.

Singapore Press Holdings, the country’s leading media company, argued that quality journalism is necessary to fight “fake news”:

The best antidote to “fake news”, or deliberate online falsehoods, is quality journalism – journalism that is accurate, objective, purposeful, credible and reliable.

The company suggested that if Parliament were to draft legislation on the issue, the new law should focus on the “unregulated sphere of online content” and social media distributors:

Legislation that restricts the investigative and reporting power of the media would hit the wrong target, as newsrooms already have rigorous and effective mechanisms to check and counter falsehoods. It might also inadvertently curb the media’s ability to fulfill its critical role in informing society, or to remain credible in the eyes of its readers.

Another protection against overly broad legislation would be the involvement of the judiciary in dealing with disinformation. The Association of Women for Action and Research touched upon this issue in their comments:

To prevent the measure from being overbroad, it is important that such restrictions must always be dependent on a judicial finding of that harm materializing. The involvement of the judiciary is a vital check and balance for this purpose.

One popular recommendation was the promotion of public education as a countermeasure to disinformation. The National Council of Churches of Singapore explained its position:

…the most important way to counter fake news is public education. Helping the public to acquire media literacy and learn how to spot fake news can counter their harmful effects in ways that legislation alone is unable to do…Such education should also be provided in schools and universities to enable young people to be more judicious in their consumption of media.

In tandem with several civil society organizations, independent news website The Online Citizen asserted that Singapore has adequate laws to deal with ‘deliberate online falsehoods.’ It also referred to extant media regulations, charging that they already represent a significant threat to democracy:

…the biggest threat to the stability and growth of the democratic process in Singapore is the government’s control of the media and information.

It urged the government instead to practice greater transparency.

To combat falsehoods online or spread through social networks, legislation is not the way forward but a few steps back. The best way is to allow citizens to gain access to more sources of information and for them to develop a questioning and critical mindset on what is true or false, whether the information is from official or independent sources.

Kirsten Han emphasized her opposition to measures that would codify a centralized practice of censorship and content removal requests (to private social media companies):

I am opposed to measures that would give a sole body the power and authority to decide what content can or cannot be accessed by the population. It is my view that such censorship — enacted, for example, via executive takedown orders that would compel a social network to remove content — would curb freedom of expression and have a chilling effect on public discourse in Singapore.

The Parliament will resume its deliberations about the issue next month.

by Mong Palatino at April 18, 2018 11:52 PM

April 16, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Liberian journalists detained, slapped with US 1.8 million lawsuit amid political feud

Monrovia at night. Photo by blk24ga via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

The Liberian daily newspaper FrontPage Africa (FPA) is facing a US $1.8 million civil defamation lawsuit triggered by a family feud over a deceased politician's estate.

FPA has been accused of underwriting and publishing a defamatory advertisement that appears in its print edition in mid-March 2018. Placed by family members of deceased former Liberian Attorney General Lawrence K. Morgan, the advert warned readers that the administrators of Morgan's estate, Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah, had no authorization to “lease, sell, collect rents, or transact any other business” on behalf of the estate.

In response, Morgan and Konah sued the newspaper. On April 5, a court ordered the closure of the offices of FPA. On April 9, seven of the newspaper's staff were arrested and their office was sealed off. Detained staff were released the same day and their office reopened after the newspaper paid a US $5,000 bond.

Lead staff at the newspaper said the adverts were placed by other members of the Morgan family, in an apparent internal family dispute over the estate. FPA retracted the advert once confronted by Morgan and Konah, but the two nevertheless filed suit.

Although the advert was published in several other newspapers, only FPA has faced consequences.

There is now speculation that Konah, who is an influential member of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change party (CDC), used the advert as a vehicle for attacking the newspaper, in retaliation for its critical reporting about the government.

Screenshot of FPA Managing Editor, Rodney Sieh (L) speaking to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) correspondent in their New York office about defamation laws in Liberia.

Kamara A. Kamara, former president of the Press Union of Liberia, spoke with Global Voices (GV) to explain the murky history behind the advert and the resulting libel suit against FPA:

A segment of the family had issued an advert in several newspapers indicating that some people in the family did not have the authority to transact business on their behalf. Later the people who were listed as not having the authority of the family [Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah] confronted FrontPage Africa to retract the advert which the newspaper did.

This was initially a private family matter but later became political. One of those involved [Moses T. Konah] in the family dispute was a candidate in the last elections and an influential member of CDC [Congress for Democratic Change], the ruling party…The newspaper had some issues with the government. This family dispute was then hijacked by the state to fight FrontPage Africa.

Despite Konah's close ties to the ruling CDC, the Liberian Ministry of Information has denied involvement in the press freedom feud. On April 9, the Ministry issued a public statement asserting that:

the closure of the FrontPage Africa newspaper and arrest of some of its staff was not on the orders of the government of Liberia.

Family feud reveals political motives for press shut down

Liberian President George Weah promised in his January 2018  inaugural address to build upon the legacy of “democratic empowerment” from his predecessor Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf “in protecting the rights of Liberians and providing even greater freedom.”

Yet Weah's party recently accused FPA owner and managing editor Rodney D. Sieh of “unprofessional attacks on the presidency.”

At a recent press conference, Jefferson Koijee, a member of the CDC and the Mayor of Monrovia, directly warned Sieh:

[do not] use the media to launch your selfish, cruel agenda, because Liberia needs to be developed and this is the best moment.

Just a few weeks before the lawsuit was filed, FPA triggered frustration in the government when it reported on President Weah's decision to sack the head of Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), an autonomous agency established to ensure “transparency in Liberia’s forestry, oil, mining, and agricultural plantation sectors. It has the legal mandate to publish company contracts and the money they pay to the government.”

President Weah unilaterally fired Konah Karmo, Head of LEITI Secretariat, and then took extralegal measures to hire a political ally, CDC member Gabriel Nyenkan. The Daily Observer explained:

Following President Weah’s announcement, Mr. Nyekan stormed the offices of the LEITI secretariat with armed police officers in tow and demanded that its head Konah Karmo leave the building. Karmo is reported to have complied with Nyekan’s orders given at virtual gunpoint.

A report by FPA asserted that the move “blatantly contravenes the Act that created the [LEITI] agency.”

Defamation suit silences the press

Only a few weeks after FPA reported on the LEITI scandal, the newspaper was slammed with the crippling libel civil lawsuit, leading many press freedom activists to believe that FPA is indeed being targeted for its critical reporting on the government.

Global Witness argues that:

Defamation suits should not be used to silence the press, and in this case FrontPage Africa is being penalized months before the newspaper even has its first court date. The order to seize assets, including its office, must be rescinded immediately – as should the performance bond imposed upon the paper… Liberian democracy requires independent voices and impartial information, like that provided by Front Page Africa and LEITI. President Weah should ensure that Liberia’s press – including the vital Front Page Africa – remains free, and reinstate LEITI’s Secretariat Head Konah Karmo.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern over the US $1.8 million libel lawsuit against FPA “that has long been the subject of complaints and harassment for its critical reporting on successive governments.”

Former Press Union President Kamara asserted that the move looks more like an attack on FPA for its critical stance:

Why didn't Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah also involve other newspapers who published the said advert in this defamation suit? That's why it looks like an attack on FrontPage Africa for its critical stance against the government. To get people arrested in face of a civil case is repugnant. Civil offences should be fought using civil means. To arrest someone based on an allegation of a civil action is an affront to free speech. Imprisoning people on these laws is a criminalization of free speech which is critical to media freedom.

by Nwachukwu Egbunike at April 16, 2018 08:13 PM

As Russian court announces Telegram ban, users stand defiant, amused… and worried

Russia bans Telegram; collage by RuNet Echo

As a Moscow court ordered the ban of messenger app Telegram on April 13, 2018, Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin tried to sound reassuring: those who want to keep using it, he said, “will look for ways to bypass the blocking.” In a rare moment of consensus with the Russian authorities, many Telegram users agreed.

Though conceived as a messenger app similar to WhatsApp, Telegram earned its popularity in Russia thanks to its “channels,” a blogging platform somewhere between Twitter and Facebook which quickly attracted political commentators, journalists and officials. Telegram channels are a booming business, too: they are widely used in political and corporate wars. Last year Vedomosti, a business newspaper, claimed that political ads (or damaging leaks) on Telegram's most popular channels could cost as much as 450,000 rubles ($7,500.)

But Telegram's CEO Pavel Durov has repeatedly and vocally refused to comply with the demand of Russian security services to give up the messenger's encryption keys. And as the year-long battle between Telegram and the Russian authorities seemed to draw to a close with the decision to block the app, reaction to the announcement has been passionate and often derisive.

“Russia has finally become the world's second largest economy after China! At least in the field of permanently blocking Telegram,” Kristina Potupchik, formerly a press officer for a pro-Kremlin youth movement, wrote.

Many channels took a defiant stance, encouraging their followers to find ways around the blocking. “They are blocking us, and we get stronger!” the author of the “Deer of Nizhny Novgorod,” a channel focused on politics in the Nizhny Novgorod region, wrote on April 13. Like several other channels, the “Deer of Nizhny Novgorod” then linked to detailed explanations on how to circumvent the blocking of Telegram using a VPN or Virtual Private Network. “If you’re not a grandmother, you’ll be able to do it very easily and quickly,” he added.

But not all agree that cheating your way out of a government ban on your favorite messenger is a walk in the park:

When you majored in liberal arts and are now trying to figure out how Telegram proxies work

Channels dedicated to Russian politics and the inner workings of the Kremlin –among the most popular on the platform– also largely claimed they were not worried by the ban. “About 85% of our users have installed one [a VPN] in the last 24 hours. If you haven’t, here are the instructions,” channel “Karaulny” (The Sentinel) told its 66,000+ followers. The owner of “Nezygar” (“Not Zygar”, a play on the name of Mikhail Zygar, a Russian political journalist and author of the best-selling book All the Kremlin's Men), one of the most influential political channels with 133,000 followers, told Russian outlet RBC the ban “confirmed Telegram’s status as an independent platform.” “Nezygar will stay on the platform and won’t move to another,” he added.

Others took a different road. Sergey Boyarskiy, the deputy of the ruling party United Russia, published on Twitter a video showing himself theatrically deleting Telegram from his smartphone:

I am following the court decision. I abide by the laws of the Russian Federation.

Chechnya's strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who was banned from Instagram in December 2017, also said he would not try to make any attempts to bypass the blocking. Instead, Kadyrov told the Russian press agency TASS, he would switch to “Mylistory,” an obscure Instagram clone developed in Chechnya.

More likely contenders in the race to snap Telegram’s user base if they leave the platform are Viber and TamTam, two messenger apps which have also emphasized their “channels” feature. The latter, which belongs to the Russian digital giant, put timely ads in three Russian business newspaper on the day Telegram’s blocking was announced by a Moscow court. In Vedomosti and Kommersant, the full-page ad showed this message: “Just in case, we’re here.” The ad was more tailored in “Business Petersburg,” reading “Channels 2,000 times bigger than in Petersburg,” a reference to the city’s many water canals (which is the same word in Russian.)

Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social network (designed and developed by the same Pavel Durov who now owns Telegram), also announced a program to promote Telegram channels with more than 1,000 subscribers who are ready to switch to Vkontakte.

Not all Telegram users are confident that the app will survive the blocking unscathed, however. The owner of “Cello case” (a hint at Putin's longtime friend and accomplished cellist Sergey Roldugin who got astronomically and inexplicably rich, according to the Panama Papers,) a channel followed by more than 142,000 people, told the RBC outlet its daily view count could drop by half if the blocking is enforced. Mash, a news channel with more than 280,000 followers created by the former deputy head of pro-Kremlin media empire Life wrote on Telegram it would continue publishing on the messenger app… before promptly listing all the other social networks on which it is present. “All the top admins are really feeling the blues,” the owner of the channel “Akitipol” (the Russian word “politics” in reverse, followed by more than 15,000 people) told the news channel 360.

So far, Telegram remains available in Russia, though sources have told the Interfax news agency that blocking could start as early as April 16.

by RuNet Echo at April 16, 2018 06:15 AM

April 13, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Around the World, Activists Demand Answers From Facebook

“Planet Facebook or Planet Earth?” 2010 map of Facebook's social graph, by Paul Butler.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced hearing before the US Congress this week, digital rights advocates around the world publicly shared testimony of their own, giving voice to the experiences of millions of users who have struggled with harassment, discrimination and threats of violence on the platform.

Civil society groups in Sri Lanka issued an open letter to Zuckerberg citing multiple instances in which the company had failed to implement its own “Community Standards.” The letter emphasizes Sri Lanka’s civil war, which officially ended in 2009 but from which the country is still recovering.

The authors cite a March 2018 Facebook post, shared amid violent religious riots in central Sri Lanka, that called for the “killing of all Muslims, without sparing even a child, because they are dogs.” Despite being reported multiple times, the post remained live on Facebook for six days, with the company first replying that the post did not violate its Community Standards.

In a separate open letter, advocates for human rights in Vietnam plainly asked: “Is Facebook coordinating with a government known for cracking down on expression?”

The group noted that Facebook Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert met with the Vietnamese minister of information and communications and reportedly agreed to coordinate in the monitoring and removal of content. They went on to describe how the Vietnamese government’s “cyber army” of thousands of online trolls has exploited Facebook’s platform and tools, “coordinating mass reporting of activist accounts and celebrating their accomplishments when accounts and pages are taken down by Facebook.”

And civil society advocates in Myanmar took Facebook to task after Zuckerberg held up the company’s work in Myanmar as an example of strong engagement in a time of crisis, at the peak of the Myanmar military’s assault on the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017.

The group described Facebook’s efforts to curb calls for violence against Rohingya people as “the very opposite of effective moderation” and said the company demonstrated “a reticence to engage local stakeholders around systemic solutions and a lack of transparency.”

Calls of this nature have come from the US as well. Data for Black Lives, a US-based network of scientists, activists, and organizers, called attention to evidence of racial and economic discrimination in Facebook’s platform and advertising technology. The group implored Facebook to commit their data to a “public data trust” that would allow researchers to study it “in service of the public interest” and to hire more African-Americans on their product and engineering teams.

In a broad-based response to the hearings, Facebook has pledged to improve transparency in ads and pages, and to allow academic researchers greater access to internal information to inform independent research on the platform. Time will tell if these measures will help to improve upon the many acute issues raised in the letters above.

Vietnam issues harsh prison sentences to six activists

Six activists, all but one of whom were active in the blogosphere, were convicted of subversion after a one-day trial in Hanoi. With sentences ranging between seven and 15 years behind bars, they are facing the harshest punishments to be issued by Vietnam's one-party state in years. Loa, a podcast produced by pro-democracy group Viet Tan, reported that activist Trương Minh Đức said in court, “I have no regrets. Today you put me on trial but tomorrow it may be you on trial.”

Rights defender Ahmed Mansoor appears before UAE court

More than a year after security officers arrested and detained Ahmed Mansoor, the Emirati human rights defender finally appeared in court for a hearing. He was detained in an undisclosed location for more than a year. It is not publicly known whether he has been officially charged yet, or what has happened thus far in court proceedings.. Authorities accuse him of using social media websites to “publish false information that harms national unity.”

Chinese authorities can’t take a joke

Authorities in China ordered a ban on NeihanShequ, a popular app for jokes and riddles, arguing that its content has become too “vulgar” and “banal.” Neihan allowed users to submit jokes and riddles in multimedia format, for others to comment on and vote up or down. Zhang Yiming, the CEO of Neihan parent company Toutiao, offered a public apology and promised that Toutiao will strengthen self-censorship measures by increasing the pre-screen staff team from 6,000 to 10,000 people.

More than 1 million Indonesians affected by Cambridge Analytica abuse

In an April 5 press release, Facebook announced that the personal data of more than 1 million Indonesians may have been accessed and used by Cambridge Analytica in its work on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Indonesia’s information and communications minister said he would not hesitate to block Facebook nationwide if officials find that this personal data was exploited or misused.

Guatemalan trolls attack UN-backed impunity investigator

The Intercept published an in-depth report on the activities of quasi-professional internet trolls in Guatemala, where a UN commission is investigating corruption and campaign finance in the administration of President Jimmy Morales. Over the past year, Colombian judge Iván Velásquez, who leads the commission, has become the primary target of a coordinated campaign of political harassment and online disinformation.

US Homeland Security ramps up plans to monitor journalists

The US Department of Homeland Security announced that it plans to develop a database of journalists and media influencers in order to track their coverage and online activities. The database will reportedly include “journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers” and endeavor to “identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event.”

Twitter has suspended more than 1.2 million accounts for ‘terrorist content’

In its 12th biannual transparency report, Twitter announced that it has suspended more than 1.2 million accounts over “terrorist content” since August 2015. From July-December 2017, it suspended more than 274,000 accounts for the same reason. According to the company blog, 93% of these accounts were “flagged by internal, proprietary tools” (i.e. not humans) while accounts reported to the company by governments accounted for less than 0.2% of the total suspensions.

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by Netizen Report Team at April 13, 2018 07:50 PM

April 12, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Will Tanzanian Bloggers Pay Up or Push Back Against ‘Blogger Tax'?

A man stands in the street in Stone Town, Zanzibar, checking his phone. Photo by Pernille Bærendtsen, used with permission.

Blogging has been popular in Tanzania for more than a decade, enabling writers and independent journalists to express views and report news that might not otherwise appear in mainstream media. But as of last month, this kind of work will come with a price tag.

On March 16, 2018, the United Republic of Tanzania issued the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations demanding that bloggers must register and pay over USD $900 per year to publish online.

Application 2. These Regulations shall apply to online content including: (a) application services licensees; (b) bloggers; (c) internet cafes; (d) online content hosts; (e) online forums; (f) online radio or television; (g) social media; (h) subscribers and users of online content; and (i) any other related online content.

The new regulations have far-reaching implications for freedom of expression and human rights. Bloggers must fill out official regulatory forms and avoid publishing prohibited content including nudity, hate speech, explicit sex acts, extreme violence, “content that causes annoyance” fake news, and “bad language” among other restrictions.

The new regulations grant unrestrained power to the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to prescribe and proscribe. Under Part II, Number 4, TCRA then has the authority:

(a) to keep register of bloggers, online forums, online radio and online television;
(b) to take action against non-compliance to these Regulations, including to order removal of prohibited content

iAfrikan News further explains:

Online content publishers (blogs, podcasts, videos) will apply for a license at a fee of 100,000 Tanzanian Shillings (44 USD) pay an initial license fee of 1,000,000 Tanzanian Shillings (440 USD) and an annual license fee of 1,000,000 Tanzanian Shillings (440 USD). This means to run something as simple as a personal blog (text) if you live in Tanzania, you’d have to spend an initial (approximately) $900 (USD) in license fees.

One immediate public concern regarding the new regulations is their ambiguity. In his latest post, blogger Ben Taylor analyzed the content of the regulations, taking note of a lack of clear definitions:

The first thing to note is that these regulations are very unclear on several important points. Some terms – such as ‘online content provider’ and ‘online content service provider’ – are never defined. Are these the same thing? In other places, the title given to a section of the regulations bears no relation to its content – section 7, for example, has ‘bloggers’ in the title but nothing relevant to bloggers in the content. There are spelling and grammatical errors throughout. And perhaps most bizarrely, the main section on applications for online content service licenses – section 14 – doesn’t even require that applicants must submit their application – only that they must ‘fill in an application form’ – or say where it should be submitted.

Taylor raises essential questions throughout his analysis. No one yet knows how these regulations will be interpreted by the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), the police or the courts.

What is clear is that breaches of the new law will be punishable with a fine of “not less than five million Tanzanian shillings” (around USD $2,500), or imprisonment for “not less than 12 months or both.”

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) issued a policy brief on the new regulation, warning against its ambiguity in certain sections:

…[The] regulations should be reviewed and amended to have clear, unambiguous definitions and wording, and quash the requirement for registration of bloggers and users of similar online platforms. It is also essential that not too much power is vested in TCRA with regards to content take-downs and that diversity in content availability online is promoted. The obligations set out should not turn content service providers and publishers into monitors, by handing them responsibility such as use of moderating tools to filter content, conducting content review before publication, and undertaking mechanisms to identify sources of content.

Blogging as alternative news in Tanzania

Blogging emerged in Tanzania around 2007 and became popular as an alternative news platform with educated, middle class people, as well as politicians and political parties.

In Tanzania, where media historically holds strong ties to government interests, blogging opened up possibilities for individuals to establish private news outlets that proved immensely powerful in terms of reach and readership.

Before the rise of mobile apps, access to a stable Internet connected and laptop were imperative for bloggers. This set a relatively high barrier to participation for people with limited income.

Michuzi blog, launched in 2005 by Issa Michuzi, who is known as the ‘father of all Swahili blogs’, was one of the earliest and most widely read blogs in Tanzania, often reporting on politics and news, with thousands of readers per day. Michuzi was the first in Tanzania to see blogging as a business. He managed to keep his content free and accessible yet clearly capitalized on the power of ads to generate income.

Although Tanzania's poverty rate fell from 60 percent in 2007 to an estimated 47 percent in 2016, nearly 12 million Tanzanians still live in extreme poverty.

Internet access remains low at approximately 45 percent as of 2017. With a population of about 60 million people and 31 percent residing in urban areas, blogging is still out of reach for most.

According to Tanzania Bloggers Network Secretary-General Krantz Mwantepele, as quoted in The Citizen, many Tanzanian bloggers cannot afford these fees because the “license applications and annual subscriptions are way beyond earnings of many bloggers.”

Will Tanzanian bloggers push back or pay up in a tense political climate?

Blogging continues to be a ‘new frontier’ for young Africans seeking new platforms to connect, discuss and analyze. With the rise of mobile apps, Tanzanian youth are online more than ever with nearly 60 percent on Facebook alone in 2017.

Yet restrictions on freedom of expression pose a real challenge to social media users in Tanzania. While the constitution allows for freedom of speech, it does not guarantee press freedom. A set of media regulations provide Tanzanian authorities with the capacity to restrict media based on arguments of national security.

Authorities have become increasingly reliant on these rules as political tensions have risen over the past three years. Since the presidential elections in 2015, Tanzania's opposition has been restricted by a ban on opposition rallies and the stifling of independent media, sanctions, intimidation, and punishment of citizens for criticising President John P. Magufuli of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Swahili for ‘Revolutionary Party’).

The country's Cybercrimes Act, passed in 2015, has played a significant role in stifling dissent. In 2015 and 2016 alone, at least 14 Tanzanians were arrested and prosecuted under the law, for insulting the president on social media.

In December 2016, Tanzanian police arrested Maxence Melo, founder and director of Jamii Forums, a hugely popular Tanzanian online community, for refusing to disclose information on its members, a demand made under the Cybercrimes Act. Melo was released after five days, but his arrest revealed disturbing implications for anyone writing and speaking actively online in forums and blogs in Tanzania.

Most recently, Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendelo (CHADEMA, Swahili for ‘Party for Democracy and Progress’), Tanzania's largest opposition party, recently requested international intervention in the increasingly tense political situation characterized by the arrests of prominent opposition leaders. On February 16, 2018, a young student was killed allegedly by a stray-bullet, and several others were injured as the police dispersed an opposition rally in Dar es Salaam.

These new regulations appear to be less about taxation but rather a convenient tool and part of a wider process to limit freedom of speech and participatory multiparty politics in Tanzania.

by Nwachukwu Egbunike at April 12, 2018 03:50 PM

April 11, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Ugandan Government Plans to Tax Social Media Users for Too Much Gossip

As Ugandan president Museveni plans a social media tax to curb gossip, netizens are concerned over freedom of expression. Image by Pixabay via CC0 Creative Commons, used with permission.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni wants social media users to suffer the consequences of their gossip — and to bolster the national budget at the same time.

In early April 2018, Museveni directed the Ministry of Finance to introduce taxes on “over the top” communication platforms (OTTs) such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

In Museveni's view, social media users use these platforms for what he called ‘lugambo’ (meaning gossip in Lugwere). In a statement quoted by The Daily Monitor, Musveni explained his position:

I am not going to propose a tax on internet use for educational, research or reference purposes… these must remain free. However, lugambo on social media (opinions, prejudices, insults, friendly chats) and advertisements by Google and I do not know who else must pay tax because we need resources to cope with the consequences of their lugambo…

The president accused the Finance Ministry and Uganda Revenue Authority of not working hard enough to identify new sources of taxes, lamenting that the government currently lacks tax income.

The government's attention to “over-the-top” applications raises a long-standing issue that many governments have taken with IP-based (Internet Protocol) communication applications, such as WhatsApp, which are free of charge for any person with internet access. Government actors (in Uganda and many other countries) have long voiced concern about losses in revenue for national telecom operators that were once the primary providers (and cost beneficiaries) of these services.

Museveni assures citizens that this tax will not affect those who use the internet for educational purposes, arguing that it will only affect those who spend time online engaging in idle gossip.

In an opinion piece for The Daily Monitor, Daniel Bill Opio called the social media tax “regressive”:

Social media being a widely used platform for communication, and most importantly as means to access of information, imposing of taxes thereon will be an impediment to the enjoyment of various rights.

Indeed, officials have offered no information about how (or by whom) social media content will be judged for its quality. If gossip or rumors take a political tone, could this lead to taxation or even indirect censorship of political criticism?

Netizens have also expressed doubts about the economic rationale behind the proposal. Democratic Party President Norbert Mao wrote on his Facebook page:

At a time when other countries are cutting the costs of internet, President Museveni wants to increase its cost. We actually need to aspire to making internet free.

Some are questioning whether these taxes will truly benefit Ugandans or if they will be used for Museveni's personal gains, as has been alleged in the past:

The fact that social media was blocked twice on election day in Uganda on February 18, 2016, and during the swearing in of the president in May 2016 discourages poet and human rights lawyer Kizza Ebron:

Eron goes on to compare social media to a public highway:

Kyambadde Ronald, a health and social justice advocate, tweets:

Internet World Stats reports that Uganda currently has about 19 million internet subscribers, with 43 percent of the population online. The move to tax social media users could increase the digital gap if cost barriers rise.

This is only one way in which spaces for civic engagement are shrinking in Uganda. A January 2018 report from Unwanted Witness, a Ugandan NGO, painted a dim picture for free expression online in Uganda:

2017 registered the highest number of Ugandans ever arrested for their online expression and these arrests are clearly targeted crackdown on free flow of information and speech on the Internet.

In March 2018, the Uganda Communications Commission put out a directive to all online content creators to register their websites, creating yet another barrier to free expression online. The directive read:

All online data communication service providers, including online publishers, online news platforms, online radio and television operators are therefore, advised to apply and obtain authorisation from the Commission with immediate effect.

As of now, it is still not clear how the “gossip tax” will be implemented or monitored, or when it will take effect.

by Prudence Nyamishana at April 11, 2018 08:46 PM

No Laughing Matter: China Shuts Down Popular Joke-Sharing App

NeihanShequ's application icon on Android phone.

Authorities in China have ordered a ban on NeihanShequ, a popular app for jokes and riddles, arguing that Neihan content has become too “vulgar” and “banal”.

On April 10, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China (SAPPRFT) ordered Toutiao or Today’s Headline, China’s most popular information platform, to shut down its affiliated social media application, NeihanShequ (內涵段子). Neihan allowed users to submit jokes and riddles in multimedia format, for others to comment on and vote up or down.

SAPPRFT’s press release on April 10 stated:


During the supervision of Toutiao’s rectification, SAPPRFT discovered that the company’s affiliated content application and public account, NeihanShequ, is heading a wrong direction with its vulgar and banal content. Netizens have strong reaction against such content. To maintain the order of internet visual and audio content and provide a clean environment, SAPPRFT ordered NeihanShequ to shut down its application and public account permanently. The company [Toutaio] has to learn the lesson and clean up audio visual content products with similar nature.

Launched in 2012, NeihanShequ’s application has had more than 14 million downloads. The application is a rising star among a dozen more popular content applications affiliated with Toutiao, which had an estimated USD $22 billion market value in August 2017.

The company’s CEO Zhang Yiming issued a public apology in response to SAPPRFT’s order:


I sincerely apologize to the supervision authority, our users and colleagues. The product has taken a wrong direction against the socialist core value and has not fulfilled the responsibility of public opinion channeling. I accept the punishment and I should be the one taking all the responsibility.

Zhang also promised that Toutiao will strengthen self-censorship measures by increasing the pre-screen staff team from 6,000 to 10,000 people.

The public reaction to the ban has been strong — many have expressed their frustration through humor, in keeping with the spirit of Neihan.

Some Neihan community members have created flashmob videos mourning the shutdown of the site. Most of these videos also have been taken down from public domain, but some are still available. Here is one backup video on Facebook in which people collectively sing a mourning song.

A widely circulated remix image mourning the shutdown of NeihanShequ.

Although most of the multimedia content mourning the shutdown has been censored, text content is still searchable. A widely circulated mourning statement read:


Weibo was turned into a zombie. WeChat was trapped in countless circles. And then, the loyal short video fighter, the great joker, family storyteller, our friend Neihan left the world on 10 April 2018. He lived for 2,314 days.

Trees and grass shed tears, fellows are in grief. Our friend Neihan lies in peace upon green pine leaves, covered with a colourful flag which symbolizes what he pursued throughout his life.

Tencent and Weibo could not attend the mourning because their accounts had been suspended. WeChat was incommunicado. QQ was undergoing system maintenance.

International friends including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook sent their condolences. Toutiao and Netease News sent flowers. Kuaipai, Houshan, Tik Tok attended the mourning in person and bowed to Neihan.

Other netizens have suggested that the ban was motivated mainly by the strength of the Neihan community, which could be seen as a threat to power, rather than by vulgarity or banality as stated by authorities.

低俗只是个借口 微博就没有低俗内容? 只是段友现在已经发展的太庞大了

Vulgarity is just an excuse. Weibo also has vulgar content. The main reason is that the community of Neihan was getting too strong.


Shutting down Neihan permanently. Are you afraid that the users’ organization power is stronger than a certain Party?


A country, a government, a supervision department. They are all scared of a joke-sharing application, this is such a joke.

Others have reflected on the strength of Neihan as a community and described the values that brought users together:

内涵段子,不低俗,不色情。 段友四不笑、不笑贫穷、不笑疾病、不笑天灾、不笑人祸,段友三不黑,不黑育人之师,不黑护国之军,不黑救人之医。 如有违规者,不是不知情就是故意,违规的这些人根本算不上段友也不配。 虽然内涵不在,但段友永在 嘀~嘀嘀

Neihan’s posts are far from vulgar and obscene. The community has a set of common values. They would not laugh at poverty, sickness, disaster or accident. They would not mock teachers, soldiers, doctors. The community looks down on those who violate the shared code. Though there is no more Neihan, the community still exists. Di-didi [Neihan's secret code].

我希望我还来得及说出这句话。人生真的很短,内涵段子陪我走了两年,很多个夜晚都是它陪我度过,它真的让我在最孤独的日子里开心过,没心没肺的笑过。听说马上就要下架了,我真的希望是谣言,假如真的以后都没有这个软件了,我希望大家不要忘记这它,我希望若干年后我还在马路上听到滴 滴滴我相信你们

I hope I can still share my feelings. Life is short and Neihan has accompanied me for two years. When I was lonely, I spent the nights with the app and had a good laugh. Now that it has to be shut down, I hope this is a rumor. But if it turns out to be true, I hope people won’t forget about it and I can still hear di didi [a secret code shared by Neihan community] when I walk down the street many years later. I believe in you all.

Neihan is not the only target in this latest crackdown. Authorities seem to be focused on multimedia content platforms, as content-based censorship on these platforms can be difficult.

Two other multimedia content platforms affiliated with Toutiao are under pressure to clean up their content. Tik Tok, a music video social media application, activated an “anti-addiction” function on April 10. Houshan, a video selfie-sharing application, has been temporary taken down by SAPPRFT.

Kauishou, a popular image sharing app, was pressured to hire 3,000 new staff to pre-screen its content after SAPPRFT issued a temporary take-down notice early this month.

by Oiwan Lam at April 11, 2018 03:19 PM

April 10, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
By Attempting to Curb Disinformation on Slain Politician Marielle Franco, a Brazilian Judge Hands Facebook Censorship Powers

In the aftermath of her death, activist Marielle Franco was the subject of an online disinformation campaign in Brazil. Photo: Daniel Arrhakis/Flickr, CC-BY-NC 2.0

A Brazilian judge has ordered Facebook to remove all current posts that offend the “image, honor and privacy” of slain politician Marielle Franco — and all future posts of the same nature.  This could set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech online in the country.

Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes were killed in a drive-by shooting on the night of the March 14. Franco, 38, was a vocal critic of local police violence. Soon after her murder, false reports claiming she had been married to a drug lord and that she was elected with the support of a criminal group began circulating online, among other unqualified rumors.

Marielle's widow and sister filed separate libel claims against Facebook and Google in an effort to get the stories removed from search results and social media. In both cases, the courts ruled in their favor.

Facebook was ordered to not only remove published posts, which were identified by the plaintiffs, but also any future posts that offend Franco's “image, honor and privacy.”

If the company fails to comply, Facebook could face a penalty of 500,000 Brazilian reais (USD $150,000) and a country-wide block of its services.

Facebook Brazil declared that it will remove “the specific content identified in the court records,” and didn't acknowledge what it would do about posts made after the ruling. At the time of writing, there were still several false or distorted stories about Franco from ultra-partisan websites circulating on Facebook.

The ruling also orders Facebook to provide the authorities with the names and IP addresses of users who shared the false stories, even if those users had subsequently deleted the posts, so that Marielle's family could take legal actions against them.

It is unclear how the ruling will be enforced. A blanket prohibition on all content offensive to Marielle Franco would effectively grant the social network censorship powers by demanding it to commit to monitoring its users’ posts indefinitely.

It would also go against Brazil's Marco Civil, the internationally acclaimed bill of rights for the internet passed in 2014.

Testing the limits of the Marco Civil

In his decision, appeals court judge Jansen Novelle acknowledged that the ruling crosses the lines drawn by Marco Civil, writing that “given the abundance of proof, it will not observe Marco Civil's rules on content removal.”

Under Marco Civil, websites like Facebook can be held liable for content published by third parties — i.e. users — if they fail to comply with a court order for content removal.

But for this type of court order to be considered valid and actionable, it must include a specific, live link or URL to the content in question. This effectively means that the law does not provide for removal of duplicated versions of outlawed content, or for “future” postings, as indicated in Judge Nouvelle's ruling.

In February, Brazil's Superior Court of Justice reversed a court decision ordering Google to suppress offensive videos that had been scraped from YouTube, based on the limitations provided by the Marco Civil.

A dangerous precedent

For Paulo Rená, a researcher at the Beta Institute for Internet and Democracy who helped draft the Marco Civil, the current ruling will be virtually impossible to comply with.

Speaking with Global Voices, he said: “The safest way for Facebook to comply with such a ruling is to remove any content with the name of Marielle, and this is what scares us.”

In Rená's opinion, Marco Civil's objective was never to “clean up the internet”, but to enshrine rights and duties for internet users and service and application providers.

“While it's important to take measures preserve's Marielle's memory, it isn't by removing content that this will be achieved,” he said. He continued: “What could be done is, after determining who created the content, for her family to take legal action against them, not the platform. We can't keep pretending that the people who create this content are nameless and invisible.”

He added that Novelle's decision could set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech in Brazil, particularly with looming elections in October, in which the country will vote for president, state governors and legislative seats at federal and state level.

“If every opinion that offends the official image of a candidate is removed, we risk having the most one-dimensional elections of all time. It would be a shame if Marielle, a rights advocate, were to become the precursor of this.”

This post was updated on April 10 at 5:30 PM GMT. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Beta Institute for Internet and Democracy was affiliated with the University of Brasília. The Institute is simply based in the city of Brasília.

by Taisa Sganzerla at April 10, 2018 02:21 PM

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