Berkman Alumni, Friends, and Spinoffs

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

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

August 14, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Facebook bans 196 pages in Brazil, attempting to rein in abuse and disinformation

An advertising campaign by Facebook, urging users to avoid “fake” accounts, seen in Chicago, US. Photo by Kevin Tao via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

On July 25, 2018, Facebook banned 196 pages and 87 profiles based in Brazil, several of which were associated with the conservative group Movimento Brasil Livre (Free Brazil Movement, or MBL), which has played a pivotal role in the rise of online conservatism in Brazil. The pages had a combined total of 500,000 followers.

Shortly thereafter, MBL published a note calling the removals “arbitrary” and accusing Facebook of exercising a political bias against “right-wing leaders and institutions”.

The move comes as Facebook continues to face condemnation and threats of regulatory restrictions in the US, India and the EU, where allegations of disinformation and political agendas promoted by fake accounts reached a tipping point in early 2018. Just last week, the company removed multiple pages associated with the right-wing conspiracy theorist website InfoWars from its platform, reasoning that the website disseminates false information and encourages hate speech, both of which stand in violation of Facebook's policies. Major platforms including Apple and YouTube took similar measures on the same day, citing a similar rationale.

This is not the first time MBL has found itself at odds with Facebook's policies. In May, Facebook partnered with two fact-checking agencies in Brazil, Aos Fatos and Agência Lupa, both part of International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). Facebook’s move was met with a campaign by MBL, who called the move “an attack on freedom of expression”. They proceeded to discredit the agencies reputations and sharing personal posts and data off their staff in an effort to prove their “leftist bias”.

In an official statement following the removals in Brazil, the company claimed the decision to delete the accounts came after “a rigorous investigation” and that the pages and profiles were part of “a coordinated network that hide under the use of fake accounts and hide the true nature and origin of its content with the purpose of generating divisiveness and spread misinformation”. The note continues:

As ações que estamos anunciando hoje fazem parte de nosso trabalho permanente para identificar e agir contra pessoas mal intencionadas que violam nossos Padrões da Comunidade. Nós estamos agindo apenas sobre as Páginas e os Perfis que violaram diretamente nossas políticas, mas continuaremos alertas para este e outros tipos de abuso, e removeremos quaisquer conteúdos adicionais que forem identificados por ferir as regras.

The actions we are announcing today are part of our ongoing work to identify and act against ill-intended people that violate community standards. We are acting only against pages and profiles that have violated our policies, but we will continue to watch for other types of abuse, and we will remove any additional content that we identify as having violated our rules.

Who is MBL?

MBL was at the forefront of the demonstrations in 2015 calling for the impeachment of ex-President Dilma Rousseff and represents a key player in the rise of conservative, right-wing political views in Brazil over the past five years.

The movement's growth over the past four years has accelerated thanks to Facebook, where MBL has more than 2.8 million followers.

Despite having described itself as a liberal movement – which in Latin America mainly means defending minimal government – MBL has consistently taken conservative stances, for example positioning itself against the legalization of abortion and education policies regarding gender in school.

An in-depth 2015 report by Agencia Publica identified an association between MBL and the US-based libertarian organization, Students for Liberty, in what appears to have allowed Students for Liberty to receive donations from US groups including the Koch brothers.

What does Facebook have to do with it?

One especially prominent example of MBL's online disinformation tactics emerged after the March 2018 murder of Rio de Janeiro city Councilwoman Marielle Franco, who was an outspoken advocate for human rights protections and criminal justice reform.

False rumors that Franco had been involved with drug trafficking groups started to spread through the internet just a day after her death.

A crucial node in this groundswell of fake news was an article published by Ceticismo Político, a relatively small right-wing website with 25,000 followers on Facebook. MBL, with its million-strong following base, shared Ceticismo’s publication, boosting its reach into the hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook and millions of impressions on Twitter.

At the time, Facebook banned Ceticismo Político’s page, but didn’t touch MBL’s. While MBL denied any ties with Ceticismo Político’s owners, an investigation by O Globo newspaper suggested that the groups were in constant communication with each other.

Facebook provided MBL with fertile ground for amplifying and spreading these lies. As journalist Denis R. Burgierman observed in a piece for Nexo, Facebook's technology rewards and amplifies speech that seems to spark interest — even if that “interest” is not authentic:

Só que essa estratégia é imperfeita porque o algoritmo pode ser enganado: com dinheiro, movimentos sociais podem ser falsificados. Uma maneira de fraudar o Facebook é criar um ecossistema falso: centenas de páginas e perfis que na verdade estão todos sob um mesmo comando, e que compartilham conteúdos ao mesmo tempo, para se fingir de multidão. Isso é um jeito de ludibriar o algoritmo, fabricando a sensação de que algo interessa a muita gente…

The problem is that this strategy is imperfect, because the algorithm can be tricked: with money, social movements can be faked. One way of fraud it is to create a false ecosystem: hundreds of pages and profiles, that are actually under the same command, sharing content all at the same time, to pretend a crowd is doing it. This is one way of cheating the algorithm, fabricating the feeling that a topic interests to a lot of people…

When Facebook changed its the algorithm in late 2017 in an effort to give preference to personal posts instead of commercial pages, MBL felt its engagement falling. In March, a report by O Globo newspaper revealed that the group was using an app called Voxer to share its content inside the network. Voxer created post in personal timelines as if they were spontaneous. The app was banned by Facebook after for violating its rules.

How to cheat an algorithm

After a federal prosecutor demanded the information from Facebook, the company published a list of all the usernames and pages that it banned in this recent effort on August 6. Among the pages is the same one that spread false rumors about Marielle Franco.

Pablo Ortellado, a philosopher and professor at University of São Paulo analyzed it the list as follows:

O conjunto sugere uma prática altamente sofisticada de atrair usuários com temas populares, do futebol ao funk, passando pela busca de emprego e o humor. As páginas provavelmente alternavam publicações de todos esses temas com links de notícias e desiformação…enganando os usuários e o algoritmo da plataforma. (…) E é ainda bastante provável que o Facebook tenha derrubado apenas o pedaço da rede que estava ligado com esses perfis falsos, já que a página principal do MBL ficou no ar — se isso for mesmo verdade, a rede do MBL no Facebook pode ser muitas vezes maior.

The set of pages and profiles suggests a highly sophisticated practice of attracting users with popular themes, from football or funk music to job posts and comedy. The pages were likely alternating between posting links related to these themes and links to news and disinformation…[thus] tricking users and the platform’s algorithm. […] It is also likely that Facebook took down only a chunk of the fake profiles network connected to MBL, since their main page is still available — if that is true, MBL’s network inside Facebook might be much bigger.

Since the removal of pages and profiles, several right wing outlets and personalities have accused the company of censorship.

But for Miguel Lago, political scientist and one of the founders of the NGO Nossas Cidades, the platform that “gestated MBL” is not censoring it:

O Facebook não está ferindo a liberdade de expressão de nenhum deles. É um princípio básico o de que toda argumentação deva ser bem fundamentada. A liberdade de se expressar não pode ser usada como desculpa para professar mentiras impunemente.

Facebook is not hurting freedom of expression to anyone of them. It is a basic principle that all argumentation has to be well substantiated. The freedom to express oneself should not be used as an excuse to profess lies unpunished.

While it is true that Facebook and other similar platforms enable free speech at an unprecedented scale, they are typically unable to consistently enforce their own policies related to abuse, hate speech and disinformation. With consistent enforcement, pages like those of MBL or Alex Jones’ InfoWars might never have lasted on Facebook, as moderators would have swiftly seen that they were violating the company's policies.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at August 14, 2018 03:19 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Can the "creator economy" survive if creators are all broke?
The “creator” economy is made up of companies that host platforms, of social media, of marketing dollars, and of course, the talent uploading and sharing their music, comedy, photographs, and videos. Some of those creators make a living, but most of them don't. Gaby Dunn knows first-hand the emotional rollercoaster of the creator economy; of never being sure if her videos or other work will pay off by the time rent is due. And that's despite being a proven online success. Dunn has translated her online presence into a podcast, several book deals, and also a career as a prolific screenwriter, editor, actor, and comedian. We talk with her about what it means to make a career as a "creator," even though she's not a huge fan of the term. (08/14/2018)

by Marketplace at August 14, 2018 10:57 AM

August 13, 2018

Global Voices
In Pakistan's elections, animals were tortured for the sake of political stunts

A dog was wrapped up in the banner of a political party and shot. Screenshot of a video uploaded on Facebook by the page Innocent Pets Shelter Welfare Society.

Activists in Pakistan tortured animals during and after the 25 July 2018 general elections in efforts to make political stunts, images shared online show.

People were seen painting, beating and even killing animals that have been dressed to represent political opponents in a campaign that had already been marred by violence. Separate bomb attacks targeting political rallies claimed the lives of more than 150 people leading up the vote on July 25.

Former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is due to become Pakistan's next prime-minister after his party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (“Pakistan Movement for Justice”, known as PTI) secured a majority of seats on the polls, defeating the former rulers of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

In a video [Warning: graphic content] that went viral on July 27, a dog wrapped with PTI flag is seen being shot three times by a man carrying the flag of the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP), while surrounded by what seems to be other supporters of the losing candidate.

Following the reactions on social media, police of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province arrested two suspects in the city of Bannu, where the video was recorded, and later released a confession by the two men.

The Prevention of Cruelty of Animals Act enacted in 1890 was amended earlier this year to include higher fines and up to three months prison time. This was the first time the updated punishments were applied.

The losing contender, whose photo is displayed on the party flag carried by the shooters, has since released a video (in Pashto, a language spoken by 15 percent of Pakistan's population) condemning the act and stating he has no connection with the men in the video.

He has also entertained the possibility of the video having being staged by his opponents to discredit him and demanded an investigation.

On another photo that also made the rounds on Twitter, a man is seen holding a crow by its feet as a crowd celebrates the local victory of the PTI:

In Karachi, people wrote a rival candidate's name on a donkey and beat up the animal. Following heated social media reactions, the Foundation for Animal Rescue team took the donkey to their shelter, where he was named ‘Hero’.

The donkey, unfortunately, didn't survive the beating.

Many people have expressed anger on social media over all the animal cruelty. Lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani tweeted:

In the country's previous election, in 2013, a white tiger that was frequently paraded at the rallies of Mariam Nawaz — the daughter of Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N leader — died by heat exhaustion.

In this year's poll, a candidate of the PML-N has also paraded a lion in his constituency, also drawing criticism.

In an interview with Global Voices, Naeem Abbas, Advocacy Manager for Brookes Animal Protection Society, pondered on the reasons why abusers are not punished:

Animals have always been abused but this is the first time police have taken action in an animal abuse case. Also, we have a culture in which if someone is caught they get away by paying a bribe.

by Umaima Ahmed at August 13, 2018 06:10 PM

The capture of Mozambique’s notorious criminal Nini Satar meets sceptical public reaction

During his first day back behind bars, Nini said that he would get out soon | First page of SAVANA, 3 August 2018 | Photo taken by the author

This case centers on Momade Assife Abdul Satar, better known as Nini, one of those sentenced for the killing in November 2000 of Carlos Cardoso, a Mozambican journalist who exposed a government corruption scandal and founder of the country's first journalist cooperative.

Nini's conditional release was revoked and an international arrest warrant was issued by Maputo City’s Judicial Court which was used to detain him in Thailand, on 25 July 2018.

He got a conditional release in September 2014 after completing half of his 24-year sentence. One of the reasons given by the prison management for recommending his conditional release was that he had shown remorse for his crimes.

But according to a communique released by the Attorney General's Office in 2017, Nini led a criminal organization and kidnapped Mozambicans with the intention of demanding huge amounts of money.

During his time outside the cells, Nini constantly posted on Facebook messages criticizing Mozambique’s justice system, as well as some political figures.

TV analyst Tomás Vieira Mário said that he did not understand the reasons which led to Nini’s release, and he even considered such a decision to be a failure of Mozambique’s justice system:

O que é comportar-se bem? Quer dizer o que precisamente? Quais são os referendos que são usados para alguém com crimes dessa natureza poder sair em liberdade condicional e depois mais tarde autorizar-se lhe que vá para o estrangeiro em termos mais ou menos indefinidos.

What is behaving well? What does that mean exactly? What are the choices taken which are used for somebody with crimes of this nature to be able to get out on conditional release and later be authorized to go abroad on more or less indefinite terms.

Return to prison

After his arrest in Thailand, he was found to be in possession of a false passport under the name Sahime Mohammad Aslam.

South African press reported that Nini is also involved in kidnapping cases, but this has yet to be confirmed by Mozambican authorities who are still waiting for an official statement from the South African government.

Although authorities have not discussed details, it is known that kidnapping is prominent in the charges which should once again bring Nini to the dock.

It should be noted that, in relation to these cases, a public prosecutor and defendants accused of direct or indirect involvement have already been murdered.

In a video uploaded to Youtube, one could see the moment when Nini left Bangkok airport to be extradited to Maputo:

On social media, Nini’s capture and extradition sparked debate, in particular many questioned the reasons behind his release in 2014 and his fugitive status, since Nini repeatedly made public appearances. Jenny Baptista, Facebook user, remarked:

Que notícia mais estúpida! Estava mesmo foragido o Nini Satar que quase diariamente postava de tudo no Facebook e algumas vezes com localização? Ja não sabem o que inventar?

What stupid news! Nini Satar was really a fugitive that posted everything almost daily on Facebook and sometimes with the location? They don’t know what to make up anymore?

Caliste Meque Meque, member of Renamo (main opposition party), even questioned if Nini could be considered a fugitive, as it was the Mozambican courts that approved his release:

Nini Satar saiu em liberdade condicional no dia 5 de Setembro de 2014, depois de cumprir metade da pena de 24 anos, em conexão com o assassinato do jornalista Carlos .Senhora procuradora, alguém em liberdade condicional é um fugitivo?

Nini Satar came out on conditional release on 5 September 2014, after completing half of the 24 year sentence, in relation to the murder of the journalist Carlos. Ms Prosecutor, is somebody on conditional release a fugitive?

Some, such as Eduardo Domingos, student at Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM), used Nini’s capture to remind Mozambique’s political leaders to arrest other bigger and dangerous criminals working in the government.

O criminoso mais perigoso de Moçambique é aquele que endividou o país e a justiça tem medo de lhe prender. Criminoso mais perigoso de Moçambique é aquele que sem escrupulo diz que se tiver oportunidade faria dívidas ocultas outra vez para si e sua família.

Quem atormenta a justiça dum Estado e todas suas instituições esse sim é criminoso mais perigoso de Moçambique. O criminoso mais perigoso de Moçambique é aquele que mata nos hospitais centenas e centenas de pessoas por falta de medicamentos. Criminoso mais perigoso de Moçambique é aquele que condenou a desnutriçao cronica a 45% das nossas criancas.

Mozambique’s most dangerous criminal is one who puts the country in debt and is not ordered arrested by the courts. Mozambique’s most dangerous criminal is who, with no scruples, says that if he has the opportunity he would take hidden debts again for his family.

He who torments the justice system of the state and all its institutions is Mozambique’s most dangerous criminal. Mozambique’s most dangerous criminal is one who kills hundreds and hundreds of people in hospitals due to lack of medicines. Mozambique’s most dangerous criminal is one who condemns 45 percent of our children to chronic malnutrition.

Meanwhile, one Twitter user cited Nini's arrest in Thailand as a failure of the police in Mozambique and South Africa to capture the wanted man:

by Liam Anderson at August 13, 2018 02:47 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Lebanon ramps up interrogations of online activists

A July 24 demonstration against social media arrests in Lebanon. Photo by Hasan Shaaban, used with permission.

Lebanese security agencies are ramping up the interrogation and censorship of online activists and journalists over social media posts, and sparking renewed debate over the limits to freedom of speech in the country.

Over the past few weeks, at least 10 activists were interrogated by Lebanese security agencies, eight of them by the Internal Security Forces’ Cybercrimes Bureau, over Facebook and Twitter posts. This compares to 18 people summoned by the agency in the six years between 2010-2016, according to research by Social Media Exchange, a local NGO that works on internet policy.

Though Lebanese law contains protections for freedom of expression and freedom of the press, insulting the president, the Lebanese Army, religion or the flag can result in up to a three-year prison sentence and heavy fines. Slander, libel and defamation laws have also increasingly been used by politicians and representatives of big businesses to question and prosecute activists and crack down on critical online speech.

In most of these cases, the subject matter of the offending posts included calls for online activism, jokes or sarcastic comments about religious figures, and alleged criticism of the president and other politicians.

Three recent cases threatening free speech in Lebanon

Imad Bazzi

On July 17, activist and blogger Imad Bazzi was called in for interrogation by the bureau, over a post calling for online activism against the controversial Lancaster Eden Bay resort. The seaside developments project has been heavily criticized over the legally dubious manner of its construction and subsequent opening, on what is by Lebanese law designated as public land.

After initially postponing the interrogation due to surgery, Bazzi was called in once again and attended his interrogation on July 27, refusing to sign a pledge committing not to criticize Eden Bay again, he told local news channel LBCI.

Maj. Gen. Albert Khoury, the head of the Cybercrimes Bureau, told LBCI that Bazzi had been summoned based on a complaint filed by representatives of the resort, who alleged he had caused indirect damages to its reputation. Bazzi had suggested to his followers to post negative online reviews of the resort, in what Ayman Muhana, the director fo SKeyes, described as legitimate online activism.

Mohammad Awwad

Journalist Mohammad Awwad was detained and questioned by General Security on July 20 over Facebook posts reported to be critical of politicians and religious leaders.

The Daily Star quoted Awwad as saying the officials included President Michel Aoun, the head of the Higher Shiite Council, the Sunni Grand Mufti and the Maronite patriarch. Awwad claimed that he had not addressed any of these officials in his recent posts, and said he was not informed of which posts exactly he was interrogated for, nor was he told who had filed the complaint against him.

“Social media websites are the only platforms of freedom available to us. If they are that bothered by it, let them shut down the internet in the whole country,” he was quoted as saying.

Khaled Aboushy

Facebook user Khaled Aboushy was interrogated on July 24 by the Lebanese Army Intelligence over an image he shared depicting President Aoun and his two son-in-laws Gebran Bassil and Chamel Roukoz -both prominent politicians- next to the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and his two sons Bassel and current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Aboushy captioned the post “whats the difference?”

Aboushy told SKeyes he was beaten upon his arrest and held for two days, only being released after signing a pledge not to criticize Aoun or Bassil again.  

The pledges interrogators at the Cybercrimes Bureau often try to get activists to sign are widely reported to have no legal basis.

New agency, old laws

The Internal Security Forces’ Cybercrimes Bureau is the avenue through which most of these interrogations take place.

Established in 2006 to strengthen the Lebanese state’s online security capabilities in the digital age, the Cybercrimes Bureau has caused controversy over its apparent arbitrary enforcement of aged laws dating back to the 1943 Penal Code.

Many activists are being interrogated on the basis of articles 473 and 474 of that legal text, which say that anyone who ”disparages” the name of god or religion can be imprisoned for between one month and several years.

A March 2016 report by a Lebanese NGO focused on freedom of expression, the Samir Kassir Foundation’s Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (SKeyes), said the agency’s conduct often amounts to censorship of free speech.

Addressing how the Penal Code is used by the agency to target online speech, the report notes:

The law is being applied online, where the audience of defamatory speech has been multiplied by literal millions and any post, comment or even ‘share’ online can be deemed defamatory if the complainant is powerful enough and alerts the ISF

[…]

While Lebanon does not have explicit, stand-alone anti-cybercrime or anti-terrorism laws, the anti-defamation articles fulfill a similar purpose of both directly targeting activists and dissidents and, by using these cases to set an example, intimidating online journalists, bloggers and Internet users from speaking about certain subjects, thus paving the way for self-censorship and the chilling of speech.

SKeyes estimates that, over the past two years, arrests targeting activists and journalists increased threefold from 10 per year to 30.

Rights groups say the bureau’s censorship role has been particularly evident in recent weeks, with a flurry of activists being detained, forced to delete posts and sign pledges to refrain from publishing “slanderous” content again and, in one case, being prohibited from making any online statements for a month.

Jad Shahrour of the Center for the Defense of Media Freedoms in Beirut told Aljazeera that crackdowns on freedom of expression have been on the rise since Aoun’s term began in late 2016 and that 60 percent of activists interrogated by authorities were summoned following complaints from President Aoun and the FPM party, which has the largest bloc in parliament.

Online activist and comedian Charbel Khoury was briefly detained on July 20 over a sarcastic joke on the medical miracles performed by St. Charbel, a religious figure revered by many in Lebanon.

The activist was released after signing a pledge not to address religion in his posts and deactivate his Facebook account for a month. The complaint against Khoury was filed by a religious organization, the Catholic Media Center, The Daily Star reported.

In a related case, journalist with local Arabic-language daily Al-Akhbar, Joy Slim, was interrogated by the bureau over a joke she made on Khoury’s post. In a column for the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, she wrote about what she described as a “dystopian” experience at the hand of the authorities:

لم يكن ينقص التحقيق معي في مكتب مكافحة جرائم المعلوماتية إلا كاهناً ومذبحاً. أخذ الضباط في قوى الأمن الداخلي الذين حققوا معي على عاتقهم محاولة إعادتي إلى طريق الخلاص المسيحي. من أول الأسئلة التي طُرحت عليّ في التحقيق الذي استمرّ خمس ساعات، هو إذا كنت «معمدّة» (حاصلة على رتبة العماد)، إذ يبدو برأيهم أن أحداً لا يكتب نكتةً في موضوع ديني، إلا إذا كانت تسكنه «أرواحٌ شريرة».

Only a priest and an alter were missing from my interrogation at the Cybercrimes Bureau. The ISF officers who interrogated me troubled themselves and tried to return me to the Christian path of salvation. During the interrogation that lasted five hours, among the first questions were whether I was ”baptised”, as according to them no one writes a joke about religion unless they are inhabited by ”devil spirits”.

Public outcry

On July 24, two activists were summoned on the same day as a hundreds-strong public protest that took place in downtown Beirut, against the increased crackdown on online speech, under the banner “Against Repression.”

“I was brought up in a family where we used to talk about how all the Arab writers who were being oppressed would to come to Beirut for asylum,” Mariam Majdoline, one of the organizers, was quoted as saying by The Daily Star.

“You cannot bring us up with a mentality of freedom and then try to oppress us.”

by Timour Azhari at August 13, 2018 02:08 PM

Global Voices
Lebanon ramps up interrogations of online activists

A July 24 demonstration against social media arrests in Lebanon. Photo by Hasan Shaaban, used with permission.

Lebanese security agencies are ramping up the interrogation and censorship of online activists and journalists over social media posts, and sparking renewed debate over the limits to freedom of speech in the country.

Over the past few weeks, at least 10 activists were interrogated by Lebanese security agencies, eight of them by the Internal Security Forces’ Cybercrimes Bureau, over Facebook and Twitter posts. This compares to 18 people summoned by the agency in the six years between 2010-2016, according to research by Social Media Exchange, a local NGO that works on internet policy.

Though Lebanese law contains protections for freedom of expression and freedom of the press, insulting the president, the Lebanese Army, religion or the flag can result in up to a three-year prison sentence and heavy fines. Slander, libel and defamation laws have also increasingly been used by politicians and representatives of big businesses to question and prosecute activists and crack down on critical online speech.

In most of these cases, the subject matter of the offending posts included calls for online activism, jokes or sarcastic comments about religious figures, and alleged criticism of the president and other politicians.

Three recent cases threatening free speech in Lebanon

Imad Bazzi

On July 17, activist and blogger Imad Bazzi was called in for interrogation by the bureau, over a post calling for online activism against the controversial Lancaster Eden Bay resort. The seaside developments project has been heavily criticized over the legally dubious manner of its construction and subsequent opening, on what is by Lebanese law designated as public land.

After initially postponing the interrogation due to surgery, Bazzi was called in once again and attended his interrogation on July 27, refusing to sign a pledge committing not to criticize Eden Bay again, he told local news channel LBCI.

Maj. Gen. Albert Khoury, the head of the Cybercrimes Bureau, told LBCI that Bazzi had been summoned based on a complaint filed by representatives of the resort, who alleged he had caused indirect damages to its reputation. Bazzi had suggested to his followers to post negative online reviews of the resort, in what Ayman Muhana, the director fo SKeyes, described as legitimate online activism.

Mohammad Awwad

Journalist Mohammad Awwad was detained and questioned by General Security on July 20 over Facebook posts reported to be critical of politicians and religious leaders.

The Daily Star quoted Awwad as saying the officials included President Michel Aoun, the head of the Higher Shiite Council, the Sunni Grand Mufti and the Maronite patriarch. Awwad claimed that he had not addressed any of these officials in his recent posts, and said he was not informed of which posts exactly he was interrogated for, nor was he told who had filed the complaint against him.

“Social media websites are the only platforms of freedom available to us. If they are that bothered by it, let them shut down the internet in the whole country,” he was quoted as saying.

Khaled Aboushy

Facebook user Khaled Aboushy was interrogated on July 24 by the Lebanese Army Intelligence over an image he shared depicting President Aoun and his two son-in-laws Gebran Bassil and Chamel Roukoz -both prominent politicians- next to the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and his two sons Bassel and current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Aboushy captioned the post “whats the difference?”

Aboushy told SKeyes he was beaten upon his arrest and held for two days, only being released after signing a pledge not to criticize Aoun or Bassil again.  

The pledges interrogators at the Cybercrimes Bureau often try to get activists to sign are widely reported to have no legal basis.

New agency, old laws

The Internal Security Forces’ Cybercrimes Bureau is the avenue through which most of these interrogations take place.

Established in 2006 to strengthen the Lebanese state’s online security capabilities in the digital age, the Cybercrimes Bureau has caused controversy over its apparent arbitrary enforcement of aged laws dating back to the 1943 Penal Code.

Many activists are being interrogated on the basis of articles 473 and 474 of that legal text, which say that anyone who ”disparages” the name of god or religion can be imprisoned for between one month and several years.

A March 2016 report by a Lebanese NGO focused on freedom of expression, the Samir Kassir Foundation’s Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (SKeyes), said the agency’s conduct often amounts to censorship of free speech.

Addressing how the Penal Code is used by the agency to target online speech, the report notes:

The law is being applied online, where the audience of defamatory speech has been multiplied by literal millions and any post, comment or even ‘share’ online can be deemed defamatory if the complainant is powerful enough and alerts the ISF

[…]

While Lebanon does not have explicit, stand-alone anti-cybercrime or anti-terrorism laws, the anti-defamation articles fulfill a similar purpose of both directly targeting activists and dissidents and, by using these cases to set an example, intimidating online journalists, bloggers and Internet users from speaking about certain subjects, thus paving the way for self-censorship and the chilling of speech.

SKeyes estimates that, over the past two years, arrests targeting activists and journalists increased threefold from 10 per year to 30.

Rights groups say the bureau’s censorship role has been particularly evident in recent weeks, with a flurry of activists being detained, forced to delete posts and sign pledges to refrain from publishing “slanderous” content again and, in one case, being prohibited from making any online statements for a month.

Jad Shahrour of the Center for the Defense of Media Freedoms in Beirut told Aljazeera that crackdowns on freedom of expression have been on the rise since Aoun’s term began in late 2016 and that 60 percent of activists interrogated by authorities were summoned following complaints from President Aoun and the FPM party, which has the largest bloc in parliament.

Online activist and comedian Charbel Khoury was briefly detained on July 20 over a sarcastic joke on the medical miracles performed by St. Charbel, a religious figure revered by many in Lebanon.

The activist was released after signing a pledge not to address religion in his posts and deactivate his Facebook account for a month. The complaint against Khoury was filed by a religious organization, the Catholic Media Center, The Daily Star reported.

In a related case, journalist with local Arabic-language daily Al-Akhbar, Joy Slim, was interrogated by the bureau over a joke she made on Khoury’s post. In a column for the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, she wrote about what she described as a “dystopian” experience at the hand of the authorities:

لم يكن ينقص التحقيق معي في مكتب مكافحة جرائم المعلوماتية إلا كاهناً ومذبحاً. أخذ الضباط في قوى الأمن الداخلي الذين حققوا معي على عاتقهم محاولة إعادتي إلى طريق الخلاص المسيحي. من أول الأسئلة التي طُرحت عليّ في التحقيق الذي استمرّ خمس ساعات، هو إذا كنت «معمدّة» (حاصلة على رتبة العماد)، إذ يبدو برأيهم أن أحداً لا يكتب نكتةً في موضوع ديني، إلا إذا كانت تسكنه «أرواحٌ شريرة».

Only a priest and an alter were missing from my interrogation at the Cybercrimes Bureau. The ISF officers who interrogated me troubled themselves and tried to return me to the Christian path of salvation. During the interrogation that lasted five hours, among the first questions were whether I was ”baptised”, as according to them no one writes a joke about religion unless they are inhabited by ”devil spirits”.

Public outcry

On July 24, two activists were summoned on the same day as a hundreds-strong public protest that took place in downtown Beirut, against the increased crackdown on online speech, under the banner “Against Repression.”

“I was brought up in a family where we used to talk about how all the Arab writers who were being oppressed would to come to Beirut for asylum,” Mariam Majdoline, one of the organizers, was quoted as saying by The Daily Star.

“You cannot bring us up with a mentality of freedom and then try to oppress us.”

by Timour Azhari at August 13, 2018 01:55 PM

Romania's paediatrician shortage crisis signals red flags about its healthcare system

А typical Romanian general hospital building. This one is in the city of Roman, in the East of the country. Photo by Andrei Stroe, via Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0.

Since joining the European Union (EU) in 2007, Romania has been grappling with a huge emigration flow of medics, with child health care bearing the brunt of the widening gap of human capital.

Several hospitals in towns outside the capital Bucharest operate with only one pediatrician on duty. When they take a vacation, the unit has to shut down because replacements are ever harder to come by.

According to the Romanian Institute of Statistics data in 2017 and 2016, the number of doctors in the country only slightly increased since 2015. Most are not willing to take the pay cut or work with less-than-adequate equipment of countryside clinics. Instead, they prefer to work in larger cities or consider multiple offers for work abroad.

Romania's medical expenses per capita are already the lowest in the EU, while its infant mortality rate is the highest. The country is followed on both counts by Bulgaria, which also joined the EU in 2007 and faces similar trends with human capital flight.

In 2016, nearly 10 deaths per 1,000 live births were reported in Romania — a significant drop from 15 deaths per 1,000 live births recorded in 2003, but still well above the EU average rate of 3.7 per 1,000 live births.

Ioana Moldovan, a documentary photojournalist who reported on the pediatrician shortage, wrote on her website last year:

Romania has a population of almost 20 million. Doctors in rural areas are outnumbered by peers in cities two to one, while half of the population lives in the countryside. The health care sector is overrun with crises and never ending problems. In 27 years since the anticommunist revolution of 1989 the country has had at least 25 health ministers take office. None has so far managed to get Western care standards for patients.

In a statement for Global Voices, Dr. Constantin Giosanu, a pediatrician and coordinator with the IMED Foundation, acknowledges that most public hospitals in Romania receive financial resources from government funds, but:

…not as much as needed for proper work, the amounts come late and sometimes are inadequately used by the managers of those hospitals.

To make matters worse, Romania is also suffering the lowest proportion of nurses and midwives per head in Europe. They often work in hospitals without basic supplies, and specific treatment cannot be implemented unless patients provide the supplies.

Such stressful conditions and low salaries have led to bribery as a common occurrence in state hospitals. Patients have been known to give money or other “presents” to doctors and nurses to secure the care they need to survive.

In 2016, 77 oncologists in the country were charged with bribery for prescribing specific cancer drugs to patients in exchange for a holiday to India, according to an analysis by OpenDemocracy.

One pediatrician for 200,000 people 

The city of Tulcea, with a population of over 70,000 people, only has 361 doctors, ranking near the bottom in Romania numbers of doctors per capita.

In August 2016, dozens of parents organized a protest over the desperate conditions of the pediatrics unit of their county hospital. Serving around 200,000 people, from Tulcea and its nearby villages, the hospital has only one pediatrician and the unit has to close whenever he is on vacation.

In 2017, the unit remained shut for nearly a year due to the total absence of qualified doctors. At the beginning of 2018, a pediatrician was finally employed and activity resumed, but with only one specialist on staff, families still have to wait for hours with their children for service.

Also in 2017, the hospital announced a shortage of doctors in all specialties. There were 33 positions open at the time, but no one had expressed interest.

Tulcea hospital manager Tudor Năstăsescu described the situation for ZF media:

Situaţia este exact ca în restul ţării. Avem probleme în toate specializările. Noi scoatem la concurs şi încercăm să ne comportăm bine cu oamenii care vin, să nu fie un stres în plus pentru ei, le plătim o chirie, dar nu mai interesează pe nimeni. Eu primesc lunar oferte de a lucra în străinătate.

The situation is exactly the same like in the rest of the country… We organize a contest, and try to behave well with the people who come, not to cause any extra stress for them. We offer to pay their rent, but they do not care anymore. I receive monthly offers to work abroad myself.

The situation is similar in other counties like Calarasi, Giurgiu, and Ialomita. Meanwhile, over 12,500 or 22 percent of all doctors in the country work in the capital city of Bucharest.

A similar history happened with the Drăgăşani Municipal Hospital in the western county of Valcea when it had to close their pediatrics section in July 2017 after the only pediatrician in the hospital took a paid leave for two weeks. With only two working ambulances in Drăgăşani, the community faced a high risk of becoming stranded in the case of an emergency.

How will Romania find its way out of this crisis? Dr. Giosanu has an idea:

I think it is up to the doctors and the press to educate [for long term] the population and patients to stop accepting corruption, poor health management, poor health services. In this way, the system will develop the same as the one in Western Europe.

by Nevena Borisova at August 13, 2018 12:26 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Smart gun technology is well-tested, but hasn't fully come to market
In the past few months there has been a lot of debate over guns that can be made with a 3D printer, which would make it easier for people to get a gun. But there's also a push happening in the tech startup world that is focused on making guns safer. "Smart gun" technology has been around since the 1970s. While the tech has evolved over time, the idea behind it has stayed the same: that only the rightful, registered user of the gun can operate it. Marketplace Tech guest host Amy Choi talked with Alex Yablon, a reporter at nonprofit newsroom The Trace, to find out why this technology hasn't come to market. (08/13/2018)

by Marketplace at August 13, 2018 10:50 AM

August 11, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Condemnation of independence activist draws a red line for Hong Kong's press freedom

Foreign correspondents’ club. Hong Kong government photo via HKFP.

This post is a roundup of reports published between August 4 -10, 2018 on Hong Kong Free Press. The republication is based on a partnership agreement.

A recent war of words between Hong Kong's former chief executive and the local Foreign Correspondents’ Club shows how Beijing is forcing Hong Kong journalists, both local and international, to toe its political red line.

The incident began when the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) announced on July 30 that political party leader Andy Chan Ho Tin would be giving a talk at the Club on August 14, entitled “Hong Kong Nationalism: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Hong Kong under Chinese Rule”.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with more economic and personal freedoms than the mainland, a set-up known as “One Country, Two Systems.” In recent years, Beijing has pressured Hong Kong to pass new laws that strengthen the “One Country” part of the principle.

Soon after, a representative from the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong visited the FCC and urged them to reconsider the decision.

Chan is the convener of the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), which advocates for Hong Kong's full independence from China. Last month, the Hong Kong police society registration department issued a legal recommendation to the Security Secretary to ban the HKNP as a political party. Citing the Section 8(1)(a) of Hong Kong's Societies Ordinance, the department said this would be “in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, protection of freedom and rights of others”.

Upon reviewing HKNP's past activities and Andy Chan’s talks, police authorities concluded that HKNP was a threat to national security. The recommendation stated:

The HKSAR Government should not wait until a political movement has recourse to violence before intervening…Even if the political movement has not yet made an attempt to seize power and the danger of its policy is not imminent, the HKSAR Government should take preventive measures as HKNP’s movement has started to take concrete steps in public to implement a goal incompatible with the laws.

Police handed Chan a 900-page dossier detailing his and the party's activities and articulating their proposal to ban the group. Chan must respond to the dossier by September 4.

Announcement for lunch talk by Andy Chan. Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong website.

The visit to the FCC by China's Foreign Ministry was not necessarily an indicator of any problem. Media organizations in Hong Kong are accustomed to receiving “political advice” from Beijing representatives.

But tensions began to escalate when former Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung “CY” Chun-ying stepped in and slammed the FCC for crossing a so-called “red line”:

港獨是絕對的和清晰的紅線,因為主張香港獨立就是主張分裂國家,明顯的侵犯了中國的主權和領土完整。外國記者協會今天請陳浩天講港獨,明天請其他人講台獨、疆獨、藏獨,香港怎麼辦?

Hong Kong independence is clearly and definitely a red line. Advocating Hong Kong independence is equal to advocating the spit up of the country and is an infringement on China’s sovereignty and territorial completeness. Today the FCC invites Andy Chan to talk about Hong Kong independence, tomorrow it could invite others to talk about Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet independence. What would Hong Kong become?

In response to CY Leung's comment about the “red line”, Victor Mallett, the first vice president of FCC, reinstated the value of free speech.

Leung then issued an open letter on Facebook, in which he compared the hosting of Andy Chan to criminal and terrorist activities:

Presumably then you will defend your decision by also arguing that those who oppose Taiwan independence would be given equal opportunity to present their views. Following this logic, you most probably will not draw any line against criminals and terrorists. As I said, we ought to be gravely concerned.

He further claimed that FCC had been paying a “token rent”. In comments, his followers advocated that the Hong Kong government should take back the property.

Leung's claim was rebuked by former FCC board member Francis Moriarty as an ill-informed threat:

Leung is dead wrong about the rent…When I left the FC Board three years ago, we were paying in the vicinity of HKD $550,000 (USD $70,060) per month and were entirely responsible for the historic building's maintenance.

Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chairman of Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKAJ) saw Leung's comment as “blatant political pressure”:

Leung is essentially asking the FCC to cancel the talk by Chan and stop inviting similar guests in future, or else the lease might not be renewed or even be taken back earlier… That’s blatant political pressure.

But CY Leung’s argument has been echoed by many pro-Beijing media outlets and politicians. On August 8, a group of 30 protesters took to the street and demonstrated outside FCC in Central demanding the cancellation of Andy Chan’s talk.

FCC has resisted the political pressure and the talk is still set to take place on August 14. Nevertheless, the political pressure has taken effect on other local media outlets.

The head of the city’s public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong Leung Ka-wing said in a regular meeting on 9 of August that the broadcaster should not be used to advocate Hong Kong independence and banned live streaming of Andy Chan’s speech at FCC. RTHK programme staff union explained that the decision on whether to live-cast an event or not is usually made by section head of different program teams after internal deliberation. It is unusual for the head to hand down a decision in this manner.

More than half of local media owners in Hong Kong also serve on Beijing-appointed government bodies such as the National People’s Congress. Even though there is no law in place to prosecute media outlets for featuring political dissents, the FCC saga sends a strong signal to media owners and their news management teams on where the “red line” lies. The effects are more than chilling.

by Hong Kong Free Press at August 11, 2018 05:17 PM

Global Voices
Condemnation of independence activist draws a red line for Hong Kong's press freedom

Foreign correspondents’ club. Hong Kong government photo via HKFP.

This post is a roundup of reports published between August 4 -10, 2018 on Hong Kong Free Press. The republication is based on a partnership agreement.

A recent war of words between Hong Kong's former chief executive and the local Foreign Correspondents’ Club shows how Beijing is forcing Hong Kong journalists, both local and international, to toe its political red line.

The incident began when the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) announced on July 30 that political party leader Andy Chan Ho Tin would be giving a talk at the Club on August 14, entitled “Hong Kong Nationalism: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Hong Kong under Chinese Rule”.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with more economic and personal freedoms than the mainland, a set-up known as “One Country, Two Systems.” In recent years, Beijing has pressured Hong Kong to pass new laws that strengthen the “One Country” part of the principle.

Soon after, a representative from the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong visited the FCC and urged them to reconsider the decision.

Chan is the convener of the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), which advocates for Hong Kong's full independence from China. Last month, the Hong Kong police society registration department issued a legal recommendation to the Security Secretary to ban the HKNP as a political party. Citing the Section 8(1)(a) of Hong Kong's Societies Ordinance, the department said this would be “in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, protection of freedom and rights of others”.

Upon reviewing HKNP's past activities and Andy Chan’s talks, police authorities concluded that HKNP was a threat to national security. The recommendation stated:

The HKSAR Government should not wait until a political movement has recourse to violence before intervening…Even if the political movement has not yet made an attempt to seize power and the danger of its policy is not imminent, the HKSAR Government should take preventive measures as HKNP’s movement has started to take concrete steps in public to implement a goal incompatible with the laws.

Police handed Chan a 900-page dossier detailing his and the party's activities and articulating their proposal to ban the group. Chan must respond to the dossier by September 4.

Announcement for lunch talk by Andy Chan. Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong website.

The visit to the FCC by China's Foreign Ministry was not necessarily an indicator of any problem. Media organizations in Hong Kong are accustomed to receiving “political advice” from Beijing representatives.

But tensions began to escalate when former Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung “CY” Chun-ying stepped in and slammed the FCC for crossing a so-called “red line”:

港獨是絕對的和清晰的紅線,因為主張香港獨立就是主張分裂國家,明顯的侵犯了中國的主權和領土完整。外國記者協會今天請陳浩天講港獨,明天請其他人講台獨、疆獨、藏獨,香港怎麼辦?

Hong Kong independence is clearly and definitely a red line. Advocating Hong Kong independence is equal to advocating the spit up of the country and is an infringement on China’s sovereignty and territorial completeness. Today the FCC invites Andy Chan to talk about Hong Kong independence, tomorrow it could invite others to talk about Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet independence. What would Hong Kong become?

In response to CY Leung's comment about the “red line”, Victor Mallett, the first vice president of FCC, reinstated the value of free speech.

Leung then issued an open letter on Facebook, in which he compared the hosting of Andy Chan to criminal and terrorist activities:

Presumably then you will defend your decision by also arguing that those who oppose Taiwan independence would be given equal opportunity to present their views. Following this logic, you most probably will not draw any line against criminals and terrorists. As I said, we ought to be gravely concerned.

He further claimed that FCC had been paying a “token rent”. In comments, his followers advocated that the Hong Kong government should take back the property.

Leung's claim was rebuked by former FCC board member Francis Moriarty as an ill-informed threat:

Leung is dead wrong about the rent…When I left the FC Board three years ago, we were paying in the vicinity of HKD $550,000 (USD $70,060) per month and were entirely responsible for the historic building's maintenance.

Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chairman of Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKAJ) saw Leung's comment as “blatant political pressure”:

Leung is essentially asking the FCC to cancel the talk by Chan and stop inviting similar guests in future, or else the lease might not be renewed or even be taken back earlier… That’s blatant political pressure.

But CY Leung’s argument has been echoed by many pro-Beijing media outlets and politicians. On August 8, a group of 30 protesters took to the street and demonstrated outside FCC in Central demanding the cancellation of Andy Chan’s talk.

FCC has resisted the political pressure and the talk is still set to take place on August 14. Nevertheless, the political pressure has taken effect on other local media outlets.

The head of the city’s public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong Leung Ka-wing said in a regular meeting on 9 of August that the broadcaster should not be used to advocate Hong Kong independence and banned live streaming of Andy Chan’s speech at FCC. RTHK programme staff union explained that the decision on whether to live-cast an event or not is usually made by section head of different program teams after internal deliberation. It is unusual for the head to hand down a decision in this manner.

More than half of local media owners in Hong Kong also serve on Beijing-appointed government bodies such as the National People’s Congress. Even though there is no law in place to prosecute media outlets for featuring political dissents, the FCC saga sends a strong signal to media owners and their news management teams on where the “red line” lies. The effects are more than chilling.

by Hong Kong Free Press at August 11, 2018 05:13 PM

August 10, 2018

Marketplace Tech Report
Could cryptocurrency threaten Silicon Valley's hierarchy?
To finish out our series on venture capital, we'll take a look to the future. Cryptocurrency may have its disruptive eye cast toward venture capital. The initial coin offering is a type of crypto-crowdfunding that startups can use to raise cash quickly without kissing the Silicon Valley ring. But do ICOs really have the potential to replace venture capital for startups? We go back to the time Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood spoke with Yuliya Chernova, who covers venture capital for the Wall Street Journal, about the pros and cons of ICOs.

by Marketplace at August 10, 2018 10:48 AM

August 09, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Russians are facing criminal prosecution for sharing memes online, thanks to anti-extremism laws

A meta-meme circulating on Russian social media. COP looking at MEME: “Is this a criminal case?”

Imagine you’re online and you see an amusing Game of Thrones meme likening the resurrection of one of the main characters, John Snow, to the resurrection of Christ. Chuckling to yourself, you re-post it on your social media page and promptly forget about it.

A few days later, the police raid your apartment and charge you with extremism. In addition to facing years in prison, you’re frozen out of your bank accounts.

Welcome to the reality that unsuspecting social media users across Russia are now facing as authorities ramp up their campaign against online extremism.

Though prosecutions for online posts are nothing new in Russia, this latest round has attracted special attention because many of them are based exclusively on memes. Daniil Markin, a 19-year-old resident of the town of Barnaul, was recently charged under Article 148 of the Russian Criminal Code, for “insulting the feelings of religious believers” for posting several memes on religious themes, including the aforementioned Jon Snow meme.

As a result of the charges, he has been added to a national register of extremists and had his bank accounts frozen. In an interview with Meduza, Markin said:

Я считаю, что для определенного процента людей это могло показаться оскорбительным, но не настолько, чтобы заводить уголовное дело.

I can see how for some people this could be offensive, but not so much that they could press charges.

Markin’s situation isn’t unique, not even in his city of Barnaul. In a June 23 Twitter thread, fellow Barnaul resident Maria Motuznaya described how a group of policemen came to her apartment with a search warrant, interrogated her about memes she had posted (some of which were racist, others offensive to religious sentiment) and confiscated her phone.

While Motuznaya initially laughed it off, the police taunted her, telling her that another woman had also thought it was a game until she was put behind bars for three years. Motuznaya was later charged with extremism under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code.

While the memes Markin and Motuznaya posted could easily offend religious sentiments, they did not represent a direct threat, incitement to violence, or promotion of an extremist or violent ideology. And the Russian internet is full of memes like this. So what tipped off authorities? And how did they so swiftly identify Markin and Motuznaya?

Both cases began with tips from a pair of students at a local higher-ed institute. Neither defendant knew these individuals personally. Because of this, Markin feels there’s something more to his prosecution.

Оперативники обнаруживают меня каким-либо образом, предлагают студенткам написать заявления за определенные „плюшки“ на учебе или даже финансовую помощь.

The officers find out about me somehow and suggest that these students file a complaint for extra study “perks” or even financial support.

The situation may be less of a coincidence than it seems. Pressure on police in Russia to weed out extremism has created many situations in which authorities choose a target and then seek out justification for prosecution.

Motuznaya also suggested an ulterior motive during her interrogation. She had previously made several posts about Alexey Navalny, a Russian opposition figure known for his anti-corruption campaigns. It is unclear whether this had any bearing on her arrest.

The theory of memes-as-pretext, however, seems more and more plausible. Just recently, a journalist from the city of Tuva was arrested for posting two articles in 2014 that were accompanied by photos of Adolf Hitler and Nazi youth groups. This journalist had an activist past, as she wrote on issues affecting quality of life in the city and was campaign manager for Ksenia Sobchak, a liberal candidate in the 2018 Russian presidential elections.

How are social media companies responding?

Social media companies also play a pivotal role in identifying these memes and the people who post them. Vkontakte, one of the two most popular social networks in Russia, has been under fire for “ratting out” their users to the authorities and readily giving away their personal details for prosecution. Under Russian law, administrators of social networks are obligated to gather and store users’ personal information for six months, and provide access to these materials when requested by the authorities. For years, Vkontakte has been only too eager to comply with such requests.

An avalanche of recent negative coverage of criminal cases against social media users prompted the tech giant Mail.Ru, which owns Vkontakte, to release a statement condemning the practice of jailing people for memes. Observers were quick to point out Mail.ru's hypocrisy.

As Mediazona, an independent online outlet focused on police brutality and political show trials in Russia, put it:

Vkontakte (which provides most of the assistance in criminal cases for sharing [of memes]) condemns criminal cases for sharing.

Authorities see arrests as a sign of progress — the more, the better

Why has Barnaul become such a flashpoint for these types of cases? The regional office of the Investigative Committee, Russia’s main federal investigative agency, has since 2016 been leading a campaign to tackle online extremism among young people. Nationwide, human rights experts estimate that roughly 5000 people have been arrested for sharing some type of “extremist” content online.

In July 2018, a public-service announcement video was released explaining efforts at clamping down on extremist behavior online. The announcement defined this behavior as, among other things, anything promoting separatism, religious discord, or hatred towards others on ethnic or religious grounds.

The video ends with the following appeal:

Ведь человечество — это содружество разных культур, каждая из которых интересна и духовно богата. Нет плохих или хороших, мы — единое целое.

After all, humanity is a community of different cultures, each of which is fascinating and spiritually rich. There aren’t bad or good ones, we are all one united whole.

At face value, this might be a laudable sentiment. But why the sudden interest in meme-based posts? Ilya Shepelin, a correspondent for the independent Russian news outlet Dozhd, explained it this way:

Бюрократия.

Два года назад в Алтайском крае зарегистрировали экстремистских преступлений на 10% меньше, чем следовало. 26 вместо 29. В результате «край оказался в немногочисленной группе регионов, показавших отрицательную статистику по выявлению преступлений».

Просрали цифры, получили нагоняй от федерального министерства — и ух, как взялись за работенку. Ни одной картинки с патриархом и Игрой престолов не пропускают, на всё заводят дела.

И в 2017 году край показал резкий рост «выявленных экстремистских преступлений» почти вдвое больше — на 73%. Теперь седьмое место среди регионов России. Есть чем гордиться.

Bureaucracy.

Two years ago, when the Altai region reported on extremist crimes, they registered 10% less than they should have. 26 instead of 29. As a result, “the region found itself among a small group of regions showing that instances of extremist crimes had fallen.”

They fudged the numbers and got a scolding from the federal ministry, and man, how they went to work. They don’t let a single image of the patriarch or Game of Thrones pass by, they’re pressing charges over everything.

And so in 2017 the region showed a dramatic increase of “instances of extremist crimes”, almost two times more, 73% more. Now they’re seventh among Russia’s regions. Something to be proud of.

Stuck on Russia's federal register of terrorists and extremists

The ramifications of these “extremism” charges, which fall under criminal code articles 282 and 148, continue long after one’s sentence has ended. When charged under these articles, an individual is permanently placed on the federal register of terrorists and extremists. Once on the list, one cannot withdraw more than 10,000 rubles (around 150 US dollars) at a time and cannot use their credit or debit cards.

These two consequences combine to create an unsavory third problem: being officially labeled a terrorist makes potential employers extremely hesitant to hire you. And if they do, they are obligated to jump through extra regulatory hoops just to pay taxes related to your employment.

Because of this, those on the list often find themselves punished with poverty and diminishing prospects both in terms of career and even housing. Who would rent to, much less give a mortgage to, an official terrorist or extremist?

As one human rights lawyer put it,

About a quarter of the cases of persecution “for words” under extremist and terrorist articles are criticism of the authorities, separatist propaganda, criticism of the annexation of Crimea and so on. 75% of the rest of the cases are likes and reposts on social media.

A meme of one's own

With the increase in prosecutions over meme-sharing the issue itself has of course become a meme of its own.

Below, one user employed the “Is this a pigeon?” meme to demonstrate how memes have become the basis for criminal cases:

Now it’s something like this.
Meme captions: “Me” on the man, “meme” on the butterfly.
Bottom text: Is this a criminal charge?

Another used characters from the sci-fi movie Interstellar, toying with the film’s idea about space travel and time-dilation to reference the surreal situation in Barnaul:

Background sign: Barnaul.
Bottom text: One meme here is equal to seven years.

Others went for an even more meta approach. Well-known Russian blogger and Twitter user Anatolii Kapustin wanted to draw attention to the fact that memes can lead to jail time now, and created the Twitter account “Text memes you can be jailed for”, which draws on actual memes that have triggered extremism charges and are now being assessed in court.

Kapustin describes image memes in text format, using direct quotes from court documents, as a way to post memes while avoiding criminal charges. Here are a few examples:

Image #71: A photograph showing Patriarch Kirill [note: head of the Russian Orthodox Church] blessing a room. Text: “Patriarch Kirill brought the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) the newest anti-virus.

Image #61: An image of Stalin and Mussolini with the caption: Fascism is the most terrifying ideology of the 20th century.

Image #41. A black man with the text “You’re just a machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony, create a masterpiece?. Below, another character, with the caption: “And you’re just a [racial slur].”

Image #33: A man holding sneakers with the caption: “For the 300th time, New Balances were created specially for Russian nationalists!”

The range of themes reflected in these memes, from despicably racist to lightheartedly irreverent, demonstrates that the authorities’ anti-meme-extremism campaign is too broadly defined to be effective at actually removing threats and incitement to violence from online platforms.

Even if the anti-extremism campaign’s goals are taken at face value, the fundamental question (here and in many other countries) remains: What role should law enforcement play in ensuring hateful and objectionable content is deleted from social networks?

In the Russian case, with authorities’ reliance on disproportionately harsh jail sentences and seemingly indefinite financial repercussions, it is clear that Vkontakte’s abdication of its role in self-moderation is hurting its users. Rather than handing over users’ data so that authorities can prosecute them for racist and “edgy” memes, the company should be more proactive in monitoring posts and taking down content that can easily be described as offensive, in a consistent, transparent and accountable way.

It wouldn’t be easy, but as the global debate over moderating social networks continues, the alternatives currently available, arrests or rampant toxicity, show that they’ve got to try.

by Christopher Moldes at August 09, 2018 08:49 PM

Global Voices
Netizen Report: Bangladesh protests trigger mobile network cuts, journalist arrest

Traffic in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. Photo by Mashrik Faiyaz via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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

Students in Bangladesh are demanding safer roads — and directing traffic — in response to a bus collision that killed two students who were walking beside a busy road on July 29.

Protests began peacefully but turned violent on August 3 when rumors of rape and kidnapping triggered confrontations between police and protesters, with police resorting to tear gas and rubber bullets.

The rumors primarily traveled through WhatsApp groups and coincided with infiltration of protesters by the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the youth arm of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party.

At the same time, the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission ordered service providers to reduce mobile phone network signals so that only 2G networks were operational. This did not cut off messaging services, but it also made it impossible to share multimedia and live video, which many protesters were using in an attempt to show what actually was happening and to debunk false claims.

Among those who were sharing video online was photojournalist Shahidul Alam, who was covering the protests on Facebook Live. On August 5, plainclothes police officers abducted and later arrested Shahidul. He was beaten while in police custody and later hospitalized.

In Venezuela, journalists are under pressure, news sites are blocked and newsprint keeps disappearing

A deafening boom that interrupted a speech by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has become the latest cause for media suppression in the country. Multiple mainstream media outlets have since reported that the sound and subsequent panic was caused by a drone carrying explosives, in what may have been an attempt to assassinate Maduro. But local accounts of the details of the incident contradict one another. Journalists have paid a heavy price for trying to find out what really happened — 11 reporters have since been arrested and forced to destroy photos and video taken at the event.

One of Venezuela’s most popular independent news sites, El Pitazo (The Whistle), was taken down for the third time in 11 months. The site is no longer accessible on any of Venezuela’s major internet service provider networks, and its owners have received no notification regarding the ban from telecommunications regulators. The news outlet has created multiple alternate domains in previous instances, but these too have been blocked.

Meanwhile, news outlets that produce print versions are struggling with chronic shortages of newsprint in the country. Caracas Chronicles blog reports that 40 newspapers have discontinued their print editions since 2013. And these days, even pro-government newspapers are finding themselves short on paper.

Iran re-routes Telegram and keeps arresting Instagrammers

The Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) changed the routing or pathway of internet protocol addresses for the Telegram messaging app for one hour on July 30. The change sent users’ traffic to the TCI instead of to Telegram’s servers, rendering the app unusable, even when users employed censorship circumvention tools such as virtual private networks.

Targeting and arrests of Instagram users in Iran have also persisted following the May arrests of Instagram celebrities. Eight female Instagram models and 38 behind-the-camera crew members were arrested in the southern Hormozgan province on July 16.

Malaysian lawyer arrested for questioning monarchy on her blog

Malaysia’s newly-elected government made big promises to overhaul the country’s outdated and authoritarian laws affecting free speech, but these have yet to come to fruition. While there have been some improvements — news sites like Sarawak Report have been unblocked, and sedition charges against popular cartoonist Zunar have been dropped — old habits die hard. Lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri was summoned by the police in late July for questioning the role of the monarchy in politics on her blog. Fadiah is now under probe for posting allegedly seditious online content.

Bots-for-hire in Indonesian elections

Alongside Kenya, India, Mexico, the US and dozens of other countries, social media bots and influencers-for-hire are increasingly a necessity for Indonesian political parties. In late July, The Guardian reported that bots and fake accounts were used to influence voters in the 2017 Jakarta Gubernatorial Election. Influencers used a range of tactics, from repurposing articles to discredit opponents, to fabricating positive coverage of their candidate, to innocent posts talking about food and music in an effort to make accounts appear “authentic”. Research by CPIG (in Indonesian) on the issue, locally known as the “Buzzer Phenomenon”, highlighted the fact that there are no rules in place to curb such practices by political candidates.

It was revealed in March 2018 that Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL group, had a hand in influencing previous elections in Indonesia. Although there is no evidence that people associated with SCL were involved in the most recent elections, the group’s approach may have had some influence on tactics that were employed this time around.

Google wants to go back to China

A report by The Intercept published on August 1 cited interviews and internal documents indicating that Google may soon launch a censored version of its search engine in China. Google left the Chinese market in March 2010 following criticism for complying with the government’s censorship regime. This hasn’t changed — if anything, it has become more stringent — but Google’s priorities apparently have.

Google has offered no specific information on the move to the public, and Chinese authorities have denied that any big changes are on the horizon. US Senators have appealed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai to re-think the move and answer several questions about the company’s intentions, citing China’s human rights record.

New Research

 

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report

 

 

by Advox at August 09, 2018 07:39 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Bangladesh protests trigger mobile network cuts, journalist arrest

Traffic in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. Photo by Mashrik Faiyaz via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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

Students in Bangladesh are demanding safer roads — and directing traffic — in response to a bus collision that killed two students who were walking beside a busy road on July 29.

Protests began peacefully but turned violent on August 3 when rumors of rape and kidnapping triggered confrontations between police and protesters, with police resorting to tear gas and rubber bullets.

The rumors primarily traveled through WhatsApp groups and coincided with infiltration of protesters by the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the youth arm of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party.

At the same time, the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission ordered service providers to reduce mobile phone network signals so that only 2G networks were operational. This did not cut off messaging services, but it also made it impossible to share multimedia and live video, which many protesters were using in an attempt to show what actually was happening and to debunk false claims.

Among those who were sharing video online was photojournalist Shahidul Alam, who was covering the protests on Facebook Live. On August 5, plainclothes police officers abducted and later arrested Shahidul. He was beaten while in police custody and later hospitalized.

In Venezuela, journalists are under pressure, news sites are blocked and newsprint keeps disappearing

A deafening boom that interrupted a speech by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has become the latest cause for media suppression in the country. Multiple mainstream media outlets have since reported that the sound and subsequent panic was caused by a drone carrying explosives, in what may have been at attempt to assassinate Maduro. But local accounts of the details of the incident contradict one another. Journalists have paid a heavy price for trying to find out what really happened — 11 reporters have since been arrested and forced to destroy photos and video taken at the event.

One of Venezuela’s most popular independent news sites, El Pitazo (The Whistle), was taken down for the third time in 11 months. The site is no longer accessible on any of Venezuela’s major internet service provider networks, and its owners have received no notification regarding the ban from telecommunications regulators. The news outlet has created multiple alternate domains in previous instances, but these too have been blocked.

Meanwhile, news outlets that produce print versions are struggling with chronic shortages of newsprint in the country. Caracas Chronicles blog reports that 40 newspapers have discontinued their print editions since 2013. And these days, even pro-government newspapers are finding themselves short on paper.

Iran re-routes Telegram and keeps arresting Instagrammers

The Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) changed the routing or pathway of internet protocol addresses for the Telegram messaging app for one hour on July 30. The change sent users’ traffic to the TCI instead of to Telegram’s servers, rendering the app unusable, even when users employed censorship circumvention tools such as virtual private networks.

Targeting and arrests of Instagram users in Iran has also persisted following the May arrests of Instagram celebrities. Eight female Instagram models and 38 behind-the-camera crew members were arrested in the southern Hormozgan province on July 16.

Malaysian lawyer arrested for questioning monarchy on her blog

Malaysia’s newly-elected government made big promises to overhaul the country’s outdated and authoritarian laws affecting free speech, but these have yet to come to fruition. While there have been some improvements — news sites like Sarawak Report have been unblocked, and sedition charges against popular cartoonist Zunar have been dropped — old habits die hard. Lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri was summoned by the police in late July for questioning the role of monarchy in politics on her blog. Fadiah is now under probe for posting allegedly seditious online content.

Bots-for-hire in Indonesian elections

Alongside Kenya, India, Mexico, the US and dozens of other countries, social media bots and influencers-for-hire are increasingly a necessity for Indonesian political parties. In late July, The Guardian reported that bots and fake accounts were used to influence voters in the 2017 Jakarta Gubernatorial Election. Influencers used a range of tactics, from repurposing  articles to discredit opponents, to fabricating positive coverage of their candidate, to innocent posts talking about food and music in an effort to make accounts appear “authentic”. Research by CPIG (in Indonesian) on the issue, locally known as the “Buzzer Phenomenon”, highlighted the fact that there are no rules in place to curb such practices by political candidates.

It was revealed in March 2018 that Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL group, had a hand in influencing previous elections in Indonesia. Although there is no evidence that people associated with SCL were involved in the most recent elections, the group’s approach may have had some influence on tactics that were employed this time around.

Google wants to go back to China

A report by The Intercept published on August 1 cited interviews and internal documents indicating that Google may soon launch a censored version of its search engine in China. Google left the Chinese market in March 2010 following criticism for complying with the government’s censorship regime. This hasn’t changed — if anything, it has become more stringent — but Google’s priorities apparently have.

Google has offered no specific information on the move to the public, and Chinese authorities have denied that any big changes are on the horizon. US Senators have appealed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai to re-think the move and answer several questions about the company’s intentions, citing China’s human rights record.

New Research

 

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report

 

 

by Netizen Report Team at August 09, 2018 07:02 PM

Creative Commons
A warm welcome to three new staff members: Alden Page, Steven Bellamy, and Jami Vass

Please join CC in extending a warm welcome to three new members of the CC team! On our Product team, Alden Page and Steven Bellamy have joined us as Front End Engineer and Back End Engineer, respectively. On the fundraising and development team, we’re welcoming Jami Vass as Director of Development.

aldenAlden Page is a backend software developer on CC’s Product team and strives to build the infrastructure that will power a rich ecosystem of applications on top of the digital commons, beginning with CC Search.

Prior to joining Creative Commons, Alden developed and operated a real-time market risk management system used by equity derivatives traders at Deutsche Bank. He also has experience contributing to free software, and worked in the ad-tech industry. Alden currently lives in New York City and enjoys cycling in his free time.

stephenSteven Bellamy has over 15 years experience with developing interfaces for the web and architecting JavaScript solutions.

Previously, he worked on enterprise level applications for various startups, the Department of Defense, and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB). Steven currently lives in Alexandria VA, where he spends much of his time listening to jazz.

 

 

jamiJami Vass is excited to join the Creative Commons team as Director of Development, where she will lead global fundraising efforts to support CC’s mission. Jami brings over 17 years of diverse fundraising experience to CC.

Formerly, she led development efforts in the Southeast US at the ASPCA. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Anthropology and a Masters Certificate in Nonprofit Management. When Jami is not fundraising, she plays the piano or spends time with her horses.

The post A warm welcome to three new staff members: Alden Page, Steven Bellamy, and Jami Vass appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Ryan Merkley at August 09, 2018 04:11 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Venture capital: Giving minority entrepreneurs a chance
This week we’re diving into stories about venture capital. There’s a group of venture capital firms that want to change the world for the better and make money. This is called impact investing. One of the firms working in this space is Impact America Fund, which invests in companies with diverse missions — for instance, a startup that helps African-American stylists sell their own hair extensions. Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood talked with Impact America Fund founder Kesha Cash about the sometimes complex collision of money and mission in venture capital.

by Marketplace at August 09, 2018 10:34 AM

August 08, 2018

Global Voices
The abortion legalization movement in Argentina gets a boost of global solidarity

Argentinians hold a public demonstration in front of Argentinian Congress. Activists dress as handmaids from The Handmaid's tale, a dystopic television series centered on women's rights. Screenshot from the video shared on YouTube by LaVacaTV.

On Wednesday, August 8, members of the Argentinian Senate will debate and vote on a controversial bill to legalize abortion. The bill was presented by the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion and was approved to be discussed on June 13 following an intense debate while activists held a street-vigil outside Congress.

News of the historical milestone in the Chamber of Deputies made global headlines and gained the attention of organizations, news media, and netizens who are now watching closely as Argentina waits for the Senate's defining vote.

The organization National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortion called for an “International Green Handkerchief Rally” and feminist organizations responded favorably across the globe. Seen in numerous images of protests and rallies, the green handkerchief symbolizes Argentina's pro-choice movement.

New national vigils are planned to be held outside Congress and in the country's principal cities during the debate alongside demonstrations throughout the world.

Wednesday we will gather in Barcelona so that Legal, Safe and Free Abortion is legalized in Argentina.

A highly sensitive social issue, legalizing abortion touches on the political and ideological to the personal and religious. On social media and in the streets, demonstrations and debates for and against the bill are intensifying.

The National Campaign convoked “Green Tuesday” rallies held in front of Congress every Tuesday. Several manifestations against the bill were carried out, including a massive march convoked by religious groups and anti-abortion organizations on August 4 that occupied a large section of the Avenida 9 de Julio in the capital city Buenos Aires.

‘Blessed be the fruit'…of solidarity

When the Argentian Journalist Union staged a performance-demonstration by recreating images from The Handmaid's Tail, the dystopian novel by Canadian author and activist  Margaret Atwood, the action received international attention. Demonstrators wore red capes and white bonnets as they marched and lined up in front of Congress. The novel, which later informed the eponymous popular television series, tells the story of Gilead, a new world order in which women lose their reproductive rights under an imagined fundamentalist Christian regime.

During the performance, a demonstrator read some of Atwood's words explaining the context surrounding the novel and the ideas behind its creation. The phrase “blessed be the fruit” refers to the ritual greeting of Gilead residents, reducing women to the role as child-bearers.

Support for the movement has expanded on social media to include similar struggles in other counties. In Chile, they are currently reconsidering the partial decriminalization of abortion. A regional campaign called #VivasNosQueremos (We Want Ourselves Alive) has also emerged, drawing attention to the problem of femicide in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 14 of the 25 countries with the highest murder rate of women are located.

Screenshots of various online campaigns from around the world that support the Argentinian movement to legalize abortion, images collected by the author of this post.

Hours away from this historic debate, a very close vote is expected. A continuously updated count of senator's voting intentions reveals an inclination against legalization. The count suggests that very few senators are still undecided, even though possible abstentions and last minute surprises are not being ruled out.

For both sides, faith in the force of the fight in the streets has not been lost:

[The tweet retakes the text in the image]

8th (August) for ABORTION!

Demonstration for legal abortion in ARGENTINA and PUERTO RICO

Wednesday, August 8, 2018, 8 pm
Royal Bank Building, Hato Rey
Cruce Calle Bolivia / Ave. Ponce de León

The one who decides is the one who's here [me].

[In the image: We're with you]

This 8A from #Ecuador we will be focusing all our energy on #Argentina facing the decision of the @senadoargentina, it is an important advance in rights for #Nuestramérica

Sexual education to have a choice, contraception to avoid abortions, legal abortion to avoid death #VivasNosQueremos pic.twitter.com/512MV85otn

[In the image: Today, Argentina. Tomorrow, the whole of Latin America]

We will join the call of the @Coordinadora8m International Green Handkerchief Vigil to wait for vote for the bill #AbortoLegal by the Argentinian Senate.>
This August 8, abortion will be law in Argentina and tomorrow it will be legalized in all of Latin America! #NoBastan3Causales 💚💚💚 pic.twitter.com/NZewrLMb49

by Kristina Edinger at August 08, 2018 08:57 PM

What happens when women report sexual assault in Japan?
chikan is a crime

“Chikan (groping / sexual assault) is a crime. There is no tolerance for chikan.” — poster in a train station in Tokyo, Japan. Image source: Tokyo Times Flickr account. License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

One Canadian woman's recent experience of sexual assault on a Tokyo train, including the way the police responded, has prompted discussions on Twitter about Japan's ongoing problem with ‘chikan‘ (痴漢 or train-gropers in Japanese). The documented sexual assault experience resembles recent high profile cases in Japan involving journalist Shiori Ito, a blogger known as Hachu and stage actress Shimizu Meili.

In July 2018, a woman who goes by the name ‘Jenna‘ on Twitter began sharing a series of tweets that described being stalked and groped by a man on a train in Tokyo, and then what happened when the groper was arrested and she filed a report with the police.

In a series of tweets, Jenna reports:

About 20-15 or so minutes from Omotesandō a large man approached me from my left side. He was staring at me in a very lecherous way. He came right up against me and whispered “kirei” which means “beautiful” in Japanese. I ignored him and looked around at the people in the seats, some noticed his strange behaviour…

Generally, incidents of groping by ‘chikan’ are prosecuted by police under Section 176 of the penal code as “forcible indecency” (強制わいせつ). According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, 1,750 cases of groping or molestation were reported in 2017. More than 50 percent of groping cases occurred on trains, the report says, with a further 20 percent occurring in train stations. However, survivors of sexual assault in Japan often lament that such cases are difficult to prosecute.

Jenna continues to describe her personal experience with train-groping throughout her Twitter thread:

…The Japanese man sat down when a seat opened up, and continued staring at me, mainly my face and my thighs (I was wearing a skirt). I felt quite uncomfortable, but honestly I've experienced similar things before, and was okay…

…He stood up again after a couple of minutes and came up to me again and asked me where I was going (in Japanese.) I said “huh?? What??” And he just stared at me…

In the same Twitter thread, Jenna said she considered getting off the train early to wait for the next train, but was afraid the man would follow. “I didn't really see any options and felt uncomfortable,” she explained in one tweet.

As her stop approached, Jenna got up and moved toward the carriage exit doors:

…I noticed the Japanese man looking up and noticing me at the door, he suddenly shot upright and practically ran up behind me, standing behind me and slightly to my left. I was quite scared at this point, and panicking about what to do, he was clearly going to follow me off the train.

This all happened within a few seconds, and within 10 seconds of him placing himself behind me, I felt his right hand touch my left butt cheek and squeeze hard, twice.

Jenna describes an adrenaline surge that prompted her to turn and strike her assailant, who then attempted to flee. She chased him onto the train platform, grabbing at his clothing while shouting in Japanese that she had been sexually assaulted. Station staff intervened and police arrived shortly thereafter.

Reporting a sexual assault to police in Japan

According to her Twitter thread, Jenna was driven to a nearby police station for what would become nearly seven hours of questioning, but her frustrating experience with the police began in the car:

The driver made some, in my opinion, condescending comments about how I couldn't possibly know he groped my butt because I don't have eyes in the back of my head.

At the police station, after her cell phone, passport and other ID were taken from her, Jenna reported that she started to feel scared:

I was scared being alone with a bunch of possibly power hungry men with no phone after what just happened to me.

Eventually, police wheeled in a partition to provide privacy, but Jenna explained:

…Almost 10 male staff members decided to go around it and hang out in the doorway to my room listening to my story anyway.

A male translator was put on speaker phone, and during the time I was explaining the story to him, those nosy men were talking and laughing so sometimes I couldn't even hear or explain properly to the translator.

After telling her story, Jenna says police recommended that she not press charges because her alleged assailant was apparently still a minor. Undeterred, Jenna said she still wanted to press charges.

The police measured and photographed Jenna's body in a process that took more than three hours. Pressing charges also meant having to perform a reenactment, a common requirement when reporting a sexual assault in Japan:

We go into the Hall and there's a mannequin with a brown wig, plaid skirt and white shirt. That's me. They have a staff member acting as the chikan. They have to set up/reenact and photograph every moment that happened on the train. And I have to be in the photos pointing at the situation to confirm I agree that's what happened I guess? Protocol they say.

Jenna noted that no potential witnesses had been contacted and that the police would make the final decision about pressing charges or not (in Japan, police refer criminal cases to a prosecutor). They returned Jenna's cell phone and other belongings. Nearly seven hours after being sexually assaulted on the train, she was free to go home.

They ask if I want to get a drive to Omotesandō station or home. I pick home obviously, they groan, it's an hour drive. But damn if I don't at least get a drive home out of this, I don't want to pay $15 just to get groped and waste 6.5 hours in the police station.

After the grueling experience at the police station, Jenna concluded:

If this happens again I will feel more powerless knowing there's probably nothing I can do, and nothing the police will do. #groping #chikan #japan #sexualharassment #police #痴漢

Japanese Twitter responds to Jenna's story

In the days that followed, Jenna's tweets were shared and discussed by many people around the world who mostly showed support. Some Japanese Twitter users also shared their own experiences with harassment and sexual assault in solidarity:

One Twitter user created a Twitter moment of Jenna's tweets:

Others translated her tweets into Japanese:

Police ask the survivor to delete her tweets

By late July, Jenna's assailant had reportedly confessed to groping her, but the police did not take further action. Jenna tweeted that police had finally made the decision to put the assailant's case on record and hoped this would be enough to deter him from groping in the future.

When Jenna announced that the police suggested she take down her tweets, her story was shared more than 2,000 times:

Jenna later clarified the request:

by Nevin Thompson at August 08, 2018 07:03 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
India's biometric ID system takes more heat, after Google admits it coded helpline numbers into Android phones

Collecting an image of a man's iris for Aadhaar. Photo by Kannanshanmugam, via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 3.0

The debate on interception of private communications in India took a new turn recently after the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) — a federal agency responsible for India's national ID database, Aadhaar — denied inputting a UIDAI helpline number in several Android user's devices.

The Aadhaar Sampark Kendra (helpline in Hindi) number, 1-800-300-1947, was intended to provide automated and agent-based support to users. But it no longer works. It was replaced with the simpler four-digit 1947 about two years back.

While there is no inherent harm in having the phone number in one's phone contacts, some Indians were unhappy that they were not asked for their consent before the number was added to their devices. While some found that it was there from the time they obtained the device, others report that the phone number appeared following a software update.

These instances have left people suspicious that UIDAI might be capable of accessing personal data from their devices.

After more than a week of discussions in many media publications and social media, Google admitted that in 2014 it had “inadvertently coded” two numbers into the Android SetUp Wizard — distress helpline number 112 and the general helpline number, 1-800-300-1947.

The Aadhaar system is now used widely for identity authentication in myriad public and private institutions, from banking to healthcare to employment. While it is not intended to be used for individual profiling, this could be an outcome of the massive use (and misuse) the system, a reality that has elevated fears of India slowly becoming a surveillance state. With a growing list of incidents of system malfunctions and personal data leaks, Aadhaar has failed to gain public trust.

In a recent attempt to prove the strength of Aadhaar to the public, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Ram Sewak Sharma on July 28 shared his Aadhaar number publicly on Twitter, hoping to show that no harm could be done by revealing the same.

This impulsive step provoked hackers and developers, who soon found Sharma's cellphone number, email and physical addresses, date of birth, airline miles number, an alleged photograph with a family member, and a prank of ordering a phone in his address with a cash on delivery option.

He nevertheless continues to defend Aadhaar as being leak-proof and protective of privacy.

Despite of UIDAI's tweet asking users to not reveal their Aadhaar numbers publicly, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology and of Law and Justice, followed the lead of Sharma and revealed his own Aadhaar number during a public meeting.

Aadhaar has been criticized largely for what technical experts say is a defective design that in many cases has made the privacy of many Indian citizens vulnerable.

by Subhashish Panigrahi at August 08, 2018 04:21 PM

Creative Commons
Creative Commons awarded $800,000 from Arcadia to support discovery and collaboration in the global commons

Creative Commons is pleased to announce an award of new funding in the amount of $800,000 over two years from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, in support of CC Search, a Creative Commons technology project designed to maximize discovery and use of openly licensed content in the Commons. Arcadia supports charities and scholarly institutions to preserve cultural heritage, protect the environment, and promote open access. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $500 million in grants to projects around the world.

The digital commons — made up of over 1.4 billion CC licensed, public domain, and other openly licensed works — is massive, distributed, and growing. The Commons extends well beyond photos and video to include a myriad of content types — from open educational resources (OER) and scientific research to 3D models; from video games to VR landscapes. There is no larger compendium of shared human knowledge and creativity, available to everyone to reuse under simple, permissive terms. Despite the tremendous growth of the Commons and the widespread use of CC licenses, there is no simple user-friendly way to maximize discovery, use, and engagement with all of that content.

CC Search — together with the Commons Metadata Library and the Commons API — will form the Commons Collaborative Archive and Library, a suite of tools for discovery and collaboration. CC aims through the development of this suite of tools to make the global commons of openly licensed content more searchable, usable, and resilient, and to provide essential infrastructure for collaborative online communities. The project elements will feature an index of every openly licensed and public domain work on the web (the Library); an API allowing developers to query the metadata library and to develop services and integrations for content in the Commons; and CC Search, a search engine that harnesses the power of open repositories and allows users to search across a variety of open content through a single interface.

Creative Commons is deeply appreciative of Arcadia’s generous support of this work. Arcadia has previously supported Creative Commons with an award for development of an academic suite of legal tools that work in combination with CC licenses to enable and accelerate Open Access publication and expansion of the commons. We are pleased to build on that work to expand and enhance the discoverability of open resources.

For more information, contact Eric Steuer, Director of Content and Community, at eric@creativecommons.org.

arcadia-logo

Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, supports charities and scholarly institutions to preserve cultural heritage, protect the environment, and promote open access. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $500 million in grants to projects around the world.

The post Creative Commons awarded $800,000 from Arcadia to support discovery and collaboration in the global commons appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Eva Rogers at August 08, 2018 03:52 PM

Doc Searls
On presuming competence

A few weeks ago, while our car honked its way through dense traffic in Delhi, I imagined an Onion headline: American Visitor Seeks To Explain What He’ll Never Understand About India.

By the norms of traffic laws in countries where people’s tendency is largely to obey them, vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the dense parts of Indian cities appears to be chaotic to an extreme. Yet it’s clearly at least … well, organic. People do seem to go where they want, individually and collectively. Somehow. Some way. Or ways. Many of them. Alone and together. Never mind that a four-lane divided highway will have traffic moving constantly, occasionally in both directions on both sides—and that it includes humans, dogs, cattle, rickshaws and bikes, some laden with bags of cargo that look like they belong in a truck, in addition to cars, trucks and motorcycles, all packed together and honking constantly.

Keeping me from explaining, or even describing, any more than I just did, are the opening sentences of Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet:

Shortly after dawn, on what would have been drawn in a normal sky, Mr. Artur Sammler with his bushy eye took in the books and papers of his West Side bedroom and suspected strongly that they were the wrong books, the wrong papers. In a way it did not matter to a man of seventy-plus, and at leisure. You had to be a crank to insist on being right. Being right was largely a matter of explanations. Intellectual man had become an explaining creature. Fathers to children, wives to husbands, lecturers to listeners, experts to laymen, colleagues to colleagues, doctors to patients, man to his own soul, explained. The roots of this, the causes of the other, the source of events, the history, the structure, the reasons why. For the most part it went in one ear out the other. The soul wanted what it wanted. It has its own natural knowledge. It sat unhappily on superstructures of explanation, poor bird, not knowing which way to fly.

So I will disclaim being right about a damn thing here. But I will share some links from some brilliant people, each worthy of respect, who think they are right about some stuff we maybe ought to care about; and each of whom have, in their own very separate ways, advice and warnings for us. Here ya go:

Each author weaves a different handbasket we might travel to hell, but all make interesting reading.

My caution with readings that veer toward conspiracy (notably Martin’s) is one of the smartest things my smart wife ever said: “The problem with conspiracy theories is that they presume competence.”

And here’s what I’m thinking about every explanation of what’s going on in our still-new Digital Age: None of us has the whole story of what’s going on—and what’s going on may not be a story at all.

But we have to stay interested, open to possibilities, and willing to vet what we at least think we know. And I guess that’s my point here.

Bonus link: Bill Hicks’ “It’s just a ride.”

by Doc Searls at August 08, 2018 03:43 PM

Global Voices
What destiny for diversity in Afghanistan? The case of Sikhs and Hindus

Afghan Sikh, running a shop in Kabul. By koldo hormaza from madrid, españa. CC 2.0.

If any one attack this year has spotlighted deepening insecurity in Afghanistan it was the July suicide bombing that killed 19 people and injured 10 as Sikh and Hindu representatives made their way to a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

For the ISIS group who claimed the targeted suicide bombing in Jalalabad city, the bombing was a coup. Not only was the group able to create a deadly explosion in an area that should have been cleared for President Ashraf Ghani's arrival, they were able to kill a man who would have been the country's first ever Sikh representative in parliament's popularly elected lower house, Awtar Singh Khalsa. A prominent Sikh activist, Rawail Singh, was also killed.

Photo taken from Eliatroz.com and used with permission.

In total the attack killed 17 Sikhs and Hindus. As such, many social media users described it as an attack on the diversity they cherish, and that ISIS is known to loathe.

The Afghan constitution stipulates that the President of Afghanistan should be a Muslim. But electoral legislation supports the political participation of Sikhs, who number over a thousand in Afghanistan, and Hindus, of which there are only a few dozen remaining.

According to amendments to the electoral law in 2016, one seat out of 249 seats in the lower house is secured for a representative of either the Hindu or Sikh communities. Women's rights activist Anarkali Honaryar has held her seat in the upper house since 2010, following a presidential decree by ex-President Hamid Karzai, and has emerged powerful voice for minorities.

Awtar Singh Khalsa would have been the first representative from the two communities in the lower house had he not been killed in the attack. Now his son, Narinder Singh Khalsa will take his place following a request from the community, knowing that he has a target on his back.

Edged out of society

While more than 300 Hindu and Sikh families currently live in Afghanistan, the number of Sikhs and Hindus entering higher education institutions is zero.

Rawail Singh and his daughter Komal, Rawail Singh's Facebook page.

Sikhs and Hindus overwhelmingly stop education during middle school, a trend driven by bullying (both from teachers and schoolmates) and economic pressures.

Research from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2009 showed that Sikhs and Hindus are effectively barred from most governmental positions and face wide-ranging social discrimination.

Many have relocated to Kabul after being displaced during conflicts in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces. Most commonly, they run grocery stores.

Data from 2016 suggests that 99% of Afghanistan's Sikh and Hindu citizens have left the country in the last three decades.

Back in the 1980s, when they numbered over 220,000, they were able to find jobs in politics and play a more significant role in society. Sikh and Hindu community intellectuals argue that in a country ruined by war, many Afghans have forgotten this role their community used to play.

The July 2 attack was followed swiftly by a protest of Sikhs in New Delhi, where Afghanistan's ambassador to India, Dr. Shaida Abdali, also joined the protesters.

But in the aftermath of the violence many of Afghanistan's remaining Sikhs see their future in Afghanistan's bigger neighbour, with which they have greater cultural and religious ties. A total of 25 Sikh families reportedly applied for Indian citizenship immediately after the bombing.

Many Afghans feel a sadness witnessing their fellow citizens leave the country:

For those Sikhs and Hindus that remain, the patriotism and sense of community embodied by Rawail Singh and Awtar Singh Khalsa are the main motivations for staying in Afghanistan.

by Farkhonda Tahery at August 08, 2018 12:22 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Venture capital: The billion-dollar fund
The Japanese multinational SoftBank Group launched its $98 billion VisionFund last year. Since then, it's dramatically changed the landscape in tech and venture capital. The fund has taken a majority stake in Uber, poured billions into WeWork, Nvidia, DoorDash, Slack and the dog walking startup Wag. SoftBank's influence is so big, it's pushing other venture capital companies to raise more money. Sequoia Capital, one of Silicon Valley's best-known firms, is reportedly trying to raise more than $12 billion in new capital just to keep up. In our series on venture capital's promise and perils, we'll relisten to Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood's conversation with Anand Sanwal of CB Insights about how VisionFund is changing everything. (08/08/2018)

by Marketplace at August 08, 2018 10:48 AM

August 07, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
As Malaysia's new government marks 100 days in office, is free speech still under threat?

Activists gather in support of lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri who was summoned by the police for allegedly posting a seditious blog article about the monarchy. Photo from Facebook page of Daniel Mizan Qayyum

As it approaches its 100 days in office, has Malaysia's new government fulfilled its promises to protect freedom of expression?

On May 9, 2018, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) party defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) which had held power for the past half century.

During the campaign period, PH released a manifesto pledging to review and potentially abolish regulations that undermine free speech. These include the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and the Anti-Fake News Act 2018.

Since the election, Malaysians have seen some improvements. Independent news websites such as the Sarawak Report and Medium have been unblocked. The travel ban on political cartoonist and activist Zunar, a fierce critic of former PM Najib Razak, has been lifted. But other outspoken voices are still under pressure.

Lawyer under probe for blogging about monarchy

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) warned that despite the campaign pledge of PH, “violations against freedom of expression are still occurring.”

The group cited the case of lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri who was summoned by the police last July for questioning the role of monarchy in politics in her blog. Fadiah is now under probe for posting an allegedly seditious online content.

CIJ advised the police and the government to stop using draconian laws while parliament is considering the repeal of these measures:

We call upon the Government to make clear its stand on freedom of expression; to condemn this investigation; and to speedily institute a moratorium on all oppressive laws pending their repeal and/ or amendment…If Malaysia is to undergo true democratisation critical, respectful discourse and debate needs to be fostered and protected.

Kua Kia Soong, adviser to the human rights group Suaram, defended Fadiah and appealed for tolerance of dissenting views:

The article written by Fadiah certainly did not constitute incitement to hatred or violence. She was expressing an opinion on an issue of public interest.

Her right to freedom of expression as a social activist and intellectual must be respected because such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broad-mindedness that our founding fathers and mothers wanted for our democratic society and especially now, the supposedly “new Malaysia”.

Officials ask for patience

Deputy Minister Hanipa Maidin, in Prime Minister's Department, reiterated the commitment of PH to repeal repressive laws but asked for patience as the government prepares for broader reforms in the bureaucracy:

I only hope the people can be a little more patient with us, just as we have been very patient with BN over the past 60 years…This is because there is far too much damage left by the previous regime for us and for you. This is not an excuse, but a sincere request from us.

Another official affirmed the intention of the government to remove controversial laws such as the Anti-Fake News Act and the Security Offences Special Measures Act (SOSMA).

Sedition cases against cartoonist Zunar dropped

A welcome development was the decision of the government to withdraw the nine sedition cases it filed against political cartoonist Zunar. This was confirmed by Zunar himself through his Twitter account:

Zunar was a prolific and prominent cartoonist who criticized the corruption and other abuses of the previous government. Aside from being charged with sedition, his drawings were confiscated by the police and he was prevented from leaving the country.

The Penang police also said they will return a collection of Zunar's books, t-shirts, and other artworks that they confiscated from him in 2017.

Malaysians continue to face significant challenges as they campaign for greater freedom and democracy in a society undergoing transition in governance. It is reassuring that the new government has not yet reneged on its vow to pursue legislative reforms that will strengthen media freedom and human rights protection.

But a growing number of Malaysian citizens and civil society groups are reminding the government to take decisive action. This was also the message of 36 civil society groups which signed a statement calling for the upholding of freedom of expression:

We hope this new government is in fact new, and will back up their rhetoric with committed and decisive action. In these crucial early days, as the government sets the tone for its administration, we hope to see a genuine departure from the old oppression, and a transition into a Malaysia where all ideas can be discussed peacefully and our constitutional rights exercised maturely.

by Mong Palatino at August 07, 2018 07:24 PM

Global Voices
As Malaysia's new government marks 100 days in office, is free speech still under threat?

Activists gather in support of lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri who was summoned by the police for allegedly posting a seditious blog article about the monarchy. Photo from Facebook page of Daniel Mizan Qayyum

As it approaches its 100 days in office, has Malaysia's new government fulfilled its promises to protect freedom of expression?

On May 9, 2018, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) party defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) which had held power for the past half century.

During the campaign period, PH released a manifesto pledging to review and potentially abolish regulations that undermine free speech. These include the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and the Anti-Fake News Act 2018.

Since the election, Malaysians have seen some improvements. Independent news websites such as the Sarawak Report and Medium have been unblocked. The travel ban on political cartoonist and activist Zunar, a fierce critic of former PM Najib Razak, has been lifted. But other outspoken voices are still under pressure.

Lawyer under probe for blogging about monarchy

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) warned that despite the campaign pledge of PH, “violations against freedom of expression are still occurring.”

The group cited the case of lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri who was summoned by the police last July for questioning the role of monarchy in politics in her blog. Fadiah is now under probe for posting an allegedly seditious online content.

CIJ advised the police and the government to stop using draconian laws while parliament is considering the repeal of these measures:

We call upon the Government to make clear its stand on freedom of expression; to condemn this investigation; and to speedily institute a moratorium on all oppressive laws pending their repeal and/ or amendment…If Malaysia is to undergo true democratisation critical, respectful discourse and debate needs to be fostered and protected.

Kua Kia Soong, adviser to the human rights group Suaram, defended Fadiah and appealed for tolerance of dissenting views:

The article written by Fadiah certainly did not constitute incitement to hatred or violence. She was expressing an opinion on an issue of public interest.

Her right to freedom of expression as a social activist and intellectual must be respected because such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broad-mindedness that our founding fathers and mothers wanted for our democratic society and especially now, the supposedly “new Malaysia”.

Officials ask for patience

Deputy Minister Hanipa Maidin, in Prime Minister's Department, reiterated the commitment of PH to repeal repressive laws but asked for patience as the government prepares for broader reforms in the bureaucracy:

I only hope the people can be a little more patient with us, just as we have been very patient with BN over the past 60 years…This is because there is far too much damage left by the previous regime for us and for you. This is not an excuse, but a sincere request from us.

Another official affirmed the intention of the government to remove controversial laws such as the Anti-Fake News Act and the Security Offences Special Measures Act (SOSMA).

Sedition cases against cartoonist Zunar dropped

A welcome development was the decision of the government to withdraw the nine sedition cases it filed against political cartoonist Zunar. This was confirmed by Zunar himself through his Twitter account:

Zunar was a prolific and prominent cartoonist who criticized the corruption and other abuses of the previous government. Aside from being charged with sedition, his drawings were confiscated by the police and he was prevented from leaving the country.

The Penang police also said they will return a collection of Zunar's books, t-shirts, and other artworks that they confiscated from him in 2017.

Malaysians continue to face significant challenges as they campaign for greater freedom and democracy in a society undergoing transition in governance. It is reassuring that the new government has not yet reneged on its vow to pursue legislative reforms that will strengthen media freedom and human rights protection.

But a growing number of Malaysian citizens and civil society groups are reminding the government to take decisive action. This was also the message of 36 civil society groups which signed a statement calling for the upholding of freedom of expression:

We hope this new government is in fact new, and will back up their rhetoric with committed and decisive action. In these crucial early days, as the government sets the tone for its administration, we hope to see a genuine departure from the old oppression, and a transition into a Malaysia where all ideas can be discussed peacefully and our constitutional rights exercised maturely.

by Mong Palatino at August 07, 2018 07:22 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Venture capital: Using your own money
We continue our look at venture capital — how it works, how investments are made and how those investments shape our world. Social Capital is a venture capital fund founded by Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive and professional poker player. He believes more venture capitalists need to use their own money when investing and not rely on institutional partners such as universities and pension funds. We revisit his talk with Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood about what should change in startup investing. (08/07/2018)

by Marketplace at August 07, 2018 05:25 PM

Global Voices
With refugees evicted, France’s ‘Calais Jungle’ is now a nature preserve

How the patch of land where the “Calais jungle” once was looks like today. Image: screenshot of Youtube video by AFP

A short wooden path winds through the lonesome expanse of sand, bushes and the abandoned bunkers built by the Germans in the 1940s. It leads to an observatory, from which one can gaze at the rather underwhelming landscape against the backdrop of a busy motorway and the factories that dot Calais industrial city.

This is the nature reserve inaugurated at the northern French town in June 2018 on the patch of land where the “Calais Jungle” once stood — and where up to 10,000 exiles from Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, and other countries used to live.

Amid controversy and intense media coverage, the site was dismantled and razed to the ground in October 2016, taking away not only the shelters of its inhabitants but also all of the other makeshift establishments — including restaurants, shops, a mosque and a church.

Local authorities developed in its place a wildlife park, advertised as an “ecological and landscaping reconquest”, which would promote the growth of “beautiful flora such as orchids, and the presence of birds, like snipes and sand martins”, the official website says.

However, some speculate that the project had been motivated by a desire to clear the city's spaces of undesired people, rather than protecting the area's wildlife.

‘Greenwashing’ evictions

Since the “jungle” was demolished, the French authorities have engaged in similar such projects in other parts of Calais. Another redevelopment enterprise seeks to transform a small wood, where a community of Eritreans live, into a park — the distinction being that woods are always open, whereas parks can be closed.

Tucked between a motorway, a high school, and a residential area, the 2.5-hectare woods is officially called the Chico Mendes Wood, while its Eritreans inhabitants have dubbed it Little Forest. Every day, local associations provide them with food, water, and personal care items.

Little Forest is also within close proximity to other local communities. Sharing such close quarters has sometimes led to tensions, particularly about waste disposal. According to Help Refugees, a charity, the authorities have failed to provide the forced migrants with adequate waste collection facilities.

On June 12, 2018, the Calais town hall convened a public meeting in which mayor Natacha Bouchart presented its plans for the woods. The meeting was attended by Global Voices.

There was a lot of discussion around the fact wood being the last reminder of the area’s history as a “beautiful marsh” (the literal translation of “Beau-Marais”, the name of the district where it is located), and one local resident reminded the audience that the woodland is home to a vast array of natural species, including salamanders that dwell close to the area’s central pond.

But no mention had been made of the wood’s human occupants until one resident timidly suggested, fifteen minutes into the meeting, that a solution should be found for “the people who live there”.

According to the city's plans, when the woods finally becomes a park, it will be surrounded by a fence to prevent entry outside of opening hours, and there are plans to attach cameras to the park’s street lamps. According to the mayor, this will help identify the owners of dogs that may defecate in the park.

Several other suggestions were put forward at the town hall meeting, including the installation of a playground, footpaths, and a pétanque ground. No suggestions of toilets and water fountains were put forward. The redevelopment should cost the city a total of 1.5 million euros.

The timeline of the project suggests that some elements are more important than others: while most of the construction is planned for the beginning of 2020, fences are scheduled to be installed in August 2018.

How the Calais Jungle looked like on January 17, 2016. Photo: malachybrowne/Flickr CC BY 2.0

‘No-fixation points’

The proposed redevelopment of the Chico Mendes Wood is happening in the context of ongoing settlement clearings in Calais — some almost daily, and at least once a week. Under the new policy of “no fixation points“, authorities routinely destroy, tear-gas, or discard tents, tarpaulins, sleeping bags, and blankets.

These operations often take place at night or at dawn, without forewarning, and under heavy police presence. Not only are refugees’ homes taken away, but all too often their belongings are also confiscated, and various instances of police brutality against forced migrants, including minors, have been reported.

We can never know what Chico Mendes, who bestowed his name upon this small wood, would have thought of Bouchart’s proposal. The Brazilian activist, assassinated in 1988, dedicated his life to fighting for the preservation of the Amazonian rainforest as well as for the rights of peasants and indigenous peoples who lived in it.

In the words of Michel Agier, senior Researcher at the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD) and author of the book “The Jungle: Calais's Camps and Migrants“, the redevelopment projects are, effectively, an attempt at erasing the tumultuous history of this “draft of a city“:

Il y a un ensemble de crises politiques qui font qu’il y a des gens qui sont mis dans l’obligation de circuler. Ce qui indigne les gens de Calais, c’est le mauvais traitement des gens qui sont là, et, en passant, la mauvaise image de leur ville à cause de cela. Ce n’est pas littéralement le camp ou les migrants eux-mêmes, c’est plutôt cette absence de solution.

There is a set of political crises that cause people to be forced to move around. What outrages the people of Calais is the mistreatment of the people who are there, and the bad image of their city because of that. It is not literally the camp or the migrants themselves, it is rather the lack of solution for their plight.

by Diego Jenowein at August 07, 2018 12:40 PM

Ben Adida
Voting Security by Example: Voatz

West Virginia is running an experiment: they’re using Voatz, a mobile-phone based voting system, to help overseas soldiers vote. It’s commendable to try new voting ideas in limited pilot settings, and it’s really commendable to help our military vote. However, there’s one really concerning thing about this proposal: there’s no real technical explanation about how it works.

This lack of technical information is almost always a really bad sign, because the most secure systems tend to be the ones that have received intense public vetting. That said, let’s use this as an opportunity to ask the questions that matter, whether you’re using Voatz or any other voting system. If the Voatz team has answers to these questions, I’d love to hear them and I’ll gladly provide feedback.

  1. How are voters authenticated, and who checks the authentication? Voatz says they use biometric authentication… but who performs that check? Is it their servers? Does the public then trust Voatz to decide who gets to vote and who doesn’t? Is there some way to audit this process? Does Voatz have a pre-existing list of registered voters they’re checking against? If so, does that mean that we’re also trusting Voatz not to stuff the ballot box, i.e. add a bunch of votes at the last minute “on behalf of” voters who haven’t shown up yet and thus likely won’t?
  2. How do voters check that their vote was properly recorded? Is there a way for a voter to check that their vote was recorded as intended? In particular, how does a voter know that their mobile phone wasn’t infected by a virus, that the Voatz software correctly captured their intent, and that the vote isn’t tampered with sometime after it leaves the phone? “Blockchain” is not nearly enough of an answer to this, since a blockchain only guarantees tamper-proofness after it receives data. What happens before? (Also, if we’re talking blockchain… who runs this particular blockchain? Is it the Bitcoin blockchain? Another blockchain? Who runs the servers?)
  3. How is voter privacy enforced? If voters do have a way to check that their vote was correctly captured, is their vote still private? Does anyone have the power to link a voter to their ballot content? Does Voatz? If not, how does Voatz or anyone else check that votes weren’t modified en route?

Whether you’re evaluating Voatz or any other voting system, you should ask yourself those 3 questions and seek to understand whom you’re trusting at each step. Are we depending on Voatz to guarantee those 3 properties? If not Voatz, who are we trusting?

 

[“Ballot Box for Alameda County” by Joe Hall, CC BY 2.0]

by benadida at August 07, 2018 05:03 AM

August 06, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Landmark ruling in Angola acquits journalist Rafael Marques of all charges

Rafael Marques de Morais | 2015 Allard Prize ceremony | Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA 3.0

A court in Luanda has acquitted journalist Rafael Marques and editor Mariano Brás of charges of insulting the Angolan state in what many considered a milestone for the country's press freedom.

Marques was charged in June 2017 after publishing an article in October 2016 alleging that then-Attorney General João Maria de Souza had engaged in corrupt dealings to acquire beachfront property where he built a residential compound. The article was published on independent news website Maka Angola, of which Marques is the founder and editor.

Mariano Brás, the chief editor of the newspaper O Crime, which published the article in print, was facing the same charges. Marques was additionally being accused of “offending an organ of sovereignty” for allegedly having offended the ex-president José Eduardo dos Santos in the same piece.

At the latest hearing on July 6, judge Josina Falcão, who was presiding the case at Luanda Provincial Court, stated that the journalists merely “fulfilled their duty to inform” and dismissed all the accusations against both men.

While this was not the first time that Marques was brought to trial for his journalistic work, it was indeed the first time that the Luanda Provincial Court acquitted him — in the previous cases, he merely had the sentence suspended.

The case was followed by various news outlets as well as activists on social media. This is one of the first highly profile court cases during the government of João Lourenço, who succeeded the long-serving president José Eduardo dos Santos in September 2017.

Angolan activist Luaty Beirão, who was present at the trial, tweeted as it unfolded, up to the moment of the sentence:

“It is the understanding of this court that truth exists in the text published by the defendant and that he did nothing more than fulfil his obligation to inform the public. We do not perceive that there was any intention to defame the plaintiff”.

1st Tweet: “It was proved during this trial that the process of land acquisition, at the origin of the article by the defendant which triggered the case which today comes to its end, is tarnished by irregularities”. Conclusion? Who committed a crime? Who should have been in the dock? The messenger?

2nd Tweet: The day of passing sentence

1st Tweet: After 3 hours of reading what seemed to be a doctoral thesis, we get to the interesting part: Mariano Brás, innocent of all charges, @RafaelMdeMorais, innocent of all charges.

2nd Tweet: “The court understands that we would be erring if, as a society that wants to evolve, we decided to punish the messengers of bad news. In taking public positions, it is necessary to become used to being scrutinized and criticized. If you cannot stand the heat, you cannot work in the kitchen”

After the hearing, Marques, who was awarded World Press Freedom Hero in 2018 by the International Press Institute, said that the court's decision was “historic”. He ensured the public that he “will continue denouncing all those who harm the country”.

A new beginning for Angola?

Some civil society organizations are hopeful that the court’s decision recognizing Rafael Marques’ innocence marks the beginning of a new era in Angola’s court press freedom.

In an interview with DW África, Alexandre Solembe, president of the Institute for Social Communication in Southern Africa in Angola, said he had no doubts that the result would have been different if José Eduardo dos Santos, the former Angolan president for several decades, was still in power.

Under the former president’s time in office, there were numerous cases of harassment of journalists and activists who were critical of the government.

Similarly, the news was welcomed by the African Federation of Journalists, an organization which brings together professionals in social communications from across the continent:

For Human Rights Watch, it was a victory for press freedom, as highlighted by the organization's researcher for Africa, Zenaida Machado:

The unexpected ruling is a victory for freedom of the press in a country where the media has been on a tight leash, with authorities often repressing coverage of cases of corruption involving government officials, through intimidation and abusive use of defamation laws. Following today’s historic court ruling, the Angolan government should now go further and seek to amend the 2017 media law so that journalists are able to do their jobs in a free environment.

The African network of reporters, RSF África, also welcomed the case, stating that it was a positive sign for investigative journalism:

by Dércio Tsandzana at August 06, 2018 06:45 PM

Global Voices
Landmark ruling in Angola acquits journalist Rafael Marques of all charges

Rafael Marques de Morais | 2015 Allard Prize ceremony | Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA 3.0

A court in Luanda has acquitted journalist Rafael Marques and editor Mariano Brás of charges of insulting the Angolan state in what many considered a milestone for the country's press freedom.

Marques was charged in June 2017 after publishing an article in October 2016 alleging that then-Attorney General João Maria de Souza had engaged in corrupt dealings to acquire beachfront property where he built a residential compound. The article was published on independent news website Maka Angola, of which Marques is the founder and editor.

Mariano Brás, the chief editor of the newspaper O Crime, which published the article in print, was facing the same charges. Marques was additionally being accused of “offending an organ of sovereignty” for allegedly having offended the ex-president José Eduardo dos Santos in the same piece.

At the latest hearing on July 6, judge Josina Falcão, who was presiding the case at Luanda Provincial Court, stated that the journalists merely “fulfilled their duty to inform” and dismissed all the accusations against both men.

While this was not the first time that Marques was brought to trial for his journalistic work, it was indeed the first time that the Luanda Provincial Court acquitted him — in the previous cases, he merely had the sentence suspended.

The case was followed by various news outlets as well as activists on social media. This is one of the first highly profile court cases during the government of João Lourenço, who succeeded the long-serving president José Eduardo dos Santos in September 2017.

Angolan activist Luaty Beirão, who was present at the trial, tweeted as it unfolded, up to the moment of the sentence:

“It is the understanding of this court that truth exists in the text published by the defendant and that he did nothing more than fulfil his obligation to inform the public. We do not perceive that there was any intention to defame the plaintiff”.

1st Tweet: “It was proved during this trial that the process of land acquisition, at the origin of the article by the defendant which triggered the case which today comes to its end, is tarnished by irregularities”. Conclusion? Who committed a crime? Who should have been in the dock? The messenger?

2nd Tweet: The day of passing sentence

1st Tweet: After 3 hours of reading what seemed to be a doctoral thesis, we get to the interesting part: Mariano Brás, innocent of all charges, @RafaelMdeMorais, innocent of all charges.

2nd Tweet: “The court understands that we would be erring if, as a society that wants to evolve, we decided to punish the messengers of bad news. In taking public positions, it is necessary to become used to being scrutinized and criticized. If you cannot stand the heat, you cannot work in the kitchen”

After the hearing, Marques, who was awarded World Press Freedom Hero in 2018 by the International Press Institute, said that the court's decision was “historic”. He ensured the public that he “will continue denouncing all those who harm the country”.

A new beginning for Angola?

Some civil society organizations are hopeful that the court’s decision recognizing Rafael Marques’ innocence marks the beginning of a new era in Angola’s court press freedom.

In an interview with DW África, Alexandre Solembe, president of the Institute for Social Communication in Southern Africa in Angola, said he had no doubts that the result would have been different if José Eduardo dos Santos, the former Angolan president for several decades, was still in power.

Under the former president’s time in office, there were numerous cases of harassment of journalists and activists who were critical of the government.

Similarly, the news was welcomed by the African Federation of Journalists, an organization which brings together professionals in social communications from across the continent:

For Human Rights Watch, it was a victory for press freedom, as highlighted by the organization's researcher for Africa, Zenaida Machado:

The unexpected ruling is a victory for freedom of the press in a country where the media has been on a tight leash, with authorities often repressing coverage of cases of corruption involving government officials, through intimidation and abusive use of defamation laws. Following today’s historic court ruling, the Angolan government should now go further and seek to amend the 2017 media law so that journalists are able to do their jobs in a free environment.

The African network of reporters, RSF África, also welcomed the case, stating that it was a positive sign for investigative journalism:

by Liam Anderson at August 06, 2018 04:54 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Iran’s telecommunications company illegally rerouted Telegram app traffic

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot. Graphic by stephan salt for Noun Project.

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

In a new move aimed at tightening the state-imposed ban on the Telegram messaging app, the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI) temporarily rerouted Telegram app traffic on July 30, in clear violation of domestic law.

For one hour, the routing or pathway of Telegram’s internet protocol addresses changed so that users’ traffic was routed to the TCI instead of Telegram’s servers. This rendered the app unusable, even when users employed censorship circumvention tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs).

What does the border gateway protocol do?

The BGP protocol enables internet routers to find each other. For example, if you want to access the Telegram app, the best path to the app’s servers will be determined by routers that connect you to their stored IP addresses, which are updated when changes take place. As such, BGP allows routers to exchange information on how users can best access desired destinations.

Speaking to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), internet security expert Hamid Kashfi explained that this type of “hijacking” is like changing your home address to receive mail at someone else’s residence. He explained that the method used “border gateway protocols” (BGPs), which enable routers to find one another.

“When you don’t have physical access to a target network inside the country, the easiest way to control its traffic is by hijacking internet data through BGPs,” Kashfi told CHRI.

This is not the first time Iran has resorted to illegal methods to expand its filtering policies. But this time, the move could have global implications. By altering the routing of Telegram traffic, Iran may cause other servers in the world to also update their routing. This will likely result in a spate of incorrect IP addresses that could also disrupt internet traffic in other countries.

Commenting on the development, Washington Post tech reporter Drew Fitzgerald tweeted on July 30:

The TCI hijacked border gateway protocols, which manage how data is transferred across the internet. This is not only a violation of Iran's Computer Crimes Law, it also seals the reputation of Iran’s Telecommunications Ministry as a violator of internet freedom.

Responding to this action, Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi tweeted on July 30, “Based on reports I’ve received so far, between 4 and 6 a.m. on July 30, the TCI was engaged in changing its topology and consolidating its provincial network in Shiraz and Bushehr [cities].”

“If confirmed, the TCI’s misdeed, whether intentional or not, will trigger a heavy fine,” he added. “The matter is under investigation by the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) of The I.R. of Iran.”

By blocking international access to the website, the TIC committed sabotage and hacked the network in violation of articles 736 and 737 of Iran’s Computer Crimes Law, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of 40 million rials (approximately $906 USD).

Further investigations by CHRI

Research by CHRI show that on July 17, 2018, Iran also attempted to block international access to banned domestic websites by sabotaging and interfering in the data traffic, in violation of its own Computer Crimes Law.

When a user outside Iran tried to access fileniko.com, the Telecommunication Infrastructure Company (TIC) inserted code into that website that redirected users to a different website, http://peyvandha.ir/, which displays a list of websites recommended by Iranian authorities.

The list is no longer displayed because authorities have removed the filter on the website.

The responsible authority for this action was the TIC, which operates under the Telecommunications Ministry. All ministries in Iran operate under the president, who appoints the head minister.

It is unknown how many websites in Iran have been made inaccessible via this method.

Screenshot of the code inserted into the fileniko.com website.

Screenshot of the code inserted into the fileniko.com website.

Why the BGP filtering method is ineffective

Implemented less than two months after Iran blocked access to Telegram, the move appears to be designed to strengthen the ban by rerouting access requests to servers inside Iran. This method was previously used by the government of Pakistan in February 2008 when it extended its filtering to international BGP routes and redirected most of YouTube’s traffic to Pakistan.

Although this filtering method can be temporarily effective, it is also easily recognizable and can be corrected by international routers within a maximum of two to three days.

Kashfi commented: “Despite what the public might think, this kind of attack is technically very simple. In truth, it’s a deliberate mistake intended to change the main route of internet service providers.”

Asked if he thinks Iran’s action was accidental or deliberate, Kashfi responded, “Governments usually do it deliberately and then say it was accidental. Since blocking Telegram in Iran is a strategic matter, it’s very, very unlikely it was accidental.”

by Center for Human Rights in Iran at August 06, 2018 04:46 PM

Global Voices
Iran’s telecommunications company illegally rerouted Telegram app traffic

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot. Graphic by stephan salt for Noun Project.

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

In a new move aimed at tightening the state-imposed ban on the Telegram messaging app, the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI) temporarily rerouted Telegram app traffic on July 30, in clear violation of domestic law.

For one hour, the routing or pathway of Telegram’s internet protocol addresses changed so that users’ traffic was routed to the TCI instead of Telegram’s servers. This rendered the app unusable, even when users employed censorship circumvention tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs).

What does the border gateway protocol do?

The BGP protocol enables internet routers to find each other. For example, if you want to access the Telegram app, the best path to the app’s servers will be determined by routers that connect you to their stored IP addresses, which are updated when changes take place. As such, BGP allows routers to exchange information on how users can best access desired destinations.

Speaking to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), internet security expert Hamid Kashfi explained that this type of “hijacking” is like changing your home address to receive mail at someone else’s residence. He explained that the method used “border gateway protocols” (BGPs), which enable routers to find one another.

“When you don’t have physical access to a target network inside the country, the easiest way to control its traffic is by hijacking internet data through BGPs,” Kashfi told CHRI.

This is not the first time Iran has resorted to illegal methods to expand its filtering policies. But this time, the move could have global implications. By altering the routing of Telegram traffic, Iran may cause other servers in the world to also update their routing. This will likely result in a spate of incorrect IP addresses that could also disrupt internet traffic in other countries.

Commenting on the development, Washington Post tech reporter Drew Fitzgerald tweeted on July 30:

The TCI hijacked border gateway protocols, which manage how data is transferred across the internet. This is not only a violation of Iran's Computer Crimes Law, it also seals the reputation of Iran’s Telecommunications Ministry as a violator of internet freedom.

Responding to this action, Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi tweeted on July 30, “Based on reports I’ve received so far, between 4 and 6 a.m. on July 30, the TCI was engaged in changing its topology and consolidating its provincial network in Shiraz and Bushehr [cities].”

“If confirmed, the TCI’s misdeed, whether intentional or not, will trigger a heavy fine,” he added. “The matter is under investigation by the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) of The I.R. of Iran.”

By blocking international access to the website, the TIC committed sabotage and hacked the network in violation of articles 736 and 737 of Iran’s Computer Crimes Law, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of 40 million rials (approximately $906 USD).

Further investigations by CHRI

Research by CHRI show that on July 17, 2018, Iran also attempted to block international access to banned domestic websites by sabotaging and interfering in the data traffic, in violation of its own Computer Crimes Law.

When a user outside Iran tried to access fileniko.com, the Telecommunication Infrastructure Company (TIC) inserted code into that website that redirected users to a different website, http://peyvandha.ir/, which displays a list of websites recommended by Iranian authorities.

The list is no longer displayed because authorities have removed the filter on the website.

The responsible authority for this action was the TIC, which operates under the Telecommunications Ministry. All ministries in Iran operate under the president, who appoints the head minister.

It is unknown how many websites in Iran have been made inaccessible via this method.

Screenshot of the code inserted into the fileniko.com website.

Screenshot of the code inserted into the fileniko.com website.

Why the BGP filtering method is ineffective

Implemented less than two months after Iran blocked access to Telegram, the move appears to be designed to strengthen the ban by rerouting access requests to servers inside Iran. This method was previously used by the government of Pakistan in February 2008 when it extended its filtering to international BGP routes and redirected most of YouTube’s traffic to Pakistan.

Although this filtering method can be temporarily effective, it is also easily recognizable and can be corrected by international routers within a maximum of two to three days.

Kashfi commented: “Despite what the public might think, this kind of attack is technically very simple. In truth, it’s a deliberate mistake intended to change the main route of internet service providers.”

Asked if he thinks Iran’s action was accidental or deliberate, Kashfi responded, “Governments usually do it deliberately and then say it was accidental. Since blocking Telegram in Iran is a strategic matter, it’s very, very unlikely it was accidental.”

by Center for Human Rights in Iran at August 06, 2018 04:44 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam detained over student protest coverage

Image via the Facebook page of DRIK.

Late on the night of August 5, 2018, Bangladeshi photographer and activist Dr. Shahidul Alam was forcibly abducted from his house in Dhanmondi, Dhaka by men in plainclothes.

Alam is the founder of both the Drik Picture Library and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and a vocal journalist on issues related to rule of law and the public interest.

It was soon confirmed that a team of the Detective Branch (DB) of police had detained Shahidul from his residence, with the intention of interrogating him over his Facebook posts about ongoing student protests in the capital, Dhaka.

Secondary school students of different educational institutions in the Bangladesh capital have taken to the streets since July 29 demanding improved road safety and rule enforcement, after two of their classmates were killed due to reckless driving by public bus. The students are also demanding justice for the victims.

Detained for covering the student protests

Shahidul Alam has been covering the ongoing student protests in Bangladesh in his Facebook and Twitter accounts and discussing the protests on Facebook Live.

More than one hundred students were injured over the weekend as the police resorted to excessive force, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas at thousands of peaceful student protestors.

The protests took a violent turn on August 4 when rumors of student protestors being kidnapped, raped and killed began to spread online, but independent media sources at the Dhaka Tribune along with students themselves and a fact-hecking Facebook group called Jaachai (fact-check) have denounced these messages as false and debunked doctored photographs. Nevertheless, many students came out to the streets to protest the deaths. Several violent confrontations between protestors and police have ensued since. Mobs allegedly associated with Bangladesh's ruling party have also attacked demonstrators and journalists who were covering the attacks.

Emergency medical teams say they have treated more than 100 protestors who have been injured.

In an attempt to curb rapidly-spreading rumors, mobile internet speed was brought down to a minimum level (2G) shutting down 3G and 3G broadcasts.

Booked under ICT act over media comments

Alongside his social media coverage of the protests, Alam apparently angered the authorities and the ruling party after he gave a TV interview on Sunday evening with Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera where he talked about the recent situation in Bangladesh and criticized the government.

Expat blogger Rumi Ahmed posted a transcript of the interview on Facebook. Here is an excerpt:

I think what we need to do is to look at what has been happening in the streets today. The police specifically asked for help from these armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads. I mean how ridiculous is that. Today, I was in the streets, there were people with machetes in their hands chasing unarmed students. And the police are standing by watching it happen. In some cases, they were actually helping them…

According to the latest reports, the police have received a seven-day remand to question Shahidul Alam in connection with an ICT Act case filed on August 6, 2018. He was taken to the court barefoot and barely able to walk. He appears to have been beaten while in custody.

Exiled journalist Tasneem Khalil Tweeted:

The police have not yet mentioned why he was detained but referred to the case which accuses him under section 57 of the ICT Act of “abusing” an electronic platform in order to spread “lies” among the population and with the intent to “invalidate and question” the government on the international stage, damage law and order, spread “fear and terror”.

The provisions of Section 57 of Bangladesh's notoriously broad 2013 Information and Communication Technology Act of Bangladesh have been used to slap hundreds of lawsuits against journalists and online activists to curb the freedom of speech online over the past few years.

Blogger and activist Vaskar Abedin writes on Facebook:

শহীদুল আলম কোনো গুজবকে সত্যের মতো অভিনয় করে প্রচার করেননি। একজন অ্যাক্টিভিস্টের মতো করে ডেটা, ফ্যাক্ট আর নিজের তোলা ছবি নিয়ে ফেইসবুক লাইভে গেছেন। তিনি কাউকে আহ্বান জানান নাই উস্কানি দিয়ে, তিনি কেবল পরিস্থিতি বিশ্লেষণ করেছেন নিজের উপস্থিতি জানান দিয়ে। বেশিরভাগ লাইভ ভিডিওতে তিনি ইংরেজিতে কথা বলেছেন। যেসবের ভোক্তা এই আন্দোলনের মূল নিউক্লিয়াসের কেউ নয়।

অথচ তার বিরুদ্ধে তথ্যপ্রযুক্তি আইনে আন্দোলনের উস্কানিদাতা হিসাবে মামলা হয়েছে। এমন বিষয়গুলো খুব বিব্রতকর।

Shahidul Alam did not make up stories to spread rumors. Like a true activist, he presented the facts on Facebook live with his photographs and data. He did not provoke anyone or direct anyone, he just analyzed the situation explaining what he saw on the streets. He spoke in English mostly in his Facebook Live broadcasts and the target audience of which are not the people involved in the protest, but the wider (international) community.

But he was sued under the ICT act for acting as a provocateur. This is very embarrassing.

Amnesty International has released a statement which read:

Shahidul Alam must be immediately and unconditionally released. There is no justification whatsoever for detaining anyone for solely peacefully expressing their views. His arrest marks a dangerous escalation of a crackdown by the government that has seen the police and vigilantes unleash violence against student protestors.

by GV South Asia at August 06, 2018 04:44 PM

Global Voices
Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam detained over student protest coverage

Image via the Facebook page of DRIK.

Late on the night of August 5, 2018, Bangladeshi photographer and activist Dr. Shahidul Alam was forcibly abducted from his house in Dhanmondi, Dhaka by men in plainclothes.

Alam is the founder of both the Drik Picture Library and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and a vocal journalist on issues related to rule of law and the public interest.

It was soon confirmed that a team of the Detective Branch (DB) of police had detained Shahidul from his residence, with the intention of interrogating him over his Facebook posts about ongoing student protests in the capital, Dhaka.

Secondary school students of different educational institutions in the Bangladesh capital have taken to the streets since July 29 demanding improved road safety and rule enforcement, after two of their classmates were killed due to reckless driving by public bus. The students are also demanding justice for the victims.

Detained for covering the student protests

Shahidul Alam has been covering the ongoing student protests in Bangladesh in his Facebook and Twitter accounts and discussing the protests on Facebook Live.

More than one hundred students were injured over the weekend as the police resorted to excessive force, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas at thousands of peaceful student protestors.

The protests took a violent turn on August 4 when rumors of student protestors being kidnapped, raped and killed began to spread online, but independent media sources at the Dhaka Tribune along with students themselves and a fact-hecking Facebook group called Jaachai (fact-check) have denounced these messages as false and debunked doctored photographs. Nevertheless, many students came out to the streets to protest the deaths. Several violent confrontations between protestors and police have ensued since. Mobs allegedly associated with Bangladesh's ruling party have also attacked demonstrators and journalists who were covering the attacks.

Emergency medical teams say they have treated more than 100 protestors who have been injured.

In an attempt to curb rapidly-spreading rumors, mobile internet speed was brought down to a minimum level (2G) shutting down 3G and 3G broadcasts.

Booked under ICT act over media comments

Alongside his social media coverage of the protests, Alam apparently angered the authorities and the ruling party after he gave a TV interview on Sunday evening with Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera where he talked about the recent situation in Bangladesh and criticized the government.

Expat blogger Rumi Ahmed posted a transcript of the interview on Facebook. Here is an excerpt:

I think what we need to do is to look at what has been happening in the streets today. The police specifically asked for help from these armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads. I mean how ridiculous is that. Today, I was in the streets, there were people with machetes in their hands chasing unarmed students. And the police are standing by watching it happen. In some cases, they were actually helping them…

According to the latest reports, the police have received a seven-day remand to question Shahidul Alam in connection with an ICT Act case filed on August 6, 2018. He was taken to the court barefoot and barely able to walk. He appears to have been beaten while in custody.

Exiled journalist Tasneem Khalil Tweeted:

The police have not yet mentioned why he was detained but referred to the case which accuses him under section 57 of the ICT Act of “abusing” an electronic platform in order to spread “lies” among the population and with the intent to “invalidate and question” the government on the international stage, damage law and order, spread “fear and terror”.

The provisions of Section 57 of Bangladesh's notoriously broad 2013 Information and Communication Technology Act of Bangladesh have been used to slap hundreds of lawsuits against journalists and online activists to curb the freedom of speech online over the past few years.

Blogger and activist Vaskar Abedin writes on Facebook:

শহীদুল আলম কোনো গুজবকে সত্যের মতো অভিনয় করে প্রচার করেননি। একজন অ্যাক্টিভিস্টের মতো করে ডেটা, ফ্যাক্ট আর নিজের তোলা ছবি নিয়ে ফেইসবুক লাইভে গেছেন। তিনি কাউকে আহ্বান জানান নাই উস্কানি দিয়ে, তিনি কেবল পরিস্থিতি বিশ্লেষণ করেছেন নিজের উপস্থিতি জানান দিয়ে। বেশিরভাগ লাইভ ভিডিওতে তিনি ইংরেজিতে কথা বলেছেন। যেসবের ভোক্তা এই আন্দোলনের মূল নিউক্লিয়াসের কেউ নয়।

অথচ তার বিরুদ্ধে তথ্যপ্রযুক্তি আইনে আন্দোলনের উস্কানিদাতা হিসাবে মামলা হয়েছে। এমন বিষয়গুলো খুব বিব্রতকর।

Shahidul Alam did not make up stories to spread rumors. Like a true activist, he presented the facts on Facebook live with his photographs and data. He did not provoke anyone or direct anyone, he just analyzed the situation explaining what he saw on the streets. He spoke in English mostly in his Facebook Live broadcasts and the target audience of which are not the people involved in the protest, but the wider (international) community.

But he was sued under the ICT act for acting as a provocateur. This is very embarrassing.

Amnesty International has released a statement which read:

Shahidul Alam must be immediately and unconditionally released. There is no justification whatsoever for detaining anyone for solely peacefully expressing their views. His arrest marks a dangerous escalation of a crackdown by the government that has seen the police and vigilantes unleash violence against student protestors.

by GV South Asia at August 06, 2018 04:30 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Venture capital: The bad apples
All week we're looking at venture capital and the people who control that wealth. We start with the industry's very culture. In November, venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson left that firm following allegations of inappropriate behavior and an internal investigation. The company said he left by mutual agreement. Ellen Pao is a venture capitalist who sued another well-known firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, for gender discrimination in 2012. She lost the case, but it inspired other women to come forward. We revisit Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood's conversation with Pao about how her public battle shined a light on venture capital’s culture. (08/06/2018)

by Marketplace at August 06, 2018 11:06 AM

August 05, 2018

Global Voices
After years of silence and denial, Assad regime issues death certificates to ‘disappeared’ prisoners
satellite image shows Saydnaya military prison. Source: Google Earth.

Satellite image shows the notorious Saydnaya military prison. Source: Google Earth.

After several years of waiting for news and updates, hundreds of Syrian families were able to confirm the death of their disappeared loved ones through certificates issued by the government.

Since July 2018, the government has been updating the civil registry records of the governorates of Damascus, Damascus suburbs, Homs, Hama, Lattakia and Hassaka where hundreds if not thousands of forcibly disappeared citizens were already identified as dead years ago.

At least 82,000 Syrians were forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime between 2011 and 2018, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), among whom at least 13,066 allegedly died under torture.

The city of Daraya alone, an agricultural city near Damascus besieged by the regime for four years from 2012 to 2016, saw around 1,000 of its citizens on that updated list of dead persons.

“Most of the arbitrarily detained were not brought to trials but only a few were sent to three kinds of courts: the court of terrorism cases, the military court and the field court,” Noor Alkhateb, the director of the detainees department at SNHR told Global Voices (GV).

SNHR's report condemned the Syrian regime and held it responsible for the deaths of thousands in its custody. The report also emphasized that 90 percent of the detainees have suffered torture “using the most horrendous methods of brutality”.

The Shurbaji brothers

Yehya Shurbaji (known as “The Man With The Roses” or “Abu Al-Ward” in Arabic) and his brother Mohammad (known as Maan) were two of the first Syrian activists in the anti-Assad demonstrations in Daraya in 2011.

The brothers participated in the coordination of peaceful demonstrations in 2011 in the early months of the Syrian revolution. In September of that year, Mohammad was arrested by a Syrian intelligence officer, who forced him to call Yehya and drive him out of Daraya, claiming that he is injured and needs urgent medical care. Six hours later, Yehya drove to Sahnaya town along with Ghiath Matar, another prominent Syrian activist.

Read: Daraya, Symbol of Non-Violent Revolution and Self-Determination, Falls to the Syrian Regime

However, what they found there was an ambush by Syrian intelligence forces. Ghiath was injured and passed away a day later. Yehya was thrown in jail.

GV spoke with Ahmad Shurbaji, Yehya and Mohammad's brother, who spoke about Yehya's role in nonviolence resistance to the Assad regime:

Yehya was well known in Daraya. He believed that freedom and democracy must come through a peaceful struggle. He kept calling the demonstrators to avoid violence.

The Shurbaji brothers were held in Saydnaya prison, the prison now notorious for its mass hanging of up to 13,000 people between 2011 and 2015 alone. Amnesty International described it as “the human slaughterhouse“.

Over the last seven years, relatives of the Shurbaji brothers couldn't get a visit or even an official statement regarding the fate of the two, Ahmad told GV. A year ago, they received unconfirmed reports that Yehya was executed in Saydnaya years ago and that Mohammad passed away due to illness and lack of medical care in prison.

Ahmad was able to confirm this last July 2018 when he asked one of his relatives in Damascus to retrieve the birth certificates of his brothers from the civil registry. They found out that Yehya was declared dead on January 15, 2013 while Mohammad was also listed as dead on December 13 during the same year. No reason for the deaths was written in the documents.

Birth certification for Yehya Charbaji with his alleged death date. Source: Ahmad Charbaji, used with a permission.

Ahmad told GV that Yehya was first arrested in 2003 and remained in detention for two years:

Mohammad was a football player who played in the Damascus-based ‘Union football club’  Yehya was well known through his history of struggle against the regime. He was arrested in 2003 for two years and stripped later of his civil rights.

Ahmad recounted Yehya's role, along with Ghiath Matar, in giving out flowers and bottles of water to Syrian regime soldiers, a now-iconic moment of the early months of the Syrian revolution.

Yehya proposed in the beginning of the Syrian Uprising an idea of giving the Syrian security in the demonstrations roses and a bottle of water, as a symbol of peace. Therefore, people started calling him “The Man With The Roses”, he added. But even for a guy like Yehya, demanding freedom was an unforgivable sin.

 

Islam Dabbas

 

The name of Islam Dabbas, a young Syrian activist described as shy with a funny personality, was also among the confirmed names in the updated list of the dead. Dabbas participated in demonstrations and coordinated them along with prominent lawyer and activist Razan Zaitouneh. Zaitouneh and three other activists – called the ‘Douma 4′ – are widely believed to have been kidnapped by the rebel group Jaysh Al-Islam in Douma, Eastern Ghouta.

Read: The fall of Syria's Eastern Ghouta

On July 22, 2011, Islam was demonstrating near Al-Imam mosque in Daraya city with hundreds of other Syrians demanding freedom and political reform in the country when they were attacked by state security forces. The attack was carried out despite the non-violence tactics used by Islam and his fellow activists who were holding roses and bottles of water.

Islam was surrounded by security forces who took his rose and bottle and beat him before arresting him. He was taken from one security branch to another and ended up in Saydnaya prison. Islam's sister, Hiba Dabbas, who is in exile in Egypt, told GV that:

We visited him twice and paid a bribe of 75,000 Syrian Pound (approximately 170 USD) to a military officer in order to see him for three minutes. The second time we visited him after many attempts was in November 2012. He didn't seem to be tortured and his was in good health. He seemed as we used to know him.

During the last time they saw him, Islam said that his trial is scheduled on January 2013:

He told us that he has a trial in the next January, but when the jailer heard that he hit him on his back. Islam told him I didn’t say anything wrong, but the jailer answered ‘We'll see, we'll see”.

And that was the last time Hiba and her mother saw him.

News about Islam was cut off later and for around six years they heard nothing about his fate. Hiba was afraid that he would suffer the same fate of the detainees in the 1980s when hundreds were forcibly disappeared during the fight between the Syrian Army and the extreme group ‘Fighting Vanguard’ in Hama.

One of their relatives in Damascus went to the civil registry after she heard that the records have been updated. That's when they found out that Islam was also written as dead on January 15, 2013 although the relative couldn’t extract his death certificate.

“As long as Assad remains in power, there will be no justice for Islam and his friends,” Hiba said.

Many Syrian families have paid huge bribes, sometimes reaching millions of Syrian Pounds, to Syrian officers in the hope of finding out about the fate of their beloved ones, although they rarely get accurate information.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) described it as a ‘bureaucracy of death‘.

With the continuing expansion of pro-regime forces across Syria, it seems that the Assad government doesn't fear any repercussion from the release of these death notices to the public.

“It's obvious that the Syrian regime saw that it did so many violations in Syria and can now acknowledge that thousands have died in its prisons without accountability or consequences”, Sara Kayyali, a Syrian researcher for HRW told GV.

by Mazen Hassoun at August 05, 2018 05:28 PM

Doc Searls
A helpful approach to personal data protection regulation

Enforcing Data Protection: A Model for Risk-Based Supervision Using Responsive Regulatory Tools, a post by Dvara Research, summarizes Effective Enforcement of a Data Protection Regime, a deeply thought and researched paper by Beni Chugh (@BeniChugh), Malavika Raghavan (@teninthemorning), Nishanth Kumar (@beamboybeamboy) and Sansiddha Pani (@julupani). While it addresses proximal concerns in India, it provides useful guidance for data regulators everywhere.

An excerpt:

Any data protection regulator faces certain unique challenges. The ubiquitous collection and use of personal data by service providers in the modern economy creates a vast space for a regulator to oversee. Contraventions of a data protection regime may not immediately manifest and when they do, may not have a clear monetary or quantifiable harm. The enforcement perimeter is market-wide, so a future data protection authority will necessarily interface with other sectoral institutions.  In light of these challenges, we present a model for enforcement of a data protection regime based on risk-based supervision and the use of a range of responsive enforcement tools.

This forward-looking approach considers the potential for regulators to employ a range of softer tools before a breach to prevent it and after a breach to mitigate the effects. Depending on the seriousness of contraventions, the regulator can escalate up to harder enforcement actions. The departure from the focus on post-data breach sanctions (that currently dominate data protection regimes worldwide) is an attempt to consider how the regulatory community might act in coordination with entities processing data to minimise contraventions of the regime.

I hope European regulators are looking at this. Because, as I said in a headline to a post last month, without enforcement, the GDPR is a fail.

Bonus link from the IAPP (International Association of Privacy Professionals): When will we start seeing GDPR enforcement actions? We guess Feb. 22, 2019.

by Doc Searls at August 05, 2018 02:00 PM

August 03, 2018

Global Voices
Is Western media biased against China? (Part Two)

Does the volume of reporting about pollution and human rights in China correspond to readers’ interest? PHOTO: Marybeth_Whitehouse via Wikimedia Common. CC: AT.

By Pong Lai

(This is the second installment of a two-part post. Read Part One here.)

One of the major pieces of evidence cited by Chinese state-owned media as proof of western media bias against China is the large volume of negative reports about China's air pollution. According to China Daily:

China is […] castigated in the Western media for its terrible air pollution. Westerners have the impression that Chinese cities are the worst in the world in terms of air quality, when the most polluted cities are in India, the Middle East and Africa. Beijing is far down the list at number 57 or 153 in the latest rankings.

According to this pollution index, although Beijing's air quality is better than Delhi in 2018 (very high level compared to extremely high level), in mid-2018 total population index shows that China and India were ranked #12 and #23, respectively (the higher the worse). Therefore, it is fair to say these two countries are comparable. In addition, to our knowledge, the U.S. and other European countries do not consider India as an enemy, so there is no specific reason for the Western Media to attack India.

In Part One of this story, we ran the search queries “china AND econom*” and “china AND pollution” using Media Cloud. To investigate the claim that western media are biased against China when reporting on air pollution, we ran the queries “india AND econom*” and “india AND pollution” using the same search conditions as for the China-related search, in order to compare the results.

Figure 4 shows that western media's coverage of China and India on these two issues follow a similar pattern. The ratio of pollution news to economic news is 6% for China and 7% for India. Therefore, the data do not support the claim that western media necessarily focuses more on pollution in China than pollution in other countries.

Figure 4: The numbers of stories related to economy and pollution in China and India compared, based on Media Cloud.

One might also ask whether the volume of reporting about pollution and human rights in China corresponds to readers’ interests.

To examine this question, we used Google Trends, which offers unbiased samples of real Google search data, to explore readers’ search habits. (Google Trends’ normalized index for selected search terms is the proportion of all searches on all topics on Google at that time and location.)

We ran three queries: ‘china economy’, ‘china pollution’, and ‘china and human rights’. In order to make the comparison with our Media Cloud queries, we set the same time frame: from 2013/1/1 to 2017/1/1, and we set the region to be ‘worldwide’.

Google Trends’ normalized index for the three queries is 29, 13, and 3, respectively. When we divided the normalized index for ‘china pollution’ by the normalized index for ‘china economy’, the ratio of ‘china pollution’ to ‘china economy’ was 45%, and the ratio of ‘china “human rights”’ to ‘china economy’ was 10%. In other words, people in China are proportionally more interested in their country's pollution problems and human rights issues than people from other countries.

In Part One of this story, we ran the search queries “china AND econom*”, “china AND pollution” using Media Cloud. For the same time frame in global English language sources, the ratio of the number of the articles related to China's pollution to the number of the articles related to China's economy was 6%. The ratio of the number of the articles related to human rights in China (where the search query was ‘china AND protest’) to the number of articles related to China's economy was 27%.

Figure 5: The numbers and ratios of the stories published in global English language sources (based on Media Cloud) and the normalized index in Google Trends for different queries.

If we compare the numbers we found with Media Cloud and Google Trends (see Figure 5), compared to articles about China's economy, the number of articles published in English about pollution in China is 6%, and the search interest in Google about pollution in China is 45% worldwide. In another similar comparison, compared with articles about China's economy, the number of articles published in English about China's human rights is 27%, and the search interest in Google about human rights in China is 10%.

In other words, the English-language press published more stories about China's human rights than Google users’ interest in this topic, but it also published fewer stories about China's pollution than Google users’ interest in this topic. Overall, the English press published fewer stories about pollution and human rights in China than Google users’ interest about these two ‘negative’, compared with stories about China's economy (considered a ‘positive’ topic).

Although the results support the idea that western media may have some preferences or limitations with regard to reporting certain issues relating to China, our findings do not support the claim, expressed by some Chinese commentators, that western media sets out to purposefully discredit, embarrass, or undermine China.

The last step was to check how the volume of news reports related to the interest shown by readers. If readers are showing interest in an issue, the media, in covering that issue, cannot be being said to be firing up interest with the intention—as in the Chinese government expresses it—of interfering in the internal affairs of China.

Figure 6: The number of stories published vs reader interest over time for the keyword ‘xiaobo’ in July 2017, based on Media Cloud and Google Trends.

Figure 6 shows the relationship between news reports in the same news sources mentioned above (from Media Cloud) and reader interest (from Google Trends) in the term ‘xiaobo’ around the period when Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo died during house arrest in July 2017. There is a close correspondence between the news reports and reader interest, so it is difficult to judge which one occurred first.

Figure 7: The number of stories published vs reader interest over time for the keyword ‘tiananmen’ in June 2017, based on Media Cloud and Google Trends.

Figure 7 shows relationship between the volume of news reports and reader interest for the word ‘tiananmen’ around Jun 4, 2017. This chart clearly shows that reader interest was ramping up before the media began reporting on this topic. Every year, on the anniversary of the crushing of the democracy movement by Chinese military forces on Jun 4, 1989, the Chinese government censors many of the search keywords related to this event. Yet our findings show that people still search for information about these events around the anniversary date, before the media reminds them.

It should be noted that Google exited China in 2010 because of censorship issues, and its market share in China declined to 1.7% in 2013. Google Trends may therefore seriously underestimate the degree of the interest of Chinese users, though it does reflect a special group of people in China who use VPNs to get around China’s “Great Firewall”.

It has been reported that Google is planning to reenter China with a ‘censored’ version of its search engine.

by Guest Contributor at August 03, 2018 10:44 PM

Cricket Australia under fire for sacking female employee over abortion reform tweets
It's just not cricket

Author’s mashup. Images: Wikimedia Commons and a screenshot from 9Honey video

Cricket Australia, the national governing body for cricket in Australia, is facing public controversy for sacking female employee Angela Williamson after she criticized local abortion policies on Twitter.

Representatives of Cricket Australia claim that Williamson's tweets damaged their relationship with the government.

Williamson, Cricket Australia's former manager of public policy and government relations, tweeted in June 2018 on her personal account that the Tasmanian parliament’s refusal to restore abortion services was “most irresponsible … gutless and reckless”. She was forced to go to mainland Australia from the island of Tasmania earlier this year for a pregnancy termination as the last clinic in the state closed in December 2017.

Angela Williamson is fighting for her job back through the industrial relations tribunal the Fair Work Commission. She also started an online petition calling for ‘affordable, accessible abortion in Australia':

I’m speaking publicly now, waiving my privacy, because nobody should have to go through what I went through to access a legal health procedure.

However, Williamson's tweets in question were apparently taken down and her account was made private. Meanwhile, Australian netizens were swift to respond and highly critical of Cricket Australia, sounding off that the decision was rooted in misogyny and sexism. Lifestyle reporter Rebecca Sullivan typified the reaction:

Zombie Mao threw some dark humor out there by referencing the iconic uniform from The Handmaid's Tale, a television series that imagines a world where women's rights are extremely compromised:

Writing for The Big Smoke, Gay Mackie did not see this as an isolated incident:

Surely it had to pass through many hands before it was rubber stamped.

Which is the issue, we’re not dealing with one person, we’re dealing with a culture. Clearly 1951 rolls on down the corridors of Cricket Australia, a halcyon place where a woman’s place is out the door.

It’s not Cricket. It’s institutional misogyny.

Indeed, the Tasmanian Liberal government may have played a role in Williamson's firing when in March 2018 a senior staffer named Martine Haley allegedly informed Cricket Australia about her pregnancy termination. Haley, a Liberal Party member, was forced to quit when it was discovered that she was using a fake social media account to troll Williamson and others. Women's Agenda reported:

Making matters worse, a senior staffer of the Liberal Party allegedly was the first to complain to Cricket Australia about Williamson’s tweets and breached privacy by notifying the organisation of Williamson’s pregnancy termination.

Local Tasmanian writer Melanie Tait believes the government has a lot to answer for:

Netizen Roy Brown decided to get a straight answer from Cricket Australia but was disappointed with their reply:

The right to freedom of expression also emerged as a central issue in Williamson's situation, especially for those with different views:

Murray Campbell disagrees with abortion but also disagrees with Williamson's dismissal and weighed in on the matter through his self-titled blog whose ‘aim is to engage with Melbourne culture and churches through a Gospel lens:’

[…] not because I like what she said, but because in a civil society, citizens have a right to voice opinions about social and political issues.

Meanwhile, WORK180, an international jobs network, has suspended Cricket Australia as an “Endorsed Employer” while Williamson's case is pending:

However, Cricket Australia is unflinching, posting a job advertisement for a replacement for Angela Williamson that is currently active as of August 2:

For the moment, the last word goes to Madeleine Northam. She is a public sector union representative in Tasmanian. Coincidentally, her Twitter profile states “All tweets are my own’.

by Kevin Rennie at August 03, 2018 09:30 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
If Google goes back to China, it will be on the government's terms. What will that mean for human rights?

A Google music search product launch in Beijing, 2009. Photo by Keso via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

report by The Intercept published on August 1 says that tech giant Google may soon launch a censored version of its search engine in China.

Drawing on internal documents from Google and an interview with a source from the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the independent media outlet reported that the company is developing a customized version of its Android search application (app) for the Chinese market. Code-named “Dragonfly”, the app would automatically identify and censor websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Wikipedia, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Global Voices and many others that are currently blocked by China's so-called Great Firewall.

Google left the Chinese market in March 2010 following criticism for complying with government censorship orders. But in recent years, under the leadership of Sundar Pichai, who became Google's Chief Executive Officer in 2015, the tech giant has tried very hard to reconnect with the Chinese market despite considerable human rights implications.

When Google left the Chinese market, executives cited concerns over human rights, censorship, and blocks on access to information. And these conditions haven't changed — China enacted a cybersecurity law in 2016 that strengthened China's already-stringent online censorship and surveillance practices and made it obligatory for foreign companies operating in China to turn over user data, including the encryption keys, upon official request.

The Intercept source says the Dragonfly project accelerated after a December 2017 meeting between Pichai and the Chinese Communist Party’s top ideologue, Wang Huning. Google staff apparently have already performed a demonstration of the app for Chinese government officials. If released, the app will have to compete with Baidu, the native search engine that presently dominates China's market.

Google may be prepared to compromise human rights principles for the Chinese market. But it will still depend on the Chinese government to grant its entry.

Internal documents also indicate that the search app will be operated by a joint venture partnership between Google and a China-based company (yet to be identified). This is a standard approach for foreign companies wishing to operate in China.

Sources for The Intercept say the finalized version of the app could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending official approval. But this may not come easily. On August 3, Chinese state-affiliated media outlet Securities Daily denounced the Intercept report and quoted a Chinese analyst saying that Google could not re-enter China in the near future.

The recent experience of tech giant Facebook in China may provide a cautionary tale to its Silicon Valley competitor. Just two days after Facebook announced plans to open an innovation center in China, its Cyberspace Administration stepped in and barred Facebook from receiving a license to operate.

It is unclear what will happen next. While Google may not be able to enter China any time soon, the Intercept story reveals a disturbing trend among United States-based tech giants that appear prepared — even eager —  to sideline human rights principles in order to grow their businesses.

The anonymous source from Google told The Intercept:

I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest […] what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.

The news about Google’s plan has attracted a lot of discussion among Chinese Twitter users. Many have been critical of the move.

One Twitter user referred to the recent activities of Apple in China and its subsequent rise on the stock market, a potential motivator for other companies to enter China:

Today Apple Inc. has sprung up again. Its market value is now more than US$100 billion dollars. The key factor behind its growth was the 40% increase in i-phone sale in Chinese market in Q3. In the context of a China-US trade war, the market has been worried about the future of Apple. But the strong performance in the Chinese market in Q3 has boosted the market confidence. The market is starting to believe that Apple Inc. has found its way out of the US-China trade war with its “country specific” business strategy. This is likely the motivation behind Google’s “re-strategizing”.

Apple Inc. transferred operation of its iCloud data center in mainland China to a local, state-managed corporation called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data in February 2018. While the company stressed that it still controls the encryption keys for user accounts and had not handed these to the local partners, Chinese users still worry that their privacy may be jeopardized.

There is no question that Google would be subject to the same regulatory requirements that led them to leave China in 2010, but it seems that Google's priorities may have changed. This could significantly impede on the human rights of users in China — and potentially elsewhere, depending on how product and service infrastructures are built.

Thus far, Google has not commented on the Intercept's report.

by Oiwan Lam at August 03, 2018 08:30 PM

Global Voices
If Google goes back to China, it will be on the government's terms. What will that mean for human rights?

A Google music search product launch in Beijing, 2009. Photo by Keso via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

report by The Intercept published on August 1 says that tech giant Google may soon launch a censored version of its search engine in China.

Drawing on internal documents from Google and an interview with a source from the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the independent media outlet reported that the company is developing a customized version of its Android search application (app) for the Chinese market. Code-named “Dragonfly”, the app would automatically identify and censor websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Wikipedia, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Global Voices and many others that are currently blocked by China's so-called Great Firewall.

Google left the Chinese market in March 2010 following criticism for complying with government censorship orders. But in recent years, under the leadership of Sundar Pichai, who became Google's Chief Executive Officer in 2015, the tech giant has tried very hard to reconnect with the Chinese market despite considerable human rights implications.

When Google left the Chinese market, executives cited concerns over human rights, censorship, and blocks on access to information. And these conditions haven't changed — China enacted a cybersecurity law in 2016 that strengthened China's already-stringent online censorship and surveillance practices and made it obligatory for foreign companies operating in China to turn over user data, including the encryption keys, upon official request.

The Intercept source says the Dragonfly project accelerated after a December 2017 meeting between Pichai and the Chinese Communist Party’s top ideologue, Wang Huning. Google staff apparently have already performed a demonstration of the app for Chinese government officials. If released, the app will have to compete with Baidu, the native search engine that presently dominates China's market.

Google may be prepared to compromise human rights principles for the Chinese market. But it will still depend on the Chinese government to grant its entry.

Internal documents also indicate that the search app will be operated by a joint venture partnership between Google and a China-based company (yet to be identified). This is a standard approach for foreign companies wishing to operate in China.

Sources for The Intercept say the finalized version of the app could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending official approval. But this may not come easily. On August 3, Chinese state-affiliated media outlet Securities Daily denounced the Intercept report and quoted a Chinese analyst saying that Google could not re-enter China in the near future.

The recent experience of tech giant Facebook in China may provide a cautionary tale to its Silicon Valley competitor. Just two days after Facebook announced plans to open an innovation center in China, its Cyberspace Administration stepped in and barred Facebook from receiving a license to operate.

It is unclear what will happen next. While Google may not be able to enter China any time soon, the Intercept story reveals a disturbing trend among United States-based tech giants that appear prepared — even eager —  to sideline human rights principles in order to grow their businesses.

The anonymous source from Google told The Intercept:

I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest […] what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.

The news about Google’s plan has attracted a lot of discussion among Chinese Twitter users. Many have been critical of the move.

One Twitter user referred to the recent activities of Apple in China and its subsequent rise on the stock market, a potential motivator for other companies to enter China:

Today Apple Inc. has sprung up again. Its market value is now more than US$100 billion dollars. The key factor behind its growth was the 40% increase in i-phone sale in Chinese market in Q3. In the context of a China-US trade war, the market has been worried about the future of Apple. But the strong performance in the Chinese market in Q3 has boosted the market confidence. The market is starting to believe that Apple Inc. has found its way out of the US-China trade war with its “country specific” business strategy. This is likely the motivation behind Google’s “re-strategizing”.

Apple Inc. transferred operation of its iCloud data center in mainland China to a local, state-managed corporation called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data in February 2018. While the company stressed that it still controls the encryption keys for user accounts and had not handed these to the local partners, Chinese users still worry that their privacy may be jeopardized.

There is no question that Google would be subject to the same regulatory requirements that led them to leave China in 2010, but it seems that Google's priorities may have changed. This could significantly impede on the human rights of users in China — and potentially elsewhere, depending on how product and service infrastructures are built.

Thus far, Google has not commented on the Intercept's report.

by Oiwan Lam at August 03, 2018 08:28 PM

Students occupy Dhaka streets demanding road safety in Bangladesh

Students protest the death of two students in a road accident on Dhaka Airport Road. Image: Wikimedia Commons by Asive Chowdhury CC: BY-SA 4.0

Wearing school uniforms and carrying school bags, tens of thousands of students have spilled their anger while shouting slogans on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh since last Sunday, July 29, when two college students died in a road accident.

Diya Khanam Mim (17) and Abdul Karim Rajib (18), students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin School and College, were killed and a number of students were injured when a speeding bus lost control and ran over a dozen students waiting for transport on Dhaka Airport Road.

Hundreds of their classmates initially took to the streets in protests that gained momentum as thousands more joined in solidarity on a daily basis, shutting down traffic with their demands.

They are calling for increased road safety, harsher punishment for drivers involved in accidents and that authorities ensure that only authorized drivers would get behind the wheel. Parents and non-students have also supported their demands.

The students’ rage was sparked by a remark by Shajahan Khan, the Shipping Minister and executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation when he questioned the high school students why they had not reacted to the news that 33 people died in a bus crash in India on Saturday.

After widespread condemnation and demands for his resignation, Shahjahan Khan apologized for his comments but said he will not resign.

Notorious Dhaka traffic

Bangladesh's capital Dhaka is one of the most densely populated cities in the world with 14 million people and standstill traffic. In the 2016 Global Liveability Survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which ranks cities for their quality of life, Dhaka ranked 137 out of 140 cities. According to one study, more than 7,000 people were killed in road accidents in Bangladesh in 2017 and more than 16,000 were injured.

A study by the Accident Research Institute of the Bangladesh University of Technology reveals that 37 percent of the causes of accidents were due to reckless driving and 53 percent related to driving over the speed limit. According to a research by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), the largest non-governmental organization in the world, 59 percent of drivers in Bangladesh do not follow the rules and many are not aware of street signs and safety lights.

There are approximately one million different types of registered vehicles in the city and according to interviews by the Daily Star, the city does not deploy enough traffic police to manage the heavily congested streets. They are over-worked, underpaid, prone to corruption, and exposed to hazardous situations, the Daily Star reveals.

Moreover, many of the public transport drivers do not even have a valid driving license:

A recent survey revealed that 87 percent of public transport violates traffic rules in Dhaka. And these buses are not in a great shape (properly maintained) as this video depicts:

Role reversal as students enforce traffic rules

The students have said enough is enough by taking matters from police into their own hands. The protesters were seen enforcing traffic rules by checking licenses and pointing out traffic rule violations to unsuspecting drivers. The activists did not spare ministers or police if they violated rules. This kind of intervention has drawn accolades from netizens who have flooded social media channels with praise:

Young novelist Shokrito Noman termed these acts ‘unimaginable’ in a Facebook post:

এ এক অভাবনীয় দৃশ্য। মনে হচ্ছে ফকনার, হুয়ান রুলফো কিংবা গার্সিয়া মার্কেজের গল্পের মঞ্চায়ন হচ্ছে বাংলাদশে। রং সাইড দিয়ে যাওয়ার সময় একজন প্রভাবশালী মন্ত্রীর গাড়ি ফিরিয়ে দিয়েছে বাচ্চারা। একজন মেয়রের গাড়ি আটকে দিয়েছে। মেয়র পুলিশকে ফোন দিচ্ছেন। পুলিশ বলছে, আমাদের কিচ্ছু করার নেই। কী অভাবনীয় ঘটনা! প্রতিটি গাড়ির কাগজপত্র চেক করছে বাচ্চারা। বাদ যাচ্ছে না পুলিশ-র্যাবের গাড়িও। অসীম ক্ষমতাধর পুলিশ-র্যাব তাদের গাড়ির বৈধ কাগজপত্র দেখাতে বাধ্য হচ্ছে। রাজধানীর যানবাহনগুলো কী সুন্দর লাইন ধরে চলছে।

This is an unimaginable scene! It seems the depiction of a (magic realist) story of Faulkner, Juan Rulfo or García Márquez. The students have turned around a car of a minister which was traveling in the wrong side of a road. They have stopped a car of the mayor. The mayor is calling the police. The police is telling, we have nothing to do. What an unimaginable event! The children are asking for papers from each vehicle. Even the cars of the police or the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the elite force, were not spared. The almighty police and RAB are forced to show the papers fo their vehicles including the driving license. Now see that the vehicles are plying in a straight line.

Tanbirul Alam tweeted:

The students found that most of the government vehicles do not carry updated vehicle papers nor do the drivers have a proper license.

Shahida Rima declared that the students’ actions filled her with pride:

They are also cleaning the streets, reminded Shahriar Fahim:

There have been widespread concerns about the safety of these students protesting on the streets. Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia has directed the police to tackle the students peacefully without using any force.

However, the police have reportedly used force on students at several points and a number of students were injured.

Lessons for all and a better law

As authorities continue to cautiously observe student protests, their actions have already prompted the Prime Minister’s Office to order a crackdown on rogue drivers.

One of the main reasons that these accidents persist is the impunity of rogue drivers. Existing laws are outdated and a driver who causes a death due to reckless driving faces a minimum fine.

The government has long been trying to update the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983. But the effort was pushed back by strong lobbying by the public transport owners and the transport workers’ associations. The good news is student protests have fast-tracked the process and the government has said that it will pass the amendment soon.

by Rezwan at August 03, 2018 07:55 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Killing speech softly: How the world’s biggest tech companies are quietly censoring critical expression in the Middle East

Graphic by Omar Momani for 7iber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This post is published as part of an editorial partnership between Global Voices and Ranking Digital Rights.

Following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January 2015, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a message reflecting on religion, free expression and the controversial editorial line of the magazine.

“A few years ago, an extremist in Pakistan fought to have me sentenced to death because Facebook refused to ban content about Mohammed that offended him.

We stood up for this because different voices — even if they're sometimes offensive — can make the world a better and more interesting place,” Zuckerberg wrote on his page.

Later that same month, Facebook agreed to restrict access to an unspecified number of pages for “offending prophet Muhammad” in Turkey at the request of local authorities.

Turkey is notorious for the number of requests it makes to internet companies to remove content for violating its local laws, but it is not the only government in the Middle East to resort to such tactic to silence critical voices.

While a number of the region’s governments sometimes make direct requests for content removal — along with exerting “soft” pressure through other means — the failures of tech giants in moderating content in the region is a much bigger and more complex problem.

Abuse of flagging mechanisms

Across the region, social media platform “flagging” mechanisms are often abused to silence government critics, minority groups or views and forms of expression deemed not to be in line with the majority’s beliefs on society, religion and politics.  

In 2016, Facebook suspended several Arabic-language pages and groups dedicated to atheism following massive flagging campaigns.

This effectively eliminated one of the few (in some cases, the only) spaces where atheists and other minorities could come together to share their experiences, and freely express themselves on matters related to religion. Across the region, atheism remains a taboo that could be met with harassment, imprisonment or even murder.

“[Abusive flagging] is a significant problem,” Jessica Anderson, a project manager at onlinecensorship.org which documents cases of content takedowns by social media platforms, told Global Voices.

“In the Middle East as well as other geographies, we have documented cases of censorship resulting from ‘flagging campaigns’—coordinated efforts by many users to report a single page or piece of content.”

Flagging mechanisms are also abused by pro-government voices. Earlier this year, Middle East Eye reported that several Egyptian political activists had their pages or accounts suspended and live-streams shut down, after they were reported by “pro-government trolls.”

“What we have seen is that flagging can exacerbate existing power imbalances, empowering the majority to ’police’ the minority,” Anderson said. “The consequences of this issue can be severe: communities that are already marginalized and oppressed lose access to the benefits of social media as a space to organize, network, and be heard.”

Failure to consider user rights, in context

This past May, Apple joined the ranks of Facebook and Twitter — the more commonly-cited social media platforms in this realm — when the iTunes store refused to upload fives songs by the Lebanese band Al-Rahel Al-Kabir. The songs mocked religious fundamentalism and political oppression in the region.

A representative from iTunes explained that the Dubai-based Qanawat, a local content aggregator hired by Apple to manage its store for the region, elected not to upload the songs. An anonymous source told The Daily Star that iTunes did not know about Qanawat’s decision, which it made due to “local sensitivities.” In response to a petition from Beirut-based digital rights NGO SMEX and the band itself, iTunes uploaded the songs and pledged to work with another aggregator.

This case does not only illustrate how “local sensitivities” can interfere with decisions about which types of content get to be posted and stay online in the region, but also shows that companies need to practice due diligence when taking decisions likely to affect users’ freedom of expression rights.

Speaking to Global Voices, Mohamad Najem, co-founder of SMEX pointed out that both Facebook and Twitter have their regional offices located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which he described as one of the “most repressive countries” in the region.

“This is a business decision that will affect free speech in a negative way,” he said. He further expressed concern that the choice of having an office in a country like the UAE “can sometimes lead to enforcing Gulf social norm[s]” on an entire [Arab] region that is “dynamic and different.”

Location, location, location

Facebook and Twitter have offices in the UAE that are intended to serve the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region that is ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse, and presents a wide range of political viewpoints and experiences. When companies are pressured by oppressive governments or other powerful groups to respect “local sensitivities,” they are being complicit in shutting down expression of such diversity.

“Platforms seem to take direction from louder, more powerful voices…In the Middle East, [they] have not been able to stand up to powerful interests like governments,” Anderson said.

Take, for example, Facebook’s willingness to comply with the Turkish government’s censorship demands. Throughout the years, the company was involved in censoring criticism of the government, religion and the republic’s founder Ataturk, Kurdish activists, LGBT content and even an anti-racism initiative.

Facebook’s complicity with these requests appears to be deeply ingrained. I spoke to a Turkish activist two years ago who told me that he believed the platform “was turning into a pro-government media.” Today, the platform continues to comply, restricting access to more than 4,500 pieces of content inside the country in 2017 alone. Facebook is not transparent about the number and rates of requests it complies with.

“The biggest shortcoming in [the] ways platforms deal with takedown requests is [their] lack of understanding of the political contexts. And even if there is some kind of idea of what is happening on the ground, I am not entirely sure, there is always due diligence involved,” Arzu Geybulla, a freelance writer who covers Turkey and Azerbaijan for Global Voices said.

In conference settings, representatives from Facebook are routinely faced with questions about massive flagging campaigns. They maintain that multiple abuse reports on a single post or page do not automate the process of the post or page being removed. But they offer little concrete information about how the company does see and respond to these situations. Does the company review the content more closely? Facebook representatives also say that they consult with local experts on these issues, but the specifics of these consultations are similarly opaque.

And the work of moderating content — deciding what meets local legal standards and Facebook’s own policies — is not easy. Anderson from onlinecensorship.org said: 

Content moderation is incredibly labor intensive. As the largest platforms continue to grow, these companies are attempting to moderate a staggering volume of content. Workers (who may not have adequate knowledge and training, and may not be well paid) have to make snap decisions about nuanced and culturally-specific content, leading to frequent mistakes and inconsistencies.

For activists and human rights advocates in the region, it is also difficult to know the scope of this problem due to lack of corporate transparency. Cases like that of iTunes may be occurring more often than is publicly known — it is only when someone speaks out about being censored that these practices come to light.

 

by Afef Abrougui at August 03, 2018 07:38 PM

Global Voices
Killing speech softly: How the world’s biggest tech companies are quietly censoring critical expression in the Middle East

Graphic by Omar Momani for 7iber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This post is published as part of an editorial partnership between Global Voices and Ranking Digital Rights.

Following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January 2015, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a message reflecting on religion, free expression and the controversial editorial line of the magazine.

“A few years ago, an extremist in Pakistan fought to have me sentenced to death because Facebook refused to ban content about Mohammed that offended him.

We stood up for this because different voices — even if they're sometimes offensive — can make the world a better and more interesting place,” Zuckerberg wrote on his page.

Later that same month, Facebook agreed to restrict access to an unspecified number of pages for “offending prophet Muhammad” in Turkey at the request of local authorities.

Turkey is notorious for the number of requests it makes to internet companies to remove content for violating its local laws, but it is not the only government in the Middle East to resort to such tactic to silence critical voices.

While a number of the region’s governments sometimes make direct requests for content removal — along with exerting “soft” pressure through other means — the failures of tech giants in moderating content in the region is a much bigger and more complex problem.

Abuse of flagging mechanisms

Across the region, social media platform “flagging” mechanisms are often abused to silence government critics, minority groups or views and forms of expression deemed not to be in line with the majority’s beliefs on society, religion and politics.  

In 2016, Facebook suspended several Arabic-language pages and groups dedicated to atheism following massive flagging campaigns.

This effectively eliminated one of the few (in some cases, the only) spaces where atheists and other minorities could come together to share their experiences, and freely express themselves on matters related to religion. Across the region, atheism remains a taboo that could be met with harassment, imprisonment or even murder.

“[Abusive flagging] is a significant problem,” Jessica Anderson, a project manager at onlinecensorship.org which documents cases of content takedowns by social media platforms, told Global Voices.

“In the Middle East as well as other geographies, we have documented cases of censorship resulting from ‘flagging campaigns’—coordinated efforts by many users to report a single page or piece of content.”

Flagging mechanisms are also abused by pro-government voices. Earlier this year, Middle East Eye reported that several Egyptian political activists had their pages or accounts suspended and live-streams shut down, after they were reported by “pro-government trolls.”

“What we have seen is that flagging can exacerbate existing power imbalances, empowering the majority to ’police’ the minority,” Anderson said. “The consequences of this issue can be severe: communities that are already marginalized and oppressed lose access to the benefits of social media as a space to organize, network, and be heard.”

Failure to consider user rights, in context

This past May, Apple joined the ranks of Facebook and Twitter — the more commonly-cited social media platforms in this realm — when the iTunes store refused to upload fives songs by the Lebanese band Al-Rahel Al-Kabir. The songs mocked religious fundamentalism and political oppression in the region.

A representative from iTunes explained that the Dubai-based Qanawat, a local content aggregator hired by Apple to manage its store for the region, elected not to upload the songs. An anonymous source told The Daily Star that iTunes did not know about Qanawat’s decision, which it made due to “local sensitivities.” In response to a petition from Beirut-based digital rights NGO SMEX and the band itself, iTunes uploaded the songs and pledged to work with another aggregator.

This case does not only illustrate how “local sensitivities” can interfere with decisions about which types of content get to be posted and stay online in the region, but also shows that companies need to practice due diligence when taking decisions likely to affect users’ freedom of expression rights.

Speaking to Global Voices, Mohamad Najem, co-founder of SMEX pointed out that both Facebook and Twitter have their regional offices located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which he described as one of the “most repressive countries” in the region.

“This is a business decision that will affect free speech in a negative way,” he said. He further expressed concern that the choice of having an office in a country like the UAE “can sometimes lead to enforcing Gulf social norm[s]” on an entire [Arab] region that is “dynamic and different.”

Location, location, location

Facebook and Twitter have offices in the UAE that are intended to serve the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region that is ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse, and presents a wide range of political viewpoints and experiences. When companies are pressured by oppressive governments or other powerful groups to respect “local sensitivities,” they are being complicit in shutting down expression of such diversity.

“Platforms seem to take direction from louder, more powerful voices…In the Middle East, [they] have not been able to stand up to powerful interests like governments,” Anderson said.

Take, for example, Facebook’s willingness to comply with the Turkish government’s censorship demands. Throughout the years, the company was involved in censoring criticism of the government, religion and the republic’s founder Ataturk, Kurdish activists, LGBT content and even an anti-racism initiative.

Facebook’s complicity with these requests appears to be deeply ingrained. I spoke to a Turkish activist two years ago who told me that he believed the platform “was turning into a pro-government media.” Today, the platform continues to comply, restricting access to more than 4,500 pieces of content inside the country in 2017 alone. Facebook is not transparent about the number and rates of requests it complies with.

“The biggest shortcoming in [the] ways platforms deal with takedown requests is [their] lack of understanding of the political contexts. And even if there is some kind of idea of what is happening on the ground, I am not entirely sure, there is always due diligence involved,” Arzu Geybulla, a freelance writer who covers Turkey and Azerbaijan for Global Voices said.

In conference settings, representatives from Facebook are routinely faced with questions about massive flagging campaigns. They maintain that multiple abuse reports on a single post or page do not automate the process of the post or page being removed. But they offer little concrete information about how the company does see and respond to these situations. Does the company review the content more closely? Facebook representatives also say that they consult with local experts on these issues, but the specifics of these consultations are similarly opaque.

And the work of moderating content — deciding what meets local legal standards and Facebook’s own policies — is not easy. Anderson from onlinecensorship.org said: 

Content moderation is incredibly labor intensive. As the largest platforms continue to grow, these companies are attempting to moderate a staggering volume of content. Workers (who may not have adequate knowledge and training, and may not be well paid) have to make snap decisions about nuanced and culturally-specific content, leading to frequent mistakes and inconsistencies.

For activists and human rights advocates in the region, it is also difficult to know the scope of this problem due to lack of corporate transparency. Cases like that of iTunes may be occurring more often than is publicly known — it is only when someone speaks out about being censored that these practices come to light.

 

by Afef Abrougui at August 03, 2018 04:37 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Research to challenge traditional approaches to digital rights
Youth and privacy in the Americas: InternetLab, Brazil How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Mariana Valente from InternetLab What: Research Mission/vision: To foster academic debate around issues involving law and technology, especially internet policy. Where: […]

by Mariel García-Montes at August 03, 2018 12:33 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Why advertising is no longer the holy grail of tech revenue
Four of the biggest companies in the world — Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — all reported earnings over the last two weeks. These companies either sell gadgets, services or ads — or maybe a combination of the three. And for a long time, it looked like selling ads, fueled by personal information, was the holy grail of digital business models. But lately, it looks like less of a slam dunk. Is the advertising star dimming as a reliable business model? Marketplace’s Molly Wood decided to ask an investor — Emily Melton, a partner at venture capital firm DFJ. (08/03/2018)

by Marketplace at August 03, 2018 10:30 AM

August 02, 2018

Global Voices
Filipinos urged to #BoycottNutriAsia for attacking the strike of workers

Youth and students hold indignation rally in front of Meycauyan, Bulacan police station after striking NutriAsia workers and their supporters were violently dispersed and arrested on July 30, 2018. Photo by Anakbayan, used with permission

Filipino activist groups have launched a boycott campaign against popular Filipino condiment company NutriAsia for violently dispersing the strike of its workers.

On strike for the past two months, NutriAsia workers demand the regularization of contractual or temporary staff. On July 30, NutriAsia workers and their supporters had finished conducting an ecumenical mass in front of the Nutri Asia factory, where a picket line had been set up, when the combined forces of the police and company security began hitting the crowd with clubs, anti-riot shields, and stones.

In the Philippines, short-term employment practice, whereby the employee is terminated just before legally being eligible for regularized working status, is called “Endo contractualization“, the word “endo” referring to “end of contract”.

NutriAsia hires over 1,400 workers but only 100 are regular employees with the security of tenure, health insurance, and other work benefits. The majority of the workers face threats of illegal dismissal, underpaid overtime work amounting to 619 Philippine pesos (US$11.65) for 12 hours, salary deductions, repression of the right to organize unions, and substandard workplace conditions.

The Philippine Labor Ministry has ordered NutriAsia to regularize at least 900 of its workers. However, the company management says this is not possible because, according to them, these 900 workers are actually employees of a third-party agency and not in NutriAsia’s employ.

The strike comes in the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte’s (so-far) failed promise of abolishing contractualization practices in the country, which has led to an explosion of labor struggles seeking the regularization of workers in big companies such as telecommunications company PLDT and fast-food giant Jollibee.

Nutriasia is famous for condiment products like ketchup, vinegar, soy sauce, cooking oil, and fruit juices that have become a staple in Filipino households. Its founder Joselito D. Campos, Jr. is also the Chief Executive Officer of Del Monte Pacific Ltd which runs a global operation of pineapple plantations in the Philippines and a dozen factories in the USA, Mexico, and Venezuela.

July 30 dispersal

Among those critically hurt on July 30 was Leticia Retiza, an urban poor leader, who was seen in a now-viral photo with blood from her mouth spilling on her blouse and scarf. At least 20 were hurt during the dispersal.

GRAPHIC VIDEO & PHOTO ALERT:

An old woman is badly wounded on the face when the picket was violently dispersed after an ecumenical mass.

How violent are the Meycauayan police and NutriAsia security guards. Watch the video.

The police arrested 19 strikers and supporters, including youth leaders and volunteers from the independent media outfit Altermidya. They were brought to the Meycauayan Police Station and charged with illegal assembly, alarm and scandal, and physical injuries. Meycauayan Town Police Chief Supt. Santos Mera, who ordered the dispersal of the NutriAsia workers’ picket, also claimed that they recovered guns and drugs from the arrested workers and their supporters.

Bulacan Provincial Police Chief Senior Supt. Chito Bersaluna took the cudgels for the police involved in the dispersal and filing of charges against the striking workers, saying it was the protesters who hurt the guards of NutriAsia.

Bersaluna was chief of the Caloocan City police force before he was sacked after public outrage over the summary killing of teenager Kian Delos Santos last year. Police reported Kian was a drug dealer who fought back in a shootout with police but CCTV recording showed him being dragged by police before he was found dead the next day.

NutriAsia asserts that it was the workers and their supporters who started the “violence” by firing a gunshot in the air and throwing stones at police and security forces. However, videos and photos posted by advocates that have been supporting the striking workers undermine the statements made by the company.

The arrested strikers, their supporters, and journalists were released on August 1. The legal battle, however, is not yet resolved and the fate of the temporary workers is still uncertain.

Before the July 30 incident, the striking NutriAsia workers’ picket line had also been violently attacked last June 14, resulting in the arrest of 23 workers and their supporters, including a high school student.

#BoycottNutriAsia campaign

In response, some Filipino shoppers and netizens turned to social media expressing support for NutriAsia workers and calling for the boycott of NutriAsia products:

Mothers and fathers who are always doing grocery, I'm asking your help to #BoycottNutriasia. Here are their brands.

When you see it. From the FB of jong.

by Karlo Mongaya at August 02, 2018 03:35 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Officials blame WhatsApp for spike in mob killings, but Indians say vicious party politics are at fault

Mobile phone kiosk in Bangalore, India. Photo by Victor Grigas, retouched by Wikimedia Foundation. CC BY-SA 3.0

After a spate of more than 20 mob lynchings driven by rumors spread on social media, the Indian government on July 20 threatened to punish WhatsApp for its inability to control fake news.

India's Ministry of Information and Technology issued an official statement describing WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, as an “abettor” in these crimes.

Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad chided WhatsApp and told a news daily: “They cannot evade responsibly and accountability for the messages, particularly those which are leading to killings.”

This may be a first step towards the Indian government taking legal action against the Silicon Valley company. But would legal action against Facebook actually help put an end to the killings?

Many Indians say that party politics and political manipulation, when combined with a technology like WhatsApp, are the real source of the problem. Sufyan Sadiq summarized the dynamics on Facebook:

WhatsApp is a big black hole of fake news in India that's used by the mischief mongering right-wing groups more often associated with BJP that ends up in someone's killing carried out by a lynch mob. This app is still evolving as a principal KillerApp in India…

Thus far, WhatsApp has responded to criticism by purchasing full-page advertisements in Indian newspapers offering readers ways to spot fake news. The platform has also placed new limits on forwarding of messages and introduced a label for messages that are forwarded, in an apparent effort to signal to users that a message may not have been written by its sender.

Some Indians appreciated the forwarding measure, while others think WhatsApp could do much more. But many are asking why the government hasn't taken more responsibility for the lynchings, which represent a serious threat to public safety.

India's WhatsApp lynch mob crisis

Lynch mobs formed on social media have claimed the lives of at least 34 people in India since 2014. Here are cases documented thus far in July 2018:

July 1: A spate of doctored videos spread on WhatsApp led to the mob lynching of five men in Maharashtra state, who were wrongly targeted for being kidnappers. The lynch mob subsequently threatened to set fire to police officers in an effort to confirm the victims’ deaths.

July 2: Four men were attacked in Maharashtra's Malegaon district as rumors spread about a child abducting nexus. A timely intervention from officials saved their lives.

July 8: Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath were lynched by a mob in Northeast India's Assam on June 8, 2018, over viral rumors spread via Facebook, WhatsApp and eventually word-of-the-mouth.

July 13: A mob of 200 attacked five friends, wrongly believing they were child kidnappers, in the southern state of Karnataka. The mob killed Mohammad Azam, a UK-educated IT professional and seriously injured two others. The mob also attacked police officials who sought to intervene.

July 21: Rakbar Khan, who was wrongly suspected of illegally transporting cows, was killed by a mob in Rajasthan that beat him with sticks.

July 25: Four men were assaulted by a mob in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh for ferrying a bovine carcass. Police intervention spared their lives.

It is difficult to determine precisely how many people have been victims of mob violence. A Wikipedia chronicle of WhatsApp-related mob violence produces 56 results on this page. Independent data journalism website IndiaSpend claims that there have been 89 incidents of lynching since 2014, affecting 290 victims and killing 34. Minority Muslims, who account for 14 percent of India's population, have been the victims of 56 percent of these crimes.

What led to this public safety crisis? It's more than just WhatsApp.

The rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India in 2014, which practices a unique brand of hard-line Hindu nationalism, has coincided with an increase in Islamophobia and a series of proposed (and some enacted) laws banning or limiting the consumption of beef, as the cow is a sacred animal in Hindu tradition.

Rajasthan and New Delhi have seen the murders of 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq who was killed for procuring beef, followed by Umar Mohammad, Rakbar Khan and dairy owner Pehlu Khan, all documented by Global Voices. Some of these incidents have been committed despite the victims possessing permits.

Like those mentioned earlier, these murders appear to have been sparked by online misinformation campaigns that often carry a strong Islamophobic bent. These appear to come from various sources, including state-sanctioned IT cells.

Dhruv Rathee, a vlogger from India, interviewed a former IT cell member for the right-wing BJP on how multiple pages on Facebook and numerous WhatsApp groups have spread fake news and misinformation campaigns to gain electoral leverage:

Writing for The Tribune of India, Aditi Tandon called mob lynching a “political tool” and said that law enforcement has become “part and parcel” of the attacks:

The violence we have seen over the past four years follows a trend. Mob lynching is a political tool being used to polarise society. Law enforcement has also become part and parcel of the attacks. Police officers who act fairly are transferred. The idea is to create a fear psychosis by unleashing the mobs on a certain community.

There are ongoing efforts to push back against these campaigns by de-bunking videos that have been falsely labeled or doctored. For years, fact-checking websites such as AltNews, SMHoaxSlayer, and BOOM have been verifying fake news to create awareness. BOOM found that one of the videos that triggered lynching of five men in Maharashtra's Dhule region was from Syria — a video of children who died of a nerve gas attack five years ago was being used to spread paranoia amongst the masses. While their efforts are critical, the scale of the problem well outweighs their capacity.

Many Indians say that the government and law enforcement agencies must take greater responsibility for the crisis, but this may be difficult to engineer, with the BJP in power.

In an opinion piece for Bloomberg, business writer Mihir Sharma points out that lynch mobs in India are not new — while WhatsApp has contributed to the problem, he says, it is not the source. He points instead to a lack of policing and political will:

It’s particularly odd that the government is demanding “accountability and responsibility” from a phone app when some ruling party politicians are busy spreading divisive fake news. How can the government ask WhatsApp to control mobs when those convicted of lynching Muslims have been greeted, garlanded and fed sweets by some of the most progressive and cosmopolitan members of Modi’s council of ministers?

The Supreme Court weighs in

One government branch that has spoken out on the issue is India's Supreme Court, which recently recommended the government enact new laws to prevent lynching and mob violence. The SC bench headed by justice Dipak Mishra asked the Indian parliament to deal with lynching as a special and separate offense and “a recurrent pattern of violence which cannot be allowed to become the new normal.” He said:

A special law in this field would instill a sense of fear of law amongst the people who involve themselves in such kinds of activities. There can be no trace of doubt that fear of law and veneration for the command of law constitute the foundation of a civilized society.

Following this, the Indian government on July 23 2018, has set up two panels to understand the need for a new law to prevent lynching.

The report will be submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who leads the very government that has fostered this culture of intolerance.

While Mark Zuckerberg and other technology platform founders should experiment with new ways to curb fake news and rumor-mongering on their platforms, the Indian government needs to do much more to protect public safety for all Indians. Ensuring mob justice is punished and the rule of law is enforced will save the lives of many minority communities including Muslims, Dalits, and minority tribal groups.

by Vishal Manve at August 02, 2018 02:01 PM

Global Voices
Montenegro disagrees with Trump that they are a threat to world peace

A typical street scene from Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, where citizens much rather spend time on socializing in cafes under glorious Mediterranean weather, than on plotting wars. Photo by Anton Nosik, via Wikipedia, CC-BY.

A recent quip by US President Donald Trump caused controversy about the Balkan state of Montenegro, after he said that their ‘aggressiveness’ could trigger a Third World War.

Conservative commentator Tucker Carlson on Fox News asked Trump about Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which obliges its members to come to the aid of other member states when they are under attack. He asked why America’s sons should go defend Montenegro, the newest NATO member. To that, Trump said that “Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people” who “may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III.”

The quip drew criticism by senior US diplomats and lawmakers as “a gift to Putin”.

Besides, according to an article on Business Insider, the exchange on Fox News misconstrued the way Article 5 works. A NATO member starting a war “could not invoke Article 5 and require US involvement because it would not be an attack on a NATO member but rather an attack from a NATO member.”

A recent history of Montenegro: an apple of discord between Russia and NATO

With a little over 642.000 inhabitants, Montenegro is the smallest Balkan state by population. It became independent in 2006. Its political scene, dominated by the same elite in the last 28 years, has been deeply polarized between pro-European Union (EU) and pro-NATO government and an opposition which includes parties accused of ties with radicals from neighboring Serbia and the Kremlin.

In 2016, Montenegrin authorities announced they prevented a Russia-supported attempt for coup d’etat which allegedly aimed at stopping the country from becoming a member of NATO.

Montenegro eventually joined NATO in June 2017 in spite of disapproval by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which issued an official threat of retaliatory measures.

Along the way, Montenegro had its first Trump-related scandal when the US President appeared to shove the Prime Minister of Montenegro Duško Mirković during a photo op of NATO leaders. While the PM commented that the move was “inoffensive,” the domestic opposition used it as a reason for anti-NATO protests.

The following video provides a concise 8-and-a-half minute explanation of these recent historical developments.

Again, the government of Montenegro reacted to Trump in a conciliatory manner, underpinning the dedication to friendship and alliance with the US. They noted that “In today's world, it does not matter how big or small you are, but to what extent you cherish the values of freedom, solidarity and democracy.”

On the other hand, Montenegrin opposition politician Marko Milačić expressed ‘support for Trump’ for “entering the zone of like-mindedness with the opponents of NATO membership who for years have asked a similar question: why should Montenegrin soldiers go fight wars around the world, defending peoples who they couldn’t find on a map a day before”? He also dismissed the World War III claim as “a joke.”

Milačić is a conservative who is against joining both NATO and the EU, and can be seen burning the NATO flag in the above video. His other priorities include family values and preventing same-sex marriage.

The last time Article 5 of NATO treaty was invoked was by the US after 11 September 2011, leading to the NATO operation in Afghanistan, which includes direct participation by Montenegro since 2010 before it even became a member.

Some possible motivations behind Trump's “strong Montenegrin” stereotype

The claim that Montenegro would start a war with a much bigger enemy nation seems to echo a number of jokes that used to be popular in former Yugoslavia.

In the Balkans, Montenegrin people have a reputation of chivalrous resistance to foreign invasions, from the Ottoman Empire to the anti-fascist struggle during World War II. They also have a reputation for being staunch allies when they make a pact of their own choosing.

For instance, the old Kingdom of Montenegro formally declared war on Japan in 1904 as a show of support to its then-ally Russian Empire during the Russo-Japanese War. There is even a legend that a lone Montenegrin officer traveled to the Far East to join the Russian troops as a volunteer and won a sword-fighting duel against a samurai.

As Montenegrin culture grew less militaristic in the decades after World War II, the contrast between its size and the stereotype of proud inflammable highlanders was exploited by a number of jokes, such as the popular example about a hypothetical war with the most populous nation on Earth:

Pričaju dva Crnogorca:
– Znaš li mrčo da smo zaratili sa Kinezima?
– Znam. A koliko ih ima?
– Milijardu i dvjesta miliona.
– Kuku nama! Đe ćemo sahranit’ tolike ljude?

After Montenegro and China declared war, two Montenegrins discuss the situation:
– Hey bro, do you know that we’re in war with the Chinese?
– So I’ve heard. How many are they?
– A billion and two hundred million.
– Oh my! How shall we find a cemetery big enough to bury so many people?

There’s no information on how Trump became familiar with the “strong Montenegrin” stereotype. One theory is that his wife Melania, who grew up in Yugoslavia, could have been exposed to this piece of popular culture, but there’s no public record evidence that Trump has gained such local knowledge about the Balkans from her.

Recent resistance to the coup attempt has also shown that Montenegrin resolve to stand up to hostile influences (this time, Russia) is no joke, and could’ve made an impression on Trump’s US advisors, or on Russian president Vladimir Putin, with whom he recently had a private talk.

by Marko Angelov at August 02, 2018 12:55 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
Is security fatigue keeping companies from being secure?
This weekend in Las Vegas, the huge cybersecurity event Black Hat USA kicks off, followed immediately by the other big cybersecurity event of the year, Def Con.  There are always some big hacker stunts at these events — hackers already broke into a voting machine as a Def Con demonstration. But after a year of major data breaches, there's also a sense of security fatigue. Chester Wisniewski is a principal research scientist at Sophos, a security firm. He talked with Marketplace’s Molly Wood about whether that fatigue is affecting business. (08/02/2018)

by Marketplace at August 02, 2018 10:30 AM

Global Voices
Juliana Mbengono Elá Avomo: Bringing arts and culture to the youth of Equatorial Guinea

Juliana Mbengono: “If there were no differences between women and men then no one would think of me as a feminist, but given the inequalities that we experience I feel obliged to reclaim my rights and I do it through my literature.

Juliana Mbengono Elá Avomo is a journalism student, an assistant director of a daycare center, and a Literary Bud (in Spanish Capullos Literarios, meaning cocoon, flowerbud, and also jerk in colloquial Spanish). She says so herself. She founded a collective of poets in Equatorial Guinea together with two classmates in 2015, and they chose the name Capullos Literarios because they are novices and they “haven't yet been recognized as writers. They stay in the shadows but they love to write, they put everything they have into it and they put it to use every day.” 

Buds are shy by nature, so it's hard for them to recognize themselves when they have started to blossom. That's why Juliana keeps herself humble, despite having won several literary competitions, having gotten two of the theatrical plays she wrote to be performed, and having become the coordinator of Crazy for Culture (Locos Por Cultura – LPC- , in Spanish) in the capital city of Malabo. The organization brings together artists who work with different modalities from around the country. According to Juliana, the goal of Crazy for Culture is to “promote the creation of spaces for young people to interact, with the aim to improve their artistic abilities and promote social leadership.” 

Participants of Crazy for Culture (Locos Por Cultura, – LPC- in Spanish), a collective formed to “promote the creation of spaces for young people to interact, with the aim to improve their artistic abilities and promote social leadership.” Photograph courtesy of Locos Por Cultura collective, used with permission.

The organization doesn't have a set number of members or artistic communities. At the moment, they are composed of Literary Buds; theatre group Speaking and Biyemyema; visual arts collectives EG-Pencil and Hangart; photography group Photos With Lyrics; and many independent artists such as Eusebio, who does portraits, or Mariano Ebana Edu (also called Black Bey), Benjamín Ndong (Jamin Dogg) and Lil Jojo, who are singer-songwriters and rappers.

We conversed with Juliana about the activities of the Crazy for Culture collective, the struggles for equality between men and women, and the value of culture as a key component in the development and growth of young people and the society they live in.

GV: One activity that has really caught my attention are the street readings. How do people react when they see all of you?

JMEA: The project “Reading Afternoons” is an initiative organized by Literary Buds to promote reading and writing among citizens. Many people think that reading is an activity reserved for educated people and so some people feel embarrassed when reading in public or simply consider it a waste of time. In fact, people say “if you want to hide something from a Guinean put it in a book.” We believe reading can produce changes in society, not only through the ways it can nourish the vocabulary of those who read but also the effect is has in many other areas of their lives.

This project is one of our great achievements because over time, along with LCP, we have been able to create a tradition in Malabo and Bata, the most important cities of Equatorial Guinea. Many people are already familiar with these literary festivities, they show interest and they are encouraged to read. That's how a good portion of the youth that participate regularly have been able to overcome the fear and nerves they used to feel when reading in public.

The collective Crazy for Culture (Locos Por Cultura, in Spanish), led by Juliana, organizes many cultural events in public spaces. Photograph by Lucía Mbomío, used with permission.

GV: Two of the three spokespeople for LPC are women. Why is that?

JMEA: In Crazy for Culture (LPC), responsibilities are assigned based on the degree of interest and the commitment each one gives to the collective. Roles are not random nor are they based on gender.

GV: However, even though you deal with various themes in your texts, you write a lot about the situation of women. Do you consider yourself a feminist? How does that feel in Guinea?

JMEA: I wouldn't define myself as a feminist. I believe that everyone deserves to be respected and we wish to be treated the same as everyone else. If there were no differences between women and men then no one would think of me as a feminist, but given the inequalities that we experience I feel obliged to reclaim my rights and I do it through my literature.

To ask me whether or not I am a feminist is not a problem for me, but to identify myself as such in Guinea is another matter. Sometimes it bothers people who think feminism is the feminine equivalent to machismo. And lately I feel that labeling yourself a feminist has become a trend, particularly for those who think that being a feminist implies being intelligent, modern, and brave.

Women strengthening women

GV: What women role models do you have in the country?

JMEA: I look up to three or four women role models. The first one is Teodosia Mónica Angue Bivini, a stranger who became my mentor, boss, friend, and counselor. In Mónica, I find the example of a working woman who seems utopian, she is so entrepreneurial that she sees opportunities for employment and business where no one else imagines it. She is the founder and president of the non-profit organization IMGE (Women's Initiative for Education in Equatorial Guinea), and she is also the president of the association of Guinean members of YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative). She holds a degree in business administration with a specialization in human resources, and she works as the director of human resources in the Office of the Ombudsman, among many other things.

JMEA: Also, there is Trifonia Melibea Obono Ntutumu, writer, journalist, gender researcher, and founder of the organization “We're Part of the World” (Somos Parte del Mundo, in Spanish), dedicated to defending the rights of non-heterosexual people:

JMEA: Meli [Trifonia Melibea] is so convinced in her principles that the wave of insults, negative opinions, disrespect and threats that fall on her constantly don't ever make her give up. She writes so much that there have been times when she has published two novels in less than five months, and her writing always centers around the situation of women and of non-heterosexual people in Equatorial Guinea. My new favorite novel is her book “The albino girl of money” (La albina del dinero, in Spanish), our lives are reflected in those pages.

JMEAThe third one is my aunt Melania, who sets the example on patience and solidarity. She took care of me and my little brothers when she didn't have enough to take care of herself. Even today she is still the umbrella that covers our enormous family when the rain comes down.

The last one is my mother. Her life and way of understanding things have influenced me greatly. Her tolerance has helped me to accept that no one deserves to be judged if they are not harming anyone and that I should never criticize others for what they say or do.

GV: How close are you to your dreams, and how far away are you from reaching them?

JMEA: In the future I would love to be a journalist, create a magazine, and launch a school for literary writing.

For now I am working on some projects in collaboration with IMEGE (Women's Initiative for Education in Equatorial Guinea), one of which is “A Night Among Writers” that will consist of workshops to exchange writing ideas and techniques among writers. We will also include sessions to teach public speaking and how to launch. Another one is “Youth Date,” a radio program dedicated to young Equatorial Guineans and to entrepreneurs.

I trust that I will be able to reach many of my dreams, that's one of the things that makes life seem so wonderful to me.

by Lisa G Khanna at August 02, 2018 05:59 AM

Officials blame WhatsApp for spike in mob killings, but Indians say vicious party politics are at fault

Mobile phone kiosk in Bangalore, India. Photo by Victor Grigas, retouched by Wikimedia Foundation. CC BY-SA 3.0

After a spate of more than 20 mob lynchings driven by rumors spread on social media, the Indian government on July 20 threatened to punish WhatsApp for its inability to control fake news.

India's Ministry of Information and Technology issued an official statement describing WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, as an “abettor” in these crimes.

Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad chided WhatsApp and told a news daily: “They cannot evade responsibly and accountability for the messages, particularly those which are leading to killings.”

This may be a first step towards the Indian government taking legal action against the Silicon Valley company. But would legal action against Facebook actually help put an end to the killings?

Many Indians say that party politics and political manipulation, when combined with a technology like WhatsApp, are the real source of the problem. Sufyan Sadiq summarized the dynamics on Facebook:

WhatsApp is a big black hole of fake news in India that's used by the mischief mongering right-wing groups more often associated with BJP that ends up in someone's killing carried out by a lynch mob. This app is still evolving as a principal KillerApp in India…

Thus far, WhatsApp has responded to criticism by purchasing full-page advertisements in Indian newspapers offering readers ways to spot fake news. The platform has also placed new limits on forwarding of messages and introduced a label for messages that are forwarded, in an apparent effort to signal to users that a message may not have been written by its sender.

Some Indians appreciated the forwarding measure, while others think WhatsApp could do much more. But many are asking why the government hasn't taken more responsibility for the lynchings, which represent a serious threat to public safety.

India's WhatsApp lynch mob crisis

Lynch mobs formed on social media have claimed the lives of at least 34 people in India since 2014. Here are cases documented thus far in July 2018:

July 1: A spate of doctored videos spread on WhatsApp led to the mob lynching of five men in Maharashtra state, who were wrongly targeted for being kidnappers. The lynch mob subsequently threatened to set fire to police officers in an effort to confirm the victims’ deaths.

July 2: Four men were attacked in Maharashtra's Malegaon district as rumors spread about a child abducting nexus. A timely intervention from officials saved their lives.

July 8: Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath were lynched by a mob in Northeast India's Assam on June 8, 2018, over viral rumors spread via Facebook, WhatsApp and eventually word-of-the-mouth.

July 13: A mob of 200 attacked five friends, wrongly believing they were child kidnappers, in the southern state of Karnataka. The mob killed Mohammad Azam, a UK-educated IT professional and seriously injured two others. The mob also attacked police officials who sought to intervene.

July 21: Rakbar Khan, who was wrongly suspected of illegally transporting cows, was killed by a mob in Rajasthan that beat him with sticks.

July 25: Four men were assaulted by a mob in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh for ferrying a bovine carcass. Police intervention spared their lives.

It is difficult to determine precisely how many people have been victims of mob violence. A Wikipedia chronicle of WhatsApp-related mob violence produces 56 results on this page. Independent data journalism website IndiaSpend claims that there have been 89 incidents of lynching since 2014, affecting 290 victims and killing 34. Minority Muslims, who account for 14 percent of India's population, have been the victims of 56 percent of these crimes.

What led to this public safety crisis? It's more than just WhatsApp.

The rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India in 2014, which practices a unique brand of hard-line Hindu nationalism, has coincided with an increase in Islamophobia and a series of proposed (and some enacted) laws banning or limiting the consumption of beef, as the cow is a sacred animal in Hindu tradition.

Rajasthan and New Delhi have seen the murders of 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq who was killed for procuring beef, followed by Umar Mohammad, Rakbar Khan and dairy owner Pehlu Khan, all documented by Global Voices. Some of these incidents have been committed despite the victims possessing permits.

Like those mentioned earlier, these murders appear to have been sparked by online misinformation campaigns that often carry a strong Islamophobic bent. These appear to come from various sources, including state-sanctioned IT cells.

Dhruv Rathee, a vlogger from India, interviewed a former IT cell member for the right-wing BJP on how multiple pages on Facebook and numerous WhatsApp groups have spread fake news and misinformation campaigns to gain electoral leverage:

Writing for The Tribune of India, Aditi Tandon called mob lynching a “political tool” and said that law enforcement has become “part and parcel” of the attacks:

The violence we have seen over the past four years follows a trend. Mob lynching is a political tool being used to polarise society. Law enforcement has also become part and parcel of the attacks. Police officers who act fairly are transferred. The idea is to create a fear psychosis by unleashing the mobs on a certain community.

There are ongoing efforts to push back against these campaigns by de-bunking videos that have been falsely labeled or doctored. For years, fact-checking websites such as AltNews, SMHoaxSlayer, and BOOM have been verifying fake news to create awareness. BOOM found that one of the videos that triggered lynching of five men in Maharashtra's Dhule region was from Syria — a video of children who died of a nerve gas attack five years ago was being used to spread paranoia amongst the masses. While their efforts are critical, the scale of the problem well outweighs their capacity.

Many Indians say that the government and law enforcement agencies must take greater responsibility for the crisis, but this may be difficult to engineer, with the BJP in power.

In an opinion piece for Bloomberg, business writer Mihir Sharma points out that lynch mobs in India are not new — while WhatsApp has contributed to the problem, he says, it is not the source. He points instead to a lack of policing and political will:

It’s particularly odd that the government is demanding “accountability and responsibility” from a phone app when some ruling party politicians are busy spreading divisive fake news. How can the government ask WhatsApp to control mobs when those convicted of lynching Muslims have been greeted, garlanded and fed sweets by some of the most progressive and cosmopolitan members of Modi’s council of ministers?

The Supreme Court weighs in

One government branch that has spoken out on the issue is India's Supreme Court, which recently recommended the government enact new laws to prevent lynching and mob violence. The SC bench headed by justice Dipak Mishra asked the Indian parliament to deal with lynching as a special and separate offense and “a recurrent pattern of violence which cannot be allowed to become the new normal.” He said:

A special law in this field would instill a sense of fear of law amongst the people who involve themselves in such kinds of activities. There can be no trace of doubt that fear of law and veneration for the command of law constitute the foundation of a civilized society.

Following this, the Indian government on July 23 2018, has set up two panels to understand the need for a new law to prevent lynching.

The report will be submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who leads the very government that has fostered this culture of intolerance.

While Mark Zuckerberg and other technology platform founders should experiment with new ways to curb fake news and rumor-mongering on their platforms, the Indian government needs to do much more to protect public safety for all Indians. Ensuring mob justice is punished and the rule of law is enforced will save the lives of many minority communities including Muslims, Dalits, and minority tribal groups.

by Vishal at August 02, 2018 05:57 AM

August 01, 2018

Ben Adida
We Don’t Deserve Dogs

A few days ago, I woke up abruptly, catching my breath. I’d had a bad dream that my older son was gone. Like a lot of dreams, there was no reason or deep explanation, he was just gone. As I rubbed my eyes and reality set in, I took a deep breath. This was a dream. I hadn’t lost him. He was already running around downstairs, making noise. Yet I couldn’t shake the deep feeling of loss because, two months ago, we lost Ella, our puppy. She was 11 years old, and we’d had her since she was 10 weeks old. I want to tell you a little bit about Ella.

I met my wife in August 2003. While her family evaluated me on my ability to eat Borscht, cheese, and salami (I did very well, don’t worry), one of her key criteria was whether I would learn to love dogs. I admitted to having a hard time with this, but I made an effort to hug the family German Shepherd and watch a couple of dog TV shows with her. The day after we bought our first couch, she pointed to the empty space on it and mimed petting a medium-sized dog. When I proposed, I knew what I was getting into.

We adopted Ella right after we moved to California and a couple of years before we had kids. She was a mutt from Stockton, the little sister from a litter found in someone’s backyard. She took to my wife early, eating her shoelaces and showing her belly for some rubbing at every occasion. She took to me pretty quickly, too, as I was her primary parent while my wife was a medical resident. I walked Ella 3-4 times a day, went to puppy training classes, taught her some tricks. As my wife was on call once or twice a week, I spent many an evening with Ella, watching movies.

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Part cattle dog, her energy level for the first year was daunting. She would wake us in the morning by gently whining and running her claws against the side of her metal crate, an experience not unlike nails on a chalkboard. It turned out to be good training for our kids and their rather extreme sleeping patterns.

I remember bringing her to the vet to get her spayed, and letting out a small gasp as a knot formed in the pit of my stomach when the technician took her from me and carried her into the back room. She was 5 months old and already I couldn’t imagine letting her out of my sight. I remember waiting for her to come out of recovery later that day, being warned I might find her lethargic for a few hours. Instead, she came out and ran towards me with full energy. The tears in my eyes surprised me.

We tried throwing a tennis ball around, but Ella was uninterested. So we tried frisbee, and it was like she was born for the aerodynamics of that sport. She would run across a large field, jump and catch a flying soft frisbee in the air. She’d do this to exhaustion, and to this day it’s one of the most peaceful activities I remember. The rhythm of the frisbee throw, her quiet run and catch, her return, and again the throw.

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Around her first birthday, almost overnight, Ella decided that she would be a chill dog after all. She snuggled up with us on the couch, especially with my wife when she returned from overnights at the hospital. She went on calm walks twice a day. But she still had plenty of mischief in her.

We had a family brunch where she surreptitiously got up on the table and ingested 12 ounces of smoked salmon. “Did you take the smoked salmon out to the table?” my wife asked. “I thought I did….” Ella was in the corner, gulping down as much water as she could, looking as guilty as a dog can. If you’ve had a pet or a young child, you know the feeling: you want to scold them, but also you’re laughing and really what’s the big deal.

After we had kids, we paid less attention to Ella, bu she was always a good dog. She became defensive on walks once the children were with us, never letting anyone approach. She took the abuse from our insane toddlers stoically. She loved the children and all the crumbs they left behind. The years went by, the kids started growing up, and she continued to get more mellow, but really it seemed like she would live forever.

Last summer, she had an incident in the house and we took her to the vet, just in case. She weighed in at 25 pounds, which was unusually low. A couple of appointments later and we discovered she had liver cancer. Hopeful at first, inoperable by the next imaging. We were told she had a few weeks left. We canceled our trips, cried our eyes out, pet her incessantly, took pictures of her. She didn’t know any better, so she just kept going, even as she got thinner. 10 months later, long past all the dates we’d been given, she was still going strong, and there were days when I forgot that she was sick.

In early May, rather precipitously, she started getting worse. I’d have to carry her home from some walks she was too tired to finish, her legs shaking. It’s hard to explain the heartbreak you feel carrying your loving puppy, her head resting on your shoulder because she’s too tired to sit up, the same dog who, just a few years earlier, was jumping for frisbees. A few times, I thought we were reaching the end, and then she would regain strength and ask to play catch at home with the ball (her days of frisbee long gone) and run around like a puppy for a couple of days.

How would we know if she’s suffering, I wondered. My wife said we’d know.

And we did. One evening, at the end of a particularly rough day, Ella wouldn’t walk. She sat still on the dramatically overgrown lawn of our new home, her fur pattern almost mimicking the flowing grass around her.

Maker:S,Date:2017-8-5,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Later that evening, she lay perfectly still on the couch. I washed the dishes and watched her rest. Out of nowhere, she had a seizure. You don’t really want to watch a dog you love have a seizure. It’s a cruel combination of pain, shaking, and reenactment of muscle memory, and you’re trying to comfort her and reassure her while also watching out that she doesn’t involuntarily bite you in the process. So we knew. In a way, because you can’t explain it to her, the decision is easier. Or so I tell myself.

The kids said goodbye. Our 6yo went to the corner of the room and cried. I took Ella to the vet, riding slowly, bawling. I hugged her and told her I loved her as they put her to sleep. She was peaceful. She was gone. She was a good dog to us for 11 years. She loved us unconditionally, probably more than the smoked salmon.

The days since have been disconcertingly quiet. No barking at the neighbors’ dog or the delivery person. I catch myself moving food away from the edge of the table, by instinct, because she would have been all over it. I still close the lid on the dog-proof trash can.  I’m reminded of her every day by my own muscle memory. It hurts. There are so many crumbs on the floor… where is my furry spotted four-legged roomba?

A friend once told me that the difference between kids and dogs is that it is expected that you will see your dog die before you do. So obvious, and so brutal. You watch them grow old. They’re puppies, and before you know it they’re not. They get set in their ways. They get grey hair. And they die. And the whole time, they love you, they love every moment they have with you, and you, you silly human, you don’t realize that they’re teaching you to live, to enjoy every stage of life as its own experience to fully embrace. The crazy puppy that doesn’t sit still, the defiant adolescent that steals the smoked salmon, the adult that watches over the kids, and the old dog that sits and watches the world and its incessant energy as their time comes to an end.

I miss you, Ella. Thank you for all the cuddles. I’m so happy I was lucky enough to be your human.

by benadida at August 01, 2018 11:08 PM

Rising Voices
Localizer shares insights about the importance of translating open source software into Breton

All of the road signage, along with a lot of shop and restaurant signage in this area is in both French and Breton (Brezhoneg). Photo by Sheep”R”Us and used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Contributor Insights…” is a series of interviews leveraging the experience of Localization Lab contributors in order to provide more insight into the needs, threats, and challenges faced by users living and working in different parts of the world. Rising Voices is republishing articles from this series as part of a collaboration with Localization Lab. The original article can be found on their Medium page.

Breton is a Brittonic Celtic language spoken in Brittany, France and despite seeing its numbers dwindle from 1 million in 1950 to a little more than 200,000, Breton speakers are pushing to ensure their language grows. Bilingual “diwan” schools are offering Breton immersion education across Brittany and some estimates show that the number of children learning Breton is on the rise; however, like many minority languages, Breton must constantly fight for a place at the table.

Localization Lab spoke with a Breton language localizer who is working to offer open source tools to his community and, in the process, claim space online for other Breton speakers.

Localization Lab (LL): In your opinion, how do individuals in your community and in France generally view Breton?

Breton language localizer (BLL): This is a very complicated issue. During France’s Third Republic, Breton was banned entirely from schools, and there are many stories of children who were beaten by their teachers for using the language. My own father was beaten when he spoke Breton at school. This oppressive policy against minority language speakers lead to many people feeling ashamed to speak Breton — for some, this feeling still exists. Before WWII, there were so many of us and now there are only about 200,000 speakers. That means our speaking population has been cut down from around 1.5 million at the beginning of the 1900’s to the numbers we have today. So even though the government is working to support Breton now, it often feels like it is not doing enough.

LL: How do you go about choosing tools to work on? Are there specific tools that are particularly important for the needs of your community?

BLL: I think it is important to work on tools that promote the Breton language for young people. Right now I am working on localizing video game software which targets teenagers. I want them to see the language in the games they play, so they can learn new words and expressions while having fun.

I am personally interested in projects like Tor and No Script because I think it is very important for everyone to protect themselves online. If Google Chrome were to offer me the opportunity to work on a project with them, I would turn it down. I prefer open source software.

LL: How has your community come to a consensus on technology terms that don’t exist in Breton? What are the challenges with creating new terminology?

BLL: The Breton language has a public office which updates new terminology in a dictionary they have created. However, there is another “purist” dictionary by an organization called Preder which prefers to stay away from modern terms and instead looks to Old Breton and Middle Breton (sometimes even Old and Middle Welsh and Cornish) in order to have the most “celtic” source of words for their dictionary.

There is an interesting debate between both schools of thought which can be quite challenging to navigate. The public office allows for international loan words and others that have been “Bretonized” in their dictionary, whereas the Preder group feels that permitting those types of words promotes so-called “bad” Breton.

An example of this is the word “sandwich”. For the public office dictionary, the word “sandwich” is acceptable while the Preder dictionary prefers the term “bara pok ha pok” (literally translated as bread kiss and kiss).

There is a lot of conflict between these two approaches to Breton. Some people feel that incorporating loan words from other languages is not real Breton while others feel that purists, like Preder, are making things more complicated. An expression that people use when referring to this is, “Brezhoneg chimik eo” (it’s chemical Breton) which is a derogatory way for people to refer to purists, implying that they use a type of “chemistry” to invent complicated words.

LL: When you translate do you use a “purist” approach or a more flexible approach?

BLL: I personally prefer the more flexible approach because the words are more understandable for everyone. I have participated in translations, like the translation of Firefox, that used a more purist approach but the meaning of some of the words was not always clear to me — and I am a translator! I think that if it’s difficult for me, regular people who use the tools will also be confused.

This is a big problem because if people become confused by the translation, they will probably switch to using the tool in French and that would defeat the purpose of translating it in the first place.

LL: Looking specifically at localization of technology, what are some of the biggest challenges that you face when localizing into Breton?

BLL: All Breton speakers can speak French because the Breton community was forced to learn French; however, not all Breton speakers can read in Breton. This poses a big problem when localizing software because a lot of Breton speakers are illiterate in their own language. For this reason, many people don’t want to use software in their own language. It’s difficult to say who is at fault whether it be the government, households, schools etc…

LL: What is the one piece of advice that you would give to speakers of a minority language as they try to build community and make more content available in their language?

BLL: Behind all of the translations we are doing is a Facebook group that is dedicated to discussions around localization and translation. It is almost 100% in Breton and it aims to help the Breton-speaking community produce high-quality localizations for software. When someone has difficulty translating something into Breton, they can ask the community for advice. The group is very interesting because it is made up of people who prefer the purist approach and others who have a more flexible philosophy about the language. Some of our members even belong to the public office. There are some other groups out there that have these conversations without an element of respect. For us, respecting one another is key.

LL: If you had to tell people why it is important to localize tools into Breton, what would you say?

BLL: For me, it is really important to make an effort to translate software into a lot of different minority languages. If we don’t work on these projects, we won’t challenge ourselves to grow as a language. We won’t challenge ourselves to build new vocabulary. By taking on these localization projects, it’s also a way to reappropriate the software for our own communities.

Some people ask me, “Why are you translating into Breton?”. Maybe they wouldn’t ask me this if I was a French translator because they would probably see the value immediately. But if Breton is still spoken now, it’s because a lot of people decided to create language associations to promote its use. They saw that the French government wasn’t doing enough to support minority languages, so they decided to interview the older generation of Breton speakers, to create and translate literature, like Jean de le Fontaine. The Breton language is surviving because a lot of speakers worked hard to preserve it and, nowadays, it is important for us to translate software if we want our language to survive.

by Localization Lab at August 01, 2018 03:53 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian journalists killed in Central African Republic

Orkhan Dzhemal, 51, a veteran war reporter from Russia, killed on July 31, 2018, in Central African Republic // Screenshot from Echo of Moscow, YouTube

Three Russian journalists were killed on the night of July 30 in Central African Republic, at a checkpoint outside the country’s capital Bangui.

Veteran reporter Orkhan Dzhemal, award-winning filmmaker Aleksandr Rastorguev and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were shot and killed by unidentified assailants who emerged from the bushes at roadside when they arrived.

The attack took place amid an on-going conflict between the country’s government and various rebel groups.

Their deaths were confirmed by the Investigations Control Center (TsUR, Tsentr Upravleniya Rassledovaniyami), an investigative reporting outlet funded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil magnate currently living in exile in London.

According The Moscow Times, Russia has supplied arms and deployed training teams to aid CAR government security forces.

According to TsUR, on whose assignment Dzhemal, Rastorguev and Radchenko went to CAR, the journalists were pursuing a news tip about a group of armed Russian mercenaries sighted in the African country.

This armed group's existence has never been officially acknowledged, although numerous journalistic investigations pinpointed the so-called ‘Wagner Group’ in hotspots such as Syria and Eastern Ukraine. Although he is consistently denying the allegations, the ‘Wagner Group’ is widely believed to be funded by Evgeny Prigozhin, a powerful businessman with strong ties to Vladimir Putin, sanctioned by the U.S. for his alleged — and, again, never acknowledged — involvement in the 2016 presidential elections.

Dzhemal, Rastorguev and Radchenko were highly respected media professionals, recognized by the industry. Orkhan Dzhemal was a renowned war reporter, his career stretching back to the early years of Russia’s independent press. Alexander Rastorguev was praised for his vivid chronicle of Russia’s failed anti-Putin opposition surge in his 2013 documentary “The Term” (Srok.) Kirill Radchenko worked as a TV reporter in war zones such as Syria.

by RuNet Echo at August 01, 2018 01:40 PM

Global Voices
Death of a 12-year-old boy lays bare the plight of Iran's Ahwazi minority

Ahwazi children walk alongside a canal. A 12-year-old boy has been the latest casualty of Ahwaz's continued state of poverty and struggle. Image: Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0

A 12-year-old Ahwazi boy was reported dead by suicide on the evening of July 24, 2018, in the Republic of Iran, sparking outrage over the discrimination and hardship faced by the country's minority Ahawzi population.

Suicide rates and cases of self-immolation continue to rise among the Ahwazi, an Arab community who live in Iran's oil and gas-rich southern provinces and constitute 10 percent of the country's population. Viewed as inferior because of their ethnicity, most Ahwazis exist below the poverty line, with limited or no access to employment, education, healthcare, or basic utilities.

The mother of the young boy, who was identified only as Meysam, returned to the family home in Abadan, in the province of Khuzestan, on Tuesday evening to find that her 12-year-old son had hanged himself. The boy was the eldest of two children, the other a five-year-old girl.

The mother, the sole wage-earner of the household, worked as a housekeeper and cleaner and struggled to provide for herself and her children. According to activists, shortly before her son's death, the woman had sold some of the family's meager possessions, including her son’s mobile phone and bicycle, in order to pay outstanding rent.

Meysam's suicide is the latest to afflict the Ahwazi Arab community. In the past couple of years, a high number of Ahwazi Arab young men have protested through acts of suicidal self-immolation, often in front of the oil and gas companies’ headquarters and government offices.

In an interview with Ahwaz monitor in April 2017, the Ahwazi activist Karim Khalaf Dohimi pondered the reasons behind those events:

There is a surge of high incidence of suicide across Al-Ahwaz due to poverty and the high rate of unemployment as well as the closure of the Ahwazi Arab free market that led to Ahwazi youth and especially those who are married to commit suicide. The suicide attempts also increased in rural areas in Ahwaz since 90 percent of Ahwazi Arab people in rural areas are suffering from poverty and very low income. They are overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture and fishing for their food but these people have been left with no alternative source of income after their entire arable lands on the banks of the Karoon River were forcibly confiscated by regime officials with very low compensation.

There is, however, an economic crisis occurring across Iran, and there is a general upswing of suicide rates across the country. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and various studies led inside of Iran reported by Iranian news agencies such as the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA), suicide rates in Iran are on the rise. In 2014, the WHO reported that 5,3 out of 100,000 Iranians committed suicide.

On social media, in reaction to the harsh news, one Iranian remarked on the sad state of the country reflected in both Meysam's suicide, alongside similar deaths amongst another Ahwazi boy of 17 years old alongside another 15 year old girl from an Arab dominated city of Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran in one week

  1. The suicide of a 12 year old boy from Abadan
  2. The suicide of a 17 year old boy from Ahwaz
  3. A 15 year old girl from the city of al-Ghadir

+ all 3 killed themselves because of the struggle for a livelihood. What slogans were there before 1979, and now after 40 years of it? #become_united

In Ahwaz, the region's natural wealth has been turned into a source of suffering for its people. On one hand, the Ahwazi bears the brunt of the environmental pollution caused by the oil and gas drilling operations; on the other, profits from operations in the region bolster the authorities’ security apparatus, who are employed to crush any resistance in the region.

The number one cause of suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Visit Befrienders.org to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.

by Rahim Hamid at August 01, 2018 11:29 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
Does free lunch at tech companies hurt local business?
Free food is a legendary perk of working at a tech company. The cafeterias at Apple, Google, and Facebook are almost like a tourist attraction. But cities in the San Francisco Bay Area are saying that the free lunches are killing local business, and they're moving to ban company cafeterias. The city of Mountain View made a law in 2014 that said Facebook's new campus couldn't offer free food, and last week, San Francisco city supervisors proposed a rule that any new offices in the city couldn't include cafeterias. Marketplace’s Molly Wood talks with Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, about the proposal. (08/01/2018)

by Marketplace at August 01, 2018 10:30 AM

July 31, 2018

Marketplace Tech Report
How is the U.S. dealing with cybersecurity ... without a cybersecurity czar?
Hackers, probably Russian, successfully broke into electric utilities last summer. Homeland security officials revealed those intrusions for the first time last week. There were also reports last week of attempted cyberattacks on various members of Congress, and this week, the Senate is likely to have a showdown over funding for election security.  There had been a White House cybersecurity coordinator who organized the national response to cyberattacks, but the Trump administration eliminated the job back in May. Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood talks with Daniel Castro, vice president at the nonprofit Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, about what this means for U.S. cybersecurity. (07/31/2018)

by Marketplace at July 31, 2018 10:30 AM

Joi Ito
Ding! Earned First Higher Degree.

34581570_10156015313486998_718869846225321984_o.jpgIn 2011, when we announced that I would join the Media Lab as the new Director, many people thought it was an unusual choice partially because I had never earned a higher degree - not even an undergraduate degree. I had dropped out of Tufts as well as the University of Chicago and had spent most of my life doing all sorts of weird jobs and building and running companies and nonprofits.

I think it took quite a bit of courage on the part of the Media Lab and MIT to hire a Director with no college degree, but once we got over the hump, some felt it was a kind of "badge of honor." (I'm also sure, not everyone felt this way.)

Jun Murai, father of the Japanese Internet and my mentor in Japan, who is the Dean of the Graduate School of Media and Governance at Keio University in Japan, had been encouraging me to complete a PhD in his program. We had been discussing this in earnest from June 2010,when they confirmed that Keio would be OK with awarding a PhD to someone without a Bachelor's or a Master's degree. When I joined the Media Lab, I asked the co-founder and first Director of the Lab, Nicholas Negroponte, whether it would help me if I completed the PhD. He recommended (at the time) that I not complete the PhD because it was more interesting that I didn't have a degree.

Eight years later, I am often referred to as "the academic" when I'm on panels; I advise and work with many students including PhD students. It felt that it was time to finish the PhD. In other words, one product of my profession is degrees and I felt like I needed to try the product. Even Nicholas agreed when I asked him.

The degree that I earned is a "Thesis PhD" which is a less common type of PhD that you don't see very much in the US. It involves writing about and defending the academic value and contribution of your work, rather than doing new work in residence in an institution. The sequencing and the ordering is different than typical PhDs.

The process involved writing a dissertation and putting together a package that was accepted by the university. After that, a committee was formally constituted with Jun Murai as the lead advisor and Rod Van Meter, Keiko Okawa, Hiroya Tanaka, and Jonathan Zittrain as committee members and thesis readers. They provided feedback and detailed critique on the thesis, which I rewrote based on this feedback. Oh June 6, I defended the thesis publicly at Keio University and, based on the questions and feedback from the defense, I rewrote the dissertation again.

On June 21 I had a final exam, which involved a presentation to the committee of all of the changes and responses to the criticisms and suggestions. The committee had a closed-door discussion and formally accepted the dissertation. I rewrote, formatted, and polished the dissertation some more and submitted the final version in printed form on July 20.

Finally, on behalf of the committee, Jun Murai prepared and presented the case at a faculty meeting on July 30, 2018 where they voted and awarded the PhD.

Although by definition and according to rules the dissertation is entirely my own work, I couldn't have done it without the help of my advisors, collaborators, and all of the people I've worked with over the years.

While I started this project mostly to understand the process and "see what it was like" to work on a degree, I learned a lot during the process of researching, reading, and talking to people about my dissertation. The dissertation, titled "The Practice of Change", is available online both in PDF and in LaTeX as a GitHub repo. It's a summary of a lot of the work that I've done so far, a question about how we understand, design solutions for, and try to address the current challenges to our society, and how the work going on at the Media Lab might be applied to or provide inspiration for people trying to work on addressing these challenges.

In some ways, the dissertation feels like I've gone around and kicked a dozen hornet's nests. I've mostly stayed out of extremely academic discourse in the past, but the process of trying to understand a number of different disciplines to try to understand and describe the context of my work has caused me to wade into many old and new arguments. I'm sure that many of my forays into various disciplines will cause annoyance to those well versed in those disciplines, but those constructive criticisms that I've received about my treatment of various disciplines have surfaced an exciting array of future work for me.

So while I do not believe that I have yet become a "serious academic" or that I will be focused primarily on research and academic output, I feel like I've discovered a new lens through which to look at things -- a new world to explore. It reminds me of entering a new zone in a game like World of Warcraft where there are new quests, new skills, new reps to grind, and lots of new things to learn. So fun.

by Joichi Ito at July 31, 2018 10:05 AM

July 30, 2018

Marketplace Tech Report
Is the backing of the banks enough for Zelle to beat Venmo?
For many people, especially those under 40, paying a friend, or settling a restaurant bill, or squaring up after happy hour isn't done in cash. It's done by peer to peer app.  You've probably heard of PayPal and Venmo, which PayPal owns. Now, there's some competition from Zelle, the big banks' answer to Venmo. Rahul Chadha follows peer to peer mobile banking for the research organization eMarketer.  His firm says Zelle will overtake Venmo this year. One thing that helps?  Zelle comes pre-installed in the mobile apps of many big banks. Chadha spoke with Marketplace's Lizzie O'Leary about whether that's enough to lift Zelle up. (07/30/2018)

by Marketplace at July 30, 2018 10:30 AM

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