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

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

October 25, 2016

Links for 2016-10-24 []

October 25, 2016 07:00 AM

October 24, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Saudi Mobile Data Quality Provokes National Protest Against Bad Service
Riadh, the Saudi capital. Photo from Flickr user Abdallah.

Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Photo from Flickr user Abdallah.

An original version of this article, written by Mahmoud Ghzayel, was first published on the website of Social Media Exchange Association (SMEX).

On the evening of September 30, social media users in Saudi Arabia unleashed a campaign against the nation's wireless network operators, protesting bad service and the continued blocking of technologies, particularly VoIP communications, that are supposed to be available for free.

The campaign continues to gain support, and Internet users are calling for boycotts against the worst offenders in Saudi Arabia's telecommunications market. The first boycott was scheduled to last three hours, beginning on October 1 at 6 p.m. local time. Participants agreed to stop using their mobile networks (switching to Wi-Fi for any online activity), ceasing all text-messaging and declining to add any credit to their phones’ data packages. Protesters repeated this boycott for the rest of the week.

#We_will_cause_your_ bankruptcy
The campaign's date is 30th Dhu'l-Hijjah/1st October
From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. .. 3 hours
A week long. [Dhu'l-Hijjah is the twelfth and final month in the Islamic calendar followed in Saudi Arabia]

Demonstrators argue that this three-hour boycott “should not be underestimated if it is repeated daily because the losses will be estimated at millions [of Saudi Riyals].”

Those participating in the online protest say they want to pressure Saudi Arabia's mobile network operators into offering services “worthy of a people bound for the 2030 Vision,” which is the economic road map initiated by the Kingdom's Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman.

When all its provisions are implemented, 2030 Vision is expected to contribute to liberating the Saudi economy from reliance on petroleum, thus increasing the government's non-petroleum income to 530 billion Riyal (141.3 billion dollars) in 2020, from 163.5 billion Riyal in 2015.

On Twitter, the campaign mainly used two hashtags: #We_will_cause_your_ bankruptcy and #flight_mode_stc.

#We_will_cause_your_ bankruptcy
No retreat! You can do it.

Owned by government agencies and public investors, the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) is the country's leading mobile network operator. Two other major companies in this market are Mobily and Zain.

There are some signs that the Saudi government might be taking steps to improve telecommunications services in the country. On September 26, before the boycotts began, industry regulators notified Saudi mobile-data users that the sale of prepaid Internet “top-up” cards is being canceled, citing a plan to “rationalize the use of the network in a regulated form, thus alleviating strain on the networks to offer a better service, after operational indicators recorded usage rates surpassing international averages.”

The state's concern for mobile data is no surprise in Saudi Arabia, where Twitter adoption has reached a staggering 41 percent of all Internet users—surpassing both the United States and China, according to a Business Insider report released in 2013.

Support for the campaign against Saudi telecoms has been fierce on Twitter, as well, as the short video below shows:

Others want to go even further, vowing to force STC and other operators into bankruptcy:

It is us who took STC to the sky and we will also cause its fall
May god strengthen you!
Most importantly, compliance from all

I am very enthusiastic to boycott STC.
Today from 6 pm to 9 pm, switch off your mobile or put it on flight mode
I would exploit that time, to know my relatives better :)

For anyone who says what is the benefit if I switched off [my mobile] for 3 hours then reconnect or top up credit, you can read the explanation on the image and you'll get to know the utility #We_will_cause_you_ bankruptcy1 #flight_mode_stc [in the photo, campaigners claim that if 1 million participants joined the boycott campaign, STC would lose 302 Saudi Riyals per three hours]

#We_will_cause_you_ bankruptcy1
Guys, please implement these conditions so that we give them a great lesson and make them renounce their practices of deceiting and cheating on the citizen 👇👇 I swear by God, we'll never abandon our right.

Currently, STC company mode hahahahha [the speaker in the video says: “because of Twitter, we are not fine anymore”]

Saudi officials ban (wholly or partially) several online services that allow communication over the Internet, such as Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Skype. Last month, the state banned a call feature in the app “Line,” angering Saudi Twitter users, who in turn launched a campaign demanding access to such online technologies.

An original version of this article, written by Mahmoud Ghzayel, was first published on the website of Social Media Exchange Association (SMEX).

by Afef Abrougui at October 24, 2016 05:44 PM

Who Has the Right to Tell a Country’s Story?

Screenshot of Periodismo de Barrio website.

In this editorial, the members of the independent publication Periodismo de Barrio, partners of Global Voices, recount how they were detained and interrogated by Cuban State Security officials from October 11 to October 12 when they were covering the zones affected by Hurricane Mathew. The editorial was originally published in Periodismo de Barrio, and has been reproduced in its totality in Global Voices (originally in Spanish) under our partnership agreement.

“We were detained for doing journalism in Baracoa, in Maisí, in Imías: three of the main municipalities affected by the storm.”

October 11, 2016. Six members of the team from Periodismo de Barrio and two collaborators were detained in the city of Baracoa, located in the province of Guantánamo. We were not detained for smiling. We were not detained for taking a photo of the state cafeteria located on La Gobernadora viewpoint and publishing it on our personal Facebook account. We were not detained for using the online service PayPal in our public fundraising campaign that allowed us to cover the recovery process of communities affected by Hurricane Matthew. We were detained for doing journalism in Baracoa, in Maisí, in Imías: three of the main municipalities affected by the storm.

Specifically, we were detained for interviewing – or trying to interview – the local government in Imías, the powerline workers who were trying to restore electrical service, the victims, the families who evacuated vulnerable individuals, the school teachers, cooks, and school directors who lost roofs as well as books, the medical clinics that were damaged, the men and women who saved other men and women as well as their animals and plants. Those of us who went to Maisí were interrogated by State Security officials at the headquarters of the Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba while trying to obtain authorization to work in the area. Those of us who came to Jamal were detained in the home where we were staying.
Their justification was that in Baracoa, in Maisí, and in Imías one could not perform journalistic activities because all these cities were under a state of emergency. According to Article 67 of Cuba’s Constitution, a state of emergency is declared “in case of or before the imminence of natural disasters or catastrophes or other circumstances that by their disaster, proportion, or essence might affect the internal order, the country’s security, or the State’s stability.” While this state of emergency is in force, the rights and responsibilities of the citizens recognized by the Constitution can be administered differently.

Law 75 of National Defense regulates the way in which a state of emergency is declared, as well as other exceptional situations. “A state of emergency, in accordance with Articles 67 and 93 paragraph 1, is declared by the President of the State Council by means of a resolution which expresses the reasons for starting it, the delimitation of the area where it is established, and the effective period.” Up to the date of our detainment, there was no official public communication by the President of the State Council announcing a state of emergency, apart from the announcement made October 4th by the General Staff of the Civil Defense alerting six Cuban provinces before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. This does not have the legal status required to declare a state of emergency as provided in the Constitution.

In accordance with Law 75, “in any of the exceptional situations it is guaranteed that the fundamental rights of the Constitution shall not be excluded or suspended.” In addition, “an individual’s freedom and inviolability are guaranteed to whomever resides in the national territory.”

As part of the adopted measures , which the Cuban authorities never publicly announced, the exercise of journalism in the affected areas was restricted to those media that received accreditation to work there. Neither Law 75 nor the Constitution of the Republic nor the Code of Ethics of the Union of Cuban Journalists — to which two of our colleagues belong — regulate the exercise of journalism during situations of natural disasters. If we recognize that during emergency situations it is guaranteed that “the fundamental rights of the Constitution shall not be excluded or suspended,” which includes freedom of speech and press, Periodismo de Barrio did not violate any law.

We did not come to Baracoa with the goal of acting outside of the law. None of our members knew we would need to “be accredited” before heading to Guantánamo Province.

We did not come to Baracoa with the goal of acting outside of the law. None of our members knew we would need to “be accredited” before heading to Guantánamo Province. Nevertheless, if we had tried to do so, we would not have had a representative to approach. Unlike state and foreign media, Periodismo de Barrio does not have a public official in Cuba from whom we can ask authorization to perform journalistic work in a given region. Because of this, that night, in the municipal headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior, we asked for the required authorization to do the stories we had already planned. The answer, which came the next day after we had remained in the house for about fifteen hours as ordered, was a refusal. All of us journalists were then driven to the Ministry of the Interior’s Operations Unit in Guantánamo, escorted by the 205th patrol of the State Security Department.

There we were interrogated a second time and our technical equipment was confiscated. We had to hand over passwords and cameras, digital recorders, laptops, flash drives, electronic book readers, and cell phones, all of which were looked over for at least four hours. They informed us that the images and recordings from our work in the province would be erased and our electronic equipment returned. The three women that formed part of Periodismo de Barrio’s team were physically examined by an official looking for other technical tools that could have been hidden in our bodies, a treatment given to suspects in pre-criminal cases. They didn’t do the same to our male counterparts. Our technical equipment was then returned and none of the files related to our work were erased.

The whole time we maintained a respectful and cooperative attitude. We answered all of their questions about Periodismo de Barrio, our means of funding, the work we wished to do in the province, our previous journalism experience, the academic training we have, and the origins and final destination of the individual donations of clothes, food, and personal hygiene products that we brought to the province. Throughout the day (October 11th) and until we were released on October 12th, at around 8:00 pm, not a single charge or accusation of any crime was brought against the members of Periodismo de Barrio.

We left Guantánamo the same as when we arrived: innocent.

But innocence was not reason enough to avoid this arbitrary arrest.

In a context where the law only recognizes the existence of state and foreign media accredited by the Center of International Press, Periodismo de Barrio sits right on the edge between these two groups. We are the result of the evolution of technological platforms for communicating information of public interest, university education, and professional needs that cannot find a place in the existing media  media. And we are not the only ones.

Numerous media have been created within the last year without any guarantee of legal recognition or protection for practicing the profession. The majority of the published stories by these same media demonstrate reliability, balance in their use of sources, a high ethical commitment, and a profound respect for the realities, in all their plurality, of our country. We also recognize that there are stories that require greater research and informational rigor. Their existence, for both readers and for the hundreds of professionals gathered around them, should start an inclusive public debate about the ownership structure of the press. This debate could open up space for a media law in which  at least cooperative ownership would be considered alongside state ownership, among other forms of social and public models regarding these types of media.

It is not possible to tell the truth about Cuba from only one viewpoint, or from unanimous viewpoints that are the equivalent of one.

We understand that the public character of the Cuban press is guaranteed not solely by governmental ownership of the media. But it is not possible to tell the truth about Cuba from only one viewpoint, or from unanimous viewpoints that are the equivalent of one. Not when there are so many differing views. For the truth about Cuba to be the true Cuba – that is, the convergence of everyone’s truths – there must be a collective construction in which diverse voices participate with equal rights and responsibilities.

The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, in Article 53, recognizes the “freedom of speech and press in agreement with those ends of a socialist society” for its citizens. And in the following sentence it specifies that “mass media are state or social property and in no case can they be objects of private property, which ensures their use for the exclusive service of the working class and in the interest of society.” Nevertheless, because of the way in which this logic has been implemented we have not achieved the plain exercise of freedom of press and speech, nor have we ensured the exclusive use of media in service of the people, nor have we exorcised the demon that inspired the ban on private media: monopoly. What we have achieved, paradoxically, is a new monopolization of information, of journalistic discourses, and of the truth.

Television channels, radio broadcasts, printed publications, and publishing houses all change owners but they do not become decentralized or “socialized”. To socialize is not the same as to nationalize. There is no such thing as a good or bad monopoly. All monopolization, by the State, an individual, or a corporation, ends up restricting freedoms. To socialize means to regulate power so that, precisely, it is not centralized or concentrated in a social area, because it dispossess others of power. Making “socialism the Cuban way,” appropriate for our circumstances, does not constitute a license to violate inseparable principles of socialism. One does not found a socialist society by reproducing structures of domination.

Colaboradores de Periodismo de Barrio, Monica, Elaine y Julio, trabajando. Photo por Elaine Diaz, usado con permiso.

Mónica, Elaine and Julio, members of Periodismo de Barrio. Photo by Elaine Diaz, used with permission.

This is not the first time that we have gone to work in areas affected by natural disasters. Less than three days after the waterspout that damaged Playa del Caimito, we visited the area without asking anyone for permission. In the interviews, both citizens and authorities cooperated with us. Six months after the storm of April 29, 2015, we investigated the main damaged areas. Three years after Sandy, we returned to the eastern city of Santiago.

Periodismo de Barrio publishes articles and investigative reports that try to delve deeper into the reality that we live in. Cuban state media and institutions like the Civil Defense organization and the Meteorological Institute, have always carried out extensive coverage before, during and after any extreme weather event. However, the news cycle moves fast, and often times the victims no longer make headlines a couple of weeks or months after the natural disaster occurs. Other realities occupy our newspapers’ agendas. But even if these other realities didn’t occupy our newspapers, this doesn’t mean that the people’s need for information runs out when the disaster recovery processes is prolonged. Not even Periodismo de Barrio could exhaust that need.

It is the media’s duty to follow the recovery process, which usually takes years. It’s the media’s duty to accompany the most vulnerable.  It is the media’s duty to scrutinize the Revolution and make sure that it doesn’t, in effect, leave anyone abandoned. This phrase is often used just after a hurricane hits, and is later forgotten by some public servants charged with turning it into food and shelter, which was what happened with the mattresses for the victims in the municipality ‘Diez de Octubre’ in April 2015. This supervision should not be seen as a threat, but rather as our right to hold our public representatives to account.

Every minute we spent in Baracoa, Imías and Maisí, every affected household we visited, became a meeting point for neighbors. They told each other, “the journalists have come.”

We know that today, Baracoa, Imías and Maisí are disaster zones, and we know the immediate dangers associated with this: outbreaks of illness, water and food shortages, and electricity outages, among others. Our intention was not, under any circumstance, to slow down the work of the Civil Defense organization or the local government, but instead to help face this situation from within our capacity as professionals. Every minute we spent in Baracoa, Imías and Maisí, every affected household we visited, became a meeting point for neighbors. They told each other, “the journalists have come,” and what started as an interview of an evacuated pregnant woman turned into a meeting of 15 or 20 people telling their stories. We didn’t trick anyone. We told everyone that we were members of Periodismo de Barrio and we explained the social objective of the outlet. Even so, when we left, they gave us their blessings. And when they told us “God bless you,” they were blessing our pens and our ears as the platform from which they could share their realities.

Anybody who knows the Cuban people, knows about their honor and dignity. Every person we interviewed suffered material losses but was grateful to be alive. Members of the People’s Councils and delegates spent days without sleeping to register the damage done by the hurricane. Families with homes in tact leant their houses to those without. There are still places that are left without any way to contact the outside world.

We came to Baracoa with questions: How are they distributing aid? How are they assisting the victims with construction material, food, clothing etc? What measures were taken to protect Haitian refugees? What conditions are the coastal communities in and what are the measures being taken to relocate them? What are the main damages to farms and housing? How are they organizing the evacuation centers? What role did amatuer radio enthusiasts play in maintaining communication in disconnected areas? etc.

The numbers of those affected are not low. What is low, however, is the number of media outlets covering the situation in the area. We are talking about hundreds of towns, some of them remote, others without means of communication or made inaccessible. Thousands of people who need to be heard. During our detention by the Communist Party Municipal Committee of Maisí, a civil servant showed us an article published in the newspaper Venceremos to prove their point of view: There was media coverage in the area.

Nearly 600 news agencies and foreign media outlets were approved to cover United States president Barack Obama’s visit to Havana. In an article published this past October 14, the newspaper Granma could mention less than 10 foreign agencies working in Guantánamo in addition to the local provincial outlets. In the more than 45 interviews done during the 12 hours we were able to work, none of the disaster victims were visited by any other news outlet. We were the first ones to get to them. We were the only ones. State newspapers (especially those in Guantánamo) and other foreign outlets had spoken with other areas, but Baracoa, Maisí and Imías are the homes of people who need to share their stories. It is important to note that journalists from Guantánamo have been working and visiting neighborhoods that have been cut off, neighborhoods that take days to get to, without even stopping to think about their own material losses.

Those who are questioning the methods used to finance Periodismo de Barrio are conveniently forgetting that journalism costs money.

Those who are questioning the methods used to finance Periodismo de Barrio, are conveniently forgetting that journalism costs money. In the state media’s case, the State subsidizes their fundamental production costs. This doesn’t mean that it’s free. The helicopter used to fly over areas cut off by the hurricane wasn’t free, neither are the hours of internet provided to the houses and offices of state journalists, the computers, the cars, the gas used in the cars, the cameras, the electricity and the generators that ensure radio stations stay on air after power outs. The offices, chairs, tables, landline and mobile phones are all not free. 

For over 50 years, the State has allowed journalists to avoid thinking about the true costs of journalism because their activities are being financed. Without this subsidy, it would be impossible to exist. This financial support is provided by the people and, as a public entity, it thus comes with its corresponding obligations. State media has a duty to respond to the multiple needs of the people. Transparency and accountability about the use of these resources is a duty that, now and always, should be exercised regularly.

New outlets, like us, that lack economic support from the State need to look elsewhere to finance their activities. Some turn to advertising, payment for content and for services, agreements and collaborations between other outlets or NGO’s and crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a method that has been used for many years by internet users to finance individual and collective projects. By these means, readers have the freedom to decide if they want to collaborate or not. It is also a method which shows how much has been donated and by whom. The dream of any media outlet is to be financed exclusively by their readers. In our case, we use the online service PayPal which is inaccessible in Cuba due to the US embargo. We think that this is an unjust and arbitrary policy aimed at financially asphyxiating the Cuban people and for this reason, we will continue to look for ways to prevent the embargo from affecting our media outlet. We trusted our readers and it worked. In less than 48 hours we had raised enough money to go to Guantánamo.

There are financial and economic blockages from the United States that affect both Cuban state-run businesses and Periodismo de Barrio. There are no exceptions or soft policies, so state-run businesses, just like Periodismo de Barrio, have learned to get around it. Periodismo de Barrio’s PayPal strategy is simple: we use an account from a collaborator and friend who lives in a different country, and then they send the money to Cuba through legal agencies that deal with remittances.

We have received numerous criticisms and suggestions about the money we raised for the coverage. We will not turn a deaf ear to them.

We have received numerous criticisms and suggestions about the money we raised for the coverage. The majority of them came from readers, they were well-argued and came with the clear intention to help Periodismo de Barrio to perform better as journalists. We will not turn a deaf ear to them. We think the role of press in the recovery effort is to seek out alliances with other media outlets, to identify organized projects, like the Red Cross and local NGOs that need help and can provide it in affected areas. Our readers have pointed out that covering natural disasters transcends the practice of journalism itself. For this reason, in the future, we are weighing the possibility of making executive summaries detailing the needs and ways to access and distribute aid that are relevant to both local governments and NGOs, and in this way, contribute to those working in the disaster zones. Reporting, in these cases, is not our only duty.

We denounce the arbitrary detention of journalists anywhere in the world and in Cuba, as well. By doing this, the State Security organizations are not only limiting the freedom of expression and the freedom of press guaranteed by the Constitution, but they are also limiting each and every individual who chooses to speak to media outlets.

On October 11, not only did they silence Periodismo de Barrio, but they also silenced all of the communities and people who wanted to talk to our journalists. On October 11, the Cuban authorities tried to define who has the right to tell their story in our country. Because we believe that this right belongs to all of the Cuban people, because these stories must be told, we will return to Baracoa, Imías and Maisí once the state of emergency is called off.

by L. Finch at October 24, 2016 02:37 PM

October 21, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: As Protests Rage in Ethiopia, Zone9 Bloggers Return to Court
Zone9 bloggers left to right: Abel Wabela, Zelalem Kiberet, Mahlet Fantahun, Atnaf Berahane, Befeqadu Hailu, Natnael Feleke. Image via Martin Ennals Awards.

Zone9 bloggers left to right: Abel Wabela, Zelalem Kiberet, Mahlet Fantahun, Atnaf Berahane, Befeqadu Hailu, Natnael Feleke. Image via Martin Ennals Awards.

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

As protests rage over land rights and ethnic discrimination, bloggers and independent journalists in Ethiopia appear to be losing ground in their struggle to exercise free expression. Alongside other recent arrests, four members of the Zone9 bloggers collective, who spent 18 months in prison on terrorism-related charges from 2014-2015, returned to court on October 21 following an appeal by the public prosecutor. Their case was adjourned yet again, with a new court date scheduled for November 15.

The Addis Ababa-based blogging collective, six of whom are Global Voices contributors, had worked to foster political debate and discussion in the face of a near-monopoly that the state holds over media outlets.

Charged under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation with “inciting public disorder via social media” and “receiving support from a foreign government,” the bloggers appeared in court 38 times from July 2014 to October 2015, only to be adjourned each time at the behest of the prosecution, which sought more time to investigate their case. Some members were released without explanation shortly before Barack Obama’s July 2015 visit to the country. The rest were “acquitted” in October of that year, though they were never invited to testify before a jury. And now, a year later, the four members of the group—Abel Wabela, Atnaf Berahane, Natnael Feleke and Befeqadu Hailu—are returning to court once again.

With the country in an official “state of emergency,” social media sites are intermittently blocked or banned from use and mobile Internet connections are periodically cut, the need for independent media reporting from inside the country feels ever-more vital — and increasingly under threat.

Montenegro blocks messaging apps on election day

WhatsApp, Viber, and other messaging apps were blocked in Montenegro on October 16, the day of parliamentary elections. The country’s Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services said the ban was intended to keep users from receiving “unwanted information,” an official designation for spam that could also apply to mass messages sent on behalf of specific candidates or political parties.

Cuban journalists barred from reporting on hurricane damage

Cuban blogger and journalist Elaine Diaz, also a Global Voices author, was detained by Cuban State Security along with several of her colleagues while reporting on the effects of Hurricane Matthew in the eastern region of the island. The journalists were detained for two days. Following their release, the group reported that addition to subjecting them to interrogation, officials temporarily confiscated their computers, mobile devices, voice recorders, and other reporting equipment. The women in the group were put through full body searches.

In other news from Cuba, Dyn Research network monitoring group (the new home of Renesys) observed that a new transit provider, UTS of Curaçao, appears to be operating on Cuba’s ALBA-1 submarine fiber optic cable. This would be the first new provider to operate on the cable since it went live in 2013. Although the implications of the change are yet to be seen, it could improve connection speeds in Cuba, allowing users to reach web content hosted in the network of UTS, which is closer to the country than the networks currently serving the island.

US court dismisses charges against journalist over viral protest video

A US court dismissed rioting charges filed against radio journalist Amy Goodman this week. These and other charges were leveled against Goodman after she captured and published (via news outlet Democracy Now!) online video footage of a September 3 protest against the construction of a massive oil pipeline in the state of North Dakota. The video, which quickly went viral, showed private security contractors using pepper spray and letting dogs loose on protesters. The oil pipeline in dispute would cut through Native American burial grounds and could cause untold environmental damage to the Missouri River, a major water source in the region. The Obama administration opted to stop the pipeline project several days later.

Thai regulators scour web for ‘inappropriate content’ about King Bhumibol

Thai mobile telecommunications operators asked customers to report “inappropriate content about the royal institution” in the wake of the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Reuters reports that three local operators are now instructing users on how to report posts on Facebook and YouTube, in compliance with a request from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. Thailand has strict laws against insulting the monarchy, which it has used in the past to shut down media and to send bloggers and social media users to jail.

Russian journos and transparency activists skirt cyber attack

More than a dozen Russian journalists and activists received a strange warning from Google last week, notifying them that “government-backed attackers” may be “trying to steal” their passwords. The company says these attacks happen to “less than 0.1 percent of all Gmail users.” Hackers attacked three domains belonging to Transparency International, as well as the email addresses of staff at regional and international offices.

Livestreaming slows to a trickle in Shanghai

Shanghai’s Public Security Bureau shut down approximately 1,000 livestreaming accounts and required the owners of 450,000 others to submit proof of identity information to the Bureau.

This comes after China’s Ministry of Public Security announced in July plans to tighten restrictions on the live video technology in an effort to minimize livestream pornography, gambling, and political content, and to monitor companies that have failed to implement requisite safety measures, according to Hong Kong Free Press.

China issues new child protection rules on backdoors, ‘Internet addiction’

The Cyberspace Administration of China also drafted a new set of Regulations on the Protection of Minors Online and has put them up for public comment before October 31, 2016. The regulations would mandate the presale installation of unspecified software on personal computing devices, intended to keep minors from accessing “illegal and inappropriate information” as defined by Chinese law. They also authorize programs intended to combat “Internet addiction,” a measure that has caused consternation on social media among people concerned about overly punitive “treatment” approaches to the problem.


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Ellery Roberts Biddle, Oiwan Lam, Weiping Li, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at October 21, 2016 09:07 AM

October 20, 2016

Links for 2016-10-19 []

October 20, 2016 07:00 AM

October 19, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Chinese Netizens See Human Rights Violations in Child Protection Bill
China released the draft of cyber security law on 6 July. Remix image.

China released the draft of cyber security law on 6 July. Image mixed by Oiwan Lam.

China's Cyberspace Administration is launching new draft regulations that would require hardware companies to pre-install surveillance software on communication devices and legalize specific approaches to treating internet addiction, all in the interest of protecting children.

The regulations encourage industrial and social sectors to become more engaged in issues of child protection online, through content warning and take down systems, pre-installed censorship and surveillance softwares, legalization and promotion of Internet addiction treatments, and age verification systems for online games. Published on September 30, the Regulations on the Protection of Minors Online are open for public comment until October 31 2016.

Many are worried that the surveillance capabilities built into hardware or pre-installed on communication devices could be used for other purposes. According to Articles 11 and 12 of the regulations:

    第十条 国家鼓励并支持研发、生产和推广未成年人上网保护软件。

第十一条 学校、图书馆、文化馆、青少年宫等公益性场所为未成年人提供上网设施的,应当安装未成年人上网保护软件,避免未成年人接触违法信息和不适宜未成年人接触的信息。
第十二条 智能终端产品制造商在产品出厂时、智能终端产品进口商在产品销售前应当在产品上安装未成年人上网保护软件,或者为安装未成年人上网保护软件提供便利并采用显著方式告知用户安装渠道和方法。

Article 11. All internet facilities in schools, libraries, cultural and youth centers should install softwares to protect minors and prevent them from accessing illegal and inappropriate information.

Article 12. Manufacturers and Importers of all computing devices should make sure that the products be pre-installed with minor protection softwares or have clear instructions on how to install minor protection softwares before the products are sold on the market.

A blogger based in Guangzhou, who chose to have their identity withheld, expressed concern that after the legislation, all cell phones and computers made in China would be pre-installed with surveillance technology that could not be uninstalled.

This surveillance software could be used to spy on all activities, online or offline, of the device's owner. They could also be used to disrupt the functioning of circumvention tools. The blogger also pointed out that in the past, surveillance technologies found on Chinese-made hardware have had technical backdoors, leaving them vulnerable to malicious hackers.

Is “Green Dam Youth Escort” Back?

In 2009, the Chinese government had attempted to force both domestic and international PC makers to pre-install a filtering software known as “Green Dam-Youth Escort,” which blocked banned websites by linking between each user's device and an online database of banned sites. As Chinese netizens kept finding the flaws in the software, the plan was halted.

The current regulations do not specify which types of software would be installed in all communication devices, to be able to effectively prevent the minors from accessing “illegal and inappropriate information” as defined by Chinese law. But they do say that all software eventually would be linked to a central database controlled by the government or party authorities. Article 10 clearly states that the Cyber Administration and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology will be responsible for the development, manufacturing and implementation of the software policy. This is why many Chinese netizens exclaimed that “the Green Dam” has returned. All online discussions about this have been removed by Chinese web censors.

Taking on ‘Internet Addiction’

Online conversations about legalizing Internet addiction treatments have been less censored. While the international psychiatric community continues to debate whether Internet addiction is a real problem, the Chinese government appears ready to develop a domestic evaluation system and subject minors to a so-called “conversion” treatment. According to the drafted regulation:

第二十条 教育、卫生计生等部门依据各自职责,组织开展预防未成年人沉迷网络的教育,对未成年人网络成瘾实施干预和矫治。

Article 20: Education and health departments should organize and implement education programs and medical treatments to prevent minors from falling into Internet addiction and to convert minors who are addicted.

People’s government and education authorities of and above county level should equip primary and secondary schools with teachers specialing in this field or improve teachers’ professional skills to detect and intervene into the problem of internet addiction among minors at an early stage. Schools could also buy services from organizations specializing in prevention and intervention in internet addiction among minors.

The Ministry of Health and Family Planning will work with other authorities to develop a detection and evaluation system on internet addiction and develop a code for the diagnosis and treatment of internet addiction.

In China, some clinical psychologists have become very active in promoting the treatment of Internet addiction. An iconic figure is Yang Yongxin, who has promoted a test to evaluate Internet addiction and using electroshock to cure his patients. In 2006, Yang established the country’s first Internet Addition Treatment Center at the Linyi City Mental Health Hospital in Shandong province.

Since China officially recognized Internet addiction as a clinical disorder in 2008, hundreds of boot camps have been set up to treat the addiction problem. The majority of these camps force to kids to go through very heavy physical exercises. There have been a few reports of children suddenly dying while in these camps. In 2014, a 19-year-old girl was tortured to death during an internet addiction boot-camp organized by her school in Henan province.

Though the legislation can be interpreted as an effort to “standardize” addiction treatment and prevent deaths during treatment, most Chinese netizens anticipate that it will cause more harm to the minors.

On Twitter, @acgtyrant said:

I look into the drafted Regulations on the Protection of Minors Online, it does not stress the duty of medical facilities to safeguard the minors’ personal safety. If the regulations are passed, it is likely that more minors will die [during treatment], this is so ironic.

On Twitter-like Sina Weibo, many netizens are speaking out against the Internet addiction treatment on the comment section of a news thread, with some referring to the electroshock treatments performed by Yang Yongxin:


Yang Yongxin will be legalized? I wonder if the leaders are from Shandong Linyi city?


Internet addiction is a problem concerning minors’ psychological health, but such crude legislation will probably lead to other big problems. We have no idea what a government which has been keeping a blind eye to Yang Yongxin for so long is capable of doing. We'll have to wait and see.


If the drafters let Yang Yongxin electroshock them for one year, I would give a pass.


I have been playing computer games since primary school. Now I am an adult and I don’t have an addiction problem. I can go without access to a computer for a month. How do you define addiction? What about addiction to cigarettes? How do you treat it? Electroshock!

In another news thread, netizens brought up the issue of human rights:


What is the legal ground for such restrictions of personal freedom? What is the [medical] ground in defining [Internet addiction] as a disease that requires treatment?

所以说网瘾怎么治,电击?打? 这是想怎么地阿,人权还有吗?为了保护下一代,真的,还是不要生了

How to treat Internet addiction, electroshock? Beating? Do we still have human rights? To protect our next generation, we should not give birth anymore.


The point is how to prove that you are addicted? I wonder if someday I would be labelled as an Internet addict and forcibly detained for “treatment”.

by Oiwan Lam at October 19, 2016 04:35 PM

October 18, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Journalists Call on Timor-Leste PM to Drop Defamation Complaint Against Reporters

Raimundos Oki at the Dili District Court, Oct 07, 2016. Published and authorized by Raimundos Oki.

Journalists around the world are trying to get the prime minister of Timor-Leste (East Timor) to abandon a criminal complaint against two Timor-Post reporters who say he was involved in government corruption.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has launched an online petition calling on Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo to drop the complaint. If convicted, Raimundos Oki and Lourenco Martins could be sentenced to three years in prison and a high fine.

Earlier this year, Araujo said he wouldn't back down from pursuing the complaint, despite international support for Oki and Martins, whose trial was originally scheduled to begin on October 7, 2016. Due to technicalities, however, the trial has been rescheduled to begin on December 2.

Oki and Martins will face charges of “slanderous denunciation” for a story published nearly a year ago, on November 10, 2015, revealing corruption in state procurement contracts. Prime Minister Araujo, who previously served as a senior advisor in the Finance Ministry, was allegedly involved in one of the contracts in question—a government order for information-technology services.

A week after the article was published, Araujo held a press conference and announced his intention to “present the facts to the Prosecutor's Office of a publicly disseminated false accusation” against him. Two days later, on November 18, the prime minister formally submitted the complaint.

Several international media organizations, including IFJ, Freedom House, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the South East Journalists Union, have called on Araujo to step back.

Araujo published an open letter in April responding to these groups and vowing to stick to his guns and push ahead with the case.

In July, the IFJ-Asia Pacific, the CPJ, and Freedom House again reached out to Araujo, arguing that the charges are “an attack on press freedom and the right to information in Timor-Leste,” saying “criminal prosecutions of journalists cannot be tolerated….as a matter of principle.”

Individual journalists from the Asia-Pacific region have also weighed in on the issue. Petrus Suryadi Sutrisno, a veteran Indonesian journalist with more than 40 years of experience, including working at the Suara Timor Timur Daily, says that Timor-Leste journalists must follow the example of Indonesia and other countries by going the extra mile in verifying sources before publishing. He adds that publishing stories without following procedures can cause damage to both the media practitioners and the subject they're writing about:

Timor-Leste should learn either from Indonesia or from other countries by making a systematic observation and studying how media organizations can exist within the frame of “news engineering” and “orchestrated media” for real systematic character assassination to some one. First by publishing the news without ethic and check and recheck mechanism procedures hit the target then the law consequences are followed later. But what's most important is that the target now is the victim of defamation. The lawsuit is really the last straw.

Tempo Semanal Director Jose Antonio Belo commented on the petition:

I'm signing this Petition because the East Timor Prime Minister is still living with the spirit of the former Indonesian General Dictatorship.

Ted McDonnel, an Australian journalist, also writes:

I believe in Freedom of the Press & Freedom of Expression. This case brought by the PM of Timor Leste is all about silencing the media.

The IFJ petition is formally addressed to Prime Minister Araujo, along with Timor-Leste's minister of justice and general prosecutor. Supporters are encouraged to share the petition using the hashtag #FreeTimorJournalists.

by Dalia Kiakilir at October 18, 2016 12:50 PM

October 17, 2016

Ethan Zuckerman
Dumpsterfire 2016: What To Do When You Have No Idea What To Do

After the last presidential debate, I wrote on Twitter that the whole experience had left me wanting to take a shower… in sulfuric acid. Looking for an anger beyond fear, anger and despair, I made four donations – to a US NGO, an international NGO, a progressive candidate for the US House of Representatives, and a libertarian Republican candidate for the North Carolina state senate. I wrote about my decision to do this on Twitter and Facebook, urging my readers to find a way to do something that made them feel positive and affirmative about this increasingly terrifying and alienating election cycle.

A smart, considerate friend who is deeply informed about North Carolina politics took me to task for my support of Greg Doucette, the Republican I’d given the princely sum of $50 to. Doucette, she explained, is challenging a Democrat with a record she sees as admirable. Beyond that, the North Carolina GOP, as a whole, is taking terrible steps to limit the rights of transgender people. How could I provide any support to such a horrific party?

I’m not sure she’s right, nor am I sure she’s wrong. I was frustrated that my gesture towards personal friendship and bipartisanship suddenly put me in a position to justify the collective actions of a party I’d never vote for. And I felt embarrassed that I’d made a simple, quick personal gesture without consideration of the larger political implications, or without educating myself about Doucette’s opponent in his race.

I had some of the same feelings again today. In response to the horrific firebombing of a GOP field office in North Carolina, a group of progressive and democratic friends raised over $13,000 to help rebuild that space. On a mailing list that these friends and I frequent, a debate is now raging about whether this lovely gesture just creates fungible funding for the GOP, who almost certainly have insurance, and who will use this gift of progressive money to further conservative agendas. Again, I feel lousy – even though I wasn’t quick enough to join the campaign, which raised the money in 40 minutes! – and I wonder whether there’s any way to make even a symbolic kind action at this angry, bitter and partisan moment.

I decided that I’m going to try to shape my thinking with three rules to help me make decisions on questions like this over the next few weeks.

Action over inaction
My deepest fear over the 2016 election is not of revolution or armed uprising by angry Trump supporters, but merely a continuation of the long, slow process of disengagement with civics and politics as a whole. I’ve been writing and speaking for months now about my sense that the dominant trend in politics globally is mistrust of institutions, and that mistrust leads naturally to disengagement and a sense of disempowerment. Because the default is inaction, engagement over disengagement is a good rule to try and follow.

It should go without saying – though, this crazy year, nothing goes without saying – that I am advocating non-violent action, whether that’s protest, volunteering, canvassing, donating, making media, etc. It should also go without saying that informed, careful, considerate action is better than thoughtless, spontaneous action without considering the consequences. But it’s easy to fall into a cycle of critique that leads to paralysis.


People over party
I desperately want Donald Trump to lose this upcoming election. And I believe Hillary Clinton will be an excellent president. But I’m deeply frustrated that our political system gave us two candidates who are so widely disliked, guaranteeing a best case scenario in which a Clinton presidency is dogged at every turn by an angry, recalcitrant Republican house. I’m sick to my stomach thinking of another four years of paralysis, and frustrated that I have no answer for friends who wonder when will be the election cycle that we break out of a two party system and consider a wider range of alternatives.

I’ve voted Democrat all my life (with the notable exception of supporting William Weld over John Silber in 1990), but have always tried to understand the positions my Republican friends have taken. A foundational experience for me was visiting a Republican friend who’d been named chief of staff for Kansas senator (now governor) Sam Brownback in his new office in the Capitol. I intended for us to have a friendly visit, crack a few political jokes at each other’s expense and move on. Instead, my friend said, “Do we have any business to discuss?” I laughed and asked what issues Sam Brownback and I might possibly have common ground on. My friend immediately came up with two – increasing H1-B visas for high-skilled immigrants, and seeking increased funding to protect against violence in Central Africa. It was an amazing lesson that people can find things to agree on even when parties can’t.

I supported Greg Doucette because he’s a decent human being who shares many of my positions and values, especially around issues of criminal justice. But I supported him also because he’s running as a Republican, and I was thrilled to see an opportunity where I could support someone on “the other team”. Even if Clinton wins in a landslide, at least 40% of the US voting public is going to feel frustrated and alienated. I believe that building ties with people of like minds and good hearts across the aisle is work worth doing and has importance far beyond whoever wins or loses individual seats in this election.

Kindness over everything else
If you are a sentient being, Democrat, Republican or otherwise, this has been a tough election cycle. Many of my conservative friends are deeply dissatisfied with their nominee, and some are growing frustrated that their failure to support Hillary Clinton has lumped them into a basket of deplorables. Many of my progressive friends are angry at being told to support Clinton less apocalypse occur. Many women who are survivors of sexual abuse are triggered by Trump’s persistent and casual misogyny and bullying. African American friends are still reeling in anger from the continued stream of unarmed black men and women killed by police.

This is an ugly moment in time. Being kind to one another is one of the few things that’s unambiguously the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean just being courteous and polite. It means actually stopping to try and understand why people hold the beliefs they do. This excellent piece – provocatively named “How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind” – is a good start, at least as regards understanding why people in rural areas of the US are feeling so forgotten and disrespected.

It’s also possible that kindness is the single most important and powerful thing you can do to make change in the world. Consider the story of Derek Black, who inherited a leadership role in the White Nationalist movement from his father, the founder of the Stormfront message board community. A fellow student at New College in Sarasota, Florida reached out to Black, inviting him to an interfaith shabbat dinner, not to confront him about his beliefs, but simply to reach out and include him. This kindness proved transformative – at great cost to his relationships with his family, Black has forsaken white nationalism.

Kindness works. I’m less sure that anything else does.

by Ethan at October 17, 2016 07:40 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
WhatsApp and Viber Blocked on Election Day in Montenegro
"Believe it or not, this is an polling station Komarno in Bar" tweeted Center for Democratic Transitions. Photo by CDT, used with permission.

“Believe it or not, this is an polling station Komarno in the city of Bar“, tweeted the Center for Democratic Transitions. Photo by CDT, used with permission.

Parliamentary elections in Montenegro on 16 October 2016 were marred with allegations of irregularities, reported via social networks, and a temporary ban on WhatsApp, Viber and similar messaging apps.

The regulatory Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services ordered telecom operators to prevent the use of messaging applications. The Agency reasoned that the ban was intended to keep users from receiving “unwanted communication,” an official designation for spam that could also apply to mass messages sent on behalf of specific candidates or political parties.

The agency's executive director Zoran Sekulić refused to respond to questions from Vijesti newspaper about the reasons for this decision. In a later report published by Vijesti, they described their phone call with Sekulić:

“Ko je vama dao pravo da me zovete. Zovite me sjutra u 8 sati. Ko vam je dao pravo da me uznemiravate”, poručio je Sekulić. Ni nakon ponovljenog poziva, Sekulić nije htio da objasni građanima odluku Agencije i kazao je da “ne daje izjave “Vijestima””.

“Who gave you the right to call me? Call me tomorrow at 8 am. Who gave you the right to harrass me,” Sekulić said. After a second call, he still refused to explain the decision of the Agency and said that “he doesn't give statements to Vijesti.”

The website of the Center for Democratic Transitions (CDT), the leading Montenegrin election observation NGO, was under attack during the election day, and inaccessible during the afternoon and evening.

Discussions about the elections took place on social media, where citizens shared information about the elections in local Slavic languages using the hashtag #IzboriCG (Elections Montenegro) and the country name #CrnaGora, as well as in English via the equivalent hashtags #ElectionsMNE and #Montenegro.

The ban on messaging apps

The blackout of messaging apps was a leading topic in social media conversations about the election. While the Agency had not published any information about its decision on its website, local operator Telenor sent a string of tweets (1, 2, 3) explaining the blocking order. In sum, they read:

EKIP je naložila svim telekomunikacionim operatorima da isključe mogućnost korišćenja aplikacija Viber, WhatsApp i sl. servisa, koji su danas upotrijebljeni za neželjenu komunikaciju sa korisnicima. Mogućnost korišćenja ovih servisa biće isključena dok Agencija posebnim nalogom ne odredi da se takva zabrana suspenduje.

The Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services ordered all telecommunication operators to turn off the option to use the applications Viber, WhatsApp and the like, which were used today for unwanted communication with the users. The possibility for use of these services will be turned off until the Agency determines an end of the ban with a special notice.

Serbian Internet marketing specialist Nemanja Živkovic compared the Montenegro blackout with a Twitter blackout he experienced in Turkey.

What is the aim of blocking Social Media when it is so easy to overcome it? Those who deal with it in the Government think that by banning one Social Media they can prevent or silent the flow of information. Seriously!? Isn't there anyone who will tell them that this is nonsense and that it'll come back to them like a boomerang, multiplied? Apparently not. Obviously, they are [not] following examples from the past when other countries tried to do that.

Montenegrin media consultant Ana Bogavac pointed to the lack of protections for expression via digital media:

Access to Viber was reinstated at 7:30 pm, after the polling stations closed. CDT announced this via one of their Twitter accounts:

Our Viber chat started working again!

Victory for the status quo?

A number of problematic issues arose during the day, from “technical difficulties” such as providing accessibility to all, to the “atmosphere of a coup d'etat” which had a negative influence on citizens’ freedom, according to opposition candidate Neđeljko Rudović.

The building of public company for Electricity Distribution in Herceg Novi is not accessible for people with disabilities

Election observation NGOs CDT and CeMI continued to provide information from the field based on their monitoring activities.

Independent media group Balkan Insight maintained a live blog during election day. Based on the exit polls, they predicted that veteran Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, the leader of the Democratic Party of Socialists, has won 36 of the 81 seats in Montenegro’s parliament. This will allow him to form a majority government, if minority parties choose to join him.

Having alternated between the positions of Prime Minister and President, Đukanović has long been the president of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, which has governed Montenegro ever since the introduction of a multi-party political system in the early 1990s.

The party was formed in 1991 as the successor of the League of Communists of Montenegro, which had governed Montenegro within Yugoslavia since 1945.

I was a kid when Milo came to power. If I live long enough, I will probably be a grandfather when he steps down.

Referring to upcoming elections in Macedonia, and the struggle of the ruling party chief to remain in power, journalist Rade Marojevic compared Đukanović's leadership to that of former Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski:

Gruevski is taking notes.

by Filip Stojanovski at October 17, 2016 05:03 PM

October 15, 2016

October 13, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Brazilians Find the Limits of Free Speech on Facebook
Photo by Flickr user zeevveez. CC BY 2.0

Photo by Flickr user zeevveez. CC BY 2.0

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

Tensions between citizens and public officials in Brazil are running high this week, with the country’s uniquely restrictive defamation laws being put to the test on Facebook.

On October 10, a judge ordered a nationwide block on Facebook over a page that made fun of Mayor Udo Dohler, who is running for re-election in Joinville, a city in the state of Santa Catarina. The court ruling states that the content was “clearly created to offend the candidate as its publications, despite containing a certain dose of humour, include constant attacks and aggressions against the candidate.” The ruling also demanded that Facebook reveal the IP address of the page’s administrator and provide Dohler with the right to respond to the content.

The ruling appears to contradict Brazilian electoral legislation that protects attributed online expression during the electoral period (anonymous speech is forbidden in Brazil). While the law also protects the target’s right of response, it is not clear how this right could be infringed within an online platform like Facebook, where the right to comment is built into the system. The same law also provides a penalty for whoever hosts the offensive content.

Facebook’s press office told Brazilian media outlets that it complied with the decision to remove the page within the deadline, and thus should not be penalized by blocking or a fine. Anatel, Brazil’s telecommunications regulator, did not comment on the decision.

A new page with the same title was created promptly and now has a little more than 200 followers.

In another example, Brazilian actress and TV presenter Mônica Iozzi was ordered to pay 30,000 reais (about US $10,000) for posting on Instagram a photo of Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes with the word “accomplice” in capital letters beside his image.

Iozzi was referring to the case of former fertility doctor Roger Abdelmassih, who was convicted on rape and sexual abuse charges involving at least 37 female patients at his clinic between 1995 and 2008. Abdelmassih was originally arrested in 2009 and held in pre-trial detention for four months until Justice Mendes granted him habeas corpus. Despite being convicted of the charges soon after, the court allowed him to remain free while he prepared an appeal. He then fled to Paraguay, where he remained until being apprehended and extradited by Paraguayan federal law enforcement officials.

Mendes argued that the photo damaged his public image by implying he was an accomplice to criminal practices. The court, which ruled in his favor, stated that Iozzi “overstepped her right to freedom of expression.”

This is not the first time Mendes has gone after journalists for defamation. In 2014, he demanded compensation of 150 reais (about US $50,000) from famous Brazilian leftist blogger Luiz Nassif, who criticized Mendes for interfering with a process that would prohibit private financing of political campaigns. The court ruled decided in Nassif’s favor.

Ethiopia’s mobile Internet shutdown enters week two

Ethiopian authorities have shut down mobile Internet services in the face of increasingly violent protests and a recently declared state of emergency. The blackout may be helping to diminish news coverage of the protests, which began in opposition to an expansion of the capital city into the region of Oromia, but has since broadened to include demands of greater self-rule, freedom and respect for the Oromo ethnic identity. A similar protest movement is happening in the Amhara region. Ethiopian digital media expert and Global Voices contributor Endalk Chala writes that “those close to the situation fear this may be the beginning of a dangerous new phase after 12 months of protests.”

Messaging apps go dark, just when Yemen needs them most

WhatsApp has been inaccessible in Yemen for several days. According to user reports, the messaging app first reported interruptions in service on October 5, which mobile service provider Yemen Mobile attributed to “technical” issues, though local experts fear it may be intentional. Facebook’s app has also been working off and on over the past several days. In the wake of the October 8 airstrikes that killed at least 140 people, blocks on basic communication platforms are even more problematic, as they make it difficult for families seeking to communicate and account for one another’s safety.

Is “Consensus” no longer politically correct in China?

The Chinese website Consensus, a Communist Party-associated platform for writers and researchers to discuss sensitive issues of social and political development in China, was shuttered October 1 following a government ruling that it was “transmitting incorrect ideas.”

Watchdog website goes down in Zambia

Opposition news website the Zambian Watchdog has been offline since late September. The website and its Facebook page both shut down on September 21, and a week later armed state agents raided web hosting company Hai Telecommunications searching for the website’s servers. While also known for controversial and sensational reporting, the Watchdog has a long record of conducting investigations critical of ruling Patriotic Front party officials, who have in turn threatened to arrest Watchdog journalists and shut down the website. The site has been intermittently inaccessible in Zambia since 2012, and has used Facebook as a secondary platform to disseminate news during periods of shutdown.

Egyptian TV director faces insult accusations over Facebook posts

Ali Abo Hemela, director of the Egyptian TV station Nile Drama, is facing accusations of insulting the president over Facebook posts from earlier this year. In the posts, Abo Hemela commented on a government agreement transferring the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, saying that whoever relinquishes the islands is a traitor.

Indonesia targets cyberbullies with new law

Proposed amendments to Indonesia’s Electronic Information and Transactions Law to criminalize cyberbullying may be used to stifle legitimate dissent, according to free speech advocates in the country. Though the revisions would soften the penalties for defamation under the law, these changes may be countered by the introduction of new punishments for cyberbullying.

The police are watching Facebook watching you

According to research by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all provided access to public user data to a company called Geofeedia, which markets social media monitoring services to law enforcement agencies seeking to keep tabs on criminal activity online—and on activists and protesters. After the ACLU put forth documents revealing the nature of law enforcement agreements with Geofeedia, both Facebook and Instagram cut off the company’s access to their data. Twitter has taken steps to limit the company’s access but has not altogether ended the data-sharing relationship. At the moment, neither Facebook nor Instagram has a policy that prohibits developing tools to access user data for the purpose of surveillance, according to the ACLU. It is unclear whether and how these data-sharing agreements may have affected social media users, both within and outside the United States.

Saudis boycott mobile services, demanding renewed access to VoIP apps

During the first week of October, Saudi netizens staged a week-long boycott of mobile operators in protest of poor service and the blocking of applications that use voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP). Participants were asked to stop using the mobile networks for three hours every day by switching their phones into flight mode from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saudi Arabia blocks several voice calling applications including Viber, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and Whatsapp.

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by Netizen Report Team at October 13, 2016 03:53 PM

Cuban Journalist Elaine Diaz and Colleagues Arrested For Reporting on Hurricane Matthew “Without a Permit”
Global Voices community members Marianna Breytman, Elaine Diaz, Ivan Sigal, Ellery Roberts Biddle and Firuzeh Shokooh Valle in 2015.

Global Voices community members Marianna Breytman, Elaine Diaz, Ivan Sigal, Ellery Roberts Biddle and Firuzeh Shokooh Valle in 2015.

The Cuban news site CubaNet reported on October 12 that journalist Elaine Díaz, a Global Voices contributor and founder of the Cuban news site Periodismo de Barrio, was detained by Cuban authorities along with colleagues Mónica Baró, Julio Batista Rodríguez, Tomás E. Pérez and Geysi Guía. The five journalists were arrested in the municipality of Baracoa, in Cuba’s easternmost province. [UPDATE Oct. 13 09:31 EDT: Diaz confirmed late in the evening on October 12 that she and colleagues were released from police custody and returning to Havana.]

Elaine and her colleagues were in Baracoa to cover the effects of Hurricane Matthew, along with four other journalists who were also arrested. The trip to Baracoa was reportedly made possible as result of a fundraising campaign.

Periodismo de Barrio is a new media project that Elaine launched in 2015 an effort to improve local reporting on issues concerning natural disasters, the environment and local infrastructure. Elaine and her four journalist colleagues, all of whom reside in Havana, have been collaborating on the project for nearly a year. Most members of the group have worked both for state-affiliated media outlets and independent websites based in Cuba. Mónica Baró was nominated this past September for the prestigious Gabriel Garcia Marquez prize.

Elaine’s aunt, Ceire Rodríguez, is quoted in a Diario de las Americas news report as saying that that Elaine had tried to get permission for her team visit Baracoa to cover the hurricane, but the authorities were granting access to the area only to “accredited” media.

A close contact reported that Elaine said that she and her fellow detainees were told they would be sent to the city of Guantanamo, which is near to but separate from Guantanamo Bay.

Journalist Maykel González Vivero of Diario de Cuba was also detained in Baracoa by Cuban state security while covering Hurricane Matthew. He was released today, October 12, after spending three days in detention. González told Diario de Cuba that he was initially detained “in the interest of state security”, but that the charge was later changed to “illicit economic activity.”

Elaine worked as a professor of journalism at the University of Havana’s Communications School for several years, while blogging independently on her site, La Polemica Digital, and writing for Inter Press Service in Cuba. She has been an influential voice in Cuba’s blogosphere since the mid-2000s, building a reputation for her keen insights on public interest issues affecting education, infrastructure and utilities in Cuba.

Elaine was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University—and the first Cuban journalist to receive the fellowship—in 2015-2016. During that time, she studied with journalists from Egypt, Chile, China, Russia and Spain and from across the US, as well as with renowned author Anne Bernays and MIT professor and Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman.

As a community that has known and worked with Elaine since 2010, we are distraught at this news, and urge Cuban authorities to release Elaine and her colleagues immediately.

by Georgia Popplewell at October 13, 2016 01:55 PM

October 12, 2016

October 11, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Ethiopian Authorities Shut Down Mobile Internet and Major Social Media Sites
Photo published on EthioTube page titled "Pictures from Oromo Protest - Winter 2015". No attribution or further context appears on the site.

Photo published on EthioTube page titled “Pictures from Oromo Protest – Winter 2015″. No attribution or further context appears on the site.

All mobile internet services have been shut down in Ethiopia for the last seven days, amid increasingly violent protest scenes and a recently declared a “state of emergency”.

Demonstrations have taken place with regular frequency in Ethiopia's Oromia region since November 2015, with protesters demanding greater self-rule, freedom and respect for the ethnic identity of the Oromo people, who have experienced systematic marginalization and persecution over the last quarter century. Authorities have used deadly force against the protesters on more than one occasion. On October 2 alone, 52 people were killed. The Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), an opposition party, has reported a death toll of nearly 600 people.

While select social media and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp have been shutdown sporadically as protests have grown more intense. In Addis Ababa, the capital, this is the longest sustained mobile Internet service shutdown that has taken place since they began.

The sudden silence of the protests on social media has left those tracking the movement over Facebook and Twitter worried.

The mobile Internet blackout is also likely generating a decrease in online news about the protests. Activists fear that the protest movement, that relied on social media both for coordination and for circulating their message to international audiences, will be severed from their primary means of communication. Despite low Internet penetration in Ethiopia, social media are becoming intrinsic —especially for the protest movements in Oromia and Amhara regional states. Newsfeeds from Facebook pages and Twitter feeds from Ethiopia are not showing the same abundance as they were a week ago.

The government has been cutting off connectivity and blocking social media in Oromia and Amhara regions over the past 12 months. In June they blocked social media in the name of preventing exams leaks, but now it is not clear if government is switching off all mobile internet services as a precursor to the ongoing protest, or if the measure is intended as a reaction to protests. Those close to the situation fear this may be the beginning of a dangerous new phase after 12 months of protests.

by Endalk at October 11, 2016 11:00 PM

Google Warns More Than a Dozen Russian Journalists and Activists About ‘Government-Backed Attackers’
Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

More than a dozen Russian journalists and activists received a strange warning from Google earlier today, notifying them that “government-backed attackers” may be “trying to steal” their passwords. According to the security alert, Google says it “can’t reveal what tipped [it] off because the attackers will take note and change their tactics.” The company says these attacks happen to “less than 0.1 percent of all Gmail users.”

According to opposition activist Oleg Kozlovsky, at least 16 people—including Bellingcat researcher and RuNet-Echo contributor Aric Toler—have received warnings from Google. Kozlovsky says he’s been alerted, along with Transparency International Vice President Elena Panfilova, former Moscow city council member Maksim Kats, journalist Ilya Klishin, and others.

Alexey Shlyapuzhnikov, a security consultant for Transparency International, says the hackers were targeting, in part, three domains belonging to the NGO, as well as the email addresses of staff at regional and international offices.

Cybersecurity experts at the “ThreatConnect Research Team” concluded last month that Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins and some of his top researchers, including Toler, were targeted in a spearphishing campaign consistent with the tactics, techniques, and procedures of the hacker group “Fancy Bear,” which has been implicated in attacks on the Democratic National Convention, the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Bellingcat has been a key contributor to the international investigation of the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over Ukraine in 2014.

Toler says he’s received about a dozen phishing emails warning of unauthorized login attempts, urging him to check his account activity and change his password. The links provided in the emails look legitimate, but they are actually malicious attempts to steal personal data, masked behind hyperlinks.

This is hardly the first time persons connected to Russia’s independent media have found themselves in the crosshairs of hacking efforts. In September 2015, an editor and a journalist at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that their email inboxes had been targeted by persons who obtained unauthorized duplicates of their SIM-cards from cell service providers.

In April 2016, several Russian journalists—including Roman Shleynov, who worked with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project on the “Panama Papers” investigation—said they received security warnings from Google about possible state-sanctioned attempts to hijack their email accounts.

On April 29, two Russian opposition activists—one of whom was Oleg Kozlovsky—reported that their Telegram messenger accounts had been hacked remotely. They say unauthorized access to their accounts was obtained through tampering with the app's SMS login feature. “There are no doubts that this whole special operation was organized and partially executed by Russia’s Federal Security Service,” concluded Vladislav Zdolnikov, a technology expert working with Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

In June 2012, Google rolled out warnings for users it believes are being targeted by state-sponsored attacks. “If you see this warning it does not necessarily mean that your account has been hijacked,” explained Eric Grosse, Google’s vice president of security engineering. “It just means that we believe you may be a target, of phishing or malware for example, and that you should take immediate steps to secure your account.”

by Kevin Rothrock at October 11, 2016 09:25 PM

The Plight of the Zambian Watchdog: Embattled Opposition News Site Goes Down
Zambia Lusaka skyline. Photo by Mike Lee via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Zambia Lusaka skyline. Photo by Mike Lee via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Popular investigative news site the Zambian Watchdog has allegedly been shut down by the Zambian government. Both the website and Facebook page have been inaccessible since September 21.

On September 28, state agents armed with an AK47 rifles raided the Lusaka offices of web hosting company Hai Telecommunications in search of Zambian Watchdog servers. No official statement has been released by the authorities about the website's closure, and it is unclear whether the Facebook page was shuttered by the company or by its own administrators (perhaps at the government's behest). Zambia has no known record of asking Facebook to remove content from its network.

The closure and the raid may represent a turning point in a long-standing cat-and-mouse game between the government and the controversial news website. The Watchdog, which includes Zambian journalists both in the US and abroad (many of whom write anonymously), has a reputation for hard-nosed investigative reporting and and for more sensational coverage of the news. The Watchdog has been a vocal critic of the ruling Patriotic Front party since it took power in 2011.

Zambia's Supreme Court reserves ruling in presidential petition case, February 17, 2009, photo by Harrison Tuntu. Lusaka, Zambia. Demotix.

Zambia's Supreme Court reserves ruling in presidential petition case, February 17, 2009, photo by Harrison Tuntu. Lusaka, Zambia. Demotix.

With regular attempts by authorities to dismantle its online presence, the Watchdog website has been intermittently inaccessible in Zambia since 2012. The group has relied heavily on Facebook as a secondary platform for disseminating their stories and engaging debate among their readers. With the Facebook page now down, readers and even competitors have begun to worry that this may be a turning point for the embattled outlet.

The most recent closures may be related to the Watchdog's coverage of the 2016 general elections. The site was supporting the main opposition politician, Hakainde Hichilema, of the United Party for National Development (UPND).

Surrounding the 11 August elections, various media outlets were put under significant pressure by regulatory authorities. The Post, Zambia's largest independent daily newspaper, had their offices locked up and their printing equipment seized by the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) because of outstanding taxes alleged to be at K68 million (US$6.1 million).

Screen shot of Zambian Watchdog on February 12, 2015.

Screen shot of Zambian Watchdog on February 12, 2015.

After the elections, Zambia's Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) suspended the broadcasting licences of the country's largest independent TV station as well as two radio stations for “unprofessional conduct posing a risk to national peace and stability” before, during and after the 2016 elections. The suspension has since been lifted.

The closing of the Zambian Watchdog's Facebook page has led to the creation of “imitation” Zambian Watchdog Facebook pages. Another news site, The Observer, published a statement from the owners of the Watchdog, warning readers about the imitations:

We would like to inform you that none of the pages “Zambian Watchdog 1, Zambian Watchdog Two and the so called Zambian Original are a true replica of the Mighty and Famous Zambian Watchdog.

Although all the three have been created by junior Zambian Watchdog Reporters…[they are] NOT being edited by Zambian Watchdog editors. People are hereby informed that the mighty Zambian Watchdog is yet to open a page. It is actually still closed.

The site has maintained its Twitter account although there have been no updates since September 23. A visit to its domain name redirects visitors to GoDaddy, a web hosting company, showing that Zambian Watchdog domain is available for sale.

The Post newspaper, which had been at loggerheads with Zambian Watchdog in the past, published a strong editorial advocating for the right of the the site to exist, despite its controversial position:

What is happening to the internet-based news media outlet – the Zambian Watchdog? A few years ago, the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority, in the worst form of media censorship, blocked Zambians from accessing the Watchdog’s website. One can only view this website from outside Zambia. The Watchdog had to resort to Facebook to service its readers based in Zambia. Now, it seems even this will not be tolerated. The Zambian authorities are trying very hard to destabilise their presence on Facebook.

We are not fans of the Watchdog. We actually have serious issues with them. Sometimes they have really taken journalism to the dogs. And we have raised issues with them for that doggish conduct. But our displeasure, or indeed the displeasure of all other Zambians, with them should not lead us to wipe them out, to annihilate them. As Nelson Mandela once aptly put it, “None of our irritations with the perceived inadequacies of the media should ever allow us to suggest even faintly that the independence of the press could be compromised or coerced. A bad, free press is preferable to a technically good, subservient one.”

Since the Patriotic Front (PF) took office in 2011, there have been routine attempts to muzzle citizen media websites such as the Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports. Both sites have been blocked within the country on multiple occasions. Zambia Reports, however, has since leaned towards the government.

In 2014, former Information and Broadcasting Permanent Secretary Bert Mushala said that the government was drafting a law intended to address online media and tackle “Internet abuse” and cybercrime. He said certain online media and other publications spent their time insulting and spreading falsehoods at the expense of accurate, factual reporting and developmental issues.

In the same year, former Zambia's Deputy Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Miles Sampa, offered a US$2000 reward to anyone who can unmask the identity of people behind independent media website Zambian Watchdog for writing stories and printing pictures alleging infidelity against him. In a counter-offer, the Zambian Watchdog offered iPads and other tablets to people with what they call “credible information” on an alleged extra-marital romantic affair of the minister.

A journalist who was facing trial in a case linking him to the Zambian Watchdog, Thomas Zgambo, was beaten and threatened with death in 2014 by the son of Zambian President Michael Sata, Kazim Sata. Journalists Wilson Pondamali, Thomas Zgambo and media scholar Clayson Hamasaka have all faced various criminal charges since PF came to power for their connections to the Zambian Watchdog.

In 2014, Zambian police force said they will employ “international legal provisions” to take into custody the operators of the website claiming that they were threatening the security of the state. This was after the website published a draft constitution that the government had written but neglected to release to the public.

Read More About Media Censorship in Zambia

Zambia: New Risks for Journalists At National Broadcaster, April 2014

Zambia: President’s Son Warns Journalist, “We Will Kill You”, March 2014

Zambian Police Go After ‘Watchdog’ for Publishing Draft Constitution, January 2014

Another Journalist Arrested in Zambia, July 2013

Journalist Charged With Sedition in Zambia, July 2013

Zambia: ISP Faces Backlash Over Blocked News Site, July 2013

Zambia: VP “Would Celebrate” Shutdown of News Site, July 2013

Zambia: Minister Threatens Editors of Online Watchdog with Treason Charge, January 2013

by Advox at October 11, 2016 08:50 PM

Chinese Propaganda Authorities Promote Clinton-Trump ‘Love Song’ Spoof Videos
Screen capture from a spoofed love song video.

Screen capture from a spoofed love song video.

Chinese netizens are chattering about a series of new spoof videos that features remixed footage from the October 9 US presidential debate. The videos depict Clinton and Trump as lovers, singing romantic songs to each other.

But these are not the average spoof videos made by teenager with too much time on their hands. News outlets and social media accounts affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party and the government are jointly promoting the series of videos remixed by “netizens”. Since they can't stop people from following the news, propaganda authorities are doing their best to keep the focus on the more absurd aspects of the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The first debate which was live-streamed on various online platforms without Chinese subtitles has drawn huge Chinese netizens’ attention even though many of them could not fully understand the English debate. In popular Chinese social media site Sina Weibo, the live streaming has attracted more than 40,000 likes, 15,000 shares and 13,000 comments, and the hashtag #USPresidentialDebateOnTV on Weibo had more than 7.38 million page visits.

The distribution of the second presidential debate was not as extensive as live-streaming platforms have stopped using hashtag for the debate. When netizens search key terms such as “Trump”, “Hilary” or “U.S presidential debate”, the social media feed is flooded with contents about the spoof videos rather than serious discussions.

There are multiple versions of the videos featuring various well-known romantic love songs circulating on Chinese social media, and some have been uploaded to YouTube. Here is one:

The videos have been distributed by the Central School of the Chinese Communist Youth League (共青团中央学校部), state-owned TV network CCTV (央视网), the Communist Youth League affiliated media outlets China Youth Network (中国青年网) and Beijing Youth Weekly (北京青年周刊), and numerous CCP-controlled news outlets like the Chengdu Commercial Daily (成都商报) and Xiaoxiang Morning Herald (潇湘晨报).

The message attached to the music video by China Youth Network right after the debate read:


Totally inharmonious and at odds with the setting! Please listen to the love song sung by Trump and Hillary: Today the second US presidential debate has ended. Talented netizens have created a set of love songs…the reality of the US presidential debate is more bizarre than [the US drama series] “House of Cards.” For the “melon-eating masses,” why not join the crowd and take a look [at the love song].

The Chinese word for melon can also mean fool. “Melon-eating masses” refers to those people who enjoy being fools and don’t know the truth.

Influencing the online conversation

The video represents a tactical change for Chinese authorities. Regardless of the language barrier, thousands of Chinese netizens still watched the live-streaming of the first presidential election debate on September 26.

The associated online discussions included very mild criticisms of the Chinese political system, some in a mocking tone, such as:


Democratic countries are full of troubles, wasting so much time on meaningless issues, the system of appointment is much better.


We should not be envious of seeing leaders attacking each other, what we should be envious of is that after all the attacks, those defeated are still alive.


Looking at others and reflecting on ourselves. Leaders of the country presenting their visions to the public and responding to criticisms.

For the Chinese Communist Party, the US presidential election is a showcase of the failure of the western democratic system, and the endless stream of scandals surrounding both main candidates is proof that the US has no right to lecture others on tenets of democracy.

However, there's no room for debate about the system back home — even mere deliberation on the merits of the Chinese model of governance can trigger opinions that go against the official line. The recent shutting down of “Gongshi” or Consensus ( reflects the authorities’ anxiety in public deliberation.

While many of the comments to the videos were laughing emoticons, the fact that people are being treated like “melon-eating masses” is not funny at all.

by Oiwan Lam at October 11, 2016 03:55 PM

October 10, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Reality, Conspiracy and the US ‘Internet Freedom’ Agenda: Deconstructing Iran's Case Against Nizar Zakka
A blackout photo of Nizar Zakka by Kevin Rothrock. Image of Zakka speaking at the 'High Level Policy Statements' session at the 2015 World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, May 2015. He would be arrested a few months later in Iran.

A blackout photo of Nizar Zakka altered by Kevin Rothrock. Image of Zakka speaking at the ‘High Level Policy Statements’ session at the 2015 World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, May 2015 (Image from the ITU Pictures flickr page). He would be arrested a few months later in Iran.

After a year behind bars in Iran, Lebanese citizen Nizar Zakka was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $4.2 million US dollar fine on 20 September 2016. It is believed that Zakka was originally arrested in Iran due to his “deep ties” to U.S. intelligence and work on “Internet freedom”-related projects.

Iranian officials have not publicly released information regarding his conviction or the charges filed against Zakka. Neither the Lebanese nor the U.S. governments have made any public statement on his behalf.

There have been many other arrests for direct or loose associations through programs connected to European or American organizations. Similar cases include the British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Iranian-American Siamak Namazi, who worked to cultivate ties between the U.S. and Iran. The continued incarceration of Arash Zad, an Iranian entrepreneur who was active and present in start-up conferences and networks in Turkey and Europe, however is the best example of how precarious the situation can be. As far as it can be known, Zad is a non-political technologist now caught in this narrative of paranoia around “western-intrusion”.

These cases should come as no surprise to people working in this field. But they should generate more awareness about the risks incurred by those traveling and intending to work in Iran, particularly in the new environment of post-nuclear deal paranoia. As the country draws closer to presidential elections in May 2017, the push and pull between moderate, reformist and hardline elements are likely to increase these politicized arrests.

A Lebanese citizen with permanent residency in the U.S., Zakka was active among organizations working on Internet governance issues in the Middle East. He led the Arab ICT Organization, a Beirut-based industry consortium and promoter of ICT for development in the region that was launched as part of a USAID initiative known as the IT Mentor Alliance. The AP reported that since 2009, Zakka has received at least USD $730,000 in funding from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to run various programs for IJMA3.

Images of Zakka wearing what Iranian media called American military uniforms. Zakka's alma mater refuted these claims, explaining that Zakka wore the uniform for the military academy's homecoming. Photo from Fars News Agency, published with the intent to republish.

Images of Zakka wearing what Iranian media called an American military uniform. Zakka's alma mater publicly stated that Zakka wore the uniform for the military academy's homecoming. Photo from Fars News Agency, published with the intent to republish.

Prior to his arrest, Zakka's work had garnered him a negative reputation among Lebanese activists. In one blog post someone mocked Zakka for his NGO profit-making, which reportedly allowed him to purchase a $3 million house in Washington D.C. A source that wished to remain anonymous documented Zakka's involvement in the bribery and funding of the corrupt Nicolas Fattouch coalition during the 2009 Lebanese election.

In September of 2015, while visiting Iran for a state-sponsored conference for which he received an official invitation, Zakka went missing. Two months later, Iranian state television announced that the Lebanese citizen was in police custody for his “deep ties to the U.S. intelligence and military establishment.”

Photos of Zakka in a military-style uniform were then widely circulated within Iranian media, helping to paint a narrative of Zakka as a U.S. spy.  Zakka's American prep school, Riverside military academy, later stated those photos were taken of him during the school's homecoming event. The name “Riverside” is visible on the left breast pocket of the uniform.

Deconstructing the Zakka conspiracy theory

Before the television broadcasts however, Kayhan newspaper, Iran's foremost hardline-conservative newspaper that is closely affiliated with the office of the Supreme Leader, published a would-be exposé entitled “Cyber Management Project Has a Footprint of Intrusion.” The article, published without attribution, asserted that Zakka's ties with U.S. government agencies were part of a foreign conspiracy for the Western domination of Iran.

The following excerpts from Kayhan celebrate Zakka's arrest as a victory against Western intrusion:

دستگیری‌های اخیر نهادهای امنیتی کشورمان در راستای مبارزه با پروژه نفوذ آمریکا در ساختارهای اجتماعی و اقتصادی نظام هر چند تلاش شد از جانب لابی رسانه‌های خارجی با انواع برچسب‌ها تقلیل یابد اما حقیقت این است که پروژه مذکور به دلایل مختلف از توان تضمین آینده حاکمیت جمهوری اسلامی ایران و حفظ مولفه‌های ملی کشورمان برخوردار است…

Foreign media made a variety of accusations in an effort to lobby against the recent arrest made by our security institutions in order to fight the American influence on social and economic structures of [our] system. The truth is that the aforementioned arrests, for various reasons, guaranteed the future rule of the Islamic Republic of Iran…

While Iranian officials have not released any documentation proving Zakka's criminality, it is clear that they took issue with his involvement in Iranian ICT and Internet governance projects, supported by grants from U.S. government agencies.

Along with other hardline media, they focused on his work that fell under the mantle of “Internet freedom”, the term coined by Hillary Clinton when she served as U.S. Secretary of State.

Zakka was tried before Judge Abolghassem Salavati, who is known for his tough sentences in politically-charged cases. Zakka's wife says she has yet to hear from Iranian authorities what the exact crime her husband has been accused of.

Iranian media have thus far remained silent on Zakka's 10-year sentence. At present, the narrative blend of facts and conspiracy theories published by Kayhan is the most comprehensive piece of public reporting on Zakka's case.

Kayhan: ‘Who is Nizar Zakka?’

ذکا، مدیر منطقه‌ای «آژانس توسعه فراملی آمریکا» در حوزه غرب آسیا و شمال آفریقاست. همکاری وی با وزارت خارجه آمریکا از ابتدای سال 2005 به صورت رسمی آغاز شد؛ دقیقا زمانی که USAID تصمیم گرفت طرح «شبکه‌سازی اقتصادی- اجتماعی» را به عنوان «کلید تغییرات سیاسی» در خاورمیانه اجرایی کند.
در سند آژانس دقیقا از عبارت «سازمان نفوذ» در توصیف پروژه مذکور استفاده شده و بر ارتباط‌گیری همزمان با ساختار اجتماعی غیردولتی و مدیران دولتی به منظور کنترل و حفظ توازن درون حاکمیتی تاکید شده است. .

Zakka is the regional manager of “Transnational Development Agency Of United States” in Western Asia and North Africa. His cooperation with the U.S. State Department officially began in 2005, exactly when USAID decided to use economic and social networks as the key to political change in the Middle East…

In the agency documents they called this project “the influence organization” and emphasized the cooperation between non-governmental and social structures with state administrators as part of an effort to control and maintain the balance within the government.

Kayhan represents Zakka's work as part of a conspiracy by Iran's enemies — namely the United States and Saudi Arabia — to culturally and economically dominate Iran and create a rift between the Iranian regime and its people. While it is clear that Zakka was working on behalf of USAID, the meaning of this work — and the question of whether or not it was intended to realize “cultural and economic domination” — is in the eye of the beholder. 

Nizar Zakka, recently sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran spoke during Persian ICT Week in 2014 as he partnered on ICT for development projects with his organization IJMA3.

Nizar Zakka, recently sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran spoke during Persian ICT Week in 2014 as he partnered on ICT for development projects with his organization IJMA3 with Iranian private and governmental groups. Image from Persian ICT Week Official Video.

The articles goes on to describe how Zakka's organization worked alongside UN agencies and the Iranian ICT Ministry to plan the Persian Internet Governance Forum. Yet Kayhan presents this information without mentioning that the Persian IGF never came to fruition.

Internal conflicts apparently prevented IJMA3 from holding the first Persian IGF session, although preparatory meetings did generate some government involvement in the multi-stakeholder process, according to a report by Small Media.

An annuncement of the joint venture between IJMA3 and the Tehran ICT Guild to host the first Persian IGF. Image is a screenshot from:

An announcement of the joint venture between IJMA3 and the Tehran ICT Guild to host the first Persian IGF. Screenshot from

It appears that Kayhan is primarily concerned with how Zakka and his organization were able to achieve close proximity to individuals within the Iranian government while still maintaining ties to the U.S. government. Kayhan charges that Zakka worked with an official known as N.J., who at one time served as Senior Manager of Information and Technology Organization in the Ministry of Communication in Tehran. (Note: It is a common practice in Iranian hardline media to identify perpetrators or those arrested under charges of national security with only their initials.)

The article links efforts by N.J. to promote Iran's attendance within the international ICT sphere to Zakka, portraying them as forms of sabotage for national Internet projects and efforts.

ذکا چگونه به ایران نفوذ کرد؟
پس از موفقیت نسبی طرح اولیه در گرجستان و لبنان و مونته نگرو، ذکا به عنوان مدیر شناخته شده جریان «کارآفرینی اقتصادی» و «شبکه‌سازی اجتماعی» در خاورمیانه، مامور به ارتباط‌گیری با وزارت ارتباطات کشورمان شد. وی از طریق «ن.ج»، مدیر ارشد سازمان فناوری اطلاعات ایران، به تهران راه یافت و نمونه ایرانی تشکیلات «اجمع» لبنان به عنوان بزرگ‌ترین حامی منطقه‌ای حاکمیت آمریکا بر اینترنت تحت عنوان «اینترنت آزاد»

[He launched] the Lebanese “Internet freedom” program under the structure of Persian IGF (Internet Governance Forum) with the help of “N.J.” [initials of an unnamed official] the Senior Manager of Information and Technology Organization in the Ministry of Communication in Tehran…

IGF is the registered executor of world politics within the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Within this summit which is famous for being “the losers club of Internet management,” these countries — that are satellites of American thought on cyberspace — bind and present themselves as participants in the American dream of “Internet freedom.”

Kayhan goes on to paint the United Nations forums and agencies involved with telecommunications and Internet governance as pawns of the US “Internet freedom” agenda. The story implicates various organizations doing Iran-focused digital rights work with support from U.S. and European government funding bodies.

While the article is rife with conspiracy theory formulations, there are many cases where the above mentioned governments worked alongside Hivos, Internews, IREX, and Freedom House among other organisations on Iran-related projects through regional grant mechanisms. This work actually preceded the “Internet Freedom” agenda born under Hilary Clinton, dating back as far as 2006.

The tone of the article exudes a deep resentment for elements within the present government that are nurturing relationships and work with the broader international community. While the descriptions of the Iranian government's participation at well-known global forums such as the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) read as juvenile (they describe WSIS as a “loser cyber club”), it nevertheless reflects a serious phenomenon in Iran.

There is a known push and pull between the reformist and moderates against hardline elements of the Iranian government. On one side, there are those associated with President Hassan Rouhani's administration and efforts to bring about the nuclear deal. On the other side are the more hardline and conservative elements, especially those allied with the office of the Supreme Leader, and the conservative and powerful bodies such as the Revolutionary Guards and the Judiciary. These elements are involved in maintaining Iran's financial institutions, but also sit at the forefront of arrests and persecutions of individuals for bringing “foreign meddling” to Iran.

This case — and the Kayhan article itself — can be seen as a cautionary tale for Iranians or foreigners involved in technology-related work in Iran that receives funding from Western governments.

by Mahsa Alimardani at October 10, 2016 03:58 PM

danah boyd
Columbus Day!?!? What the f* are we celebrating?

Today is Columbus Day, a celebration of colonialism wrapped up under the guise of exploration. Children around the US are taught that European settlers came in 1492 and found a whole new land magically free for occupation. In November, they will be told that there were small and disperse savage populations who opened their arms to white settlers fleeing oppression. Some of those students may eventually learn on their own about violence, genocide, infection, containment, relocation, humiliation, family separation, and cultural devaluation which millions of Native peoples experienced over centuries.

Hello, cultural appropriation!

Later this month, when everyone is excited about goblins and ghosts, thousands of sexy Indian costumes will be sold, prompting young Native Americans to cringe at the depictions of their culture and community. Part of the problem is that most young Americans think that Indians are dead or fictitious. Schools don’t help — children are taught to build teepees and wear headdresses as though this is a story of the past, not a living culture. And racist attitudes towards Native people are baked into every aspect of our culture. Why is it OK for Washington’s football team to be named the Redskins? Can you imagine a football team being named after the N-word?

Historically, Native people sit out Columbus Day in silence. This year, I hope you join me and thousands others by making a more active protest to Change what people learn!

In 2004, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian was opened on the Mall in Washington DC as a cultural heritage institution to celebrate the stories of Native people and tell their story. I’m a proud trustee of this esteemed institution. I’m even more excited by upcoming projects that are focused on educating the public more holistically about the lives and experiences of Native peoples.

As a country, we’re struggling with racism and prejudice, hate that is woven deep into our cultural fabric. Injustice is at the core of our country’s creation, whether we’re talking about the original sin of slavery or the genocide of Native peoples. Addressing inequities in the present requires us to come to terms with our past. We need to educate ourselves about the limits of our understanding about our own country’s history. And we need to stop creating myths for our children that justify contemporary prejudice.

On this day, a day that we should not be celebrating, I have an ask for you. Please help me and NMAI build an educational effort that will change the next generation’s thinking about Native culture, past and present. Please donate a multiple of $14.91 to NMAI: in honor of how much life existed on these lands before colonialist expansion. Help Indian nations achieve their rightful place of respect among the world’s nations and communities.

by zephoria at October 10, 2016 11:22 AM

October 09, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Indonesia Drafts New Ban on Cyberbullying, But Activists Say They're the Target
The draft law aims to protect young people from cyberbullying. But critics warned that the vague definition of cyberbullying can be used by authorities to harass activists and whistleblowers. Photo from the Flickr page of Intel Free Press, CC License

Students at a school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo by Intel Free Press via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Proposed amendments to Indonesia's Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law aim to protect children by criminalizing “cyberbullying,” but some activists and free-speech advocates warn that the new legislation could also be used to stifle legitimate dissent.

Since it was enacted in 2008, the government has used the ITE Law to harass and detain activists by charging the state's critics with defamation. In 2015, the Indonesian branch of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SafeNet) documented 11 such online defamation cases against activists.

So far, the Cyber Law—especially Chapter 27, Verse 3—has been used to prosecute dozens of people using Facebook, Twitter, and mobile applications such as WhatsApp and Blackberry Messenger.

SafeNet checked some of the defamation complaints reported to the police and found out that most of the accused are not really guilty of defamation or blasphemy:

We checked those cases and found out that they were not involved in anything that could be deemed defamatory or blasphemous. Many of the users were actually arrested for expressing their opinion freely on the internet. In some cases, they were detained for raising their voices against corrupt government officials.

Responding to calls to review the “draconian” law, Indonesia's House of Representatives (DPR) vowed to amend the provisions pertaining to defamation, libel, slander, and wiretapping. The review was finished last August, but observers say the process was not transparent.

The proposed revisions include reducing the punishment for defamation from 6 to 4 years, affirming the right to report insults and defamation, reducing the punishment for personal harassment from 12 to 4 years, and classifying cyberbullying as a crime.

If adopted, the changes would soften the penalties for defamation, as critics have demanded, but it would introduce new punishments for cyberbullying.

According to Supriyadi Widodo Eddyono of the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), these reforms could undermine Indonesia's freedom of expression because there's no clear definition of what constitutes bullying in the country's legal system. Eddyono fears that the authorities could use the inserted provision to squash and even prevent public criticism.

According to one news report, for instance, the new ban on cyberbullying is worded in such a way that police could even use it to categorize sharing Internet memes that lampoon the government as a form of cyberbullying.

While Congress was finishing its review of the law, Indonesia's police, army, and anti-narcotics agency brought defamation charges against activist Harris Azhar, who published a confession by a convicted drug kingpin executed in July 2016. The confession links senior law-enforcement officers to drug-related corruption and bribery.

Among activists, Azhar's case has come to symbolize the dangers of an expanded cyber law, which they say could discourage potential whistleblowers from coming forward publicly, for fear of defamation charges.

Writing on Facebook, Internet user Turah Saka Bagus Genjing echoed this point:

UU ITE pada akhirnya menjadi alat yang ampuh untuk menebarkan ketakutan bagi suara-suara yang ingin membongkar ketidakadilan di negeri ini. Hal ini menyebabkan hilangnya partisipasi masyarakat untuk mengontrol kinerja pemerintahan,” UU ITE disalah gunakan untuk orang yang ingin menegakkan demokrasi, padahal banyak orang atau situs yg menebarkan kebencian dengan isu SARAnya.

The cyber law is used as an effective tool to spread fear against voices who want to unmask injustices in this country. This will diminish the public's participation to control the government's actions. Cyber law is being used against those who want to uphold democracy.

Some also question the timing of the amendment, coming as Indonesia's campaign season looms. Critics say the reforms could be used to intimidate political rivals and opposition parties in upcoming local and regional elections.

by Carolina Rumuat at October 09, 2016 10:12 PM

WhatsApp Reportedly Blocked in Yemen, Mobile Operator Cites ‘Technical Issues’
مرتادي مقهى إنترنت في اليمن. صورة للبنك الدولي على فليكر.

Users at an internet café in Yemen. Photo source: World Bank on Flickr

Since 5 October, tens of thousands of WhatsApp users in Yemen have been dealing with an almost entire interruption of the instant messaging application. A number of users first noticed that the service was not accessible on the mobile networks of the two biggest mobile service providers in the country, Yemen Mobile and MTN. On Twitter, MTN provided a brief response to users’ inquiries, saying that the interruption is due to “technical” issues at YemenNet, the main internet service provider in the country.

Unable to open or communicate on Whatsapp, while Facebook is working. What's the reason?

We would like to mention that the interruption in the Whatsapp service is due to technical issues, which the service provider YemenNet is working to resolve

On Friday morning, users also faced difficulties using the Facebook app on their phones, and reported that they were unable to view their notifications, though accessing the site through a browser seemed to be working normally.

In the wake of Saturday's airstrikes that killed at least 140 people, the blocks on basic communication platforms are even more problematic, as families seek to communicate and account for each others’ safety.

Blocking in Yemen is not a new phenomenon. For years, authorities from various political backgrounds have censored the internet for one reason or another. Websites of political opposition groups, websites containing specific religious content, and pornography have all been subject to strict censorship by the main service provider and sole provider of DSL internet connections in the country, YemenNet, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Telecommunication.

However, censorship has increased since the beginning of the conflict in which Houthi rebels are battling forces loyal to president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, which are supported by a Saudi-led coalition. In March and April 2015, Houthi insurgents who control the capital Sana’a and several government buildings including the Ministry of Telecommunication, blocked access to dozens of local and regional news sites over their coverage of the conflict.

But it seems that the authorities are now turning their attention to advanced communication tools like WhatsApp and Telegram, which provide users with alternative ways to share and spread information. In fact, Telegram has seen the number of its users in Yemen increase, as it allows them to share news through the app’s channels without providing a phone number. As a result, several of the blocked sites moved to these applications and similar ones in order to reach out to users.

Until this moment no official announcement has been made concerning WhatsApp. But local experts fear it is actually an intentional shutdown of the service. All internet traffic in Yemen goes through YemenNet, and this monopoly makes it possible to impose censorship and surveillance on more than three million users in the country, most of whom use the internet (rather than traditional telecom services) to communicate.

Until there are new updates available about the real reason behind the interruption of the service, there are speculations that more censorship will be imposed on internet users in Yemen. It seems that the current policy of imposing more censorship on the Yemeni user will not disappear anytime soon, but the question remains whether such policy is enough to prevent users from accessing information, particularly with the availability of internet censorship circumvention tools like Psiphon.

Yemeni journalist and activist Walid Al-Saqaf contributed to editing this article.

by Amr Mostafa at October 09, 2016 10:05 PM

October 07, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Bangladesh Introduces ‘Smart’ National Identity Cards
A women taking part to make voter ID cards and national ID cards. With their ID cards in hand for the first time, women cast their votes in the 2008 parliamentary election. Image from Flickr by Jashim Salam Via UN Women. CC BY-NC-ND

A women taking part to make voter ID cards and national ID cards. With their ID cards in hand for the first time, women cast their votes in the 2008 parliamentary election. Image from Flickr by Jashim Salam Via UN Women. CC BY-NC-ND

On October 2, the Bangladeshi government inaugurated Smart National ID cards (NID) as part of their Digital Bangladesh initiative, aiming to distribute the cards to 100 million people in Bangladesh.

The NID cards replace existing laminated cards used by the Election Commission, but they have many other functions. Banking, passport details, driving licenses, trade licenses, tax payments, and share trading are among the 22 other services that can be accessed through the cards, with more to follow. The cards will also be associated with an individual’s mobile phone SIM card. Once issued, they will be valid for 10 years.

The cards hold biometric details of the cardholder: impressions of all ten fingers, as well as pictures of the iris. In total, 32 types of unique citizen data will be “embedded within its microchip,” according to Election Commission officials quoted in The Daily Star.

The first recipients of the cards were the President, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and members of the national cricket team, including the team's captain, Mashrafe bin Mortaza, who tweeted:

Cards may reduce forgery, but create new security challenges

The government has explained that the cards are intended to curb forgery: previously, laminated cards used for voting were relatively easy to copy and forge. The Election Commission says the machine-readable cards include “25 features” designed to prevent forgery. In 2014, law enforcement discovered a set of more than 50,000 fake IDs generated for fraud or other intents in the country. EC Secretary Sirazul Islam also said that “forging the smart NID cards would be almost impossible.”

But with this much personal information being collected on every single citizen, especially personal data that cannot be changed if it is ever leaked or compromised (ie. the fingerprints of an individual), there are major concerns regarding the security of this data. A breach or leak could put individuals privacy rights seriously at risk.

Protecting these databases may prove difficult. EC officials say citizens’ data are safe from unauthorised access as the database servers are “fully protected”, but there have been no explicit mentions of how the data is stored, and whether or not it is encrypted.

Leaks and hacks of important data in the country have had serious consequences in the past. In April 2016, $81 million was stolen from the Bangladesh central bank, the majority of which remains missing. In other areas of the world, huge leaks of personal data are not uncommon – earlier this year, personal data of 50 million Turkish citizens was put online.

And there are reportedly already technical glitches. On the first day of card distribution, reported that many citizens had to leave without the smart ID cards after providing their biometric samples, due to a “software malfunction.” Others complained of more human errors, such as being unable to locate the proper distribution centres.

…difficulties are being faced in cases where the fingers are scarred, or the lines on fingers have become unclear owing to heavy manual labour.

Biometric data collection en masse has also generated unexpected problems, specifically fingerprints: a technical staffer of the Election Commission was quoted saying “difficulties are being faced in cases where the fingers are scarred, or the lines on fingers have become unclear owing to heavy manual labour.” This is likely to be a recurring problem given the large percentage of the population in Bangladesh employed in manual labouror who have been in the past. This brings with it questions of sustainability: If a person gives their fingerprints now, and then engages in manual labour for 10 years, will they still be recognisable by the system?

Privacy and surveillance concerns

Linking so much personal data together in one card and one database also brings with it key privacy concerns.

Many lessons can be learned from neighbouring India where the Aadhaar card has been in development much longer. Indian lawyer Bhairav Acharya has analysed many shared concerns considering the biometric data gathered by the Aadhaar project, considering who the data might be shared with, and any what recourse can be sought against misuse of the data. Another similarity between the two systems that raises concern for Acharya is that once collected, an individual’s biometric information remains in the government’s possession for an indefinite amount of time.

Writing in the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta raises concerns around the database structure, and how the data will be shared. In Bangladesh’s case, given the multiple functions of the NID, data from the cards will likely travel between government agencies. Granting this type of access to multiple governmental bodies will thus introduce multiple potential points of vulnerability to malfunctions, and to breaches or attacks by malicious actors.

If having the card is required to participate in public life (for example, to pay taxes, to vote), and personal biometric data is needed for the card, it by definition violates key prerequisites for voluntary consent of individuals. NID cards are also associated with an individual’s SIM card, if they have one – which means the government could potentially connect data around an individual’s telecommunications habits together with all the other data points associated explicitly with the card.

The creation of this database opens up thorny issues around government surveillance, too. As the database is built up, who will gain access to it?

Though issues of national security have not yet been mentioned, building such a comprehensive database of individuals in the country brings with it possibilities of using that database to identify people for criminal activity. In India, there were moves earlier this year to pass new provisions on national security regarding the use of the database. Changing the purpose of the data collected in such a dramatic way again violates the purpose of the initial collection. But withdrawing consent or an individual’s data does not seem to be an option.

Citizens’ reactions? Mostly positive.

While the Aadhaar project has been the subject of much discussion in India precisely because of the privacy risks it brings with it, there appears to be less concern in Bangladesh.

Early recipients of the card seem to be excited by the possibilities that this brings, despite again mentioning the technical glitches that have happened so far.

Writing on Facebook, one citizen said:

This is one of the grand success of this Awami League Govt to prepare and distribute the Machine-readable Smart National ID Cards among the almost 10-crore citizens.

Others expressed gratitude to the Prime Minister for “building up a digitised country so quickly.”

by Zara Rahman at October 07, 2016 03:40 PM

Tunisian Teen Risks Suspension for Denouncing Poor School Conditions on Facebook
Garbage accumulates outside of a secondary school in Bizerte, Tunisia. Photo by Hamza Batti via Facebook.

Garbage accumulates outside of a secondary school in Bizerte, Tunisia. Photo by Hamza Batti via Facebook.

A Tunisian high school student could be suspended for three days for denouncing on Facebook the filthy state of his school in Bizerte, northern Tunisia. On 30 September, Hamza Batti posted four photos showing unfinished construction work at his school's basketball field and piles of trash accumulating outside the school entrance.

Along with the photos, he posted the following comment:

This is what is called a “pioneer” school in Bizerte, which is supposed to be a school where the conditions for studying are convenient, and the most basic elements for succeeding with excellence are available.
…that pile of garbage is there everyday outside the secondary door which gives our “pioneer” school a more than wonderful image…The garbage is available in other forms inside, like the dust which is everywhere, the restrooms (I won't even describe them), broken windows and doors, and the walls that only get painted once every four years or on special occasions
Anyway, all this and more you find it everyday at the pioneer school, the face of Bizerte, Tunisia and North Africa

Batti told the privately-owned radio station MosaiqueFM that he was interrogated by his school administration on 5 October, which accused him of engaging in a “smear and distortion campaign” against it. Speaking to the radio station, he clarified his intention:

I was only expressing myself freely, and I have the right to post pictures with the aim of improving the situation. That was my intention.

by Afef Abrougui at October 07, 2016 02:54 PM

October 06, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Open Source Developers Endure Long Prison Sentences, And Worse
Bassel Khartabil. Photo by Joi Ito via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Bassel Khartabil. Photo by Joi Ito via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

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

It has been one year since Syrian-Palestinian open technology leader Bassel Khartabil disappeared from his prison cell in Syria.

Bassel served as the public affiliate for Creative Commons Syria and contributed to Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, and other open communities online. He also was the CTO of Al-Aous, a publishing and research institution dedicated to archaeological sciences and arts in Syria. In November 2012, Foreign Policy named Bassel one of the world's 100 top global thinkers.

Bassel is credited with opening up the Syrian Internet and extending online access to the public before and during the 2011-12 uprisings. According to the European Parliament, his detention was part of Syrian government efforts to restrict access to online communities and stifle freedom of expression in the country.

While he has been in the custody of Syrian government authorities since March 2012, he has been unaccounted for since October 2015, when he was taken from Adra prison to an undisclosed location. A month later, his wife, Noura Ghazi, received a phone call from an unidentified source telling her that her husband had been sentenced to death. She has received no information about him since. This past week, Ghazi wrote in a public post on Facebook that she is beginning to lose hope that her husband is still alive.

My life stopped with Bassel. Bassel isn’t coming back and every day the hope that he will ever come back fades away…


Holding on to hope is something beautiful and powerful. But hanging onto an illusion is a very dangerous illness. I should probably accept that my future will not have Bassel in it. Maybe it’s time for me to face that reality in a way that won’t hurt me even more. I know that this is difficult and ugly. But unfortunately this is the Syrian situation that me and Bassel are a part of…

Among other recent anniversaries that no one wants to celebrate, October 4 marked the eighth anniversary of Iranian technologist and open source developer Saeed Malekpour’s arrest.

Malekpour was living in Canada as a permanent resident before he embarked on what was supposed to be a short trip to Iran in October 2008, to visit his father. Authorities took the opportunity to target Malekpour for his open source software program, a simple tool that helps upload images to the Internet. Others had used Malkepour’s code to upload pornographic images to the Internet.

In a trial that reportedly lasted 15 minutes, Malekpour testified that he did not know how his program and code had been used and developed by others, as it was distributed on GitHub, an open source code repository. Malekpour was sentenced to death as a “corrupter of the earth.” In December of 2012, Malekpour's death sentence was commuted from death to life in prison, where he remains today.

Global Voices publicly condemns these unjust prison sentences and joins supporters around the world in demanding information on Bassel Khartabil’s status. We urge readers to visit support websites for Saeed and Bassel.

Nigerian bloggers, journalists detained during local elections

Nigerian authorities have detained at least 11 journalists, bloggers and media support staff last week, according to reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Ten of the journalists worked for the independent news website Watchdog Media News, and were in the southern Nigerian state of Edo to cover gubernatorial elections. They were reportedly beaten with barbed wire by the State Security Service at the time of their arrest. Another journalist, Jamil Mabai, was arrested in the neighboring state of Katsina after criticizing the governor on social media.

Ethiopian police arrest blogger recently featured in New York Times

Ethiopian blogger Seyoum Teshome was arrested on October 1, and is being held on unknown charges. Teshome is frequently quoted in international media commenting on affairs in Ethiopia, including in a recent New York Times article on the symbolic protest at the Rio Olympics by Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa. Teshome’s arrest comes at a volatile moment in Ethiopia: the day after his arrest 52 people were killed during a protest in Oromia after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, causing a stampede.

The protesters are fighting against the marginalization of Ethiopia’s Oromo ethnic group, which could be displaced under a planned expansion of the Ethiopian capital into the region. Since November 2015, human rights groups have documented nearly 600 killings of protesters.

More heat for WhatsApp users in Tanzania

Five Tanzanian citizens were charged with insulting President John Magafuli on social media. Several of the five citizens are accused of allegedly posting messages on social networks and in private WhatsApp groups critical of the president, an indication that expressing political opinions online in Tanzania is under increasing scrutiny by the government.

Messaging tools up their game, fend off court orders

Amid all the gloom and doom of this week's edition, there is some light ahead. The encrypted mobile messaging app Signal received its first federal grand jury subpoena for a customer’s data this year, but only shared limited information with the FBI. Open Whisper Systems, the company that makes Signal, told the government it does not gather or keep the metadata that it sought under the subpoena – only the date and time an account is created and the date of the user’s last connection to Signal’s servers. The subpoena was accompanied by a gag order demanding Open Whisper Systems not publicly release any information about the subpoena. The subpoena was disclosed following a legal challenge by Open Whisper Systems and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Meanwhile, Facebook has built a new layer of security into Facebook Messenger, that will allow users to more securely send messages between one another by selecting the “Secret” option when writing a new message. These messages will automatically vanish after a day (or less, if you choose).

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email



Mahsa Alimardani, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at October 06, 2016 06:18 PM

Development Seed
Thanks Maptime!

Maptime is a great meetup for people interested in learning modern mapping techniques & applications. We recently hosted a training on hand-drawn maps along with Maptime DC. We were delighted to have 40 people come by.

When you let people loose to create their own unique map through the good ol’ technique of “pen to paper,” (and in some instances, crayon) you can see some good creativity. By the end of the night we had a variety of maps that reflected the diverse group of attendees.

maptime photo
maptime photo
maptime photo
maptime photo
maptime photo Photos by Brian Davidson & Dylan Moriarty.

Hopefully we’ll see you at the next Maptime. In the meantime, let us know if there are other geo or tech events you’d like to see or to help us host!

by Development Seed at October 06, 2016 12:00 AM

October 05, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
#FreeBassel: Missing for More Than a Year, Syrian Web Developer is Not Forgotten
Source: Dino Ahmad Ali, Freebassel, 2013. Source.

Source: Dino Ahmad Ali, Freebassel, 2013. Source.

It has been one year since Syrian-Palestinian software developer Bassel Khartabil, also known as Bassel Safadi, disappeared from his prison cell in Syria.

The open-source software developer and blogger has been in the custody of Syrian government authorities since March 2012. In October 2015, Bassel was taken from Adra prison, a civilian facility, to an undisclosed location. His wife, Noura Ghazi, reported that “military police took Bassel from his cell in Adra with a ‘top secret’ sealed order from the Military Field Court.”

On November 12, 2015, Ghazi reported that she was contacted by people who identified themselves as insiders in the Assad government who informed her of the alleged death sentence. Ghazi wrote on Facebook at the time:

إجاني خبر صاعق انو باسل محكوم اعدام وهاد بيعني انو نقلو عالشرطة العسكرية كتير خطير … ما بعرف شي غير هيك وما بعرف اذا تنفذ شي بحقو … يارب نقدر نساعد باسل … يا رب ما يكون فات الاوان عالمحاولات …. كتير خايفين على حياة باسل

I've just gotten disturbing and shocking news that Bassel has been sentenced to death. I think this means that the transfer to military prison was very dangerous. I really don't know other news. May God help him, we hope it's not too late. We are worried sick about his life.

These details on Bassel's location and condition were never confirmed, and no further information has been confirmed since October 2015. This is only the latest chapter in the story of Bassel's imprisonment and disappearance.

Electronic Frontier Foundation, "Offline" project. Licensed for reuse.

Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Offline” project. Licensed for reuse..

A Creative Commons leader in Syria and active in projects like Mozilla Firefox and Wikipedia, Bassel is credited with opening up the Syrian Internet and extending online access and knowledge to the public. According to the European Parliament, his detention is part of Syrian government efforts to restrict access to online communities and stifle freedom of expression in the country.

From March through December 2012, Bassel was held in a military intelligence base in the Kafr Suseh section of Damascus. At the end of 2012, he was transferred to Adra, where he was afforded occasional visits with family.

At Global Voices’ January 2014 Arab Bloggers Meeting in Amman, Jordan, Bassel sent a message from prison to our community:

In 2009, I was honored to have my body and soul with you in Beirut. That meeting taught me a lot and charged me for the next years of civic activism and for the now, with more challenges facing activists, bloggers, and countries. I know for sure that your future is in your hands, and it will be bright since you are still meeting!

I'm honored again to have my soul with you in this meeting while my body is still locked in jail. Which doesn't matter since we will win the future.

Bassel Safadi and his wife Noura. Photo from Noura Ghazi Safadi's Facebook page.

Bassel Safadi and his wife Noura. Photo from Noura Ghazi Safadi's Facebook page.

On 3 October 2016, Ghazi posted a long reflection (below) on the pain she has experienced since his arrest, and in particular, since his disappearance. Her hopes that he is still alive are dwindling.

سنة ، ويا طول السنة ، ما حدا بيعرف كيف عم يمر الليل والنهار عليي غير الله ، نطرت باسل سنة بغيابه بعد ما نطرته 4 سنين باعتقاله ، وكنت مستعدة انطره كل العمر … بس مرت سنة عالغياب ، وما في غير خبر اعدامه يلي تسرب بعد غيابه بشهر … سنة ، الحياة فيها عم تمشي بس انا حياتي واقفة ، واقفة عند باسل ، وباسل ما عم يرجع وكل يوم الامل برجعته عم يتلاشى اكتر … يمكن صار لازم أتعامل مع اختفاء باسل بشكل عقلاني ومنطقي ، كتير قاسي هالحكي ، والاقسى منه شعوري باني ما عاد في شي انتظره ، بس صار لازم واجه الواقع ، واقع انه باسل غايب … التمسك بالامل شي حلو وعظيم ، بس التعلق بالوهم هو مرض خطير ، يمكن صار لازم اقتنع انه مستقبلي ما عاد فيه باسل ، يمكن صار لازم واجه هالواقع بطريقة ما تأذيني أكتر ، بعرف أنه كتير صعب وبشع هالحكي ، بس للأسف هاد هو الوضع السوري يلي أنا وباسل جزء منه …. ما بعرف شو ناطرني ، بس بعرف أنه باسل رح يبقى معشش بقلبي وروحي لآخر لحظة بحياتي …

It’s been a year, and what a long year. No one knows how the days and nights go by besides God. I’ve been waiting for Bassel for a year since his disappearance and four more years since his arrest. And I was ready to wait forever. But a year has passed since his absence, and there is no news but the one of his supposed execution a month after having disappeared…

A year where life goes on, but not mine. My life stopped with Bassel. Bassel isn’t coming back and every day the hope that he will ever come back fades away. Maybe I need to start dealing with his disappearance rationally and logically. It’s harsh to think this way, and even harsher still to feel that there is nothing to wait for. But I have to start facing reality, the reality of Bassel’s absence.

Holding on to hope is something beautiful and powerful. But hanging on to an illusion is a very dangerous illness. I should probably accept that my future will not have Bassel in it. Maybe it’s time for me to face that reality in a way that won’t hurt me even more. I know that this is difficult and ugly. But unfortunately this is the Syrian situation that me and Bassel are a part of…

I don’t know what awaits me, but I know that Bassel will remain present in my heart and soul until my last breath…

At the 2016 iGmena summit in Tunis, Global Voices contributor Leila Nachawati Rego remembered Bassel as well as prominent Egyptian coder, blogger and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, in prison for over 840 days, and Iranian Web Developer Saeed Malekpour, in prison for over eight years.

Global Voices Lingua Manager and Board Member Mohamed ElGohary also remembered Bassel and echoed calls for his release:

The Global Voices community has called for Bassel's release since 2012. We repeat our call on this sad anniversary in the hope that it will be our last.

by Joey Ayoub at October 05, 2016 10:01 PM

Chinese Authorities Shutter ‘Gongshi’ Intellectual Website, Leading Netizens to Ask: Is This ‘The End of Consensus'?
Website logo of "Gongshi".

Website logo of “Gongshi”.

The homepage of the influential intellectual website “Gongshi” or Consensus ( became inaccessible on 1 October, Chinese National Day. The timing of the block suggested that the shutdown was intentional and symbolic. Numerous netizens have declared that the incident marks the “end of consensus.”

While the homepage was inaccessible at the time of this article's publication, URLs for specific individual posts are still functioning.

Launched on 1 September 2009 and operated by Lide Consensus Media Group, Gongshi written mostly for an audience within the Chinese government and Communist Party. With sections dedicated to global affairs, China studies, and “Revisiting History,” Gongshi includes among its writers academics, experienced journalists, prominent writers and legal experts. Most are political liberals. The magazine's mission is to “seek consensus in the era of great transformation.”

The magazine is distributed through special subscription channels and its target audiences are Chinese government officials, corporate CEOs, top ranking People's Liberation Army officials and other similar entities. The website also is affiliated the Hong Kong-based magazine Leader, which ceased operations several months ago after nearly twelve years of operation.

Similar to the reformist magazine Yanhuang Chunqui, which was taken over in July 2016 after authorities raided its offices and took control of the website, Gongshi is believed to have been connected to a power sector from within the Chinese Communist Party. It was designed as an experiment in “authoritarian deliberation,” an academic term denoting participatory consensus-building in addressing social and political crisis in an authoritative regime.

Zhou Zhixing, one of the founders of Gongshi and the Editor-in-Chief of Leader has many high-level connections within the CCP. Zhou explained the shutdown on WeChat:


the authorities want us to shut down the website, saying that the platform had spread wrong ideas. With dismay, we shut down. This is my report.

The closure of the homepage was unexpected. As recently as 29 September, Gongshi announced on their social media account the details of a US tour, that would include visits to a number of academic institutions to interview scholars and experts on their views about US-China relations after the US presidential election.

Observers have shared various speculations on what exactly caused the shutdown. Yue Wenxiao, a writer from Falun Gong-affiliated dissent site, Sound of Hope, compiled a list of politically sensitive stories published by Gongshi in 2016. Titles include:

  • “Banned Books and Self-Enlightenment” by Zhu Dake, professor from Shanghai Tongji University
  • “Yes to Election. No to Selection: Reflection on Taiwan's Presidential Election” by Lui Junning, a mainland Chinese liberal scholar
  • “Anti corruption fight should be built upon the denial of stability control” by Sun Liping, professor from Tsinghua University
  • “Who funded the Chinese Communist Revolution,” a special item for the website

These topics are clearly sensitive and would not be allowed to be published in the majority of media outlets in China. The space for these kinds of political deliberations has to come from top leaders. But such spaces have diminished since current president Xi Jinping consolidated his power in 2012.

Yuan Bin, a mainland Chinese political exile in Taiwan proclaimed the shutdown as a sign of the end of the reformist project on overseas dissent site, Epoch Times:


The recent crackdown on speech by the CCP indicated that it does not want to build consensus with the reformists who are eager to seek consensus from within the party. Not only does it not want to build consensus, it does not even allow those who want to build consensus on democratic reform without challenging the principle of single-party dictatorship to exist. The crackdown on human right lawyers, the takeover of Yanhuang Chunqui and the shutdown of Gongshi deliver one message to them [the reformists]: I cannot have any consensus with you. There is no way for me to pick up the western model. On my turf, I won’t allow the existence of any special region for politics and thoughts.

On Chinese social media, many shared the feeling that the incident marks the end of an era:


Although there are so many websites serving different interests showing up, it is difficult to find a site where you can find truly intellectual thoughts. In the past two years, I visited Gongshi every day and all of a sudden it has shut down. Judging from the political atmosphere, we are on the path to our past. I just could not have anticipated that the regression would happen so quickly. But can our society really return to Mao's era?


Gongshi has ceased to operate. China no longer has scientific socialism and socialist democracy.

Since distinctive URLs linking to individual posts still work, some believe that the site will be restored or taken over by more “loyal” and “submissive” editorial team, sharing a fate similar to that of Yanhuang Chunqui. In this case of Yanhuan Chunqui, the takeover happened abruptly, without the lead editors’ involvement or consent.

by Oiwan Lam at October 05, 2016 09:00 PM

As Violence Escalates in Ethiopia, Zone9 and Other Prominent Bloggers Face New Legal Threats
Students mourning at Haromaya University. Photo shared widely on social media.

Students mourning at Haromaya University. Photo shared widely on social media.

Seyoum Teshome, a prominent member of the embattled community of Ethiopian online writers was arrested last Friday. He is being held in a Weliso town jail cell and he was reportedly brought to the court on Tuesday but remained remanded into police custody for 10 days pending further investigation according to reports.

This comes on the heels of an appeal in the high-profile case of the Zone9 bloggers. Members of the Addis Ababa-based blogging collective, six of whom are Global Voices contributors, were jailed for more than a year on terrorism charges. Although they were released (in two groups) in July and October of 2015, they will soon once again face trial as public prosecutors have appealed their acquittal. They return to court on October 21, 2016.

A few weeks prior to his arrest, Seyoum Teshome published an open letter on the online platform EthioThinkTank, addressing Ethiopian prime minister Desalegn Hailemariam. He wrote:

I am a teacher at Ambo University. In my spare time I write analytical pieces on various issues. Nine months ago, when I started writing, I wrote about massive protests that I saw in the town where I live, Weliso. Since then, I have published more than fifty articles on a website. I am writing this because I wanted the public and the government to know that the purpose of my writing is just to inform the public and suggest solutions. I also wanted to let everybody know the occasion that made me start to write.

Seyoum writes prolifically about Ethiopia’s ongoing protests in the Oromo region. He has been writing and commenting on online platforms including the pro-regime websites such as Horn Affairs, and made national headlines when he gave an interview about the Oromo protests to a New York Times reporter. The story he commented for was published with the catchy headline: ‘A Generation is Protesting’ in Ethiopia, Long a U.S. Ally

Seyoum's arrest and the renewed case against the Zone9 bloggers come at a critical moment in the ongoing protest movement in the Oromo region. Demonstrations have taken place with regular frequency in Oromia since November 2015, with protesters demanding greater self-rule, freedom and respect for the ethnic identity of the Oromo people, who have experienced systematic marginalization and persecution over the last quarter century. Authorities have used deadly force against the protesters on more than one occasion. On October 2 alone, 52 people were killed. The diaspora-based human rights group 7 kilo has reported a death toll of nearly 600 people.

Over the past several years, numerous Ethiopians who write on online platforms have been arrested, prosecuted, or forced into exile. Getachew Shiferaw, who launched his journalism career by writing on online platforms was arrested and prosecuted on terrorism charges in December 2015. Zelalem Workagegnhu was found guilty of terrorism charges and he is serving his long term prison sentences. Eskinder Nega has suffered a similar fate, this past September will mark the fifth year of his 18-year prison sentence.

by Endalk at October 05, 2016 05:02 PM

October 04, 2016

How to Get the Most Out of Drupal 8's New Content Tools

For more on Drupal 8, see 3 Major Reasons Drupal 8 is Worth the Investment and What to Know Before You Host a Drupal 8 Site

Drupal 8 has dropped a ton of new features, including vast improvements to the experience for developers building new sites and system administrators maintaining existing ones. But what about the experience for the folks like us that are going to use Drupal 8 everyday? What about us content editors?

I have good news for you. Drupal 8 includes a handful of improvements that will make your regular day-to-day tasks a little easier and more efficient. But not all of them are immediately noticeable, so here’s how you can get the most out of Drupal 8’s new content tools:

Leave Quick Edit turned on

One of the highly marketed features in Drupal 8 is Quick Edit, a tool that allows you to edit content directly on the page, without having to switch to the administrator panel. It’s a pretty straightforward and handy tool when you use it, but it does need to be toggled on at first, and can be easy to miss. In the upper right corner of the administrator toolbar, there is an “Edit” button that once clicked, will show a small pencil icon next to any editable content area on the page.

Note, the pencil icons can be a little hard to see as they are a light gray color by default.

And once you’ve turned on Quick Edit, it remains active as you navigate the site (as long as you’re logged in). If you find the already subtle pencil icons distracting, then don’t forget you have the ability to turn this feature on and off from the administrator toolbar that appears at the top of every page.

Don’t be afraid to use it on your phone

Typos are just reality. We all know it still happens with annoying regularity no matter how many rounds of review you do. Now you don’t need to be tethered to your laptop to fix any silly mistakes thanks to two big improvements.

The first is the very noticeable responsive design. In addition to giving you an interface that adapts to the size of your screen, the menus have eschewed the drop down menus that appeared on hover and that made mobile editing painful (since there’s no mouse to “hover” on a mobile device). The new menu also features larger touch targets to make tapping with your fingers a whole lot easier.

The second is a big under the hood improvement that, long story short, improves caching for users that are logged in (i.e., all us administrators and content editors). This means improved performance and faster load times when using the site, an especially useful improvement when using the site on slower connections, like 3G cellular for example.

Embrace the Shortcuts

Shortcuts are not a new feature in Drupal 8, but with the simplified administrator toolbar these quick actions get more prominent placement. And if you’re used to hovering over top-level menu items to see the links contained therein, you may be a little disappointed that with these new mobile friendly menus, you’ll now need to do a few more clicks or taps before you get to writing that new blog post or press release. But with Shortcuts available from the top-level administrator toolbar, you can add quick links to create specific types of content, jump to the most used sections of your site, and much more. It takes just a moment to add a new Shortcut, but it will save you some repeated (and annoying) clicking in the long run.

Drupal has made significant updates in the content administrator area in their latest major release, which reflects how much thought and effort went into improving and smoothing out the content authoring experience. We are content authors too, so we know how much time and effort it takes publishing and managing content on your website. Based on our experience building and launching several Drupal 8 projects recently, we’re confident you’ll enjoy the efficiency and utility of these changes.

by Stephanie Todd at October 04, 2016 03:41 PM

October 03, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Venezuelan Government Jails Video Producers on Charges of ‘Instigating Rebellion’
Screenshot of the video made by producers Marco Trejo, César Cuellar y James Mathinson for the oposition political party Primero Justicia.

Screenshot of the video made by producers Marco Trejo, César Cuellar y James Mathison for the opposition political party Primero Justicia.

Venezuelan video producers Marco Trejo, César Cuellar and James Mathison were detained by political police on September 20 in connection with their work on a video for the political party Primero Justicia shortly after its release on television and social media.

#Now [the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence] is arresting Marco Trejo, César Cuellar y James Mathison after video production for [political opposition party Primero Justicia] about the military.

The video shows a young girl caring for her mother and then searching an empty house for medicine and food. She sends texts messages to a military officer, presumably her father, standing before a legion of protesters. With music swelling, we hear the girl's voice as he reads from his phone. She says:

Dad, mom is still sick and we've run out of medicine.

I will go wait in line because there's no food home.

Remember that the people you're sent to repress are experiencing the same thing as we are.

The video, a bold representation of the current climate for many Venezuelans today, is clearly attributed to Primero Justicia.

Authorities also have an arrest warrant for a fourth producer, Andrés Eloy Moreno Febres-Cordero. All four producers are being charged with offenses under the Military Code of Justice, including offending the Armed Forces and instigating rebellion.

Julio Borges, the National Coordinator of the political party Primero Justicia declared on YouTube that every communication is signed by the party and that the detentions constitute a violation of freedom of speech and that it doesn't constitute incitement to crime in any way. In spite of this, the producers will be tried by a military court, a violation of the principle of natural justice. According to Venezuela's Criminal Justice Code, civilians cannot be tried before a military judge, except in a handful of exceptional specific cases that do not apply to the matter at hand.

by Sonia Doglio at October 03, 2016 11:11 PM

Help End the Imprisonment of Iranian Web Developer Saeed Malekpour
#FreeSaeed campaign image.

#FreeSaeed campaign image.

When Saeed Malekpour was arrested and jailed in 2008 over his code, it seemed like a nightmare of unjust proportions. Now, eight years on, the enduring nightmare seems unthinkable.

Saeed was living in Canada as a permanent resident before he embarked on what was supposed to be a short trip to Iran in October 2008. While visiting his father in Iran, authorities decided to target Malekpour for his open source software program that others had used to upload pornographic images to the Internet.

His story is one of many that exemplify the fear Iranian authorities use to control the nation's Internet space. Saeed was charged with threatening the nation's Islamic ideals and national security via propaganda against the system, but evidence against him was scant. He spent time in solitary confinement and gave forced confessions — widely publicized on national television in 2010 — that were extracted under torture, including beatings, electrocution and threats of rape.

Maryam Malekpour explains her brother's innocence in the EFF 'Offline' campaign. Used under Creative Commons license.

Maryam Malekpour explains her brother's innocence in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's ‘Offline’ campaign. (CC BY 2.0)

He was originally sentenced to death. Some activists believe that global attention and internal pressure convinced Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to call off his death sentence and instead let him spend the rest of his life in prison.

Saeed's arrest coincided with the start of strict Internet control policies after a cyber crimes law was ratified in Iran in 2008. Many Internet activists have reasoned Saeed's case is also a product of a lack of awareness among Iranian authorities on how free software is created and used.

On the eighth anniversary of his arrest, there is a lot that can be done to help pressure the Iranian government, and others, such as the Canadian government, to press for his release. A coordinated Twitter storm has been spearheaded by Saeed's sister Maryam along with other dedicated campaigners.

Please contribute your voice on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at 3pm EST to pressure for Saeed's release and make this final year in prison.

Other campaigns include the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Help Saeed: Write to Justin Trudeau initiative that asks supporters to send mail to the current Canadian government headed by Justin Trudeau to ask them to put pressure on the Iranian government for his release.

You can read Maryam Malekpour's plea to the Canadian government to help pressure for her brothers release here:

My Letter to Canada’s Foreign Minister

More Global Voices coverage of Saeed Malekpour

‘Writing Code Is Not a Crime': Jailed Iranian Web Developer Saeed Malekpour Turns 40

#FreeSaeed: An Iranian Web Developer's Sixth Year in Prison

Iran: “A website developer was sentenced to death”

by Mahsa Alimardani at October 03, 2016 07:16 PM

Macedonian Journalist Božinovski Continues Hunger Strike in Face of Trial Postponement
Press conference by Association of Journalists of Macedonia and International Federation of Journalists informing about Božinovski's hunger strike. Photo by AJM, used with permission.

Press conference by Association of Journalists of Macedonia and International Federation of Journalists informing about Božinovski's hunger strike. Photo by AJM, used with permission.

Macedonian journalist Zoran Božinovski, who is awaiting trial on espionage charges, has been on hunger strike since September 14. He has been in pre-trial detention for over five months.

Božinovski runs the tabloid-style web portal, famous for publishing leaked information that implicated prominent members of the Macedonian political elite in a variety of misdeeds. In 2012 the Macedonian government launched a court case code-named “Spy” (“Шпион” in Macedonian) accusing about 20 people, including Božinovski and other government critics and whistle-blowers, of spying on behalf of EU members Greece and Hungary (Macedonia is a candidate for EU membership).

Most of the suspects in this case had already been found guilty by the Criminal Court and their case is currently expecting a decision from the Court of Appeals. However, as Božinovski lived abroad at the time, a separate trial was set for him within the Criminal Court.

Božinovski was arrested and jailed on an Interpol warrant in 2013 in Serbia, but released after 300 days while Macedonian authorities made a case for his extradition. He was finally extradited to Macedonia in April 2016.

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) and the Journalist Trade Union have been organizing protests, demanding that Božinovski be immediately released from detention on bail. AJM has expressed alarm at the delay in court proceedings in Božinovski's case. In a recent statement, AJM warned that “the court is violating his right to a fair trial.”

Новинарот Божиновски веќе две недели штрајкува со глад со барање да му се укине притворот, а судот денеска по втор пат го одложи судењето поради лични и семејни прилики на судијката Сандра Крстиќ.

Со упорното одбивање да го укине притворот за Божиновски судот применува двојни аршини. Не изрекува притвор за поранешни владини функционери осомничени за тешки кривични дела, а без сериозна причина скоро шест месеци држи во притвор новинар. Со тоа притворот не служи за непречено одвивање на постапката, туку прераснува во казна.

Journalist Bozinovski for two weeks has been on a hunger strike, demanding an end to his detention, and the court today for the second time postponed the trial because of “personal and family circumstances” of Judge Sandra Krstic.

With persistent refusal to release Bozinovski, the court applied double standards. The Court does not impose detention for former government officials suspected of serious crimes, and without due cause has held a journalist in custody for nearly six months. At this point, detention does not serve as means for an uninterrupted process, but rather becomes a punishment.

On September 23, AJM president Naser Selmani revealed that Zoran Božinovski had started a hunger strike on September 14, due to the unjust extension of his pretrial detention and the delaying of his court case. AJM claims that prison authorities and the court did not inform Božinovski's lawyer or the Ombudsman about his hunger strike, “with the apparent intention of hiding this information from the public.”

There are also widespread, credible fears that Božinovski may experience serious mistreatment in prison. Leaked wiretapped conversations published by Macedonia's political opposition in 2015 revealed some top politicians seemingly making threats of torture toward Božinovski. In a conversation between Martin Protuger, the right-hand man of Macedonia's then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, and the then-Minister of Interior Gordana Jankuloska, the two discuss how they plan to torture him once he is in their custody. Protuger requests to pay him a visit “with the CCTV camera turned off in that time.” They also discuss arranging his rape by other inmates as something “that goes without saying.”

On September 22, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) also called for the immediate release of the journalist. EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez reported that the court ignored their official request to allow them to visit Božinovski in prison:

The Macedonian government signed, on 13 April, the Recommendation of the Council of Europe on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists. My question today to the government is: what have you done so far to put into practice the recommendations you signed in April? What have you done to ensure independence of the media and safeguard media pluralism? What have you done to protect journalistic sources and whistleblowers? What have you done to prevent unlawful detention of journalists? What have you done to stop the culture of impunity regarding attacks on journalists? How many investigations have you launched? How many prosecutions? How many people responsible for such crimes have been brought to Justice and condemned?

This information has not exactly caused a stir among the Macedonian public, where most mainstream media outlets fall under direct control of the ruling parties. Still, some social media users commented on this status quo of institutional uncertainty.

Zoran Božinovski is on hunger strike. Can you believe it, the judge asked to be re-аssigned, which had postponed his trial. DID I MENTION THAT HE'S ON HUNGER STRIKE?

The AJM called upon the Court of Appeals in Skopje to immediately submit the decision for the “Spy” case to the Criminal Court, which would enable Božinovski's lawyers to have access to evidence and prepare his defense. Barring this, they argue there will be further delays and the public will continue to believe that the case was “politically rigged.”

by Marko Angelov at October 03, 2016 05:37 PM

October 01, 2016

September 30, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
In Tanzania, Expressing Political Opinions on Social Media is Becoming Increasingly Dangerous
A sign for an Internet cafe in Tanzania. Tanzania is one of the top 10 countries with most Internet users in Africa. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Aslak Raanes.

A sign for an Internet cafe in Tanzania. Tanzania is one of the top 10 countries with most Internet users in Africa. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Aslak Raanes.

Five Tanzanian citizens, Dennis Temu, Suleiman Nassoro, Shakira Makame, Juma Mtatuu, Dennis Mtegwa, appeared before a Tanzanian court September 14 charged with insulting President John Magufuli on social media. The five denied the charges.

It is alleged that the five shared offensive content targeting the president and the police between August 24 and 30 this year, in violation of Section 118 (a) of the Electronic and Postal Communications Act No. 3 of 2010.

The section imposes a criminal penalty on any person who:

knowingly makes, creates, or solicits or initiates the transmission of any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person…
Of the five accused, state prosecutors allege that Mr. Mtegwa posted an abusive and offensive comment on a WhatsApp group called DSM 114U Movement in Kiswahili. Roughly translated, the comment in question reads:

I don’t know what is going on in JPM’s [Tanzania's President John Pombe Magufuli] head… He doesn’t even know how to say sorry. We are at this stage because of one person who believes that what he thinks is always right…he needs to understand that politics isn’t about resentment and the Opposition isn’t an enemy…he should learn to compete with the Opposition on the basis of debate, not force.

In another recent case, Dr. Oscar Magava, a lecturer at the Mkwawa University College of Education in Iringa region, was arrested for allegedly insulting the president.

Regional Police Commander Dr. Julius Jengi Gava said on September 15 they received reports that the lecturer used social networks to the abuse the president. He did not specify which social network he used and what exactly Magava said about the president.

Since President John Magufuli won the presidential election in October 2015, 14 people have already being arrested and charged for insulting the president on social media. Thus far only one citizen, Isaac Abakuki Emily, has been found guilty of these charges. He was convicted in June 2016 of insulting Tanzanian President John Magufuli on his Facebook page by the Arusha Resident Magistrate’s Court.

Tanzanian citizen Leonard Mulokozi was charged on June 22 under Tanzania's Electronic and Postal Communications Act over a WhatsApp message that authorities say is “abusive” to Tanzanias president, John Magufuli.

In October 2015, two Tanzanians became the first victims of the new law. Benedict Angelo Ngonyani, a 24-year-old student at Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, was charged for publishing materials which are “false or not verified by relevant authorities.” It is alleged that he posted a Facebook post claiming that Tanzania's Chief of Defence Forces, General Davis Mwamunyange, had been hospitalized after eating poisoned food.

In November 2015, four Tanzanians — Leila Sinare, Godfrey Soka, Deo Soka and Monica Gaspary Soka — were charged under Section 16 of Cybercrime Act for publishing false, election-related information on WhatsApp. Public prosecutors alleged that the accused published audio information on a WhatsApp group called the “Soka Group”, that was intended to mislead the public during the October 2015 Tanzanian general elections, which were plagued by accusations of vote-rigging.

Most of these citizens have been charged under the controversial relatively new Cybercrime Act. Authorities frame the Cybercrime Act as an important tool for fighting child pornography, cyberbullying, online impersonation, racist and xenophobic content online, unsolicited messages (i.e. spam), illegal interception of communications, and publication of false information.

The controversial law was signed into law by the former President Jakaya Kikwete in May 2015, despite criticism from opposition politicians, social media practitioners, and human rights activists.

by Ndesanjo Macha at September 30, 2016 03:55 PM

Netizen Report: Swiss Citizens Say Yes to Surveillance
Swiss activists gather to deliver votes for referendum on surveillance law. Photo by JUSO Schweiz via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Swiss activists gather to deliver votes for referendum on surveillance law. Photo by JUSO Schweiz via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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

In a public referendum held September 25, a majority of Swiss voters supported a new lawthat would grant the Swiss intelligence agency (Service de Renseignement de la Confederation, or SRC) powers to spy on telecommunications, infect citizens’ digital communications devices with surveillance malware, and place microphones and video cameras in private locations.

The law expands the surveillance capacities of the Swiss government, but still requires intelligence officials to obtain approval from a federal court, the defense ministry and a cabinet in order to being monitoring a citizen. This procedure is intended to distribute checks on power and thereby make the law less susceptible to abuse, at least in theory. In urgent cases, however, these approvals can be obtained retroactively. Citizens who are targets will also be informed within a month of the methods and duration of the surveillance, though there are exceptions if notifying the suspect is against the public interest, would affect legal proceedings, or could put people in danger.

The law won citizens’ approval by 65.5%, with 43% of eligible voters participating. The bill was initially approved by parliament in 2015, but critics of the bill collected signatures to force the referendum.

AFP reported that Swiss defense minister Guy Parmelin sees the law’s approval as a metaphorical “leaving [of] the basement and coming up to the ground floor” of international security service standards

Social Democrat parliamentarian Jean Christophe Schwaab, a leading opponent of the bill, expressed concern that the current government would circumvent judicial and defense approval processes. He also said that he is concerned that it could give way to a slippery slope effect for surveillance practices in the coming years, noting that it is very difficult to reject an urgent request from the intelligence service “in the current climate of general paranoia.”

The law is also raising concern among Swiss-based technology companies including ProtonMail, a popular encrypted email service provider known for its relative user-friendliness. ProtonMail founder Andy Yen expressed disappointment about the referendum results in an interview with TechCrunch, but he asserted that the law would have “no impact on ProtonMail,” due to the fact that the company does not collect or store users’ email encryption keys (which are imperative to decrypting and reading the content of an email message) or personally identifiable information.

Mexico is spending a lot of money on surveillance tools

Mexican news outlet Reforma recently confirmed that Mexico's attorney general acquired surveillance software from the Israeli company NSO Group in 2014 and 2015 for a sum of 15 million dollars. This only adds to a growing list of major purchases that Mexican government agencies have made from leading surveillance software companies over the last four years. Leaked documents and technical investigations also have revealed that authorities have used Gamma’s Finfisher software, Hacking Team’s Remote Control System, and so-called IMSI catchers made by Finnish technology company Exfo Oy.

Jordanian authorities ban media coverage of writer’s assassination

Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was shot dead on September 25 outside a courtroom in Amman, where he was scheduled to stand trial over a cartoon deemed offensive to Islam that he posted on Facebook. Hattar was charged with “inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islam,” according to the Guardian. The cartoon depicted a bearded man, presumably an ISIS militant, lying in bed next to two women, asking God to bring him a drink. Though the gunman was arrested, Hattar’s family has called on the government to hold those accountable who incited violence against Hattar on social media. In the meantime, Jordanian authorities have issued a ban on media coverage of Hattar’s case and assassination.

Sudanese prosecutors use ‘pornographic’ photos to support case against activists

Six Sudanese activists affiliated with the Khartoum Center for Training and Human Development are currently on trial for undermining the constitutional system, waging war against the state, espionage, and terrorism. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison, or death. As evidence of their supposed “immorality”, Sudanese prosecutors have resorted to showing private photos and videos culled from the defendants’ confiscated laptops. Among others, the photo tweeted below was presented as evidence of the activists having “pornography” on their computers.

UAE drops charges over Facebook charity plea gone awry

The UAE has dropped charges against Scott Richards, a British-Australian national living and working in Dubai, for sharing on Facebook a link to a charity raising funds for refugees in Afghanistan. Under UAE law, it is illegal to promote charities that are not registered with state authorities. Raising money for charities without obtaining the written approval of the authorities is also prohibited. Violators can face up to one year in jail and a fine.

Gender divides Internet usage in Africa, Southeast Asia

Women in a cross-section of developing countries are 50% less likely to use the Internet than men, according to the World Wide Web Foundation. The Foundation produced report cards assessing the progress on closing the gender gap in 10 countries, including Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mozambique, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Uganda. The report finds that while India and the Philippines have almost closed the gap in urban areas, there is a long way to go — and even obtaining gender-disaggregated data on Internet access is still difficult, making it hard to measure progress where it occurs. According to the report, factors that prevent women from going online include affordability, knowing how to use the Internet, and online violence.

New Research


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by Netizen Report Team at September 30, 2016 03:21 PM

Joi Ito
The "there goes the neighborhood" Law

There seems to be some sort of general rule that technologies and systems like conversations on the Internet, the US democracy (and its capture by powerful financial interests), the Arab Spring movement and many other things that were wonderfully optimistic and positive at the beginning seem to begin to regress and fail as they scale or age. Most of these systems seem to evolve into systems that are resistant to redesign and overthrow as they adapt like some sophisticated virus or cancer. It's related to but harder to fix than the tragedy of the commons.

I want to write a longer post trying to understand this trend/effect, but I was curious about whether there was some work already in understanding this effect and whether there was already a name for this idea. If not, what we should call it, assuming people agree that it's a "thing"?

by Joi at September 30, 2016 10:28 AM

September 29, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Mexico's Attorney General Secretly Purchased Costly Spyware (Again)

Big Brother is watching you‘. Image by Flickr user Photon, reproduced under the license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Mexican news outlet Reforma recently confirmed that Mexico's Attorney General (the government agency in charge of investigating and pursuing federal crimes in Mexico) acquired surveillance software from the Israeli company NSO Group in 2014 and 2015 for a sum of 15 million dollars. According to Reforma:

La PGR compró en la Administración de Jesús Murillo Karam el software de espionaje Pegasus, hasta ahora el más sofisticado en el mercado y capaz de escuchar, ver, capturar texto, imagen y contactos de cualquier teléfono inteligente.

The AG (Attorney General), under the Administration of Jesús Murillo Karam, bought the espionage software Pegasus, which is so far the most sophisticated spy software on the market and is capable of listening, viewing, and extracting text, images, and contacts from any smart phone.

This information emerges a few weeks after the North American newspaper the New York Times published an article revealing that, according to e-mails to which the Times had access, the Mexican government has held multimillion-dollar contracts with the NSO company in order to conduct three projects over three years since 2013.

The New York Times emphasized that in August 2016, investigators from the specialized centers on digital security issues Citizen Lab and Lookout detected attempts to tap into the cellphones of human rights advocate Ahmed Mansoor from the United Arab Emirates and of Mexican journalist Rafael Cabrera (one of the journalists behind the “Casa Blanca” investigation that involved Mexico's presidential couple in acts of corruption) with technology made by the same NSO Group. Here is what Cabrera announced on his Twitter account:

Tweet translation: I have received these two messages, supposedly from UnoTV, from this number: (55) 6106 7277. This is not funny In Image: message on the left says, “Presidency will sue for defamation those who published the White House report.” And message on the right says, “For issue of the White House, the Presidency could incarcerate reporters while it investigates.”

Tweet translation: “I have received these two messages, supposedly from UnoTV, from this number: (55) 6106 7277. This is not funny”
Image translation: Message on the left reads, “Presidency will sue for defamation those who published the White House report.” And message on the right says, “For issue of the White House, the Presidency could incarcerate reporters while it investigates.”

The spokesman for the Mexican embassy in Washington, Ricardo Alday, responded by telling the New York Times that all intelligence systems acquired by the Mexican government have the required legal backing and that they are not being used against journalists or activists.

In spite of this, according to Mexican NGO Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D in Spanish):

Las revelaciones son preocupantes, puesto que hasta ahora la adquisición se manejó en completa opacidad; además, la empresa NSO Group tiene antecedentes de haber vendido su equipo a gobiernos que no respetan los derechos humanos, como el caso de los Emiratos Árabes Unidos.

Pegasus permite capturar imágenes, mensajes de texto, escuchar llamadas telefónicas y robar información de cualquier smartphone, lo que lo convierte en un software altamente intrusivo.

The revelations are worrisome, given that until now the acquisition was handled in complete obscurity; in addition, the company NSO Group has previous records of having sold its equipment to governments that do not respect human rights, as is the case with the United Arab Emirates.

Pegasus allows the extraction of images, text messages, listening to telephone calls, and stealing information from any smartphone, which makes it a highly intrusive software.

This is not the first time that the Mexican government has been seen buying surveillance technologies and using them for purposes that lie beyond public interest.


laptop-spying‘. Image by EFF Photos on Flickr. Used under license CC BY 2.0.

In April 2013, the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab detected the surveillance software FinFisher, sold by the British company Gamma Group, operating on the telecommunication networks of the companies Iusacell and UniNet, which is a subsidiary of Mexican telecommunications company Telmex. The software, which also has been used by various governments in the Middle East and Asia, typically infects computers and smartphones disguised by a seemingly harmless link or attachment. Once it has installed itself into a person's device, it allows the perpetrator to monitor communications without the user's knowledge.

That same year, an investigation done by the organizations Propuesta Cívica and ContingenteMX and published by Mexico City newspaper La Jornada found that FinFisher was used extensively by at least four federal dependencies: The Secretary of Public Security (SSP in Spanish), the Republic's Attorney General (PGR), the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN in Spanish), and the Presidential General Staff (EMP in Spanish).

In July 2013, the representative of the collective ContingenteMX, Jesús Robles Maloof, reported that he had been a target of espionage in his column, “Smile, They are Watching You” for the digital journal SinEmbargo:

El pasado martes 7 de mayo de este año [2013], mi familia y yo recibimos una amenaza. Nos hicieron saber que accedieron a mis comunicaciones, leyendo incluso algunas de ellas. Denuncié los hechos penalmente y estoy en espera que la autoridad determine el origen y los programas usados para este. Acepto, como todos mis colegas, los retos que significan defender los derechos humanos, lo que de ninguna manera implica que nos quedemos cruzados de brazos. Al defender la Constitución, defendemos la vía de la transformación democrática.

No se es paranoico cuando se revisan periódicamente las medidas personales de seguridad. Se es paranoico cuando crees que necesitas espiar a toda la población. Instalados en la irracionalidad están los gobiernos que nos tienen miedo. La democracia es incertidumbre en el cambio de poder, querer controlar todo es muestra de autoritarismo.

This past Tuesday, May 7 of this year [2013], my family and I received a threat. They made it known to us that they had gained access to my communications, even reading some of them. I reported these criminal acts and am now waiting for the authorities to determine their origin and the programs used for this. I admit, like all of my colleagues, the challenges that come with defending human rights, which in no way implies that we keep our arms crossed. In defending the Constitution, we defend the road to democratic transformation.

It is not paranoid when one periodically reviews one's personal security measures. It is paranoid when you believe that you need to spy on the entire population. The governments that fear us are settled in irrationality. Democracy is uncertainty in the change of power; to want to control everything is proof of authoritarianism.

The 2014 Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) report on surveillance technologies included a chapter on Mexico, created by the organization SONTUSDATOS. In the chapter, they point out that they found traces of the program FinFisher in the mobile devices of different human rights activists.

At the end of July 2016, the magazine Proceso demonstrated as well that Mexico acquired simulators of cell phone towers (also known as IMSI catchers) belonging to the Finnish technology company Exfo Oy in 2014, which have the ability to intercept cellular traffic and communications content, to collect information from mobile devices, and to track and locate users.

Additionally, in 2015 a leak by Wikileaks showed that Mexico spent almost 6 million euros over four years in order to acquire the program Remote Control System (RCS), from the Italian company Hacking Team, which is capable of invading any electronic device. According to the report “Hacking Team: Spy Malware in Latin America,” published by Digital Rights together with Aristegui Noticias:

[el programa] Remote Control System accede a contraseñas, contactos, mensajes y correos electrónicos; llamadas telefónicas; que además controla micrófono y webcams; tiene acceso a nuestras redes sociales; puede saber dónde estamos en todo momento y registra cada una de las teclas apretadas, clics del mouse y sitios de internet visitados.

[the program] Remote Control System accesses passwords, contacts, messages, and e-mails, telephone calls, and also controls the microphone and webcams. It has access to our social networks, it can know where we are at every moment and register each one of our keystrokes, mouse clicks, and visited internet sites.

This report concludes that these types of technologies violate rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and due process, and underscores the importance of the Mexican government being transparent in its information regarding the purchase and use of these types of surveillance tools.

Unfortunately, the federal government does not seem to have any intention of making this type of information public, as demonstrated by its recent refusal to disclose which people and devices were tapped by the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN) during 2014 in response to a request for information filed by the Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D). Nevertheless, as indicated by R3D, in 2016 the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information, and Protection of Personal Data (INAI in Spanish) determined that such information should be public knowledge.

The @INAImexico compelled the CISEN to tell us how many people it spied on in 2014. @EPN wants the @SCJN to stop/impede/block/ it.

(In image: Presidency does not want you to know how many people it spied on…)

by Giovanna Salazar at September 29, 2016 09:14 PM

Joi Ito
Society in the Loop Artificial Intelligence

Black and White Gavel in Courtroom - Law Books
Photo by wp paarz via Flickr - CC BY-SA

Iyad Rahwan was the first person I heard use the term society-in-the-loop machine learning. He was describing his work which was just published in Science, on polling the public through an online test to find out how they felt about various decisions people would want a self-driving car to make - a modern version of what philosophers call "The Trolley Problem." The idea was that by understanding the priorities and values of the public, we could train machines to behave in ways that the society would consider ethical. We might also make a system to allow people to interact with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and test the ethics by asking questions or watching it behave.

Society-in-the-loop is a scaled up version of human-in-the-loop machine learning - something that Karthik Dinakar at the Media Lab has been working on and is emerging as an important part of AI research.

Typically, machines are "trained" by AI engineers using huge amounts of data. The engineers tweak what data is used, how it's weighted, the type of learning algorithm used and a variety of parameters to try to create a model that is accurate and efficient and making the right decisions and providing accurate insights. One of the problems is that because AI, or more specifically, machine learning is still very difficult to do, the people who are training the machines are usually not domain experts. The training is done by machine learning experts and the completed model after the machine is trained is often tested by experts. A significant problem is that any biases or errors in the data will create models that reflect those biases and errors. An example of this would be data from regions that allow stop and frisk - obviously targeted communities will appear to have more crime.

Human-in-the-loop machine learning is work that is trying to create systems to either allow domain experts to do the training or at least be involved in the training by creating machines that learn through interactions with experts. At the heart of human-in-the-loop computation is the idea of building models not just from data, but also from the human perspective of the data. Karthik calls this process 'lensing', of extracting the human perspective or lens of a domain expert and fit it to algorithms that learn from both the data and the extracted lens, all during training time. We believe this has implications for making tools for probabilistic programming and for the democratization of machine learning.

At a recent meeting with philosophers, clergy and AI and technology experts, we discussed the possibility of machines taking over the job of judges. We have evidence that machines can make very accurate assessments of things that involve data and it's quite reasonable to assume that decisions that judges make such as bail amounts or parole could be done much more accurately by machines than by humans. In addition, there is research that shows expert humans are not very good set setting bail or granting parole appropriately. Whether you get a hearing by the parole board before or after their lunch has a significant effect on the outcome, for instance. (There has been some critiques of the study cited in this article, and the authors of the paper of responded to them.)

In the discussion, some of us proposed the idea of replacing judges for certain kinds of decisions, bail and parole as examples, with machines. The philosopher and several clergy explained that while it might feel right from a utilitarian perspective, that for society, it was important that the judges were human - it was even more important than getting the "correct" answer. Putting aside the argument about whether we should be solving for utility or not, having the buy-in of the public would be important for the acceptance of any machine learning system and it would be essential to address this perspective.

There are two ways that we could address this concern. One way would be to put a "human in the loop" and use machines to assist or extend the capacity of the human judges. It is possible that this would work. On the other hand, experiences in several other fields such as medicine or flying airplanes have shown evidence that humans may overrule machines with the wrong decision enough that it would make sense to prevent humans from overruling machines in some cases. It's also possible that a human would become complacent or conditioned to trust the results and just let the machine run the system.

The second way would be for the machine to be trained by the public - society in the loop - in a way that the people felt that that the machine reliability represented fairly their, mostly likely, diverse set of values. This isn't unprecedented - in many ways, the ideal government would be one where the people felt sufficiently informed and engaged that they would allow the government to exercise power and believe that it represented them and that they were also ultimately responsible for the actions of the government. Maybe there is way to design a machine that could garner the support and the proxy of the public by being able to be trained by the public and being transparent enough that the public could trust it. Governments deal with competing and conflicting interests as will machines. There are obvious complex obstacles including the fact that unlike traditional software, where the code is like a series of rules, a machine learning model is more like a brain - it's impossible to look at the bits and understand exactly what it does or would do. There would need to be a way for the public to test and audit the values and behavior of the machines.

If we were able to figure out how to take the input from and then gain the buy-in of the public as the ultimate creator and controller of this machine, it might solve the other side of this judicial problem - the case of a machine made by humans that commits a crime. If, for instance, the public felt that they had sufficient input into and control over the behavior of a self-driving car, could the public also feel that the public, or the government representing the public, was responsible for the behavior and the potential damage caused by a self-driving car, and help us get around the product liability problem that any company developing self-driving cars will face?

How machines will take input from and be audited and controlled by the public, may be one of the most important areas that need to be developed in order to deploy artificial intelligence in decision making that might save lives and advance justice. This will most likely require making the tools of machine learning available to everyone, have a very open and inclusive dialog and redistribute the power that will come from advances in artificial intelligence, not just figure out ways to train it to appear ethical.

by Joi at September 29, 2016 08:14 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Kuwait Detains Activist Sara Al-Drees for Insulting the Country's Ruler
.Photo by "Tribes of the World" via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (center) with the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (left) and the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Photo by “Tribes of the World” via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

On 26 September, authorities in Kuwait ordered the detention of activist Sara al-Drees for 21 days over tweets deemed “insulting” to the Emir, the country's ruler. The activist turned herself in to the authorities on Sunday, after the public prosecutor's office issued an arrest warrant for her.

Sara al-Drees. Photo via Twitter.

Sara al-Drees. Photo via Twitter.

Al-Drees is a teacher, a pro-democracy activist, and an active Twitter user with 178 thousand followers. She tweets and writes about women's rights, human rights and political oppression in Kuwait.

She faces charges over comments she made on Twitter about a pardon she received for a previous jail sentence she was serving, also for insulting the Emir. On 17 July 2013, a court sentenced her to 20 months in prison, with hard labor, over tweets critical of the ruling family, the country's ruler, and the government's crackdown on local protests in 2012. She was pardoned by the Emir and released from prison on 30 July of the same year. However, her legal troubles did not end there. She now risks jail time for the same charge over tweets she posted in September this year. In those tweets, al-Drees commented on her pardon, responding to critics who kept telling her be grateful to the Emir after her pardon.

after I was pardoned and released, for a year the naives kept telling me: “be grateful to the one who pardoned you”. Whenever I wrote something they would say: “you do not repent?”. I am now guilty, because he pardoned me

and I should not have been jailed in the first place. How can we be unjustly jailed…for an opinion! Then the oppressed is pardoned as if he/she was guilty

In November 2015, she was also arrested in relation to tweets deemed “insulting to prophet Muhammad”, a crime punishable by up to ten years in jail with hard labour in Kuwait. Though she was acquitted earlier this year from this charge, al-Drees could once again be jailed for insulting the Emir, a crime punishable by up to five years in jail under the country's national security law.

Commenting on the routine legal harassment she faces, al-Drees tweeted on 19 September:

they exhaust you and drain you out of energy with one case after another until you become concerned about yourself, and get tired by your ordeals. So you give up and stop fighting. When you stop, they get what they want and they achieve their goal

In Kuwait, no one is immune from legal prosecution when criticizing the Emir and the ruling family. Earlier this month a court convicted Sheikh Abdullah Salem Al Sabah, a grandnephew of the emir, of insulting his own royal family. He was sentenced to three years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of USD $16,500 for posting Snapchat messages critical of the government, which is presided over by a member of the royal family, and in which royals hold a majority of key positions. In recent years, dozens of opposition activists, including former members of parliament, were jailed for insulting the Emir. This summer, the parliament approved an amendment to the electoral law, banning those convicted of the offence from running for office.

by Afef Abrougui at September 29, 2016 02:00 PM

September 26, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Jordanian Authorities Impose Media Gag After Writer's Killing
Censorship. Image by Isaac Mao, April 18, 2005. CC BY 2.0

Censorship. Image by Eric Drooker. CC BY 2.0

Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was shot dead on 25 September outside a court in the capital Amman, where he was scheduled to stand trial over a cartoon he shared on Facebook.

Government authorities have officially banned news coverage of his assassination.

The cartoon in question depicted a bearded man in heaven, lying in bed with two women, inside of a tent. God peers inside the tent, and the man asks God to bring him some wine and cashew nuts. The writer posted the cartoon with the comment “the Lord of Dawa'ish.” Dawa'ish is the Arabic language acronym used to refer to ISIS members or supporters in the plural. Dawa'ish and Dai'sh (Arabic-language acronym for ISIS) are usually used to negatively refer to the group and its members.

Hattar was facing three years in jail for insulting religion.

Hattar was facing three years in jail for insulting religion.

At the behest of Prime Minister Hani al-Mulqi, Hattar was arrested on 13 August for “insulting divinity. According to Al Jazeera, he removed the cartoon soon after, stating “it mocks terrorists and their concept of God and heaven. It does not infringe God's divinity in any way.”

Hattar was a staunch leftist, known for his controversial political writings and his support for the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad. The 54-year-old writer stayed in police custody until he was released on bail in early September. Despite the threats on his life, he was not afforded any police protection.

After news of the assassination broke on September 25, Jordanians were already expecting a gag order.

Sure enough, on September 26 the country's State Security Court issued a ban on the coverage of news related to Hattar's assassination. According to a statement published by the media commission, a government body that regulates audiovisual, print, and electronic media, the ban aims to “preserve investigation secrecy, and ensure public interest.”

This is nothing new for Jordan. On 1 September 2016, the government issued a gag on news coverage related to the King and the royal family, unless they are published by the Royal Hashemite Court itself. The ban came in the form of a 25-word statement from Jordan's media monitor and offered no details on how long the ban would last or what penalties would be served to violators.

On Twitter, Jordanians bemoaned the fact that gag orders now seem to be issued whenever something newsworthy happens.

The local online magazine 7iber counted 15 gag orders between early 2014 and mid-August 2016. The list includes the gag order issued on the case brought by Jordanian authorities against Hattar, the day after his arrest.

In another example, on 28 August 2016, authorities banned coverage of the detention of a preacher for posting on Facebook a video critical of Amman's participation in the US-led military campaign against ISIS.

Though the Jordanian government was quick to condemn his assassination describing it as an “ugly crime”, critics say that it is also partially to blame for bringing the case against the writer in the first place, and for not investigating threats against his life.

Jordanian writer and editor Naseem Tarawnah tweeted:

In an editorial mourning the loss of Hattar published yesterday, 7iber wrote:

If blood stains the hands of Hattar’s assassin who fired four shots at him, then the hands of the state and instigators are not clean either…Incitement against the murdered writer started on social media and other platforms, with threats to kill him published and delivered to him. This did not warrant “an order to investigate” nor did it initiate any legal case against the instigators…If this weren’t the same government that initiated Hattar’s trial, we might have been able to describe its role as negligent or complacent. But when its popularity and its acceptance by some is considered more important than protecting the life of one of its citizens, then its responsibility regarding this crime becomes much more significant.

The Committee to Protect Journalists described the writer's murder as the “result of lack of commitment to freedom of expression by Jordanian authorities,” and called on the government to “to bring the killer to justice and to change its approach to freedom of the press to foster openness and protection for critical voices.”

Today's gag order indicates that the Jordanian government is not planning to liberalize its free speech or censorship policies anytime soon.

by Afef Abrougui at September 26, 2016 08:07 PM

September 24, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Sudanese Authorities Use ‘Pornography’ as Evidence in Criminal Trial of Human Rights Advocates
A student protest in Sudan. PHOTO: Sudan Forum. Used with permission

A student protest in Sudan. PHOTO: Sudan Forum. Used with permission

Human rights activists in Sudan are being prosecuted in what critics are calling a “morality” trial.

Six activists, all of whom are affiliated with Khartoum Center for Training and Human Development (TRACKS), have been charged with undermining the constitutional system, waging war against the State, espionage, and terrorism. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison, or death.

Case number 110/2016 filed on 15 August against eight TRACKS staff and affiliates is brought against TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar, trainers Al-Hassan Kheiry, Abu Hureira Abdelrahman, and Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan, administrator Arwa Ahmed Al-Rabie and Cameroonian volunteer Imany Leyla Raye. Albaqir al Afif Mukhtar, the director of Alkhatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE), and Musatafa Adam, the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development are also accused in this case.

Case number 56/2015 was originally brought against TRACKS director Afif Mukhtar, and human rights trainer Adil Bakheit. However, after they were summoned to court on 22 May 2016, they were informed that two other TRACKS staff members Al-Rabie and accountant Nudaina Kamal, were also accused in the case.

Despite the seriousness of these charges, Sudanese prosecutors have turned the trial to an investigation into the private lives of activists showing private photos and videos from the defendants’ confiscated laptops, as evidence of “immorality”.

On 22 May 2016, police arrested eight TRACKS activists after they appeared before the Office of the Prosecutor for Crimes against the State for investigation in relations to charges brought up by the NISS. While five of them have since been released, three remain in prison, including TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar and trainer Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan, and Mustafa Adam, the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development, who was at TRACKS’ office at the time of the most recent raid.

Over the past two years, the Khartoum-based civil society group, which provides trainings on human rights and information technology, has been subjected to multiple incidents of police harassment. Their offices were raided twice by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), in March 2015 and February 2016, with police repeatedly interrogating the group’s staff and confiscating their documents and electronic devices.

During a hearing on 4 September, the prosecutors screened a pornographic video allegedly found on one defendant's computer. They also showed private photos they found on defendants’ computers as evidence of “immorality”. The defendants say there is nothing “immoral” or “pornographic” about these photos, as the picture in the tweet below shows.

The violation of the defendants’ privacy continued in a 22 September hearing, with investigators exposing details about the defendants’ lifestyles.

For these and other Sudanese civil society members, the use of personal photographs and data as evidence has undercut the legitimacy of the trial and the judiciary.

Showing such pictures and videos may not be relevant to the trial, but it is a calculated strategy of the Sudanese authorities to “discredit civil society” in the country, writes Sudanese journalist Reem Abbas, who was present during the hearings on 4 and 22 September:

Setting the ground by damaging the defendants’s public image and presenting them as immoral as understood and seen by the conservative Sudanese society will cause confusion within the solidarity movement. This tactic is very dangerous as it will be used to instigate public opinion against the defendants and initiate a smear campaign that changes the entire discourse of the trial causing the lawyers to become distracted from the actual charges…With women who are perceived as activists or active in the civil society, this is done on another level. Our pictures were shown to reiterate their point, this is the civil society here! They watch pornography and their women are uncovered and they are even smiling in the pictures!

She concludes:

The civil society was painted as a world of debauchery and this debauchery was documented in pictures that were shown inside the courthouse, violating the privacy of the defendants and their friends. But it was done for this exact reason, the NISS wanted to put the whole civil society on trial and in Sudan, the worst kind of trial is a moral one

The Sudanese government's crackdown on civil society groups and human rights activists is nothing new. In 2012, authorities shut down four civil society groups based in the capital Khartoum, while earlier this year the government banned four civil society representatives from traveling to Geneva to take part at a UN-led human rights event. TRACKs is one of very few independent civil society groups still operating in the country, and its trial is seen as a trial against the entire Sudanese civil society, as activist Dalia Haj-Omar tweets:

by Afef Abrougui at September 24, 2016 08:43 AM

Links for 2016-09-23 []

September 24, 2016 07:00 AM

September 22, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Internet Shutdowns Are Ever-Present in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula
A 2014 demonstration against mobile shutdowns in North Sinai. Banner reads: "We don't want to use Israeli networks because of your neglect." Photo by Sinai2014/SinaiOutofCoverage group page.

A 2014 demonstration against mobile shutdowns in North Sinai. Banner reads: “We don't want to use Israeli networks because of your neglect.” Photo by Sinai2014/SinaiOutofCoverage group page.

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

Citizens in Egypt’s North Sinai region weathered a shutdown of phone and Internet services over the weekend of September 17 that went on for at least eight hours. Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that most areas of the region have had service restored, but there’s little hope that networks will remain connected for good.

The northern zone of the Sinai Peninsula, which abuts Israel and Palestine’s Gaza strip, has been heavily controlled by the Egyptian military since mid-2013, when they began in earnest their assault on violent insurgent groups in the region. By early 2014, cuts to telecommunications networks would regularly last throughout the day, in what appears to be an effort to deter insurgents from communicating with one another. The collateral damage this has brought upon citizens, leaving them unable to communicate, stay in touch with loved ones, send and receive information and money, among many other things, is incalculable. Citizen groups have organized to protest the cuts on various occasions, but have seen little result. The cuts have also helped solidify a de facto media blackout in the region that has resulted from strict punishments for journalists seeking to cover military operations in the area.

In December 2015, Egyptian technologist and Global Voices’ author Ramy Raoof described to TIME Magazine how security authorities were cutting network connections “indiscriminately,” noting that they have made no effort to preserve basic or emergency services, such as the ability to call for an ambulance. And when networks are down, insurgents can use other unblockable means of communications like roaming foreign (chiefly Israel-based) mobile networks and satellites. Like many others, Raoof reasons: “It doesn’t prevent the bad guys from doing bad things.”

Kuwaiti royal faces jail time for insulting emir on Snapchat

A Kuwaiti court convicted Sheikh Abdullah Salem Al Sabah of insulting the royal family, despite the fact that he is the grandnephew of the emir. He has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of USD $16,500 for sending a Snapchat message in which he criticized the main cabinet, which is occupied entirely by members of the royal family (and his own).

Russian blogger convicted of publishing ‘extremist statements’ about Syria

Russian prosecutors have called for opposition blogger Anton Nossik to be sentenced to two years in a penal colony for publishing “extremist statements” online. The charges stem from a blog post titled “Wipe Syria From the Face of the Earth,” where Nossik called for bombing all of the country, including territory controlled by the Syrian government — an expression of opposition to the Assad regime. The post was published just days before the Russian government began a bombing campaign in support of the ruling Assad government. Nossik’s verdict is set to be announced on October 3.

Why didn’t the UAE have an ‘Arab Spring’?

Despite a relative absence of government protests, state-sponsored repression in the UAE is commonplace: arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, unfair trials, deportations and revocation of citizenship are tactics used to silence dissent in the country. Despite boasts by UAE leaders of the high living standards of citizens, “for the time being…activists and government critics do not seem to enjoy the happiness, well-being and safety the Emirates offer,” writes Global Voices’ Afef Abrougui.

New research shines light on political censorship in Bahrain

Bahrain is using an Internet filtering software called Netsweeper to censor political content, including pages relating to human rights, opposition politics, Shiite websites, local and regional news sources and content critical of religion, according to new research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. Citizen Lab researchers found that the software was being used on nine Bahrain-based ISPs during the summer of 2016.  The report concludes: “The sale of technology used to censor political speech and other forms of legitimate expression, to a state with a highly problematic human rights record, raises serious questions about the corporate social responsibility practices of Netsweeper.”

Russians contemplate life without Internet porn

Russian authorities blocked two major porn sites this week, including PornHub and YouPorn, by adding the sites to the country’s blacklist. Russian censors have targeted porn streaming services in the past, but previously limited bans to Russian localized versions. This is the first time ISPs have been asked to ban the full global versions of the sites. Led by a group of journalists, Russian Internet users have responded to the bans with an online flashmob, where people film themselves watching pornographic videos and narrating what they see.

More than anyone else, the US is knocking on Twitter’s door

Twitter’s latest transparency report shows that the US government made more requests for users’ personal data than any other government — and that overall the number of government requests rose 2.1 percent, affecting 8 percent more user accounts. In this report, Twitter also revealed more detailed information on who is making the requests from the US. The company said the FBI, Secret Service and the New York County District Attorney’s Office were the top requesters for account information.

Latin American indigenous language activists promote new emojis

Calls for more emoji diversity have expanded beyond skin color to include more culturally diverse representations, writes GV’s Eddie Avila. In addition to a recent petition to include a hijab emoji, indigenous language activists in Mexico and Chile have begun to create their own emoji sets reflecting traditional dress and linguistic expressions in languages including Huastec, spoken mostly in central Mexico, and Mapudungun, spoken by the Mapuche of Chile.

Happy Software Freedom Day!

September 17 marked Software Freedom Day, a global celebration of the use of free and open source software. To mark the occasion, free and open source software enthusiasts gathered together in cities around the world to hold hackathons, run free software installation camps, and educate people about its use.

New Research

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Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at September 22, 2016 06:49 PM

Development Seed
OpenAerialMap Improved

It’s been more than a year since we first launched OpenAerialMap, and ever since, we’ve continued to invest in the site and make improvements. We truly believe that this service helps users to share, find and use aerial imagery in as simple and efficient of a way as possible. Below I’ve outlined a few of the ways we’ve improved the site to make for a seamless experience.

Some of the latest changes include:

  • A brand new homepage that introduces users to the project.
  • Improvements to the upload form by adding integration with Dropbox, and Google Drive (not yet deployed, but expect to see this soon). This aims to lower the contribution barrier.
  • Added a feedback form to the browser (allows users to easily report problems with the imagery).
  • Added options for imagery preview, including TMS.
  • Under the hood improvements.

I’ll be at State of the Map in Brussels this week to talk about the OAM project, specifically these improvements and the changes to come. If you’re there be sure to come listen – you can find me in Auditorium C, Friday at 12:30pm.

by Development Seed at September 22, 2016 12:00 AM

September 21, 2016

Joi Ito
Conversation with Isha Datar from New Harvest

This year, the Shuttleworth Foundation asked me to be the honorary steward of the September 2016 fellowship intake. This meant that I would help review and recommend the people who would receive the Shuttleworth Fellowship which funds the fellow's salary as well as their project up to $250,000. It's one of the most interesting and successful fellowship programs that I know for funding unique, provocative and unconventional individuals and their ideas. I'm a huge fan.

We saw some great applications and I was really happy with the three fellows selected for the round that I worked on, Achal, Isha and Ugo. Through the process I got to know their work quite well and I was excited to get a chance to meet Isha when I was in New York last week.

Isha Datar works on cellular agriculture research, the science of growing animal projects in cell cultures instead of farmed herds. It's a very new field with a lot of challenges including questions about how to make non-animal based nutrient systems, how to make it taste good, how to make it energy efficient, how to scale it, etc. At her non-profit organization New Harvest, Isha is working on the core research as well as funding and coordinating research across the world. What's exciting and important to me is that she's decided to do this in an open source and collaborative non-profit way because she and her colleagues believe that the field is still very early and that it would be advanced most effectively through this non-profit structure.

by Joi at September 21, 2016 11:28 AM

September 20, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
He Supported Bombing Syria a Little Too Eagerly, Now RuNet Pioneer Faces Prison
Anton Nessik. Source: Valerij Ledenev, Flickr, CC 2.0

Anton Nossik. Source: Valerij Ledenev, Flickr, CC 2.0

On Monday, a Russian state prosecutor called for prominent blogger and oppositionist Anton Nossik to be sentenced to two years in a penal colony for publishing “extremist statements” online. Nossik, one of the “founding fathers” of the Russian internet, was charged in February for publishing a blog post on his Live Journal account entitled “Wipe Syria from the Face of the Earth.”

Prosecutors allege that Nossik violated Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, “Incitement of Hatred or Enmity, as well as Abasement of Human Dignity,” which carries with it a maximum penalty of 4 years in prison.

The offending post, which was published on October 1, 2015, just weeks before Russia launched its bombing campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, remains active on Nossik's Live Journal account. The blogger, it appears, ran afoul of the Kremlin by expressing open and vehement opposition to the Assad regime. In the post, Nossik, an Israeli citizen, calls for the bombing of territory controlled by the Syrian government, which he previously compared to Nazi Germany:

За последние 70 лет Ближний Восток не видел от Сирии ничего, кроме агрессии, войн, людоедства, разрухи и горя. До 2011 года они весь этот ужас экспортировали в сопредельные государства, с 2011 года сами жнут ими же посеянную бурю. Так им и надо, и ни разу не жалко. Осталось только все выходы заминировать, чтобы не экспортировали джихад в Европу.

For the last 70 years the Near East hasn't seen anything from Syria except aggression, war, cannibalism, ruin, and grief. Up until 2011, they exported all this horror to neighboring countries, but in 2011 they began to reap the seeds they sowed. It serves them right and I'm not sorry. All that's left is to destroy them, so that Jihad isn't exported to Europe.

Nossik maintains that he is innocent, but said on Monday he is prepared to serve a sentence in the hopes that his case will draw attention to the Russian government's practice of “convicting people for their thoughts.” Nossik posted about the prosecution's request on Facebook on Monday but did not offer any additional commentary.

Nossik seems to have gone too far in expressing his beliefs on Echo of Moscow, Russia's leading liberal radio station, on the same day he published his blog. He said his colleagues at Echo of Moscow told him that he had erred by “confusing the Internet with radio,” suggesting that restrictions on the freedom of speech are more stringent for radio than for the Internet.  Nossik defended himself by noting that he had joined the station's “Special Opinion” show, which, he argued, is intended for people with different points of view to “cross the line.”

The Chief Rabbi of Russia and a professor from Moscow State University spoke on Nossik's behalf at his trial.  Expert linguists from the Federal Security Service's (FSB) Institute of Criminology, meanwhile, testified that Nossik's post contained “extremist statements.”

Nossik is a member of Russia's opposition and has frequently spoken out about the Kremlin's crackdown on Internet freedom. One of Russia's first popular bloggers, he launched and, at one time two of the country's most popular websites.

Nossik's verdict is set to be announced on October 3.

by Advox at September 20, 2016 09:33 PM

danah boyd
There was a bomb on my block.

I live in Manhattan, in Chelsea, on 27th Street between 6th and 7th, the same block in which the second IED was found. It was a surreal weekend, but it is increasingly becoming depressing as the media moves from providing information to stoking fear, the exact response that makes these events so effective. I’m not afraid of bombs. I’m afraid of cars. And I’m increasingly becoming afraid of American media.

After hearing the bomb go off on 23rd and getting flooded with texts on Saturday night, I decided to send a few notes that I was OK and turn off my phone. My partner is Israeli. We’ve been there for two wars and he’s been there through countless bombs. We both knew that getting riled up was of no help to anyone. So we went to sleep. I woke up on Sunday, opened my blinds, and was surprised to see an obscene number of men in black with identical body types, identical haircuts, and identical cars. It looked like the weirdest casting call I’ve ever seen. And no one else. No cars, no people. As always, Twitter had an explanation so we settled into our PJs and realized it was going to be a strange day.

Flickr / Sean MacEntree

As other people woke up, one thing became quickly apparent — because folks knew we were in the middle of it, they wanted to reach out to us because they were worried, and scared. We kept shrugging everything off, focusing on getting back to normal and reading the news for updates about how we could maneuver our neighborhood. But ever since a suspect was identified, the coverage has gone into hyperventilation mode. And I just want to scream in frustration.

The worst part about having statistical training is that it’s hard to hear people get anxious about fears without putting them into perspective. ~100 people die every day in car crashes in the United States. That’s 33,804 deaths in a year. Thousands of people are injured every day by cars. Cars terrify me.And anyone who says that you have control over a car accident is full of shit; most car deaths and injuries are not the harmed person’s fault.

The worst part about being a parent is having to cope with the uncontrollable, irrational, everyday fears that creep up, unwarranted, just to plague a moment of happiness. Will he choke on that food? What if he runs away and gets hit by a car? What if he topples over that chair? The best that I can do is breathe in, breathe out, and remind myself to find my center, washing away those fears with each breath.

And the worst part about being a social scientist is understanding where others’ fears come from, understanding the power of those fears, and understanding the cost of those fears on the well-being of a society. And this is where I get angry because this is where control and power lies.

Traditional news media has a lot of say in what it publishes. This is one ofthe major things that distinguishes it from social media, which propagates the fears and anxieties of the public. And yet, time and time again, news media shows itself to be irresponsible, motivated more by the attention and money that it can obtain by stoking people’s fears than by a moral responsibility to help ground an anxious public.

I grew up on the internet. I grew up with the mantra “don’t feed the trolls.” I always saw this as a healthy meditation for navigating the internet, for focusing on the parts of the internet that are empowering and delightful.Increasingly, I keep thinking that this is a meditation that needs to be injected into the news ecosystem. We all know that the whole concept of terrorism is to provoke fear in the public. So why are we not holding news media accountable for opportunistically aiding and abetting terroristic acts?Our cultural obsession with reading news that makes us afraid parallels our cultural obsession with crises.

There’s a reason that hate is growing in this country. And, in moments like this, I’m painfully reminded that we’re all contributing to the culture of hate.When we turn events like what happened this weekend in NY/NJ into spectacle, when we encourage media to write stories about how afraid people are, when we read the stories of how the suspect was an average person until something changed, we give the news media license to stoke up fear. And when they are encouraged to stoke fear, they help turn our election cycle into reality TV and enable candidates to spew hate for public entertainment. We need to stop blaming what’s happening on other people and start taking responsibility.

In short, we all need to stop feeding the trolls.

by zephoria at September 20, 2016 07:04 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
The UAE Has Avoided an ‘Arab Spring’ by Systematically Repressing Critical Speech
Behind the UAE's glitzy skycrapers, lies a dark reality: gross human rights violations. Photo by L Constantino via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Behind the UAE's glitzy skycrapers, lies a dark reality of human rights violations. Photo by L Constantino via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Three years ago, the UAE government prosecuted en masse 94 government critics and activists who called for reform in the Emirates.

Since this time, there has been no Arab Spring-like uprising. No anti-government protests that have come close to shaking the ruling regime. Yet the state-sponsored repression of human rights advocates and journalists continues unabated.

Arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, unfair trials, deportations, and revocation of citizenships are among the tactics the UAE authorities regularly deploy to silence dissident voices and make sure that no such uprising takes place within its borders.

This week, 33-year-old Amina Abdouli is scheduled to appear before the Supreme Federal Court on charges related to her activities on Twitter. According to Amnesty International, she stands accused of:

…creating and running two Twitter accounts and publishing information with the aims of inciting hatred against the State and disturbing public order; mocking and damaging the reputation of State institutions; publishing false information about Saudi Arabia and making derogatory remarks about an Egyptian official with the aim of endangering the State’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt…

Building repression into the system

These practices have come in tandem with changes to the law that allow for broad, unchecked persecution of state critics in the online realm. The UAE government amended the country's 2006 cybercrime law in 2012 introducing harsh punishments for legitimate acts of free expression. The law prescribes imprisonment and fines for those who publish online news, cartoons and pictures that “may endanger the national security and the higher interests of the State or afflicts its public order” (article 28), and content deemed “damaging” to the “the reputation, prestige or stature of the State or any of its institutions or its president, vice-president, any of the rulers of the Emirates, their crown princes, or the deputy rulers of the Emirates, the State flag, the national peace, its logo, national anthem or any of its symbols” (article 29).

Those making calls to “overthrow, change the ruling system of the State, or seize it or to disrupt the provisions of the constitution or the laws applicable in the country or to oppose the basic principles which constitutes the foundations of the ruling system of the state” risk life imprisonment under article 30 of the law.

The use of VPNs to bypass government restrictions and engage in activities not allowed under the country's cybercrime law, is a crime punishable by imprisonment and up to $545,000.

These policies come alongside a variety of regulatory reforms affecting private online companies whose services include messaging and posting of unique content, making it easier for officials to prosecute individuals for their online activities, and to limit residents’ abilities to use these platforms in a private fashion.

The #UAE94 

On 2 July 2013, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi convicted 69 of the defendants and sentenced them to between seven and 15 years in jail. Verdicts issued by the State Security Chamber cannot be appealed under UAE law.

The International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE explains the trial in the video below:

The International Commission of Jurists and other human rights groups slammed the trial for failing “to meet internationally recognised standards of fairness.”

Targeting families

Some of the most striking effects of this crackdown have played out among families. Relatives of government critics routinely suffer the consequences of their family members’ online activities.

Amina Abdouli is not the only person in her family going on trial this week. Her brother Mosaab Abdouli will also stand trial for allegedly joining the armed rebel group Ahrar al-Sham in Syria, a charge he previously denied. The father of Amina and Mosaab, Mohammed al-ABdouli, was the head of the banned Emirati Umma Party and was arrested in 2005 and remained in prison for two years without trial.

In 2013, he died fighting with the Ahrar al-Sham armed group in Syria. On 30 May 2016, their 18-year-old sister Moza ‘Abdouli, was acquitted from the charges of “insulting the UAE, its leaders, and its institutions” over tweets she posted in March 2015, when she was still 15 and mourning the death of her father.

The case of al-Abdouli family is not uncommon. Last year, three sisters were forcibly disappeared by the authorities, and spent three months in secret detention for campaigning on Twitter in support of their jailed brother, a prisoner of conscience convicted in the UAE94 trial.

Osama al-Najjar is currently serving a three-year jail term for tweeting about the ill-treatment of his jailed father, also convicted in the UAE94 mass trial. According to Amnesty International, al-Najjar was convicted of a number of charges including “instigating hatred against” the state, “designing and running a website [with] satirical and defaming ideas and information” deemed harmful to UAE institutions. His conviction, which was handed down by the State Security Chamber at the Federal Supreme Court in November 2014, cannot be appealed.

No exceptions for foreigners

Relying heavily on a foreign labor force to maintain and drive its economic growth, the UAE population is made up of 81% foreigners. Members of this large expat community, which is dominated by workers from South East-Asia but also includes European, Australian, American, and Arab nationalities, often fall foul of the country's repressive policies and laws.

Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar has been detained for nine months without trial. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities questioned him about a July 2014 Facebook message that he posted before he moved to the UAE to work as a culture reporter for the local newspaper Dar. In the post, al-Najjar reportedly criticized Israeli actions in the Palestinian region of Gaza, and Egyptian authorities’ destruction of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

And it is not only activists and government critics who need to worry about what they post and say on the internet, as the mere acts of sharing a link or swearing on WhatsApp could land users into legal trouble. On 28 July, authorities in Dubai arrested Scott Richards, a British-Australian national, for sharing a link on Facebook to a charity raising money for refugees in Afghanistan. He risks a year in jail and a fine of 100,000 Emirati dirhams (USD $18,000), under local laws that prohibit fundraising and donating to foreign charities without the authorities’ prior written approval. Last year, an Australian woman was fined and deported for posting on Facebook a photo showing a car parked across two parking spots for disabled drivers outside her flat.

These incidents prompted the UK to update its travel guidance recently, warning its nationals not to post materials critical of individuals, companies and the government, while in the UAE.

UAE leaders often boast about the high living standards their citizens and expat residents enjoy. The country ranks 30th worldwide in the 2015 prosperity index, which ranks countries in terms of prosperity based on income and well-being. The government even has a minister for happiness, and according to a 2016 poll, young people in the Arab region chose the UAE as the “best country” to live and work in for its safety, stability and the economic opportunities it offers. For the time being, however, activists and government critics do not seem to enjoy the happiness, well-being and safety the Emirates offer.

by Afef Abrougui at September 20, 2016 10:14 AM

September 19, 2016

Ethan Zuckerman
Going Solo – On hating and accepting change

I have not been writing much about my divorce on this blog – I’ve kept most of that discussion on Facebook. I thought this post, wrestling not only with the divorce, but unwanted change more generally, might be helpful for a broader audience.

I have been coming to grips with the uncomfortable realization that I am a conservative.

Not a political conservative – if anything, this election is hardening my identity as a progressive insurrectionist. Not a social conservative – that the world around me is more colorful, diverse and fluid by the day is a major source of joy. Personally conservative.

I don’t like change. I’d go as far as to say that I hate it.

I live in the same house I bought almost twenty years ago. It’s painted the same color it was then. It’s in, more or less, the only town I’ve lived in as an adult, the town I moved to for college twenty seven years ago. I’ve had the same damned non-hairstyle since I was sixteen.

Given my lived preferences, it appears that I would be happiest if everything in my immediate personal life could stay the same forever.

That, of course, isn’t an option.


Earlier today, my wife of seventeen years and I divorced in a ceremony she designed. It began with a blessing over wine in the battered, tarnished cup someone had given us at our wedding, engraved with the date. My beloved ex took the wine blessed in that cup, poured it into two red plastic Solo cups, and we each drank from our own. As the wine moved from a beloved relic into the table settings for a game of beer pong, I couldn’t help seeing this as a downgrade of a life together into two uncertain, lesser futures.

Which is, of course, wrong. Our lives are both already changing in ways that are healthy, unexpected and often delightful. I just need to get over hating the process.

What I’m learning – slowly, awkwardly, painfully – is that the changes I fear and dread have often already happened. By the time Rachel was ready to tell me she needed to end our relationship, it had changed a long time ago. We had stopped being the center of each other’s personal universes, had disengaged from the others passion and work, had begun sharing and confiding in other friends. My instinct was to fight these changes, to try and bring things back to the comfortable stability we had once enjoyed. I am grateful that Rachel fought to embrace the change, to step into the unknown, believing that things could be different and better.

My reaction to the end of my marriage with Rachel was to frantically reach out to old friends and demand they reassure me that they still loved me and that our relationship would never change. Some did. Some didn’t. In a few cases, friends took the opportunity to point out that we weren’t as close as we had been, that our friendship had already changed, or even ended, sometimes years before. They are right, too, and the onus is on me to discover what those friendships might be now, and what new spaces may have opened in my life as other friends have departed.

The problem with hating change is that it doesn’t stop it from happening. It just assures that change will happen to you, rather than allowing you to choose to make a change.

I am slowly learning to see the upside of my old nemesis. Some of what’s happened to me in the past year has been unbelievably wonderful. Those marvelous parts happened when, faced with a change that was already underway, I made a choice and made a change. My challenge now is to overcome my instinctive fear, this desire for everything to remain static and comfortable – despite its imperfections – and learn to love the changes. They’re coming anyway.

by Ethan at September 19, 2016 12:26 AM

September 18, 2016

Joi Ito
Neha Narula, Research Director of MIT Digital Currency Initiative

Neha Narula wrote a post on Medium last Monday about the MIT Digital Currency Initiative at the Media Lab (DCI) and her new role as the Research Director. Also on Monday, TED posted her talk on the future of money, which I think is one of clearest "what is Bitcoin" explanations I've seen. I saw her a few days later and did a Facebook Live conversation with her which I've uploaded to YouTube, SoundCloud and iTunes.

Neha has been working as a member of the DCI for awhile now, but in this new role, she will drive the technical research agenda of the DCI and help coordinate research inside of MIT as well as in other academic institutions and in the broader community. She comes with a solid technical background with a PhD from MIT in distributed systems and previously as a software engineer at Google. Neha and the DCI have already been actively engaged in research, development and teaching in digital currencies, blockchain and related fields, but with Neha's leadership, I'm hoping that we can continue to ramp these efforts up as well as increase collaboration and engagement.

Neha lead the creation of a website for the DCI where you can learn about some of the projects and people involved. Also, as I wrote in a Medium post on September 6, Brian Forde, the director of the DCI will be transitioning out of that role.

by Joi at September 18, 2016 08:05 PM

September 17, 2016

Links for 2016-09-16 []
  • The Typekit Blog | Variable fonts, a new kind of font for flexible design
    Just minutes ago, at the ATypI conference in Warsaw, the world was introduced to a new kind of font: a variable font. Jointly developed by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Adobe, a variable font is, as John Hudson put it, “a single font file that behaves like multiple fonts”. Imagine a single font file

September 17, 2016 07:00 AM

September 16, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
That Time Russia Banned Online Porn (Again)
Photo: Pixabay.

Photo: Pixabay.

The two pornographic metropolises of the Internet, PornHub and YouPorn, were banned in Russia this week.

This wasn't the first time the Russian authorities targeted porn-streaming services: last year, state censors added the website’s Russian-localized version,, to its blacklist. Officials later unbanned it.

At the time, the decision to block one of the most popular sites online provoked a flurry of jokes on social media, but genuine concern appeared to be minimal, as the site’s English-language version never went offline in Russia, and the drive for adult content was sufficient motivation to overcome the linguistic barrier.

But this time, Pornub has been blocked for real. Russian ISPs are required to comply with the state’s blacklist within 24 hours.

On the legal side, the decisions to block PornHub and YouPorn were made in Voronezh and Vladivostok, respectively. Both courts’ verdicts say PornHub and YouPorn “contain information that is forbidden to disseminate” in Russia.

The information in question apparently includes child pornography or anything “justifying the molestation of children.”

Russia’s definition of child pornography has always been strict. Videos where actors merely pretend to be underage, dressing in school uniforms and so on, can qualify, and judges have even said certain forms of illustrated and animated porn, such as Hentai, amount to child pornography.

When they searched for “hentai” on PornHub, Russian authorities identified more than 16,000 pieces of content that justified blocking the entire website.

The news site Meduza spoke to Vladimir Panasenko, the judge in Voronezh who says he doesn't remember the details of the case in which he banned PornHub. In the interview, he said he assumed that it “had something to do with children, maybe. There were no age restrictions [on the website].”

On social media, Russians were eager to discuss the consequences of life without two of the Internet’s biggest repositories of pornography.

Some people readily admitted their beliefs that marriage and procreation are the decent alternatives to watching porn and masturbating at home—a notion that surely brings a satisfied smile to the faces of conservative public figures like Yelena Mizulina, Vitaliy Milonov, and Anna Kuznetsova, whose passion for “traditional values” is itself almost primal.

One common thread in jokes about the censorship decision riffs on the concept of “import substitution” and protectionism.

Dmitry Medvedev requires the creation of a domestic equivalent to the foreign website PornHub.

By blocking PornHub and YouPorn, the authorities are supporting domestic producers.

The journalist Sergey Erzhenkov shared a personal aside:

Моя репортерская мечта – отыскать актеров из первого советского порно под названием “Ребята из Чертаново” (1990 г.). Работая на НТВ, я приложил много усилий к тому, чтобы их найти. Но единственное, что мне удалось узнать, – ребята вовсе не чертановские, как следует из названия, а выхинские. И сейчас им, по моим прикидкам, чуть за 50. То есть импортозамещать еще могут.

My reporter's dream is to find the performers from the first Soviet porn movie “Guys from Chertanovo” (1990). While working for NTV, I've made a lot of efforts to find them. The only thing I learned is that the title was misleading, and the guys were actually from Vykhino. They should be, according to my guesstimate, just over 50 now, so they are capable of import substitution.

Many online pointed out that Russia already has a thriving rival to big porn sites like PornHub: the social network Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook equivalent, which hosts enormous amounts of pornography uploaded by ordinary users. Some say that the lion’s share of what exists on PornHub and YouPorn can also be found on Vkontakte.

A quick tip for those desperate souls looking for “lesbian orgy” or “naughty cop” on Vkontakte: you can't find these videos using the website’s search function; all the adult content is tucked away and uploaded to closed groups.

And there are several popular conspiracy theories now making the rounds, offering explanations about the truth behind the porn ban.

Sure enough, they blocked PornHub in Russia because of the site’s stats show that the most popular genre among Russians is anal.

Others on Twitter mixed in a little election humor, in light of Russia’s parliamentary elections this Sunday, September 18.

The word is that PornHub will only be available at the polling stations.

Now, with PornHub blocked, many people will have time to vote.

The good people at PornHub, known for their edgy presence on social media, tried their best to save the day. First they reached out to Russian censors. (The response was an awkwardly unfunny insinuation that masturbation threatens Russia’s demography.)

PornHub then appealed to Barack Obama with this bombshell:

The White House has yet to respond.

by Advox at September 16, 2016 02:34 PM

September 15, 2016

Joi Ito
Credit for Help on Blog Posts

Copyright xkcd CC BY-NC

Back when I first started blogging, the standard post took about 5 min and was usually written in a hurry after I thought of something to say in the shower. If it had mistakes, I'd add/edit/reblog any fixes.

As my post have gotten longer and the institutions affected by my posts have gotten bigger, fussier and more necessary to protect - I've started becoming a bit more careful about what I say and how I say it.

Instead of blog first, think later - agile blogging - I now have a process that feel a bit more like blogging by committee. (Actually, it's not as bad as it sounds. You, the reader are benefiting from better thought through blog posts because of this process.)

When I have an idea, I usually hammer out a quick draft, stick it in a Google Doc and then invite in anyone that might be able to help including experts, my team working on the particular topic and editors and communications people. It's a different bunch of people depending on the post, but almost everything I've posted recently is a result of a group effort.

Jeremy Rubin, a recent MIT grad who co-founded the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT mentioned that maybe I should be giving people credit for helping - not that he wouldn't help if he didn't get credit, but he thought that as a general rule, it would be a good idea. I agreed, but I wasn't sure exactly how to do it elegantly. (See what I did here?)

I'm going to start adding contributors at the bottom of blog posts as sort of a "credits" section, but if anyone has any good examples or thoughts on how to give people credit for helping edit and contributing ideas to a post or an informal paper like my posts on my blog and pubpub, I'd really like to see them.

by Joi at September 15, 2016 05:50 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: In Cuba, Text Messages With Controversial Content Are Disappearing
“The Internet is shit! Let's see… whoever wants Internet, raise your hand.” Cartoon by Lázaro Saavedra, reproduced with permission.

“The Internet is shit! Let's see… whoever wants Internet, raise your hand.” Cartoon by Lázaro Saavedra, reproduced with permission.

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

Journalists in Cuba have evidence that the Cuban government is monitoring and selectively blocking mobile SMS messages based on keywords such as “human rights”, “hunger strike”, “plebiscite” and “state security”. According to a report by journalists Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, who run the Havana-based media outlet 14ymedio, text messages containing a range of sensitive keywords along with the names of various high-profile anti-Castro activists, are not reaching their destinations. However, the messages still appear as ‘sent’ on the sender’s telephone.

According to technologist and opposition blogger Eliécer Avila, at least 30 keywords have been identified as triggers for the blocking mechanism. It is not clear how long this has been in place. The journalists have not yet shared a full list of terms tested, nor did they indicate whether they believe the blocking targets specific users. Sánchez, Escobar and Avila are all very high-profile opposition voices.

The discovery comes at a moment in which Cuban bloggers and independent journalists are facing increasing scrutiny and, in some cases, public condemnation, by leading government and Cuban communist party officials. Diario de Cuba writer Maykel González Vivero, who is also a vocal advocate for LGBT rights on the island, was fired from his job with state radio station Radio Sagua two weeks ago, for collaborating with “private media”. In late August, the well-established Uruguayan blogger and former BBC journalist Fernando Ravsberg, who has lived in Cuba since the mid-1990s and has a family there, was publicly condemned on television by the vice president of Cuba’s Press Workers’ Union, charged with offending the sentiments of “decent Cubans.”

Russian authorities jail gamer for offending religious people, Pokemon-style

Ruslan Sokolovsky was jailed in early September for playing Pokemon Go inside a Russian Orthodox cathedral and posting a video of this on YouTube. Police are investigating the 21-year-old video blogger for committing extremism, offending religious people and “violating the right to religion in a house of worship.” If convicted on those charges, Sokolovsky could go to prison for up to five years. The video (now with English subtitles) has garnered more than 1.3 million views on YouTube.

On September 7, Sokolovsky complained that a prison psychiatrist had threatened his life, warning that he could be institutionalized “where they don't let the lawyers in.” Investigators have also revealed that they discovered a camera-pen at his home—technology that is illegal in Russia. The media is describing the device as a “spy pen,” complementing allegations by pro-government bloggers that Sokolovsky's atheist activism online and in the media is part of a larger, coordinated campaign by nefarious forces designed to weaken Russia's traditional values. He has since been released and placed under house arrest.

Algerian court upholds activist conviction over Charlie Hebdo link

An Algerian appeals court upheld the conviction of activist Slimane Bouhafs, decreasing his jail sentence from five to three years. Bouhafs originally was sentenced to five years in jail and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars for “offending the Prophet” and “denigrating the creed and precepts of Islam” for linking to a cartoon by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo depicting the Prophet Muhammad crying.  

Web journalist arrested in Venezuela

Chilean-Venezuelan journalist and lawyer Braulio Jatar is being held by Venezuelan authorities on charges of money laundering. Jatar, who is the director of the investigative news site Reporte Confidencial, was detained during a protest in the locality of Villa Rosa that forced President Nicolas Maduro to leave the city. Jatar’s supporters believe his coverage of the protest are the real reason he is in custody.

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle

Turkish journalist Özgür Öğret has been working with the Committee to Protect Journalists to produce a weekly report called the “Turkey Crackdown Chronicle,” describing ongoing government threats against digital and traditional journalists reporting on politics, violence and corruption in Turkey. Read this week’s installment here.

Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ does not include Kashmir

The Indian government, which champions internet access as a basic human right, is blocking mobile internet in Kashmir. The government shut down mobile internet about two months ago, when protests erupted following the killing of a separatist militant leader by the Indian military in early July. The shutdown of the mobile internet network leaves most Kashmiris, who rely on mobile internet to access the web, “anxious and isolated”, writes journalist Hasit Shah: “It is difficult for journalists to report on what is happening. Vital information is missing. Kashmiris in India have been transported back to a pre-digital era.”

Saudi Arabia bans LINE messaging app

The Saudi government added LINE to the long list of VoIP services and messaging apps blocked in the country, which includes Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Skype. Responding to the block, Saudi users took to Twitter to protest the government’s strict Internet censorship policies, asking “what’s the point of having Internet?”

Surprise, surprise: New Snowden leaks reveal more mind-blowing surveillance tools

The Intercept released new documents from the Snowden leaks that reveal how the NSA aided “‘a significant number of capture-kill operations’ across the Middle East and North Africa, fueled by powerful eavesdropping technology that can harvest data from more than 300 million emails and phone calls a day.”

New Research


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Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, James Losey and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at September 15, 2016 04:24 PM

Ghanaian President Vows Not to Shut Down Social Media During Elections
Ballot boxes. Photo by Sheila Rouge, labeled for reuse.

Ballot boxes. Photo by Sheila Rouge, labeled for reuse.

There has been much debate among major stakeholders as to whether social media should be banned during the upcoming elections in Ghana. Inspector General of Police (IGP) John Kudalor hinted in May 2016 that Ghanaian authorities might consider shutting down social media platforms during December 7 elections to “maintain peace”. The IGP argued that the intention to shut down social media platforms during elections is based on the fact that some people abuse the space during voting. However, Ghanaian president John Mahama declared on the 14 August that social media will not be shutdown during the upcoming elections that “the government has no intention to shut down social media on election day.”

Various African countries have developed a routine of blocking social media platforms before, during and after elections citing “security concerns”. During the recent elections held in Uganda, the government ordered telecommunication companies to block access to popular social media platforms. Social media platforms were also blocked ahead of Ugandan President Museveni's inauguration. Uganda and Nigeria have recently indicated their intentions to impose stricter controls over social media.

Most recently, the government of Gabon blocked access to the Internet shortly after protesters began contesting results of recent presidential elections in which incumbent President Ali Bongo appears to have won by a narrow margin. The shutdown persisted for five days.

Following the remarks made by the Inspector General of Police, the Centre for Constitutional Order (CENCORD) brought together participants from the Ghana Police Service, security experts, representatives of political parties and a section of the public to discuss the theme “Banning Social Media in General Election 2016: Security Implication versus Legal Justification.”

An article published after the forum indicated that the 2016 Peace Ambassador and Security Analyst Irbard Ibrahim said that “misuse of social media to share false information could disrupt peace during elections if not properly guarded.” Richmond Ofosuhene was in agreement with the comments made by security experts:

However, the executive director of the civic technology organization PenPlusByte, Kwame Ahiabenu, was a of a different opinion and was not in support of the ban of social media during elections. He pointed out:

Social media in itself is not a threat to national security. Rather, it is the users of such media, and so if there is any potential threat, it is the people and so what we need to do is to do proper policing, not a shutdown of the social media platforms.

The statement made by the president put to rest speculations about the banning social media during elections. The statement has been received positively by social media enthusiasts and advocates. Ahiabenu shared his view, saying:

The president’s statement is commendable because the ban posed “a threat to the electoral dignity the country has attained,” adding that a shutdown would have put in question “our democracy and the rule of law.” Instead, he noted, “the presidency, as the highest political office in the country, has reassured us that there would be no cuts to online communication in December.”

In an article published by GhanaWeb, IMANI Ghana think tank president Franklin Cudjoe commended the President for stating that there will be no shutdown of social media during the upcoming elections. He said:

Thankfully this has been laid to be rest by the President and I think even though he deserves commendation, I think this election should not be allowed to have any tense moments that could be exploited by provocateurs. The police should instead “begin to use the medium to educate people on social media and they can even do it on WhatsApp and all the other social media platforms.” It is not a question of having an advantage or disadvantage. The Police “should enlist professionals who could teach them how to use Social Media for positive results. I think that is the way to go.”

However, Spy News Agency (@SpyNewsAgency1), an online news agency commented that a section of Ghanaians supported the ban of social media use during elections:

Regardless of how the nation reacted negatively to the ban of social media during the election period, some journalists such as Jojo Bruce-Quansah (@BruceJojo) tweeted in support of the ban saying:

by Kofi Yeboah at September 15, 2016 03:43 PM

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